Men of quality support gender equality

´Men, gender equality is your issue too´ is what Emma Watson stated in her speech for the #HeforShe social campaign in 2014. As an initiative of the United Nations and part of the feminist social movement, the #HeforShe campaign strives for gender equality by targeting men and boys as the agents of change. Obviously, modern-day society has a patriarchal core which entails a male-dominated social structure, both in organised, collective relationships as in individual relationships 1. Us men are still the prime beneficiaries of gender inequality, which automatically means that dismantling male privilege is, for a substantial part, our task. Personally it can feel quite difficult to find ways to actively engage in movements which aim to empower females in the social, economic, political and sexual arenas of society. The privileged background I possess, as a heterosexual Dutch male, sometimes can hinder me from actively participating in initiatives of female empowerment. This being mainly for my, although unwanted, stigmatised dominant position in these arenas in regard to females. Barriers like this, therefore, prevent us from taking an active stance in feminist movements. Being aware of those internal and external hurdles is essential for men in actually overcoming these and consequently reaching an active state of mind and behaviour towards feminist movements ³. Moreover, us men should realise that this active feminist state would not only be beneficial for our female counterparts, but maybe even more for ourselves.

Why we do not do #HeforShe

Barriers exist, either internal or external, that may hinder men to take initiative or participate actively in feminism. Inner obstacles may be that a man has a lack of awareness of the gender unequal society or that he´s constrained on the basis of faith and religion ². External barriers for men to actively engage in feminism can be the suspicious or resistant attitude which some women (organisations) may have on male feminist engagement 2. Moreover, fellow men, in their (inner) social circle, can also show a resistant or even hostile attitude towards feminist actions ².

There also is a societal risk that the active engagement of men in the empowerment of women will distract from the core aim of the feminist movements, which is gender equality ³. This social risk entails that the public perception evolves so that, because of the patriarchal social structure, ´men take over´ women-led initiatives, actions and public campaigns ³. The active engagement of men in feminist activities can therefore have a counterproductive function. 

Why we should do #HeforShe 

Active participation in feminism is about improving the position and status of women, but if that is not enough; it is also about freeing us men from the restrictive gender norms and codes that hold us back 3. We live in an individualistic, capitalistic society in which generalised masculine characteristics like being independent, tough and competitive, are hierarchically ordered above feminine characteristics, like being sensitive and cooperative ⁴. Most of us men therefore consider ourselves foremost as strong, independent and fierce ⁴. ´Real men´ need a constant affirmation of this personal identity, often resulting in overly assertive social behaviour ³. Women more often act according to the feminine gender code, which entails being peaceful, talkative about feelings and understanding ⁴. As a result of this, women are literally ´coded´ to become victims of this male aggressiveness, leading to the patriarchal society of today.

Us men unconsciously act according to the masculine role we have been taught to play throughout our lives ¹. Importantly, the majority of us men are not as fierce, competitive and aggressive in nature as we often show ¹. The masculine norm restricts men from being talkative about their inner-feelings and experiences, resulting in psychological suppression4. This may result in male anxiety, depression, substance abuse and ultimately suicide ³. Hence this unnecessary masculinity is not solely harmful for females, but we men are victims of it too. 

Male emancipation as solution 

Women have been active with their own emancipation for decades, whereas the notion of active male emancipation somehow has not (entirely) reached us. The execution of gender codes implies that we are also capable of outgrowing these masculine norms ³. By acknowledging our privileges as males and actively engaging in feminist activities, we show our self-reflective, sensitive and cooperative capacities ³. We have the responsibility, towards ourselves and society, to be introspective and talkative about or feelings. Us males must be aware of the necessity of developing and emancipating as human beings, creating a more gender equal society with no haunting gender roles. Male feminist activity and its results will hence improve the relation with our mental and physical selves and with our (close) male and female social environment. The  #HeforShe campaign therefore rightfully sees us men as both the advocates and stakeholders of feminist empowerment. If we would all release our inner-feminist, the whole Western civilization would be better off. 

References

[1] Burrell, S., Ruxton, S., Westmarland, N. (2020, forthcoming), Changing gender norms: engaging with men and boys, London: Government Equalities Office.

[2] Heath, S. (1984). Male feminism. The Dalhousie Review. 

[3] Van Tricht, J. (2018). Waarom feminisme goed is voor mannen. Atlas Contact.

[4] Kachel, S., Steffens, M. C., & Niedlich, C. (2016). Traditional masculinity and femininity: Validation of a new scale assessing gender roles. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 956. 

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