One focus of the feminist movement has been to explore how the language we use influences our thought and discourse. Despite this, the term feminism, which suggests both implicitly and explicitly a female focus, remains as the primary philosophy for addressing inequality between genders. Indeed, pick up a textbook on the subject and you will see a definition for feminism that states something along the lines of “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”
However, equality is a two-way street. Having an advantage is just as representative of inequality as having a disadvantage. While some feminist writers have noted that gender roles also harm men (e.g. Bell Hooks – Feminism is for Everybody or Allan Johnson’s The Gender Knot), feminism has typically been focused on women’s rights and situations where women are disadvantaged.
To be fair, I do not want to paint the feminist movement with such a broad brush. It is not that the feminist movement has never cared about the rights of men. Indeed feminism has brought to light how society is based upon gender norms and how that too affects men. However, as noted, a primary aim seems to be a focus on a women and subsequently, the perception, whether true or not, is that men are only along for the ride.
A common retort to this criticism is that men are experiencing a ‘persecution complex’ in which they are upset that they no longer control ‘all the power.’ One may be tempted to liken this criticism to the feelings of ‘persecuted Christians’ who feel they experience more discrimination than African Americans, Muslims, Atheists, or any other group. They feel attacked for no longer having the privileges they once had. While it is basic human psychology that we typically evaluate losses and gains from an established reference point, any objective analysis would reveal that Christians still have the greatest advantages (in the western world). It is hard to find a single situation where Christians objectively are disadvantaged.
The same cannot be definitively stated for men. For example, a recent report suggests that men are four times more likely to commit suicide. Fathers are less likely to be awarded custody and more likely to need to pay child support and they are also punished more severely for the same crimes. While women may be less likely to be able to obtain high corporate positions, they now outnumber men in university and professional schools like law and medicine. Lastly, while there’s been a strong and necessary push towards the awareness of sexual assault towards women, men are more likely to be the victim of violent crimes and some research which includes a meta-analysis has shown that women are “as physically aggressive, or more aggressive than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners” In Canada, the media has been abuzz with the fact that many aboriginal women have been missing or murdered over the past few decades and in turn there has been a public inquirty to the problem of missing and murdered aboriginia women. Yet, relatively fewer news reports have noted that there are more than twice as many missing or murdered aboriginal men and no efforts have been made to include investigations of all aboriginal people.
Although many feminists have encouraged male participation as an important element in achieving full societal gender equality, the feminist effort has, whether intentional or not, disenfranchised men from the movement. No evidence is more blatant than that of the need for some men to join a men’s liberation movement or a men’s right movement. Defined as ‘focusing on issues in society that discriminate against men’ their goals are simply the other side of the coin, and completely in line, with the goals of the feminist movement.
Despite this, feminists have felt the need protest against meetings of these groups. For example, when Warren Farrell came to speak to the University of Toronto, a group of individuals protested and physically blocked the event from happening. This is despite Farrell being a long time supported of the feminist movement and of women in general, being elected to the New York National Organization for Women three times.
Ultimately, one could play the “which gender has it worse” game and historically, women would undoubtedly ‘win’. Currently, women probably still experience more discrimination than men, especially across the world, but that doesn’t mean that issues concerning men don’t exist and are not worth discussing. As the trends in university education show, in some areas, the pendulum has swung past equality and now favour women. If feminism really wants to achieve gender equality they must recognize and also focus on situations where women are advantaged, as well as disadvantaged. We cannot truly achieve gender equality by focusing solely on the problems of only one gender.
For every strong woman tired of faking weakness, there is a weak man tired of faking strength.
For every woman tired of faking “foolishness”, there is a man tired of having to act as a “model of wisdom”.
For each woman tired of being labeled as an “emotional female”, there is a man who has been denied the right to cry and be sensitive.
For every sportswoman whose femininity is questioned, there is a man forced to compete in order to give testimony of his virility.
For every woman tired of being considered a sexual object, there is a man concerned about his sexual performance.
For every woman who has not had access to a dignified salary, there is a man forced to bear the responsibility of another human being.
For every woman who ignores the “secrets of car mechanics”, there is a man who doesn’t know how to “boil an egg”.
The human race is a two-winged bird. Unless both wings are equally developed, the human race will not be able to fly.
B. Boutros Ghali, Egypt;
Professor, University of Cairo;
former Secretary-General of the United Nations