Why Are Men Afraid of Feminism?

By Lucille Stengel

In her inaugural speech at the launch of HeForShe, Emma Watson asked: ‘How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcomed to participate in the conversation?’ He for She addresses an important issue: the need to convert men to feminism. In 2015, while a majority of western men believe in gender equality, only a minority identify as feminists.
So why do men struggle so much to identify with feminism? A lot of it probably has to do with the word itself: feminism is still associated with man hating. It is, as Watson explains, ‘an uncomfortable word’. And this is not surprising. Feminism initially developed around the idea that men could not be feminists. Simone de Beauvoir, for example, argued in The Second Sex that men could not understand feminism because of inherent differences between the sexes. Other approaches posited the impossibility for men to share feminist ideals because they belong to the ‘group of oppressors’. Naturally, men felt unwelcomed to participate.
In 2015 however, feminism has evolved, and initiatives like He For She reflect a desire to integrate men at the core of the debate. But will we succeed in converting men to feminism? As noble as it sounds, the task will be difficult. Let alone disliking the word, a lot of men still do not understand the justification behind feminism. Very often, my male friends explain to me that they feel offended by feminist ideals. They argue that feminism generalises behaviours, depicting all men as ‘violent monsters’.
It makes me quite sad to realise that most of my counterparts misunderstand the point. No, feminism does not assume that all men are monsters. Rather, what it tries to do is to challenge actions and beliefs, which, in the long term, favour men. Raising our daughters to think that they need protection, describing them in appearance-related terms, are all behaviours that contribute to inequality and harm. And yes, unfortunately, most men share these beliefs, or at least reproduce them, because they were raised with them. In fact, most of us share these beliefs, and this is what feminism addresses.
Now, until men join the feminist debate, feminism will be seen as favouring women. It is simple math. But how do we get a group of people to speak against a system they benefit from? Men are privileged in most situations. They are de facto taken more seriously, and less likely to be judged according to their appearance. In conversations, they will struggle twice as less to get their point across. But men are so accustomed to their privilege that they don’t notice it.
We need men to understand that the world we live in favours them, and it starts by sharing our experiences as often as possible. In fact, solidarity usually develops when people witness an injustice with their own eyes. Take these examples. When male students at Colby College in Maine heard about sexual assaults on their campus, they were quick to take action against rape.  Similarly, when in Turkey thousands of women shared their experiences of harassment after the death of Ozgecan Aslan, men started an impressive campaign against violence. As much as men must learn from our experiences, we need to make sure we share them as much as possible. 



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