Men are not the enemy

3

What is feminism? When I was asked this at the beginning of my English A-level, my response was: “women who want rights”, and I would expect many of you have at some point thought the same. This, however, is wrong. Feminism, in its truest sense, is the fight for equality and is advocated by both sexes. The problem is that over the years, with radical feminists such as Germaine Greer encouraging women to drink their own menstrual blood and making bold claims that “loving men is such a mess”, the definition of feminism has been corrupted. To many people the word ‘feminist’ is now synonymous with ‘man-hater’ and consequently the nature of sexism is reversing and men seem to be the target.

It is widely accepted that men and the male gaze are the fundamental reason why women are forced into a role of subservience. It is impossible to argue that men are blameless, however women have a lot to answer for too! Nobody wants to be accused of sexism and the act of doing so arouses fear and embarrassment in the accused; women know this! The power of the feminist movement is such that a woman can accuse any man of being sexist and make him feel obliged to apologise for the most careless of remarks. This strikes me as both unfair and pathetic. So many women complain about being earmarked as weak and unintelligent, yet they are readily prepared to use the ‘s’ word at the slightest injustice. Isn’t the fact that such women feel unable to stand up to men without an army of feminists behind them a sign of weakness in itself? Why can’t women just explain to their offender why they are offended without automatically turning every careless comment and action into an attack on women? It’s ridiculous. Furthermore, if a woman was to make an offensive comment about a man would the reaction be the same? I doubt it. To use an example with which many of you – particularly those of you who pay attention to the groups that have recently flooded Facebook – will be familiar: if a man asks a woman to make him a sandwich, it is seen as sexist; however, if a woman asks another woman, or indeed a man, to make her a sandwich, it is merely a woman asking a favour. How is this fair? Either both cases should be sexist or neither. Similarly, derogatory statements, for example calling someone a ‘whore’ (a term which I have heard used referring to both men and women), should be condemned on their own merits and not simply because women feel particularly offended about it. It is not offensive because it can be used to describe women. It is offensive because it is offensive!

Most men aren’t actually sexist. Certainly, I’ve never come across a man whom I would deem to be so. The male figures in my life respect me as an intelligent and autonomous person, not woman – person, and I afford them with the same respect. For the most part, two acquaintances do not regard each other as male or female, but instead they assign more meaningful characteristics, such as: funny, intelligent, unkind or aggressive. It is just a small-minded few who would even consider judging someone based on their gender. So why are men being accused of oppressing women, when really most of them aren’t? Actually, it is fair to say that some women are in fact the cause of their own subjugation and unwittingly help to perpetuate sexist ideals. The girls who screech: “oh I’m such a blonde”! The women who spend their lives “holding out for a hero” and worse even, the women who deliberately deviate from the norm to prove that they’re not a product of patriarchy. Why aren’t we blaming them too? If I had a pound for every time I’ve been told that I shouldn’t wear make-up, because make-up is what patriarchy likes; I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have enough money to buy a new bottle of foundation. I don’t wear make-up to please any man, I wear it because it’s how I feel most comfortable, so why would I want to stop wearing it, just to prove that men can’t control me? Surely changing your actions to go against societal constraints is allowing them to control you anyway? Why can’t people just do what they want without being told they’re perpetuating a detrimental stereotype? Why am I being made to feel bad for wanting to (one day) marry a man? I’m not preserving some ancient and oppressive social construct; I just believe in family values and love and security. Maybe some marriages are about control, but not all of them. I know plenty of married couples who have an equal relationship, and there are countless marriages in which the woman is dominant. The idea that traditions and societal contraints are just a means by which man is able to assert his dominance over women is a huge misconception and a myth which, if this world is ever going to be equal, we must dispel.

My problem with feminism is not that I don’t think women should be equal to men, nor am I advocating anything that may be seen to oppress women. My problem is that if the truest definition of ‘feminism’ is the struggle for equality, then ‘feminism’ is the wrong word. Where is the male equivalent? Referring to the fight for equality as feminism reinforces the outdated, Animal Farm assertion that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, that is, that we should strive for equality for everyone, but because they’ve suffered so much in the past, a woman’s equality is more important. This is wrong. The word should be equality, not feminism or patriarchy. If we’re really going to achieve equality then we need to stop using these words. We need to stop referring to things as ‘sexist’ and just live as we want to live. We shouldn’t have to change the way we act or speak because we’re scared of reinforcing a stereotype; nor should a woman be made to feel like she has let fellow women down because she gets married or wears make-up. That is just as bad as the sexism that people have fought so long to avoid. We need to stop blaming men too. Saying something is sexist because it favours men is wrong, because there are just as many things that favour women. Men are not the enemy, so we need to stop pretending that they are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000756074325 Francesca Elizabeth Pearson

