The modern feminism is a multifaceted movement, where many wills and opinions come to express themselves. What they all share, the lowest common denominator if you so will, is the ideal for equality: the strife for women and men to have the same rights, responsibilities and possibilities. Therefore it’s time to let men into the feminist debate. Equality is beneficial for men and women, we can all get hurt when laws and norms put gender first.
Feminism begun as women’s lib for women’s rights, but just as society it has changed a lot since the late 1800-hundreds. In a way it might be a misguiding name; Emma Watson launched the #HeforShe campaign for just that reason. In her speech (link here, in case you haven’t seen it) she deals with a – unfortunately very common – misconception: feminism is not man hating. Feminists think that men and women have the same worth, and ought to have the same rights in theory as well as practice.
That doesn’t mean we have to erase all differences, because some of them actually exist. For example the average woman is better at memorizing faces, whereas men tend to orient themselves better. The thing is, these are averages. Individual differences are usually bigger. Besides, many prominent gender differences aren’t in any way connected with our biology. What “is” male or female has changed a lot through the history, and of course it will continue to change. But from birth we are indoctrinated into these, and we are forced into templates that do not fit everyone. To create a society where everyone feels respected and participating, we must respect masculinity as well as femininity – and above all let the worth or value of an individual be completely set apart from his or her sex.
Beauty ideals are one of the areas where gender differences are still obvious. In part, of course, because of our different physique – but expectations and ideals play a huge role as well. Girls want to loose weight, boys want to build muscle.
It’s starting to resemble an epidemic, where people in general are unsatisfied with their looks, and girls in particular get eating disorders. Is it really so strange? Sweets and escalators are available everywhere, and the population in general is getting fatter. Thus, ideals become skinnier – simply because skinniness nowadays is harder to achieve. This is usually considered a problem that only affect girls, when in fact 10% of those seeking help are boys (underreporting is to be expected). On top of that, many boys and men feel bad for looking feeble and weak. Sales of steroids are going up – quickly – despite their destructive side effects.
Traditional femininity has been discussed in endless pages of analysis, political text, blog posts, fiction, philosophical pieces and whatnot. For good reasons; how many times haven’t women been discriminated against? How many women are still suffering because of this femininity? However, I think there is a screaming lack for such a dissection of masculinity. Traditional maleness is harsh and strong, almost agressive. It can manifest as a need to dominate: I think this is a common reason for rape. It’s about hobbies: boys (especially younger ones, I think) will refrain from things they consider girly, such as horse riding and ballet. It’s about life style choices: male vegetarians and vegans are often harassed for being “unmanly” and “gutless pussies” for not brutally murder an innocent animal for no reason whatsoever. It’s about degrading fathers, motorcycle accidents, boys who never read a novel, forbidden and hidden tears, fashion, suspicions… It’s about men who can’t live life to the fullest.
Some may object that “narrow social norms” are trifles, in comparison to rapes, childhood marriages and sex-linked rights to education and voting; things that are still legal in many parts of the world. And yes, I’m aware that my life is a sheer privilege compared with those women’s. I intend to use this privilege, by supporting the ideas that made my life tolerable. By questioning patriarchal structures, the thought processes that create inequality. By showing that we are all, first and foremost, sentient and thinking beings.
Let’s question social norms, let go of prejudice, open up. Change won’t come if only half the world cares, men must engage. For their own sake, not just for the women’s. For the girl who is tired of being submissive when she feels strong, for the boy who is tired of being strong when he feels vulnerable. For the the girl tossing out her muffin tray, for the boy longing to find one. For the boy who is forced to compete, for the girl who isn’t allowed to. They exist.
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