Not Us vs. Them, Not Women vs. Men

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I am a woman. A self-professed feminist. I am also astutely concerned with men’s and boys’ rights.

Is that a dichotomy? An impossibility?

No!

As Emma Watson explained in her recent speech at the UN, “feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Is “feminism” an unfortunate choice for a word meant to connote equality for all sexes? Perhaps. Perhaps it is only natural that some would assume that a word that contains a feminine root would apply only to women, that feminism only supports women.

But as Ms. Watson pointed out,

Gender equality is [a men’s] issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and heart disease. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.”

Too many people still assume that “Feminists and people on the left believe that nothing is ‘natural’ and biology means nothing” and that “Feminism envisions a world where boys, and the men they will grow into, are an undereducated labor force supervised by white collar women.” (These are actual comments to a fantastic article Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers wrote about boys and school.) 

Yet the truth is that many people, men and women alike, are concerned about the narrow boxes we’ve marked “male” and “female.” Many people, myself included, recognize the fact that boys and girls, men and women, are innately different, and actively advocate for respect of these difference, while advocating for equal rights and responsibilities for both sexes. I don’t want either sex to have an unfair or unnatural advantage in school or in the workforce. I want a school system that is equally accepting of boys’ and girls’ stories and style of play. I want a world in which its as OK for boys to dance as it is for girls to play basketball. A world in which a woman can be considered assertive (instead of bossy), a world in which a man cry without being called a pussy.

We’re close. We’ve made great strides in the last 50 years or so. But boys and girls today still face preconceived, culturally-constructed, gender-based limitations, and if we’re going to move forward, we need to stop blaming one another and work together for opportunity and acceptance.

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