    It’s not the word we need to change, it’s the way people view the terminology. “Mankind” encompasses males and females and people KNOW this but they’re not going around saying we need to change it because it begins with “man” instead of being something like “peoplekind”. We don’t need to change the word feminism just because it starts with “fem” instead of “masc”… we just need people to do their research properly and realise that feminists can also be male, and only radical feminists like Greer, who you mentioned in the article, adopt the term to mean man-hating and the like.
    I agree that men aren’t the enemy per se, but the world is still male dominated and patriarchal and a lot of men are openly sexist and believe women are objects serving a purpose rather than equal people. Just because you haven’t come across sexist men in your life doesn’t mean they don’t exist…and many women do perceive men as an enemy because they are so blatant about holding women back in a sphere in which they can be dominated. 
    You have to realise that the origin of the terminology and the history of feminism contribute to why the word “feminism” was used instead of the word “equality”. Just because we now have some men on side and have progressed a lot since the 70s, doesn’t mean we should abandon the term and use a new one, and just because you’re fortunate enough to have strong male role models and to not yet have encountered any sexist or dominant men doesn’t mean feminism should just change because you believe the term has negative connotations.
    Sexism DOES exist. Getting rid of the terminology doesn’t mean we’ll get rid of sexism itself. Similarly if we change the word “feminism” to the word “equality” we’re completely diminishing and patronising all of those women in the past who have fought long and hard to get where we are today. But we still need to carry on fighting and breaking down these ridiculous gender barriers and stereotypes. 
    I am PROUD to be a feminist and I will willingly educate anyone who doesn’t understand it and merely believes all of us are raving lunatic lesbians who hate men. I wear makeup nearly every day and I LOVE getting dressed up. I love my boyfriend to pieces and I can’t wait to get married. But does that mean I feel like I’m letting other feminists down? No, that’s ridiculous. You don’t have to stop doing the things you enjoy doing to be a feminist. Sure, men invented marriage and some use it as means to dominate a woman or even several women… but does that mean I can’t get married in the future because SOME men marry for the wrong reasons? No.
    Men are not ALWAYS the enemy is what I would suggest instead of saying men are NOT the enemy. Because that is blatantly wrong. In a general view of the world, men are still misogynist and exert control over women. Sure, that might not be as much the case in the UK, after all we have a Queen etc, but you need to look at the bigger picture. There are women getting raped, sexually abused, physically abused and treated like objects every single day of their lives… who is the enemy there? But likewise, I agree, women can also rape and sexually abuse men. Being a feminist doesn’t mean I condone the awful things women do to men, and it doesn’t mean I view men as the enemy either. But they CAN be and the fact that awful things like this still happen on a daily basis is WHY we need to be feminists and keep on fighting. If we don’t fight for women’s rights and instead fight for equality, then distorted groups of people like radical feminists will twist the meaning of the word equality and say “well men rape me so I’m going to rape men, because then that makes me equal”. 
    There is NEVER going to be a word or phrase that encompasses what feminism is all about without confusing outsiders who don’t fully understand it. We don’t need to change the wording, we need to change the education of the topic so that people understand what it is, rather than what some people distort it to be. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=698016827 Amber Lilley

      I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said. My issue isn’t with the beliefs of genuine feminists: I hate the way people are stereotyped, whether that be because of gender, what they choose to wear-whatever! I particularly like the fact that you agree that a woman shouldn’t have to change herself to prove she’s a feminist. My problem is, and always has been with people-usually, but I’m sure not exclusively, women, who claim that wearing make up or getting married or whatever are reinforcing sexism. Obviously they’re not. I’ve even been told that women shouldn’t shave because it’s just giving patriarchy what it wants-I mean,how can anyone argue that? I think that, more than anything, is my point. As you rightly said, it is the lack of education about feminism that has led to the misconceptions about its cause, and the increase in female to male sexism that I mention at the beginning of my article, the purpose of which was really to draw attention to the fact that we can’t just blame men, and that radical feminism doesn’t make things any better. Personally I think there needs to be a universally understood definition of feminism which makes it clear that it is about equality,not man-hating. I hope this makes sense. :)

  • Avi Bodek

    Very nicely written.

    “the definition of feminism has been corrupted. To many people the word ‘feminist’ is now synonymous with ‘man-hater’ and consequently the nature of sexism is reversing and men seem to be the target.”
    Couldn’t have said it better. Recently as I have seen online, there are those who are shocked that others who support rights for women do not consider themselves feminists. 
    They do not seem to realize that those flying under the cause of “fighting for women’s rights” are also criticizing and attempting to halt portrayals of women in film and pornographic entertainment. That is not to say that protesting such things is wrong, but whether they violate women’s rights is another issue entirely.

    (I am a young man by the way)