A few weeks ago, I read a piece in the New York Times called'Yes, All Men'
It was an op-ed article written by a male contributor on the subject of patriarchy, gender equality and the abysmal state of womens rights in many parts of the world. However, the author approached the subject from a sympathetic male perspective advocating for the participation of men in the struggle for gender equality.
He perfectly summed up the view I've had for a long time but could never articulate. The words below are ones which particularly stood out to me.
"Yes, we should all be feminists, but too often we believe that the plight of the oppressed is solely the business of the oppressed, and that the society in which that oppression is born and grows and the role of the oppressors and beneficiaries are all somehow subordinate.
Wrong. Fighting female objectification and discrimination and violence against women isn’t simply the job of women; it must also be the pursuit of men."
I am a man. I am a white man. I am a white man with American citizenship. I am an enormously privileged individual in this world.I have many opportunities that friends of mine of a different gender, race and nationality do not. Unlike some others in my demographic, I am fully aware of this, and how unfair it is.
When it comes to gender, I eagerly and readily support equality and empowerment. This belief has been reinforced by seeing some of the negative affects of patriarchy is places around the world. In Egypt I heard women tell of how they are regularly harassed on the street by young men. It's a sad fact of life for the majority of women in the country over 95% of Egyptian women report being harassed on a daily basis. Egypt is also a country where Female Genital Utilization is regularly performed.
I heard stories from female friends of mine in Cairo both foreign and Egyptian. I heard about how degrading it was to be treated like an object I listened to how dehumanizing it was to have all your dignity swept away simply by your gender. It made me ashamed and it made me angry.
And yet in certain conversations on the subject throughout my life, I've sometimes gotten the impression that my voice on the subject wasn't particularly warranted or desired by certain women. I've encountered this attitude before when talking about the trials and hardships among people and places such as the Middle East, Egyptians, Thailand, Native Americans, AIDS patients etc. Essentially, it boils down to this.
'You are not (insert denonym here). (A )Why do you care about this issue and (B) why should your opinion matter?'
I think I understand where this attitude might come from in some cases when it comes to gender. I've never walked as a woman, talked as one, worked as one gone to school as one. I don't know firsthand what life as a woman is like. Speaking on a subject related to women as a man therefore, is limiting and if I do speak about it, I run the risk of looking like someone participating in patriarchy (ie the man knows best.) I'm not sure I could have adequately articulated a response to these two questions before. But the NYT op-ed piece gave me inspiration for organizing some of my own answers on these two questions. They are as follows:
A) Why do you care about this issue? 1 Just because I can't experience life as a woman doesn't mean I can't recognize a human being being treated unjustly and suffering because of it. Human beings empathize with the pain of others, even non-humans. We can also recognize the awfulness and anguish of a person in situations we've never been in ourselves.
I don't know what it's like to be tortured but I can recognize it's an awful experience that no human should endure. I doubt most of us know what it's like to be a survivor of a genocide such as the Holocaust or Rwanda but I can comprehend that it is horrific and that it is something that must be guarded against.
I think gender inequality and the painful realities it creates for so many women across the globe can be understood in a similar way, even by a man. I can't understand what it's like to be a victim of patriarchy but I can understand the injustice.
2 My second response to A is this, because of our ability to empathize we have a natural desire to see justice done, we have a natural desire to see people succeed and become happier and fuller. We also have a desire to see those we know and care about lead better lives.
I know so many wonderful, amazing women that I want to see lead fulfilled lives. These are my sisters my friends, my students and others. I want them to be able to be regarded as full people, to be able to have the chance to show their wonderful skills and abilities without being singularly defined by one aspect of their person-hood.
B) Why should your opinion matter? Civil rights may never have been a reality in the United States if many people in white America hadn't been willing to change their attitudes towards race. Women would never have granted the right to vote if men in America had not been willing to accept that they desire it. The more people see and know about injustices of people, the more likely it is that they will be able and willing to accept changes. And I feel as if there are many men who's minds and hearts are changing or forming views that are not as patriarchal as the past.
Women need male allies in the struggle for empowerment. They need men who want to do away with gender inequality, who want them to reach their potential as equal individuals. They need men like us to encourage a new form of masculine identity which isn't threatened by strong women.
Bettering opportunities for women across the globe is essential. Allowing women to stand together and be strong together is fantastic. But a change of mentality also needs to take place in male society simultaneously for these efforts to be worthwhile. A wider definition of masculinity needs to be adapted along with new notions of what it means to be a women. Without changing minds and gender roles in the world of both sexes, true empowerment for women can never be reached.