men, masculinities and gender politics

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Feminism Needs Men. Men Need Feminism

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[Note: The text of this talk is below. But if you want to see a video of the talk as it was delivered, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHnpNyyhjhw.]

Language warning. I’m going to use the ‘F word’, a lot, in this talk. And that word is feminism. I’ve got two simple messages. Feminism needs men. And men need feminism.

We won’t make much progress towards gender equality without men’s support. Not because women are weak and can’t do it on their own. Not because poor men have been left out and are now the victims.

No, but because men are the problem. Gender inequality, fundamentally, is a men’s problem. It’s the problem of every man in this room, every man you know, and every man in the country.

Ours is a gender-unequal society. It’s an uncontestable fact.

Often we understand gender inequality in terms of female disadvantage. But the flipside of this is male advantage. Male privilege.

Male privilege is personal. Many men, probably most men, do sexism in our everyday lives, in a myriad of ways.

I’m a nice guy, right? I’ve not engaged in the bluntest forms of men’s power over women – forcing a woman into sex or assaulting her. But in countless ways, like most men, I’ve perpetuated sexism and maintained gender inequalities. I’ve left women to do the washing up and tidying in meetings. I’ve whined and whinged when a girlfriend didn’t want sex. I’ve looked at porn which shows women in callous ways. And I’ve let mates’ sexist comments go unquestioned.

Even when not actively being sexist, men benefit from male privilege. When a man opens his mouth, his views are given more weight than a woman’s views. When a man sends in his CV or has a job interview, he’s seen as more competent than a woman with the same skills and experience. When a man is highly sexually active, he gains status and there’s little cost to his reputation. When a man turns on the TV or reads the news, he sees people of his sex widely represented, their achievements celebrated.

But, this privilege is naturalised and normalised. It’s invisible. So members of privileged groups think that our achievements are the result of our efforts and skills, not the unearned advantages of an unequal system.

Gender inequality, fundamentally, is a men’s problem. Sure, women help prop up gender inequality too. But the bigger problem is men’s.

So, feminism needs men. It needs men to change. It needs men to make change.

Feminism needs men. And, here’s my second point, men need feminism.

Men need feminism because, without it, we will be stuck in a box. Stuck in an “Act Like a Man” box. Stuck in narrow gender roles which are suffocating, unhealthy, and dangerous for us and for others. Like a coffin, really.

Written on the side of the “Act Like a Man” box are the messages that: boys don’t cry, men are the lords of their households, violence is acceptable for solving problems, gay is bad, and women are second-class citizens. These messages limit men and hurt women.

Feminism frees men from this. Feminism argues that gender roles and relations are the product of society, not biology. Feminism is anti-sexist, not anti-male. And feminism calls for gender equality, gender justice, and gender diversity.

Feminism is good for men.

Feminism is good for men’s health. Men who buy into traditional manhood, who think men should be ten feet tall and bulletproof, pay heavy costs, in injuries, poor health, and early death.

Feminism is good for men’s working and family lives. It gives men choices. Feminism frees men from the automatic expectation that they will be the breadwinner, missing out on parenting and family.

Feminism is good for men’s friendships. It makes more room for friendships with other men, and women, which are intimate and supportive.

Feminism is good for men’s relationships and sex lives. Feminist women have better sex – because they’re more assertive, more in touch with their own pleasure and their bodies, and better at expressing their sexual limits and desires. The male partners of feminist women – and they tend to be feminist too – have better sex as well. Because they’re good at establishing consent, they can do intimacy, and they respect women.

In 2014, young women grow up with confident expectations of gender equality. You expect to have the same rights and opportunities as the men around you. But you won’t see gender equality. You won’t have those same opportunities. Unless, and until, men change too.

Feminism needs men. And men need feminism. So what to do? For women: Expect more of men. No, demand more of men. Raise the bar for what it means to be a ‘nice guy’, a ‘decent bloke’.

For men: first, get your own house in order. Start living every day as if gender equality really mattered.

Second, speak up and step in. Speak up when your mates say sexist things. Challenge the attitudes and behaviours around you which feed into sexism and violence.

Third, make noise and make trouble. Join the feminist and profeminist groups and movements dedicated to building gender equality and ending violence. Become an activist. Change the world.

Citation: Flood, M. (2014). “Feminism Needs Men. Men Need Feminism.” Talk, FastBreak “I am Woman” event, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, March 28.