Feminist Readings: "We Should All Be Feminists" and the importance of men in the feminist message.
In many conversations with my male friends, particularly straight, white, cis-gender males, I ask the dreaded question that men very regularly fear, stutter and stumble over: "Are you a feminist?" As an avid supporter of the movement myself, I bring it up with many men, who either look at me with either a fear, anger or defensiveness. I become 'extreme', I become 'angry', I become this whiny, over-emotional, man-hater that is personally targeting them by asking them if they are a feminist - even though, in reality, it is not the belief that any one gender is better, but equal.
There's this idea that if I want to be paid the same as a man who is doing the same job as me, if I want to not be raped or sexually assaulted and if I just want the same respect as men, it is still, to this day, perceived as wanting to remove male power in order for me to have it. As women are on unequal footing to men (let's not even argue this, there are an insane amount of statistics and accounts to prove this worldwide), by wanting more respect and power in their domains, men automatically think that by saying this and labeling it as 'feminist', that this power and respect has to be taken from them first, and, from all the squeamish behaviour I've seen over this subject, they are terrified of this happening. This is why I regularly receive all the toxic-masculine nonsense in my life - "You're just so angry" or "You're on your period" (when I've told a man that I hate being cat-called and grabbed in the street, more often I receive this when I'm telling them to stop and leave me alone); "There are bigger problems in the world" (when I mentioned many of my female friends are paid less than men for the same job); "You might be over-reacting a bit" (over the fact women pay more tax for period products and are deemed by the EU as 'non-necessary' items vs. men's shaving products labelled as 'essential'); and the worst one I think I've ever received is being told that I was "hysterical" and "over-exaggerating" over being sexually assaulted.
It's horrific and it's a constant dodging of blame. Even though there are these universal feminine experiences of fear and mistreatment from men. Men, even good men who would never hurt women or deliberately put them down, can rarely believe our experiences and can't believe that some of their good mates, family and men they know would be capable of that because they've not experienced it and it's never their problem.
Thinking on this, this is why Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's essay We Should All Be Feminists (2014), is compulsory reading for all genders as it proves just how much men can suffer under the patriarchal system too, as well as some current issues in feminism. She starts her essay with something similar to what I've explained in that the word 'feminist' needs to be viewed in a completely different light. She explains a friend, at 14 years old, called her a feminist and 'it was not a compliment. I could tell from his tone - the same tone with which a person would say, 'You're a supporter of terrorism'" (8). As 'feminist' literally only means equality of genders, why is it so feared? Adiche says she was advised: "never call [her]self a feminist, since feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands" (9). When I told my father that I always ask the person I'm dating if they're a feminist, he fake yawns or tuts or rolls his eyes, when, within that word 'feminist', I'm basically just asking my partner in a non-invasive or angry way: "Do you believe that I am deserving of the same opportunities and respect as you?"
There's also a very important and inter-sectional message in Adiche's work. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche is originally from Lagos in Nigeria, and compares regularly the Nigerian and African perspective to feminism to the Western one - surprisingly highlighting multiple similarities. She was told being a feminist was "un-African" and that she "had been influenced by Western books" (10) and that the idea of feminism was "you hate men, you hate bras, you hate African culture, you think women should always be in charge, you don't wear make-up, you don't shave, you're always angry, you don't have a sense of humor, you don't use deodorant" (11), which is very regularly the opinion of many men and women of all cultures towards feminism too, when it shouldn't have to be this extreme.
She also speaks of two major experiences from Lagos and then America: "Each time I walk into a Nigerian restaurant with a man, the waiter greets the man and ignores me." (20) Compared to in the US, in which her friend is scared to speak up in meetings because her boss "ignored her comments and then praised something similar when it came from a man [...] she wanted to speak up [...] Instead, she didn't [...] because she didn't want to seem aggressive" (23). These experiences are obviously slightly different, I've experienced people ignoring me in these similar situations, and the way Adiche talks about it, there are obviously more aspects to being African and feminist that just isn't in the dialect of Western feminism and usually gets ignored, unfortunately. However, the fact two women from two corners of the world have the same experience with being ignored in two different settings because of the strong masculine presence only further validates the everyday, universal experiences and problems of women.
