What’s in feminism for men?

“Fight your own battles, lady! Tell me this, have you ever seen a woman call herself a manist? No, right? And honestly, if you take men’s help here, history will never acknowledge you as empowered. They’ll always remember you as women who needed men to fight for their rights,” said one man when I asked him how he felt about men supporting the feminist movement.

I was blown away.

Clearly, he had a different interpretation of feminism than mine.

But who am I kidding? A decade back, even I was unaware of the existence of the feminist theory and the whole movement around it. Worse, ‘Feminism’ is a word that I discovered over the internet when I was 23. That’s right! Not in school or at home. This is the sad predicament of our time. We don’t want to acknowledge inequalities, nor do we have a desire to rectify the mistakes we have made.

If you’re one of those men who are thinking- “What inequality are you talking about? We have equal pay and equal opportunities for everyone nowadays?” I urge you to continue reading.

I am not denying that we’ve come a long way in giving women their share of fair success. But we are still sailing in shallow waters. Let’s go deeper, shall we?

Why we need feminism in the first place?

Bell hooks, one of the most admired feminist writers, has this very famous quote which says-

“To be ‘feminist’ in any authentic sense of the term is to want for all people, female and male, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression.”

I especially love this quote because, more often than not, feminism is equated to ‘man-hating’, however, this definition doesn’t leave the scope for anyone to create any hue and cry about that. Instead, it talks about liberating both men and women from stereotypical gender roles as defined by society. It raises a voice not just for women, but also for men because it acknowledges that men, too, suffer in a misogynistic society.

How feminism also benefits men?

Men don’t cry; women don’t need education.

Men must earn; women must cook.

Men don’t wax their legs, women don’t ride bikes.

Men must be strong and masculine; women must stay home and take care of kids.

Men shouldn’t wear pink; women shouldn’t be ambitious.

Do you see the disturbing trend? Who made these rules? Who defined these stereotypical gender roles? Why are we all forced to conform to the boxes? Wouldn’t it make more sense to give liberty to each individual to live as they wished? To make their life decisions on their own free will, and not biased by what’s expected of them in society.

Misogyny harms women’s mental health and their overall quality of life, that’s a known fact. But what often goes unnoticed is how men are also deeply affected by the strict gender roles indoctrinated into them since childhood. You would be surprised to know that according to research, unrealistic expectations from men to behave in a certain way has led to an increase in suicide rates and a dissatisfied life.

And I have witnessed it unfold in front of my own eyes. I’ve seen my father worrying about the single-digit amount left in his salary account by the end of the month and putting in extra night’s hours to earn some additional income. And all this while, my mother was supposed to look after the three kids at home. I often wonder, wouldn’t life had been much easier for him had he refused to hold the title of the only breadwinner of the family?

In my opinion, we’ve failed men too in the name of patriarchy. No matter how modern or civilised we become, child-bearing and rearing are almost always considered to be a woman’s job. This often translates into an emotional void between fathers and children. Men always live under the burden of being ‘the man of the house’. They don’t get to spend quality time with family, they can’t leave their job and relax, they can’t be emotional at any point in their life. Men are expected to be unrealistically rational and poised even during the toughest situations in their lives.

That’s exactly what feminism addresses- freedom from ridiculous expectations irrespective of your gender which are entirely socially-constructed and have no credible reasoning.

A lot of men reading this will probably think that they don’t really feel ‘burdened’ by any of society’s gender rules. While other men would probably feel that there’s nothing much that they can do and it-is-what-it-is.

Okay, fair point.

But here’s my question to you- do you really believe that male privilege is something that you have earned? Just because no one has encroached upon your rights to live a better life, does that mean that you will spend the rest of your life believing that feminism is not really needed? Is it not your duty to help the women in your family to live a better and fulfilling life?

No, I’m not asking you to march for women’s rights every other day. Neither I’m asking you to speak at length about feminism and lecture people about it. Challenging the status quo is difficult, and I know it. All I ask is a little help here and there whenever you see women stuck in this sexist world.

