By Grace Bennett
“Feminist” is too often a risky label to adorn. The word comes with all too many connotations, invoking massively disparate images in different minds, and implying a vast array of goals depending on the circumstances. In some crowds, a self-proclaimed feminist earns cheers as a recognized proponent of gender equality, and an enemy of all forms of gender based injustice. In other social spheres, however, feminists inspire little more than disgust, as over zealous, anti-feminine, man-haters. Occasionally, these definitions somehow grow entwined, to produce a particularly mangled understanding of what feminists aspire to achieve. This was the conception I recently encountered, as one of my male friends explained to me that, “Modern feminists want equality. But they get that by taking away my equality”.
Initially, my sole response to this claim was to question my friend’s comprehension of the word “equality”. After all, isn’t it rather absurd to assume that the price of one group’s equality must be the equal standing of another? Equality isn’t a zero sum game; fairness isn’t about wins and losses. When American women, after painstaking and passionate campaigning, were finally granted the right to vote, it didn’t come at the cost of male emancipation. The promotion of equality for any one group doesn’t negate the rights of another; it simply ensures an equal playing field.
Despite a slight distortion of the definition, my friend’s statement does manage to unearth something important about equality. Namely, that we just don’t yet have it. In claiming that women must “take something away” from men in order to achieve equality, my friend half-heartedly (and likely unknowingly) recognized the patriarchal trends that dominate our society, and impede the very equality he is so concerned with protecting. Men are the beneficiaries of age-old power dynamics, which allot them a certain standing and control over a society that simply doesn’t take women quite so seriously. This is the inequality that feminists (quite a few of whom are men) endeavor to eradicate, but an antipathy towards power dynamics doesn’t equate an aversion to their beneficiaries.
Feminism isn’t out to get men; feminists don’t harbor any secret desire to see men’s rights eradicated. Instead, they simply endeavor to put an end to the injustice of age-old power dynamics, and institutionalized inequality. It’s hardly a controversial goal to push for the creation of a culture of respect and equality, regardless of a person’s sex or gender identity. I implore my friend, and any who think like him, to consider that such a goal may prove beneficial not just for women, but for society in general.
When men and women are equal, everyone benefits. As individuals, we rid ourselves of preconceived boundaries for our own identities. Women can confidently embody their inner strength, and men can unabashedly accept their vulnerabilities. Feminism means embracing the full spectrum that humanity has to offer, instead of limiting ourselves along gendered lines. Not only does this improve the lives of individuals, but it simultaneously diversifies society and removes unnecessary restraints to our collective success. Removing gendered barriers allows society to fill roles and positions with those people best suited and most likely to find success, not just those who’ve traditionally played the part. This opens the door for assertive female heads of state, and nurturing male teachers. It enables all of us, females and males alike, to cultivate and pursue dreams without concern for gender based obstacles or intrusive societal pressures.
Until we realize that in pursuing equality for females, we automatically pursue it for men, we will continue to exist in a limited society. If we refuse to organize based on skills and passions, instead of outdated norms and biological chance, our society will never be at it’s best. Feminist equality envisions a world where gender doesn’t act as an oppressor – on either sex. This idealized civilization doesn’t discriminate, and all of us, whether male or female, should recognize it for the incredible opportunity it represents. So, even if you remain uncomfortable with the label “feminist”, you cannot deny that pursuing gender equality is in all of our best interests.