One of the big misperceptions about feminism is that it only worries about issues that affect girls and women. While it does often focus on those needs, the overarching aim of feminism is to work on dismantling the structures of inequality that exist in our world. These structures affect everyone involved in them.
Feminism believes that patriarchy hurts everybody. Men. Women. Non-binary folks. LGBT people. Kids. Everybody.
Often, the aspects of patriarchy that do hurt men and boys are the flip sides of the parts that hurt women and girls, particularly when it comes to gender roles.
For every girl who’s told she can’t be a firefighter or doctor, a boy is told he can’t be a kindergarten teacher or nurse. For every woman who’s made to feel like less of a woman for wanting to work instead of stay home with her children, a man is made to feel like less of a man for wanting to stay home with his children instead of being the “breadwinner”. For every girl who’s told to “be a lady,” a boy is told to “man up”.
Traditional gender roles are so ingrained in our culture that it’s considered newsworthy when a toy catalog does something as radical as feature girls playing with gun toys and boys playing with Barbies. Even schools have taken it upon themselves to police gender roles in children, often with harmful results. While telling a boy not to carry a pink purse may not seem like a huge injustice, it’s part of a greater trend.
See, one of the problems with a patriarchal society is that it tends to devalue anything considered “girly”. Think about some traits that are associated with boys; they are strong, physical, aggressive. Then think about traits associated with girls, like weak, emotional, or passive. Many traits that we associated with girls are seen as less valuable in our society.
But what happens when a boy prefers these “girly” things? When he is emotional? Likes to take care of his stuffed animals like they’re babies? Would rather sit and read than play kickball? Boys are stuffed into boxes that are just as narrow as those that girls are. In fact, when they’re young, girls may even have a little more flexibility than boys do, as being a “tomboy” is generally acceptable (even though the word itself carries some pretty gendered assumptions), but being a “sissy” is not. Girls can wear blue, but boys can’t wear pink.
Hovering over all of these rules and assumptions is, of course, the fear of homosexuality. It almost goes without saying, but these ideas of masculinity are very, VERY tied to ideas of male heterosexuality. Policing gender and policing sexuality are often intertwined.
As boys grow, they receive even more messed-up ideas about masculinity. They learn that expressing their emotions through talking with friends or writing journals or poetry isn’t acceptable, but that expressing them through violence is. They learn that wanting to be friends with girls is suspect, but wanting to “bang” them is totally cool, bro.
These messages that boys receive influences their perceptions of themselves and how they’re supposed to act in order to be a “real man”.
A big buzzword in feminism in recent years has been “rape culture”. Feminist writers have talked at great length about how rape culture sees women as sexual objects, normalizes violence against women, and treats women as if they’re responsible for their own sexual assault.
While living in a rape culture results in more violent and harmful consequences for women than it is for men, I do think we need to address the ways in which rape culture affects men and boys as well.
Rape culture hurts men by treating them like walking, talking, uncontrollable penises. It acts as if the only acceptably masculine way to show attraction is through aggressive sexual advances. It makes it seem unmanly to accept no for an answer.
I’ve seen the complaint on anti-feminist sites that “feminism sees every man as a rapist”. Obviously this isn’t true. This misperception probably comes out of the discussion of rape culture. If rape culture treats every woman as a potential victim, then it treats every man as a possible perpetrator.
Luckily, in recent years, there has been more discussion about how to talk to boys about violence and rape.
In Canada, a boys-only sex education course aims to address these ideas of masculine sexuality in a way that promotes their own health and the health of their future relationships, both with their friends and their partners.
Finally, MissRepresentation.org, the organization that brought us the documentary of the same name, has changed its name to The Representation Project, aiming to address the ways in which representations of men and boys are also limiting and damaging. Their new documentary, The Mask You Live In, looks to explore these topics.
So what do you think? Does patriarchy hurt everybody? Have you seen examples of this in your own life?