Dear Ms Watson,
I read with interest your formal invitation for men to join the effort for gender equality. I agree that we need full gender equality, and that this is important to men because, as you say, “I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less ‘macho’ — in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49”.
And I agree with you that gender equality will go unrealized so long as only half of humanity is “invited or feel[s] welcome to participate in the conversation”.
I wish I could accept your invitation as presented, but rather than the sentiment “HeForShe”, I will only support “HeAndShe”.
People communicate when they feel safe opening up: when they feel listened to, respected, and when they think they’re unlikely to be attacked. But most men are silent about feminism and avoid the topic whenever possible.
You observe that “fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating”, and then you quote the dictionary which says that feminism is about equality. All perspectives to a greater or lesser degree must confront a gap between ideology and actual behaviour. That feminists constantly point to the dictionary rather than specific examples of how they actually treat men is a red flag.
For example, in the United States the National Organization for Women opposes shared parenting even though this is exactly the sort of issue one should support for gender equality. To make matters worse, feminists often blame fathers for not fighting hard enough against family court discrimination, ignoring the fact that these fathers usually lack the required financial resources to advocate for themselves. Similar blaming of women for discrimination they face is labelled misogyny.
I’m not saying that all feminists hate men, but a significant minority do (and there are plenty of quotations to prove it). Feminism in general, however, has tolerated misandry.
But more to the point, HeForShe strikes me as rather patriarchal and traditionalist. The primary male role is protecting and providing for women and children, even with his life if necessary. Is the sentiment “HeForShe” really all that different from “women and children first”?
The website states, “HeForShe is a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other [sic] of humanity”.
What it doesn’t say is “both halves of humanity supporting each other”.
Before a man can protect women he must first be able to protect himself. No one will do that for him. One half of humanity must protect the other half, but the protector half is on its own. That’s what the traditional male role is all about. Male stoicism and machismo isn’t arrogance – it’s a defense.
My assessment of HeForShe is only reinforced by another statement on the website: “In recent years men have begun to stand-up in addressing inequalities and discrimination faced by women and girls”. But I see nothing on the website about men standing up for inequalities faced by men, or women standing up for men.
HeForShe implies a primacy of her needs over his – women and children first. It’s common to dismiss men’s needs because men are said to have all the advantages, and focusing on men takes away from the focus on women. But this is zero sum thinking. Equality means focusing on both women’s and men’s needs.
For example, we all know of the horrific acid attacks against women, and we must do everything we can to stop it. But few are aware that one-third of the victims are male. It’s a similar story with severe domestic violence and sexual assault by women against men.
A man who points out these facts is likely to be met with a mocking, “What about the mens?” Women can easily shame men into silence. After all, stoicism is required of “real men”. So, while we’ve all heard the statistic that American women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar, few of us know that 9 of 10 workplace deaths are male, that the majority of the chronically homeless are male, and that men are more likely than women to be the victim of a violent crime. Boys are falling far behind in school and at university, but efforts to address these inequalities are shot down.
The primacy of women’s issues rather than the equality of women’s and men’s issues means men’s issues will continue to be ignored.
I want a consideration of men’s humanity rather than a consideration of how men can be more useful to women. Women are objectified sexually, but men are objectified as utilities – “human doings rather than human beings”. Though probably not consciously intended, the name HeForShe continues that objectification.
I understand that this is not what many women want to hear, and I expect it to anger many men as well because they don’t want to acknowledge their vulnerabilities. But sparing women from criticism puts women on a pedestal, which is passive-aggressive sexism. That’s why I’ve taken the time to say why I think your campaign is likely well intentioned, but misguided. I’m not signing on precisely because I believe in equality.
“Eldritch Edain” (aka “weird man”)