Can men be feminists?

Published On: October 27, 2019 12:30 AM NPT By: Giri Bahadur Sunar

Simone de Beauvoir in her seminal book The Second Sex argues that men cannot be feminist because of the intrinsic differences between the sexes.  Some writers argue that men do not suffer the same oppression as women, and, as such, cannot comprehend women’s experience and so they cannot constructively contribute to feminist movements. There are some  radical feminists who argue that only by rejecting the masculine perspective entirely can feminism allow women to define themselves on their own terms, and that the involvement of men in the feminist movement will inculcate the values of patriarchy.

But there are people who think men’s association with feminist movement is necessary for furthering the feminist causes. They argue that men can stand in the struggle against sexism against women. They have argued that men should be allowed, or even encouraged, to participate in the feminist movement. So how can men contribute to feminism?

It is difficult to define what “feminism” is. Few days back, I had an opportunity to talk with Kamala Bhasin, a feminist activist, poet, author and social scientist. Asked what type of feminist you are, liberal, Marxist, socialist or radical, she responded that, she does not like to limit herself within the defined boxes made by scholars and academicians and that she likes to call herself a socialist and ecological feminist, who looks after the relationship between women and the ecology. When environmental deterioration occurs, women are the first to suffer because they are the home-managers. When environmental deterioration occurs, women’s workloads automatically increase. For example, water shortages mean uncertainty about crop production, greater distances to obtain water and unsafe water supplies, which contribute to disease. 

Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to environmental contaminants. Every step in the reproductive process can be altered by toxic substances in the environment. These toxic substances may increase the risk of abortion, birth defects, fetal growth retardation, and peri-natal death. Ecological feminists draw parallels between the exploitation of nature and exploitation of women.

There are other categories such as traditional or conventional feminism, modern feminism, psychoanalytical feminism, postmodern or poststructuralist feminism and so on. As a student of sociology, I like to pick common characteristics of some of the different “feminisms”. 

Think wide and deep 
Liberal feminists include all those who campaign for equal rights for women within the framework of the liberal state. I like Marxist and socialist feminists because they link gender inequality and women’s oppression in the capitalist system of production and the division of labor consistent with this system. I am scared of radical feminists because they sound very aggressive toward men. Yes, male domination on girls and women is the result of patriarchy but it does not mean that all men are bad, rapist and dominating in nature. Some men may be but they are also the byproduct of very social system. It is not their fault. We need to educate new generation to help unlearn the discriminatory patriarchal conditioning and to create discrimination-free society.

Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements which have a common goal to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal and social equality of sexes. Feminist movements are about women’s rights, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to earn fair wages or equal pay, to own property, to receive education, to enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage and to have maternity leave. I have been engaged in empowering women through self-defense training for the last 20 years. I feel comfortable posting women empowering materials in Facebook, Tweeter, Instagram and other social media. While doing so, many mock me as a lady lover. Few warned me against doing this.

Feminism does not hate men. Feminists do not hate men. Feminism is about dismantling the systems in which people are oppressed. Thus, men can play a supportive role in dismantling those systems. Feminism is about combating systemic and institutional oppression that disproportionately affects disenfranchised groups with main focus on women. Thus people of all genders can become feminists if they’re willing to dismantle patriarchal oppression. Where men fit in feminism depends on who they are and whether they are in favor of justice.

I acknowledge my privilege as a man. My privilege is the result of the patriarchal system.  A man may not like to identify himself as a feminist.  

It is important to incorporate feminist practice in daily life. Women in Nepal have a long way to go. I am trying my best to feel the pain and am fighting against all bad patriarchal practices that regard women as second class citizens. The state policies must focus on the need for action to achieve equality of the sexes. We must not forget that feminism is continuously evolving. Many men are assisting women in their day-to-day lives. Men and women compliment each other’s existence. Hating each other will not work. When women suffer, men suffer too. 

Feminism is not a women’s issue. It is a human issue.

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