Men Will Certainly Play a Role in the Feminist Movement But It's Not their Fight
Throughout its journey, the feminist movement has adhered to fighting against attributes holding the world in an unequal, unjust and toxic environment. In its history, however, one constant element is unfazed: the lack of men’s participation in this much-needed change.
It is obvious that the majority of men despise feminism in its entirety or at least don’t care about it. But while feminism is the fight against unconscious biases and cultural norms that disadvantage women, it is not just for them. The role of men is as paramount, if not more.
Legends such as Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso have shown that men can be feminists, too. And just like knowing the sky is blue and the grass is green raises little to no utter concern, that too shouldn’t strike a chord. Being a male feminist is not achieved simply by believing that women and men deserve equal rights, it is by taking a stand beside them.
But what is really men’s role in feminism? Well, to be allies. Men have easier access to platforms that allow the message of feminism to be projected to a larger audience. Within government, the workplace, media, and countless other domains, male feminists can endeavour to equalise representation of the sexes. For equal representation to be more quickly and painlessly reached, men must work with women in the struggle.
But being an effective ally is not limited to large-scale efforts. Allies can contribute in the simplest of ways.
As Afro-feminist and Girl Talk ambassador Uwase Arlette told me, “Truly, the role of men is to continuously educate themselves on how their collective makes this world unsafe for women and make sure to hold each other accountable.” The actions and words of men in personal interactions are essential to discouraging rhetoric and behaviour that promote toxic masculinity. It suppresses men into constricted roles, limiting the ways they can express themselves while retaining their identity as “male.” It discourages compassion. It dissuades emotion. Indeed, it is important for men to learn to listen and educate themselves.
However, male allies shouldn’t speak for women. By virtue of not being female, men can never fully understand what women go through under patriarchy — perhaps especially in our African traditions, where people scream when a woman dares to dream. It is bad for women and it is bad for men. But the male party must recognise that men are perpetrators and women are victims.
Nevertheless, acknowledging that men can be part of the movement too, raises a question as to why they’re not already part of the movement or act like it doesn’t concern them. Kibelinka Leslie Gloria, a feminist, says men “feel like feminism doesn't concern them because what we are fighting for benefits only us and not men.” To them, she says, it’s not their battle to fight.
The second reason is that a lot of men believe that feminism hates them. They see it as a threat, they feel attacked. But this flawed generalisation actually alienates those who could benefit from the movement. Men should understand that the fight is not against them personally, that it is against the cultural heritages that oppress women.
The same patriarchy fosters a culture that normalizes socially destructive aspects and aggression that feeds into rape culture. Telling boys from day one, for instance, that the worst thing they can do is act feminine places an enormous amount of pressure on men to always take the lead and never reveal any vulnerability. But feminism can liberate men to be what they want to be. So yes, males benefit from the movement too. And feminists do not hate men. They hate misogyny, homophobia, greed, and harmful domination that comes with toxic masculinity.
There are, in addition, more reasons why men haven’t taken part in feminism, especially in Africa and Rwanda. Perhaps the fear of guilt and cultural norms they have been used to for so long, or whatnot. But with more men slowly being aware of their subtler acts of misogyny and others growing less ignorant about the subject, all from their idols and mentors, it can only go up from here. Hopefully, soon enough some will take a sip of courage in their belly and admit that “men are trash.”
This quota coming from the Twitter hashtag – embarking on the fight against rape, violence and domestic abuse that women and girls face each and every day by men – instils the need for change, where men should acknowledge failing women and start holding each other accountable for their actions. As long as there are men out there who pose a threat to the sanctity and lives of women, every one of us will be trash. And it is with a mindset like this that change is prominent.
In a world where feminism allows victims a platform where their marginalized voices are emphasized over those by whom they are usually silenced, male allies serve as role models for the men in their lives. They discourage the doctrine of restrictive patriarchy. They teach men they can act however they want and still retain their male identity. They make maleness broader, gentler, and freer. Remember, male feminists are a necessary trait to the struggle but make no mistake, it’s not their struggle.
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