Now, how do men come into this and are they constantly the big, bad villain? No, obviously not, we are human and complex characters no matter what is in between our legs. But the socialisation of men means there are problems that cause women inequalities, but there are also problems within the masculinity itself that are very emotionally self-destructive.
As Adiche states:
My male friends regularly talk to me about how the only healthy conversations about sex and relationships have been with women, the only healthy conversations about emotions, feelings, the load of life, they feel more comfortable talking about these things with women, because with men, they themselves state, feel like they're going to be judged or seen as womanly and weak, when these things aren't actually feminine traits, but human traits that just so happen to be more repressed in men, but they are still there. Which is why in so many situations men get so, so, so upset and angry when women don't cater to their needs and wants.
Here is a very personal situation that occurred with me that completely relates to Adiche's statement. I went to a club with a girl I was with at the time, it was a date, we were very obviously together and enjoying ourselves. A man kept trying to flirt with both of us, whenever we kissed or danced with each other, him and his group of friends would whistle, blow kisses at us and shout at us because they thought it was all for them. They thought that the only way two girls would kiss each other is to appeal to them and not because of our own self-enjoyment. We ignored them multiple times and kept moving, because a confrontation with them would ruin our night and men sometimes get very violent when rejected in clubs, as I've experienced before and can be a genuinely, fearful experience.
It got to the point where this man, egged on by his mates, came up behind me when I wasn't looking, grabbed my by the vagina violently and motioned humping behind me. I was so angry and mad, I elbowed him in the stomach so hard he was on the floor. I felt humiliated and was so disturbed and uncomfortable on what should have been a lovely and fun evening, but I had to leave and just felt like crying and calling my Mam. But what was his reaction to this rejection? I was called a "crazy, stupid bitch", spat at and his male friends laughed at him on the floor and called him a "pussy" because he hadn't established enough male dominance on me, which ultimately meant abusing me. It was systematically promoted within his friendship group, without any of them thinking it was wrong or weird or horrific. Of course he would react that way, of course he would be violent to me, if he is constantly shamed for being anything other than dominant and aggressive to women.
The worst part of this whole affair, that seriously hurt my soul, was when I told my family that this was a very horrific and horrible experience for me, then, my 17 year old sister commented laughing: 'Oh, Laura you punched him?! Bet he thought that was attractive!'. He assaulted me and she feels I shouldn't have done that so I could get more of his attention, and now I know she feels she can't defend herself because she feels like she would need to attract him and gain his respect even though his actions are severely, completely and utterly disgusting and wrong. Trying to cater to his ego would be easier than dealing with the aftermath of sometimes very abusive men that don't get their way.
So, these accounts and statistics that all show men as more powerful than women, don't need to be true. I know some male feminists who I love and support dearly and support me too. They are the people that are going to really spin gender problems around a full 180. In those catcalling situations or those uncomfortable social situations, women can feel powerless and if men notice other men doing this and speak up, prevent it and speak up over gender equality and change this 'terrorist' idea of feminism, helping women, as Adiche discusses, helps men too!
If being a 'pussy', being emotional and acting 'like a girl' is no longer a bad thing and vulnerability is allowed and more accessible in groups of men, then men's suicide rate is less likely to be so high, as they can deal with their emotions more healthily. This in turn will help women, because if men can deal with their emotions and anger in a healthier way, there would be less abuse and sexual abuse of women (like the situation in the club, if his mates had called him out and told him he was being very gross for doing that, instead of calling him a "pussy", I'm sure he would have really really considered doing that to another woman ever again). This is not saying that men are not assaulted themselves, and, in fact, being able to be a feminist, more open and emotionally free, be more supportive of the female experience of assault would automatically help and promote the male one.Women being paid equally and allowed the same job opportunities, mean that some of the work load is relieved and more opportunities like better paternity leave will then be available for men, as right now, women get better paid maternity leave because they are still considered to be the one in straight relationships to care for children.
As Adiche states, we need "a fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves [...] we must raise our daughters differently. We must raise our sons differently" (25). A world where men can be confident enough in their emotions to respect those around them and speak up when they see injustice and a world where women aren't afraid to just speak up and aren't afraid to be go higher because a man prevents them.
This essay is available on Amazon here:
But it was originally a TEDx talk which you can watch here: