Why Men Should Care About Feminism
an op-ed by Chris Fong Chew
Dear Asian Youth,
As far back as I can remember, I have always believed in feminism and the feminst movement. Even before I truly understood what it was, I always considered it a movement for good—something that everyone believes in. This is why I was really shocked when I first found out that one of my male friends in high school didn’t believe in feminism. This worsened when I got to college and met several people (mostly male) who thought feminism was a ‘bad word,’ and that feminists were “crazy.” This is when I realized how, one, many people don’t understand what the feminist movement is about, and two, as a male, I need other men to understand why we should care.
First, I would like to address what the feminist movement is actually about. Contrary to some beliefs, feminism isn't a movement against men. Feminism is a movement against the patriarchy. The patriarchy is the term used to refer to systems within our society that prevent women from being able to attain the same opportunities or achievements as most men. The patriarchy is also used to refer to societal standards and stigmas (often conceived or historically perpetuated by men) that harm or endanger women either exclusively, or to a greater extent than men. The patriarchy is also used to refer to the privileges most men get to enjoy by default of their gender, which is almost never extended to women or is only extended to women in rare circumstances.
Feminism is a movement towards equality. Not just for women, but for men as well. While the patriarchy is a concept that historically has been perpetuated and enforced by men, the reason why feminism is a movement against the patriarchy and not against men is because the patriarchy is also incredibly harmful to men as well as to other identities across the gender spectrum.
The patriarchy is harmful to men just as it is to women in the same way as it enforces damaging gender stereotypes. These stereotypes build associations of certain character traits or physical traits that are either “masculine” or feminine.” When we associate certain colors with gender, such as pink as “girly” or blue as “boyish” or use terms such as “sissy” or “tom boy,” we imply that there is an issue with those who don’t fit the stereotype associated with their gender or biological sex. When we say, “you run like a girl” or “you dress like a boy” we give a certain message that one sex is inherently weaker or stronger and that a certain physique is considered “ideal” depending on a person's sex or gender.
These gender stereotypes extend to reinforcing unhealthy behaviors associated with the gender as well. For example, the phrase, “man up” or “big girls don’t cry,” marks crying or showing emotion as a sign of weakness that is reserved only for little girls. This sends a negative message condemning the expression of emotion, which is inherently mentally and psychologically damaging.
A Washington Post article titled Why the Patriarchy is Killing Men by Liz Plank explores how patriarchal standards in society harm men from different angles, focusing on mental health and well being. She discusses this in the following: “... the life expectancy gap is what scientists literally call man-made diseases. These are cultural: men are more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol, engage in high-risk behavior, and have accidents at work. A report from the World Health Organization points to three reasons men don’t live as long: the way men work (they endure greater “exposure to physical and chemical hazards”), their willingness to take risks (thanks to “male norms of risk-taking and adventure”) and their discomfort with doctors (they’re “less likely to visit a doctor when they are ill and, when they see a doctor, are less likely to report on the symptoms of disease or illness”).” Plank states how issues such as these are literally “man made diseases.” By attempting to reach the patriarchal standards within our society, men are destroying themselves in the process.
Plank then further discusses the issue of mental health by stating, “Men’s reluctance to care for themselves is especially perturbing when it comes to mental health. Unsurprisingly, the more a man associates with traditional and inflexible ideas about masculinity, the less likely he is to seek counseling. For too many men in America who suffer from mental health issues, it’s easier to get a gun than a therapist, especially in rural areas, where 80 percent of counties don’t have a single psychiatrist.” The stigma against therapy and mental health counseling often associated with masculinity has profound effects on men's well being, so much so that help, even when it can be life saving, is turned down.
These patriarchal attitudes place both men and women in molds that create pressure on one another. These pressures can have far-reaching consequences on our society as a whole. Patriarchal standards teach us how to view the opposite gender and often create false generalizations and invalidate many people’s experiences. Often, we can see this if we simply reverse stereotypical gender roles. A case in point would be the stay at home dad. If a man gives up work to take care of his kids while his wife goes out to work, he is often seen as lazy or a failure, rather than nurturing and caring. But on the flip side, when a woman decides to continue her career rather than pause for her family, she is often seen as selfish and uncaring.
When we flip the stereotypical gender roles that we have in society, we often expose an implicit bias as well as a double standard within ourselves. Most of us have grown up in a patriarchal society, whether we realize it or not, and have internalized patriarchal and often misogynistic views.
Most of us today have passed the point of believing that women and men are inherently superior or inferior in any way (at least explicitly in a physical or intellectual manner), especially as gender roles have blurred and the concept of gender has been viewed on a spectrum rather than a strict dichotomy, which is where feminism comes into play. Feminism is an age-old movement going back hundreds of years. Historically, the movement in the U.S. has been traced back to the Seneca Falls convention in the 1800s when women gathered to organize and protest for the right to vote. Since then the feminist movement has remained, but has also developed over time with each development defined by a wave. The first wave of feminism was concerned about voting rights; the second with social justice and racial issues; the third focused on women's liberation and independence; and the fourth wave, driven by the term intersectional feminism, seeks to address the issue of gender discrimination on all fronts.
Men are brought into the image as we start to deconstruct the idea of gender roles and address how men have also been harmed by the patriarchal standards and toxic masculinity within our society. When we acknowledge that we, too, are being harmed by this, we also need to acknowledge and deconstruct the notion that feminism is anti-man. Feminism is against the patriarchy, which is not men, but the rigid views within our society that are traditionally perpetuated by men. We need to address how we have been complicitly or proactively perpetuating these views, as well as how they are damaging to ourselves and especially to our female and non-binary counterparts.
By giving up and deconstructing the patriarchy, we can have a more inclusive and equal society, which benefits us by not boxing us into a strict gender role that judges us based on how well we fit an image. We also are able to deconstruct stigmas against both men and women.
This brings me back to the question of why men should care. Besides the fact that men are also harmed by the patriarchal standards in our society, we should also understand how gender imbalances within our society also are incredibly damaging to us as a whole. In the article Gender equality is not a ‘women’s issue’—it’s good for men too by Julia Gillard, she discusses the same issue from the perspective of parenting. She states, “women gain from having flexible partners, too. A study of German couples found that having a partner who works flexibly boosted the wages of men and women, with the effect most pronounced for mothers. Conversely, women whose partners work very long hours are significantly more likely to quit the labour force—taking their talent and experience with them.” The study shows how on the issue of childcare, when both men and women were given greater flexibility on the job, it prevented spouses from leaving the workforce altogether. This, in turn, while might be a loss to the company initially, gives long term gains when both remain in the workforce.
Feminism is a movement to deconstruct the damaging patriarchal stereotypes and structures that we have within our society. We already see how deconstructing things such as toxic masculinity has a plethora of benefits for both men and women. We can also see how our society as a whole benefits when both men and women are treated equally, and given flexibility within their careers and jobs.
Men should care about feminism because we are part of the equation. When we choose to subscribe to toxic masculinity, when we choose to stereotype, we harm ourselves, we harm women, and we invalidate and especially harm everyone along the gender spectrum. When we choose to deconstruct the patriarchy and support feminism, we begin to work towards a more equal and equitable society, by uplifting one another, supporting one another, and allowing ourselves to safely and openly express who we are. So my question is, are you a feminist?
- Chris Fong Chew
Cover photo source: https://www.etsy.com/listing/679996762/feminist-wall-art-feminist-art-feminist