I didn’t think I could love Emma Watson anymore than I do already — but I do.
On Saturday, Watson gave a speech at the UN to launch the #HeForShe campaign, a campaign to encourage men and boys to get involved in fighting for gender equality and to remind us all that gender equality isn’t a “woman’s issue”: it’s a human rights issue.
At the same time, Watson’s speech didn’t go far enough. Gender inequality hurts everyone. It is a human rights issue and it for the freedom, dignity and equality of all human beings that we should be fighting for, not simply for her but also for him.
Men deserve gender equality for their own sake.
As Emma Watson mentioned in her speech,
The more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain is that this has to stop. For the record, 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.
This has certainly been my experience.
But if feminism is associated with “man-hating”, it is at least part because feminists have been unwilling to take the suffering of men seriously. Too often, feminism has acted out the script that says women are wonderful and men are evil, women are angels and men are beasts, women are victims and men are perpetrators.
We Need to Acknowledge the Suffering of Men
One of the great failures of feminism (and there are several) is that it has convinced so many that caring about and fighting for the rights of men is anti-woman and a distraction from the “real” issues.
If a man kills a woman, it’s a tragedy and a feminist issue but if a man kills another man, well… what can you expect?
Anyone who actually cares about genuine equality can see that men are suffering too.
At 15, my girlfriends didn’t want to join sports teams because they didn’t want to appear masculine. At 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings…
To date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from illness, unable to ask for help for fear it will make them less of a man. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by what constitutes male success.
Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.
We don’t want to talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are. When they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t be compelled to be submissive. If men don’t need to control, women won’t have to be controlled.
I couldn’t like this more if it was covered in chocolate and came with a lifetime supply of free books.
Is Gender Equality Only for Women?
I loved this speech because Watson acknowledged how men are trapped and harmed in the same gender stereotypes that harm women. We need to emphasise that. Gender inequality hurts everyone.
At the same time, this campaign seems rather confused about whether it’s for women and girls — or for men and boys as well. Watson’s speech cites the real problems experienced by men, to which we could add the tragic rates of suicide, murder and imprisonment — but then it comes back to being all about women.
The #HeForShe Commitment is that:
Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that requires my participation. I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.
See what they did there? Gender equality is not only a women’s issue but we’re only going to commit to protect women and girls.
I’m fed up with this nonsense. #HeForShe is being spruiked as a movement of gender of solidarity — so where’s the #SheForHe campaign?
Call me crazy but I want to commit to take against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by all people.
Let me absolutely clear. Men must do everything to protect and nurture the dignity of women. Men do bear a greater responsibility for this because both now and in the past, women have suffered disproportionately from male violence and oppression. That is simply a fact and the men I know go out of their way to make sure this doesn’t happen.
As St John Paul II said, God “assigns as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman”.
But he also added that “simultaneously… He also assigns to every woman the dignity of every man.” As a woman and as a feminist, I care about the inequality experienced by men and it frustrates me to no end that so many campaigns to improve women’s rights, safety and well-being seems to implicitly casts all men as aggressors.
Men deserve better than that.
Gender Inequality Hurts Men
Gender inequality hurts men and that fact alone is reason enough to oppose it. If our focus is always, first and foremost, on how the constructions of masculinity affect women, then we still don’t get what gender equality is really about.
The same stereotypes of masculinity that encourage violence towards and oppression of women also encourage violence and oppression towards other men. Maybe that’s why the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls created international outrage but the horrific slaughter of Nigerian schoolboys in the months prior barely raised of murmur.
These same stereotypes blind us to the real suffering of men, like the millions of men who are raped in war, shamed for it, abandoned by their wives, by NGOs and by everyone because we all “know” only women are the victims of rape.
They also blind us to suffering men experience from women. For example, did you know that in Australia, roughly one in three victims of domestic violence is a man?
Perhaps most pervasively of all, these gender stereotypes hurt men because they deny men the right to be fully human.
“Real” men don’t cry? No, Pinocchio doesn’t cry. Jesus, the perfect man, wept.
Men need to be truly free to express emotion, to accept help, to be sensitive, affectionate, vulnerable, gentle and meek — all qualities stereotypically characterized as “feminine”. These same qualities, I might add, are essential for anyone, man or woman, who wants to be like Christ, the perfect man and eternal Son of the Father.
On this point, Emma Watson was exactly right:
Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.
Gender Equality is For Men Too
In many ways, contemporary Western feminism has freed women to be strong — or at least we’re getting there. It hasn’t done the same for men. If feminism, as Watson rightly points and as I and many others truly believe, is about genuine equality then women have to matter just as much as men and men have to matter just as much as women.
My concern is that while women suffer more from gender discrimination around the world, the suffering of men goes more unnoticed and unacknowledged. When we believe that men can only be aggressive and dominant, we place women in a very vulnerable situation — but we also deny the inherent vulnerability of men as human beings, force men to be violent and aggressive towards each other, and blind ourselves to the ways in which men are truly vulnerable.
Men deserve better than these stereotypes, not merely for the sake of women… but for their own sake.