How can you, as a man, make a difference?

The problem that I face is, that I too have grown up amidst gender inequality underpinned by bias and sexism. So, even though I consider myself a feminist, I often find myself at crossroads while practicing feminism.

Let me share a personal story here.

We were visiting my husband, Tarun’s native village with our parents. The day before we had to go, I was instructed by my mother-in-law to wear pallu- an Indian tradition of covering your head with saree as a gesture of respect for elders. My husband tried to convince mom that I must be spared of this tradition, citing that it might be too much for me. But mom brushed it off, saying that it’s a family custom, and I must do it.

However, he was adamant. There was an argument between them and he decided (on my behalf) that I will not wear a pallu. I was nothing more than a silent observer throughout the debate.

So, imagine my plight- mother and son fighting over whether I should wear the pallu or not. Mother, to protect her tradition, husband to protect her wife’s silent protest.

It wasn’t all too easy for me. Inside, I was agonizing. I was torn up amidst the push and pull. I didn’t want to wear the pallu, but I couldn’t muster the courage to say it aloud. I was afraid of spoiling the relationship with mom. I was afraid of getting into a clash and blemishing our good terms with my ‘modern attitude’. I worried what would I answer if they asked me “why couldn’t you do it for just one day for our sake?

So, while I should have fought my own battles that day, my husband helped me survive that detestable day.

Another incident is very recent- we were at Tarun’s office party. When we reached the venue, all the men sat on one table, their wives at another table. My husband, almost instinctively, accompanied me to the women’s table and sat beside me. The men at the men’s table smirked at him asking him to join them but he politely refused that he preferred to sit by his wife’s side. He had broken a common but unspoken rule of most official parties where men and women sit at separate tables. After a few minutes, one of my husband’s juniors (who is recently married) stood up from the men’s table and joined his wife. Ten minutes after that, another one joined his wife and his wailing toddler.

And it’s what they said that stayed with me- “Sir, we saw you and came here. You inspired us.” The comment was, of course, tongue-in-cheek humor. But do you see the point here?

Breaking the toxic cycle of patriarchy and misogyny is not that difficult all the time. You, as a man, have the power to push the boundaries, and take small steps that will go a long way in creating a more balanced world.

I am afraid of the shackles I want to break away from. I often talk about how gender norms are bullsh*t, but when it comes to practicing feminism, I need a little push from the outside to remind me that I’m not wrong, and I deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity as a man in the room.

I’m all nerdy when I talk about how women have been cursed with the patriarchy, but when it comes to fighting, I think twice because I don’t want to spoil relationships with my family.

I am lucky to have my husband by my side, and talking and practicing feminism becomes a bit easier for me. Not because he has extensively read anything about feminism nor did he grow up amidst feminist women. It’s because he’s aware of how obnoxious gender roles are and how supporting feminism even helps him live an emotionally healthy life; one where he’s more human and fully self-actualizing.

As Michael Kaufman, a Candian writer and educator (coincidentally also a man), says, “Feminism is the greatest gift to men,” it is, thus, our onus to realize that ‘feminism’ is not a movement of hating men or proving women better than men, but liberating both genders from stereotyped, systemic gender-based oppression. It is time we accept that sharing the load makes things a tad bit easier for all of us.

Shruti Sharma

Shruti Sharma is the founder of Books on the Delhi Metro, a book sharing initiative which aims to make sure that books are no more a luxury for anyone. She is an avid reader, an experimental writer, and a hardcore optimist. She loves muggles but is also eagerly waiting for the day she receives her Hogwarts letter and gets to be a wizard.
Shruti Sharma

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Shruti Sharma

Shruti Sharma is the founder of Books on the Delhi Metro, a book sharing initiative which aims to make sure that books are no more a luxury for anyone. She is an avid reader, an experimental writer, and a hardcore optimist. She loves muggles but is also eagerly waiting for the day she receives her Hogwarts letter and gets to be a wizard.

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