People sometimes hear the word “feminism” and want to run in the opposite direction, change the subject or even roll their eyes and disparage the idea. It’s a pretty polarizing subject. Some people embrace the title “feminist” while others, both men and women, shy away from it, associating it with man-hating.
Though the word itself, with its root being “fem,” can point to putting women above men or valuing women more than men, feminism is actually a fight for equality. Historically and statistically, women have suffered more from inequality and been disproportionately affected by inequality, but that doesn’t change the fact that inequality hurts men, too.
In 2014, Emma Watson announced the HeForShe campaign in a speech at the United Nations, urging men to fight against inequality and discrimination against women, but also pointing out that men are affected by gender inequality as well. While Watson’s campaign received criticism – after all, men had been ‘invited’ to the conversation about inequality long before Watson stepped up to the plate – she made valid points on the benefits of feminism for men as well as women.
Men suffer from gender roles just as women do; they’re expected to dress a certain way, assert their masculinity whenever possible, deemed weak when they show emotion, and are often expected to provide financially as the breadwinners of their households. They want to have a more active role in their children’s lives, but are rarely afforded time off to spend with them; paternity leave is virtually unheard of in the U.S. Meanwhile, men expected to repress their emotions, told to “man up” and hide their vulnerabilities.
As a result, men are often emotionally stunted, unable or unwilling to express themselves, and internalize their struggles to the point of being disproportionately affected by mental illness. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men in the U.S. commit suicide 3.5 times more often than women, and white males accounted for 7 out of 10 suicides in the U.S. in 2016.
Men can also be victims of sexual violence, and are often judged and deemed weak if they reveal they’ve been sexually assaulted. However, I will say that while a man might be ostracized or victim-blamed following assault, it’s more likely that people will believe his claims immediately. When actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of trying to seduce him 30 years prior, Netflix announced the very same day that its show “House of Cards,” which Spacey starred in, would be canceled after the sixth season. According to BBC News, The International Academy of Television Arts announced it would no longer give Spacey a special Emmy award in light of “recent events,” and a week later Spacey was completely removed from the film “All the Money in the World,” which was already in post-production. In a matter of days, Spacey’s career was ruined. Meanwhile, it took almost 50 women speaking out against Bill Cosby over several months before the public said, “Hmm, maybe he did do it.”
The reason feminism often seems to focus on women is because, historically, we’ve been the most affected by gender inequality. However, the movement – aside from extremists, which you’ll find in any movement – has never been focused on belittling men or punishing men. It’s important to acknowledge that women aren’t the only ones who suffer. Most of us suffer, to some degree, from our prescribed gender roles because they’re ultimately limiting and harmful. It’s important that we all feel able and welcome to express our vulnerabilities, take care of our mental health and practice self-love; we all deserve it, equally.