Feminism – it’s a word that has received plenty of backlash and criticism over the years. As pink “pussy hats” and the Venus symbol have become powerful representations of the feminist movement, feminism has become misconstrued into a battle that only represents the rights of females. However, the seas of pink marching across Washington and the activists protesting all over the country aren’t focusing solely on women’s rights.
While modern feminism does focus mostly on female empowerment and fighting for females’ rights, it works to promote equality first and foremost. Women have been historically oppressed by the patriarchy and lack far more rights than their male counterparts, but men also lack full rights as a result of social stereotypes and traditional gender roles. Like their female counterparts, men need the equality that feminism strives to achieve.
Traditional gender roles have only perpetuated the damaging stereotypes of what it means to be a male. These stereotypes have given rise to “toxic masculinity:” the phenomenon in which men adhere to their traditional roles as breadwinners and patriarchs and behave in ways that reflect these roles. Driven by societal expectations, they take on traits such as social dominance, risk-taking, and assertiveness, which may lead to anger, violence, and aggression. They believe that they must be strong and independent, and they often suppress their emotions, failing to receive proper guidance and much-needed help. Armed with their stereotypes, society tells men from a young age that this behavior is what is expected of their gender, and that in order to earn acceptance, they must embody and embrace this toxic masculinity and face its merciless effects.
However, the feminist movement aims to break these stereotypes with true gender equality. The movement strives to show that “feminine traits” such as compassion, sensitivity, and succorance, and “masculine traits” such as confidence, independence, and competitiveness aren’t confined to a specific gender. Feminists have shown that despite society’s expectation that males must be strong and independent, men can be victims of abuse and violence as well. They’ve provided resources to men who take on less traditional roles, challenging the idea that those men should be shamed for being less “masculine.”
By changing how society views gender, feminists have been instrumental in winning rights for men. For instance, the Feminist Majority Foundation, a leading feminist organization based in the United States, launched their “Rape is Rape” campaign to persuade the Federal Bureau of Investigation to change their official definition of rape. Feminists worked to redefine how society perceived gender roles, call attention to the fact that men could be victims as well and emphasize the importance of consent. In 2011, FBI director Robert Mueller approved a change to the old definition, which regarded only women as rape victims, that would recognize rape victims as any person, regardless of his or her gender, who had not given consent to penetration.
Around the world, feminists have created changes to give men equal footing with women in different aspects of society. In 2015 and beyond, self-proclaimed feminist and prime minister of Canada Justin Trudeau worked to create policies that would allow fathers to take off time from work after the birth of their new children. Feminist and activist Lovisa Stannow founded Just Detention International, an organization committed to ending sexual abuse in prisons – an issue that affects mostly men, many of whom are perceived as more feminine than other inmates.
Though there are some individuals who promote misandry and proclaim themselves to be feminists, true feminism is about gaining equality for both sexes. The feminist movement is more than just an attempt to empower women – it’s an endeavor to secure rights and equality for all people regardless of their gender. Feminists are not working to lift up females while dragging down males, but they’re striving for a world in which both men and women will receive increased rights and break free of discrimination. As long as society expects men to possess traditionally masculine behavior and adhere to archaic standards, men will continue to need feminism.
And the feminist movement will continue to fight for their rights.
Photo: Kari Shea