Should feminists advocate for men’s issues?
This article was co-authored with Uri Shine and published as a debate piece in The Oxford Student on 26th May 2021. Link: https://www.oxfordstudent.com/2021/05/26/debate-feminists-should-spend-time-advocating-for-mens-issues/.
Men’s rights organisations have been around for a long time. Some within the feminist movement deride and dismiss such organisations, arguing their inflammatory anti-feminist rhetoric harms women and that their issues aren’t legitimate – but some argue that including men’s rights organisations within feminism could make the movement more inclusive and effective. Ultimately, this is misguided and not consistent with the aims of feminism. Women’s issues are so often sidelined, here, to the point where their relevance is challenged even in a movement that was meant to be about them. It is true that men are also severely affected by the patriarchy. The traditional image of men as the breadwinner, and the masculine figure with a stiff upper lip creates numerous problems. Suicide rates among men are tragically three to four times higher than that among women because of the stigma surrounding mental health. Child custody rates notoriously low for men and campaigns such as Fathers4Justice have arisen to fight against this. Domestic violence and rape against men often go unreported because they symbolise a loss of masculinity. Even when they are reported, these cases are treated much less seriously. All of these are valid issues that have created real victims – and they are all products of the harmful stereotypes within the patriarchy. But just because men are harmed by the system, this doesn’t mean that the solution to dismantling it lies in including men’s issues in feminism. Many argue the overwhelming problems women face ought to take priority over men’s issues. A study published in the wake of the Sarah Everard tragedy showed that 97% of sexual assault is committed by men against women. In developed countries, many women still receive fewer wages for the same job when compared to men; maternity leave and pay is still patchy; and sexual assault and microaggressions still plague the workplace. Additionally, the rise in intersectional feminism points to many additional problems women of other marginalised groups face, such as increased microaggressions against black women. In many developing countries, women suffer from horrific abuse, such as female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, and persistent domestic violence without any form of recourse. A Nepali practice called Chhaupadi, where menstruating women are banished to mud huts during their period, is particularly harrowing. Even though men do face terrible and very real problems, the sheer scale and severity of problems afflicting millions of women around the world ought to take priority. Another argument concerns the aim of the feminist movement. Breaking down the patriarchy and creating legislative and perceptual change are definitely important aspects of feminism, but another crucial function is to allow a safe space for women to come together. Many women who feel unsafe in the presence of men seek refuge within the feminist movement, and the inclusion of men damages this important goal. Arguably, these women who might have gone through the trauma of rape or domestic violence are those the feminist movement ought to prioritise and protect. Ultimately, the patriarchy affects both men and women, but to differing degrees. Even though including men’s issues within feminism targets very real problems that need to be addressed and could increase support for the movement, women face problems to a much larger degree and ought to be prioritised. This isn’t the Oppression Olympics – but in a world with limited resources and attention, women should be the focus.