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Feminism is contentious. Nary a mention of the word online, let alone any of its associated concepts, can expect to escape thorough scrutiny, intense outrage, or some form of heated ‘discussion’, that results in each party further inflating the volume within their echo chambers to no discernible consequence.
This toxicity can deter many from the label. For some, a feminist stands for equality and the campaign to eradicate gender-based discrimination. For others, however, this word carries connotations to man-hating and denigration of non-women.
Equating feminism (the collection of movements that aim to establish equality for women) and misandry (ingrained prejudice against men) is highly damaging, though apparently the norm. A 2013 YouGov survey asked 1,797 people whether they identified themselves as feminists and only 19% said yes. Yet, when the same survey asked respondents whether they agreed with societal equality for men and women, this figure rose to 81%. The gap is, perhaps unsurprisingly, particularly prevalent among men.
Given that it is, of course, a movement for women’s liberation, I can wholly understand a man feeling uncomfortable in calling himself a feminist. But this persistent fundamental misunderstanding of the principles of feminism itself is perplexing. By definition, feminists yearn for women’s rights in order to bring true equality to the sexes. Inherently, there is no difference between an advocate for equality of the genders and a feminist.
Perhaps worse still is when men fail to recognise why such movements even exist in our zeitgeist. Many fail to appreciate the wider picture, shrugging off conversations about important feminism issues simply because they don’t perceive themselves as part of the problem at hand.
A prime example of this comes in the recent furore surrounding George Lawlor, a Warwick Tab writer who took offence at being invited online to a consent class because he was satisfied with his own knowledge of how not to be a rapist. In the vast majority of humans, I would assume such knowledge exists. What his standpoint lacks, however, is the grander context. Not everyone knows the meaning of consent, or has a full understanding of the implications their actions have towards women.
It is estimated by the charity Rape Crisis that 11 adults (including men) are raped in the UK every single hour and 20% of women between the ages of 16 and 59 have experienced sexual violence. If just one person attends a consent class and later does not commit sexual assault as a consequence, surely it is logical to acknowledge that something has clearly worked as intended.
For those who respect the gender-centric problems that permeate our culture, but do not consider themselves a paid-up member of the feminist brigade, I have good news. A name exists for you, and that is pro-feminist. If you feel that the Latin roots of the label itself serve as an affront to your masculinity and make your chromosomes tremble with chauvinistic woe, you may be a bit of a lost cause.
When I talk about men’s feminism, I talk about men engaging with the battle for a society that is equal for human beings of all genders, about men standing up against harassment and misogyny and sexism, about men accepting the struggles and threats that women face as genuine issues. To engage with the discourse of feminism or to support its aims and actions does not require you to be a woman, nor does it make you any less of a man.
Gender inequality does no good for our society. If we unite globally against it, beneath the greatest banner that the English language currently possesses, our utopian dream could reach fruition.