Lily Siddiqi discusses how the debate around gender equality has lost focus, ignoring the underlying message and those affected worst by prevailing sexism…
There appears to be a wide misconception that there is a battle of the genders, that somehow men’s rights and women’s rights are mutually exclusive. Whether it be extreme feminists criticising International Men’s day which was established to promote mental health issues that men suffer from in silence or it’s ‘meninists’ suggesting that women be “put back in their place”: the kitchen. Cue laughter.
A false debate has been created, a false war waged between the sexes.
It’s one where men demonise the greater equality gained by women, suggesting that they are evil manipulating bitches and women misunderstand the fact that men’s issues can and should be promoted and paid attention to alongside the pursuit of gender equality. Often some women are also quick to paint men as the sexual predator we are all taught to fear, the wolf chasing Little Red as she innocently visits her grandmother and therefore this very quickly can rile up a vitriolic and defensive response. This is when things become ugly.
I am not here to say that ‘meninists’ are correct in their sexism and misogyny but perhaps to say that there is still the misunderstanding of the fact that feminism is not solely a man hating ideology and are leading less radical thinking men to feel threatened by the growth of the feminist movement (at least the optimistic, naïve part of me wills this to be true) and also many women to distance themselves from feminism. There are certainly plenty of misogynists out there just as there are women who actively hate men but those minorities are being exaggerated to fabricate a war. A war which suggests feminism should be halted in its tracks and that any gain of freedom and equality for women is a loss of freedom and equality for men.
This false, constructed conflict actually pretty scary and has some alarming consequences. Due to the growing failure to recognise feminism as a legitimate movement in developed countries it is making it increasingly difficult to champion women’s issues in developing countries. Countries where girls are not entitled to go to school, whereby you can expect to be married and having children by the time you’ve had your first period (if you had not already been married off before then). People shy away from the gravity of this situation, hide it and shut it away, preferring to debate over whether or not chivalry and feminism are compatible, conversations which should be secondary because frankly it’s not very nice to think about the truth of the matter. Very much like the straw man fallacy, sexists simplify feminism, labelling the issues 1st world problems of whinging women and knock is down with a swift blow whilst the arena of other sexists cheers and jeers and sprays beer everywhere. All the while a world of girls who can’t be educated and dying from child birth at the age of 11 are being left vulnerable and under-represented, standing outside the arena, waiting to be seen and heard.
It is very easy to forget that women’s issues aren’t championed to the extent that they are in the developed world, (however it is clearly not enough with cases such as Stanford Rape displaying how white, male, middle class privilege is still very much alive and well). Many anti-feminists prefer to shut out the endemic subjugation of women in the developing world where girls my age and younger would not be surprised if their parents sold them into marriage so they could buy their brother a car (yes, that actually happens). An example needs to be set in the developed world, an example that shows it is possible for women to attain respect and substantive equality.
These petty arguments between men and women over whether or not feminism is hurting male pride, or if women are secretly colluding to take over the world (I promise we are) are all resulting in ignorance of the bigger issues at hand when it comes to feminist aims and goals. The fact that male friends of mine make sexist jokes about women making sandwiches to get a reaction just shows how maybe the focus of feminism has been far too Western or perhaps far too trivial. Larger issues, ones that are harder to talk about are being omitted from our consciousness in every day conversation. Or perhaps it suggests that there is a fundamental misunderstanding as to what feminism is at its simplest. A friend of mine put it very well the other day, ‘the most radical opinions come from those with the loudest voices’. Therefore, many people’s perception of feminism is one that is radical and perhaps malicious, which is causing every day people to distance themselves from it and is provoking the vicious misogynistic ‘meninist’ movement. However, it is also true that many misogynists have problems with the mere concept of gender equality to begin with, though I think they would find it very hard to defend the martial rape of 11-year-old girls by 40-year-old men.
The increasing numbers of people speaking out against feminism, and not just meninists, young empowered girls, is alarming. People are quick to dismiss it, suggesting that women are no longer disadvantaged in society. The larger picture has been successfully omitted, just as consumers are blind by choice to the sweatshops that produce our clothes, the inhumane factories that build our phones, many are blind to the fact that gender equality is not just an issue in the developed world.
This subconscious choice to neglect the rest of the world when it comes to issues such as gender equality is a worrying one. People are increasingly concerned with how an issue effects their life rather than fighting for the cause as a whole, one that can only bring about more goodness and freedom.
We need to be more quick to reject those who dismiss feminism as angry man hating, this is a selfish, and frankly ignorant point of view when it comes to looking at the wider picture. This fabricated conflict is getting in the way of much more pressing issues and is allowing for a fundamental misunderstanding to occur time and time again, thus slowing the process and leaving the vulnerable to be vulnerable.
Follow Lily on twitter: @lilysiddiqi
Illustration: Sophia Maria