As I've mentioned in a previous article, I believe the definition of feminism is the idea that women should have equal rights, and should be treated equally to men. As such, feminism is primarily about the empowerment of women. However, I think that being a feminist necessarily includes being a masculist (in the sense that I believe in the equality of males and detest misandry), even though many feminists wouldn't label themselves as such. I'm a feminist, but also a masculist, and because gender isn't binary I like to call myself a gender activist. I, however, prefer to call myself a feminist or gender activist because I believe that sexism against women (and discrimination against transfolk and the rest of the LGBTIQ community) is more prevalent. This is not to say that I don't believe sexism against men is an important issue, or that I value women over men.
The reason for this stance is, firstly, because one cannot support the equal treatment of women without supporting the equal treatment to men. It would be a mathematical fact that ‘women = men’ necessarily means that ‘men = women’. We can’t tackle sexism against women without tackling sexism against men. Sexism against men is often overlooked because sexism is usually in their favour; however, this doesn't mean it isn't wrong or harmful. Although I'm wary of racism/sexism analogies, allow me to put it this way: the discrimination of white people during Apartheid, although it was usually in their favour, was still racism and was still not right. If a feminist is aiming for a world where sexism doesn't exist, it should include tackling sexism against men. Although I'm not going to deny the existence of man-hating feminists, I will say that there is an enormous feminist community out there - consisting of both male and female individuals - that loves men and welcomes men who consider themselves to be feminist. While there is no set ideology that all feminists subscribe to, I must emphasise that the overwhelming majority of feminists do not hate men and are very much against misandry and discrimination against men. In fact, many feminists are men.
However, there is a lack of male support for the feminist movement, the reasons for which includes the perception that feminists hate men. This is problematic for two main reasons:
1) We need men to believe we have the right to be treated equally. As much as we'd like to say that the only thing that counts is how we believe we should be treated, sooner or later, we need men to come to the party and actively treat us equally. Men are a part of our society, and society cannot continue without the presence of both men and women. Our society will never have complete gender equality until all members believe in gender equality.
2) A great deal of issues regarding male rights are being tackled by feminists and gender activists. As I've touched on before, the fight for gender equality can only be considered a success once all harmful forms of sexism and discrimination against all groups has been eradicated.
Where exactly do we see sexism against men? Anything that perpetuates gender stereotyping could be considered sexist. I absolutely detest woman saying things along the lines of ‘men are all the same’ and ‘men are all after one thing’, because it’s sexist. The idea that men are driven entirely by sex (and that women, by contrast, have very little desire for sex) stems from patriarchal expectations of male sexuality. Not only can the acceptance of such stereotypes damage relationships (imagine trying to be in a relationship with someone who constantly second-guesses your intentions because of an untrue stereotype they were brainwashed into believing?), it damages the male psyche and perpetuates patriarchal ideas. As patriarchy advocates the strict adherence to certain gender roles, it asserts that men should behave in a certain way to be considered 'men'. This is sexism against men. While patriarchy values men over women on a general level, it also values certain men (more 'masculine', athletic, straight, etc.) over certain other men (more 'feminine', homosexual or transsexual, etc.). As such, it forces men to either act or try to be a certain way, or it attempts to make them feel undervalued. Patriarchy damages men. Patriarchy is misandry.
Here are a number of patriarchal ideas (that demonstrate sexism against men) which the feminist community is trying to address:
1) The notion that men should be the breadwinners of the family.
Just as feminists dislike the notion that all women should be 'barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen', most of us dislike the idea that the 'man of the house' should always bring home the highest salary. If you're a man who'd prefer taking on the role of home executive by staying unemployed and taking care of the house and/or kids, that's cool. Go ahead. Society shouldn't hate. If you're a man who works and earns less than his partner, you shouldn't feel less 'manly' either.
2) Discrimination against members of the LGBTIQ community who identify as male.
Many homosexuals are thought to be less masculine by certain members of society, because the patriarchy dictates that part of being a real man is having sex with a woman. This is a reason why many patriarchal societies view homosexuality as unnatural - think along the lines of 'men should naturally be sexually attracted to women, and those who don't conform to this stereotype are wrong and unnatural.'
Being a homosexual man is also often seen as a less desirable thing than being a homosexual woman. Perhaps part of this is because it's perceived to be more degrading for a man to appear more feminine than for a woman to appear more masculine. Why? Because being a woman is seen as degrading. (Do you see what I mean when I say sexism against woman cannot be addressed without addressing sexism against men, and vice versa?)
I often hear people ask who the 'man' and who the 'woman' is in a homosexual relationship. As Ellen DeGeneres once said, "That's like asking which chopstick is the fork." We've been so brainwashed by the patriarchy that we think that the only way a relationship could possibly work is if one person takes the role of the 'woman', and the other person takes the role of the 'man'. This forces both people in the relationship to conform to stereotypes (by pretending to be something they're not), and distances them from their true selves.
It's also important to note that many transfolk - particularly transmales - are faced with sexism. Not only is being a transexual or transvestite seen as unnatural (thanks again, patriarchy!), but when those who are born men identify/feel more comfortable as women they are expected to act like patriarchy's expectation of women (and vice versa). There is the stereotype that transexual or transvestite men are all drag queens and should behave like flamboyant, overly-feminine women. Some women who were born as men are discriminated against if they demonstrate traditional 'male' characteristics.
3) Discrimination against male rape/abuse survivors.
While the rape of women isn't always taken as seriously as it should be, the rape of males is taken even less seriously. Some people view male rape - especially the rape of males in prison - as a joke.
4) The idea that men are only men if they are sexually active or promiscuous.
Just as it's often seen as a negative thing for females to be 'slutty', it's often seen as a negative thing for men to be virgins. A terrible double standard exists in society - especially in South Africa - where women who sleep around are seen as sluts (bad) while men who do the same are seen as players (good). As unfair as this is to females, a related injustice to men must be noted - men are only considered 'true' men when they've had sex. One only has to read a book like Spud to see the type of pressure to have sex that exists amongst males, particularly younger males.
Of course, we also must note that in some social circles it's seen as good for girls to be promiscuous and boys to be virgins (although these two standards hardly ever exist in the same social circle). Either way, I'll respond in the same way - your worth, gender and values are not determined by your sexual history or lack thereof.
5) The notion that 'men shouldn't cry'.
I absolutely detest the idea that men shouldn't show emotion. It really gets to me, so much so that I want to throw my shoe at every KFC advert and slap every parent that scolds their son for crying. I don't. Instead, I blog. By forcing men to hide their emotions from a very young age, society is creating a generation - generations - of men who have difficulty communicating or controlling their feelings. This is harmful to both their psyche and their relationships.
While feminism is primarily concerned with female issues and masculism is primarily concerned with male issues, our fights are often one another's. Feminist issues are inherently tangled up in masculist issues. We can either pull violently at opposite ends of the string, winning small victories but creating new obstacles, or we can work together to fix it.
I appeal to males to open their minds to the idea of feminism. We need men to join us, to proudly identify as feminists and/or gender activists and to challenge sexism. Stand up for your mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, friends, aunts, cousins, daughters and fellow human beings by demanding equal rights for them as well as for yourselves. I also appeal to all individuals to challenge sexism against males, as it is damaging to us all.
Blog: Just A South African Woman