I was raised to be a feminist. It wasn't a conscious effort on my mother's part; in fact, when she sees me blustering with anger and frustration and going on about feminism today, she can't understand where those feelings come from. But that's how it is.
For the longest time, there was the silly refusal to wear pink clothes and act like a girl. There was the tough as nails I never cry act, there was the constant refusal to admit weakness or defeat around a guy. Then I grew up.
Then I read a little of the feminist theory I had grown up putting in practice. Then I looked around and found, to my amazement, that a lot of people were actually feminists or had feminist beliefs, but refused outright to associate with the school of thought.
Women seemed to have got what they wanted out of the movement, and were unwilling to risk being considered man-haters. They had the vote, and chivalry to boot. They had the right to call a man out on abuse, but also get to be bought flowers. What more could they ask for?
The men that weren't feminists tended to be confused, annoyed, furious or indifferent. Feminists were man hating crazy bitches who wanted female dominance at the cost of men's rights. We were the people pushing s. 498A, putting husbands and their entire families in jail on false counts, squeezing spouses for obscene amounts of money, manipulative women who refused to let husbands see their children.
Men's Rights Activists (MRAs) sprung up in the US. Websites and organizations like Save the Indian Family Foundation mushroomed in India. There was talk of abuse of the laws in favour of women in India and the destruction of the family system in the US.
The result? We have feminismS and feministS of various stripes, agreeing on little but the goal of fairness in gender relations. We have the MRAs in the US and their counterparts in India, some of whom think that their interests and those of feminists are mutually exclusive. We have the women who want nothing to do with the feminist question, and men who think that the cost of being a man is outweighed by its benefits. We have the Good Men Project and its kin.
What do these developments tell us?
A lot of men have ceased to think of themselves as un-gendered and have come to realise that their gender comes with its own baggage. A lot of men are trying to grapple with what some call a “post feminist” world, understanding how to negotiate unfamiliar terrain where usual gender cues no longer hold good.
The SlutWalk Bengaluru page has, of late, been inundated with angry comments by masculinists who want freedom from the role of a protector, who seethe at feminism and the great injustice of today’s world.
It is, therefore, now more important than ever for feminists to make a conscious effort to “ask the man question.” It is vital that feminists think about the repercussions of a particular legislative or policy demand on men as well as women. This is for a few reasons.
One is that any benefit to women that comes at the cost of unfairness to anyone else is undesirable and unethical. Moreover, in the long run, this unfairness will lead to greater hostility against women and feminists and a blanket refusal to be supportive of our agenda: something we are already seeing.
The other is motivated by self interest: feminism will not work if there are no men to adhere to it. bell hooks has said this in a more eloquent fashion than I can manage:
“Separatist ideology encourages us to believe that women alone can make feminist revolution - we cannot. Since men are the primary agents maintaining and supporting sexism and sexist oppression, they can be successfully eradicated only if men are compelled to assume responsibility for transforming their consciousness and the consciousness of society as a whole...”
My amendment to that quote would be that everyone is an agent in maintaining and supporting sexism; even if men at present have ostensibly more to lose from a drastic restructuring of our society along the lines of gender.
The last reason is that freeing men from mandated gender roles is already a rightful part of the feminist goal, as I see it. When sex became gender, feminism automatically became about more than just women. And so, in my view, feminism that is not concerned about men is not feminism.
And so feminism must proactively be concerned with men. To a large extent, it has been for quite a while. But the perception of feminism and men’s interests being mutually exclusive persists, and must gradually be eroded.
This post is titled “men are the answer.” I came to this conclusion when I first bumped into the Good Men Project and realised that while most women had had enough of and from feminism, it was men who were starting to wake up to their gendered existence and asking questions that could catalyze meaningful social evolution.
This opened up room for a lot of discussion and debate, of the realisation that societal mores hurt everyone, not just women; and that everyone had to gain from questioning these mores. With men questioning their own binds and seeing themselves as participants in this societal evolution, I figured things would move faster; and so far that belief seems to be well placed. There is also the obvious fact that in order to stop domestic violence or rape, you need to reach out to its perpetrators/silent supporters; thus making men “the answer” in the context of assault on women.
We need men to work with us, not only for us, but also for themselves, and a freer society in turn.
This Blog is part of the Men Say No Blogathon,* encouraging men to take up action against the violence faced by women.
More entries to the Blogathon can be read at www.mustbol.in/blogathon. Join further conversation on facebook.com/delhiyouth & twitter.com/mustbol
*I don’t agree with the name “Men Say No” because it plays on what it means to be a “real man,” which in turn buys straight into the kind of accepted stereotyping I try so hard to subvert.
However, I agree with the aim of this campaign, and this is a small step in furthering its goals.