By Archish Mazumdar
Edited by Namrata Caleb, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
On September 20th, 2014 Emma Watson, delivered a speech at the UN Headquarters in New York. The message was clear enough, “Gender equality is your issue too”. Thus, the UN’s HeForShe campaign to advocate equal rights for women was launched. The Harry Potter star and now United Nation Women Goodwill Ambassador, extended a formal invitation to all men to join and help make the world free of gender prejudice.
But some of the issues she raised made me sit up and take notice.
- How feminism is today synonymous to Man-hating.
- How she realized that men are as imprisoned by gender stereotypes as women.
- How she believes that HeForShe is a step in the direction towards gender equality.
The Oxford Dictionary defines Feminism as, the advocacy of women rights on the grounds of equality of sexes. But from across the gender spectrum, feminism, or more appropriately modern day feminism, comes across as just an anti-thesis of patriarchal societal etiquette. Yes, we all agree that society at present does not allow women the same level of freedom as men. But, is feminism the answer?
Feminism although built on the bedrock of gender equality, has in present times evolved into the same form of assertion that it sought to fight in the beginning. Feminism is not synonymous with gender equality anymore. Some statistics regarding domestic violence are as such.
- A 2010 article in the Guardian reported that for the U.K, approximately 40% of domestic violence victims were men each year between 2004-05 and 2011-12.
- Around 2.5 million men per year (using 2000 census) are victim to domestic violence in the United States.
- According to the 2006 New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey, men were victims of physical violence at much the same rate as women.
These are some hard numbers. And although many feminists might argue that male victims of such crimes are as likely to get help as compared to their female counterparts, their argument falls short. In fact, it is in Watson’s native Britain, that Guardian columnist and blogger Ally Fogg has demonstrated that men are far less likely to get help as compared to women, in such matters.
But why is this so?
The answer to this question lies in the understanding that feminism is as sexist as patriarchy. But, as women are the more celebrated victims, they garner the greater support. This is a result of societal prejudices built up over centuries. But the answer to gender equality is not feminism alone.
We need to understand that men suffer as much from gender stereotypes as women do.
A boy at the tender age of four, is taught how he is different from a girl. How his behavior is meant to be different from hers. How his toys are meant to be different from hers. He grows up with the understanding of how male and female are broad ends of a great divide. Maybe if we let them figure it out on their own, things could be different. Maybe if men weren’t always required to be aggressive, women wouldn’t have to compliantly be submissive.
Watson deserves credit for trying to end the idea that “fighting for women rights is equivalent to man-hating.” But she will not be able to do it if she treats these issues only as unfair stereotypes. Understanding a concept, is as much subjective to one’s intellectual faculties as much as it might be objective in nature. It is true that gender equality is as important to men as it is to women. But, there are issues on both sides, something which the HeForShe campaign is turning a blind eye to. A balanced and an effective conversation must let men speak of issues that they face without labelling them as misogynist. Laws must allow for men to be treated as victims too, something which at present is missing.
The efforts of the United Nations is praiseworthy for trying to wage a battle against gender prejudices that presently exist in society. But while there is still a long way to go, it must include the other side of the spectrum too. Maybe not a HeForShe but Him&HerForUs.
Archish Mazumdar is your normal everyday college-kid, currently in his third year of college, pursuing a BS in Economics from IIT Kanpur. His passions in life include quizzing, debating and food! Quick in both words and actions, he usually finds solace while writing (mostly poetry). He spends his free time reading vociferously, watching movies (plenty of them) and listening to Bob Dylan. When not doing the usual stuff, he is mostly found convincing people that he is not actually jobless.