(content warning: mentions of sexual abuse, suicide, fgm)
“I don’t believe in Feminism, I’m an egalitarian because I believe in equality between everyone regardless of gender!”
Does this sound familiar? This is the go-to catchphrase of many an anti-feminism, possibly well-meaning person who frequently misses the point. I say possibly well meaning because I think some of these people are caught up in the stigma attached to the word “feminism” and genuinely don’t understand the movement, but they actually still do believe in equal rights for all genders. But, and this is a big but! Ignorance doesn’t and shouldn’t excuse you. These people need to educate themselves before contributing to the negative connotations that plague feminism and oppress marginalised folk. Then of course there are plenty of people who routinely renounce feminism to do harm because they are anti-feminists.
Now the funny thing about the “I’m an egalitarian not a feminist because I believe in equality of the genders” speech is it’s completely oxymoronic. If you’ve ever had this conversation before and you were the feminist defending your use of the title “feminist”, you might have countered with “but feminism does mean equality of the sexes” etc. And if you were the self proclaimed egalitarian in the exchange you might have come back with “no, feminism is about women thinking they’re better, it’s about rising above men” etc.
The latter simply isn’t true.
So, why does the name of our movement include the word “feminine” if it’s about equality between genders?
Think of it like this. Which is more favourable in our patriarchal society, femininity or masculinity? Without a doubt the answer is masculinity. Feminine traits are condemned in our society, whether we realise it or not. On the whole, women, trans or otherwise, have it harder across the World. Whether that is in the form of the higher probability of being sexually abused in Western society (1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59 have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 in the UK), or the fact that more than 200 million women in many LEDCs have had female genital mutilation forced upon them, or the fact that the gender pay gap does still exist in both the UK and the US (and the gap gets larger for women of colour).
This means that women, trans and non-binary people start the game on a totally uneven playing field. When society favours cis, white, straight men, everyone else with various marginalised identities start off below, like a hierarchy.
This is where the name comes in. See, if we were to simply be egalitarians and aim to equalise the playing field then that would mean bringing men down as well as bringing women up. Picture a set of weighing scales. The feminine side of the scales has more weight on it, we’ll say this weight is a metaphor for societal disadvantage. The masculine side has less weight on it, less weight means more privilege. You take a little of the weight off femininity, and this side of the scales does go up, great! But you’ll notice that the other side of the scales (masculinity) goes down to make the scales even and straight. Is that enough now? Both sides share completely equal privilege and disadvantage now, right? Not quite.
See, women don’t want to bring men down, we’d really rather rise up to the level they occupied before we fiddled with the scales. We don’t want to meet in the middle, in fact, we don’t even want to be on a pair of scales. We want to be on some stairs. A staircase where white, straight, cis men sit at the very top. White, straight women sit maybe three or four behind, it depends on how many steps there are I suppose. People of colour, people of varying sexual orientations and of non-binary genders, people with disablities and illnesses all fall behind on different steps well behind the white, cis, straight man. This staircase model not only represents the varying intersections that contribute to privelige and disadvantage, but accurately portrays how we want equality to be attained. We want to climb the steps until we all stand at the top, that means nobody gets left behind and nobody is above or below anyone else and nobody has to lose rights for others to gain them. Equality!
But doesn’t feminism focus solely on women’s issues and ignore male issues?
Simply put, no. A common misconception is that A) we hate men and B) we don’t care about men’s issues. This simply isn’t true but what is even more interesting is that (pretty much) all male issues are caused by the patriarchy and they are all inherently feminist issues too.
Men are less likely to be granted custody or access to their kids after a divorce? Or men are discouraged from being stay at home dads? This relates to the traditional and restrictive gender roles that force women to be the housewife and caregiver and force men to be the providers. Feminists are against gender roles and we actively encourage the choice and freedom for people of all genders to take up whichever job or role they want.
Male sexual assault victims are laughed at or not believed? Roughly 11,000 men are raped per year in the UK, and in the US 3% of rape victims are male, and these are reported figures alone. The belief that men can’t be raped, especially by women, enforces the oppressive idea that men are strong and women are weak. It also erases the harm that can be caused by sexually abusive women and no, just because I’m a feminist I don’t believe women can be excused for harmful behaviour. If a man has been sexually abused he may be seen as weak, and thus like a woman. Think of the words someone might call a male seen as weak: pussy, sissy, fag, girl. These are feminine words; even “fag”, a homophobic slur, is used to describe gay males who are seen as more feminine because of their sexual preference and often even due to their personality/demeanour etc.
Women and children first? Well sorry but this one is a myth that has its roots in a fictional book and has never been a part of maritime rules of conduct, but since people like to throw it in when talking about male issues anyway then here goes. Not only does this also continue to stereotype men as strong and women as weak, it literally equates women to children. It says that women are as vulnerable and as weak as a minor. Hell no do I think this should be a rule! But of course it isn’t anyway, making this point sort of redundant but hey! I gave it to you anyway!
Young American males are forced into the draft whilst women are exempt? Whilst I believe conscription is a wholly ridiculous idea anyway, this law once again reinforces the age old stereotype that men are strong and women are weak. This concept pops up often as I’m sure you’ve noticed, and it is a rather basic explanation but ultimately that is what it comes down to, time and time again. Women are just not deemed physically and mentally up to the challenge and so the responsibility is left to the men.
Cis men are more likely to commit suicide than cis women? In the UK, three quarters of all suicides are by men
and suicide is the biggest killer of males aged 20-49. This is not okay. At all. But let’s think about the possible reasons why. Men are a lot less likely to talk about how they are feeling or look for help in dealing with their depression. Why? Because we live in a society that once again, yeah you guessed it, teaches men that they should be strong and that weakness is for women. Men don’t cry? Men are shamed for showing emotion because God forbid they act even a little stereotypically feminine.
What I’m getting at here is that feminism is here for female and male issues, because feminism is here to fight against patriarchy and misogny and . When you become aware of the signs you’ll start to notice that a lot of the world’s problems are deep rooted in misogyny. And how can that be surprising? When one half of the World’s population is oppressed then there’s bound to be deep rooted problems bursting through the cracks.
This being said, men do have to recognise that they hold a lot of privilege. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you acknowledge it and use it for good rather than bad (with great privilege comes great responsibility!). Women are at a major disadvantage and, whether men like it or not, our problems are on the whole more severe and male issues often pale in comparison. The problems only get worse the more marginalised a woman’s identities are. It’s important to not derail female issues with male ones, for example, women need to be able to fight againt sexual abuse/assault issues without “but men get raped too” constantly ringing in their ears. We need to be able to say “we know they do, we will fight for them too but right now this space is for female victims, who are disproportionally affected by rape”.
I’m not saying egalitarianism is a bad thing. In theory it’s a very good thing. But it’s an ideal, not a social movement. And it’s a word constantly used to derail and deny feminist issues and I implore you to stop falling for its guise of true equality because more often that not it is used by people who want the opposite.
My intersectional feminism is true equality, and that’s why I’m proud to call myself a feminist.