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The real male feminist, please stand up

Sharika Nair
19th Jan 2016
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When veteran British actor Alan Rickman passed away recently, fellow actor from the Harry Potter series Emma Watson expressed her tribute by tweeting several of his quotes. One in particular earned her the ire of Internet trolls. “There’s nothing wrong with a man being a feminist – I think it’s to our mutual advantage,” Alan had said in an interview with ABC in March 2015. Though Emma included this quote in her tweets along with several others, this was promptly singled out to express outrage over her inappropriate exploitation of Rickman’s death to push her own feminist agenda.

Over the years, feminism has become something of a bad word. Many feminists have been crying themselves hoarse saying feminism is nothing but a belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, and an organised activity to help achieve the same. Like Malala Yousafzai said, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” But there is a good number of men and even many women who think feminism is some kind of man-hating agenda and that feminists are bent on edging men out and creating a pro-women world. This perception has led to several people distancing themselves from the term and ‘groups’ like ‘meninists’ who claim they want to combat the injustice men face from women.

But is it even possible for a man to identify as a feminist? It is said that white people, however well-intentioned, cannot really empathise with victims of racism, since they have benefited from white privilege in some way or other. Similarly, all men can be assumed to have benefited from male privilege. There is also a sense of suspicion when a man claims to be feminist, with women and other men assuming he is only pretending to come across as broad-minded, or worse, to sound cool and impress women.


Men and Feminism

On the other hand, there are many who feel that identifying as a feminist is the strongest stand men can take in the struggle against gender discrimination. Their argument is that gender equality can be a reality only when men participate in the feminist movement. Like women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony said back in the 19th century, “The day will come when man will recognise woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.”

These are what some very remarkable men have said about feminism and gender equality:

Women are responsible for two-thirds of the work done worldwide, yet earn only 10 per cent of the total income and own one per cent of the property. So, are we equals? Until the answer is yes, we must never stop asking. – Daniel Craig, actor

When it comes to burning social issues like those related to women, dowry, girl child and others, we make loud drawing room protestations and continue to do the reverse at home. Our excuse? ‘It’s the whole system which has to change; how will it matter if I alone forego my son’s rights to a dowry?’ So who’s going to change the system? – From A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s autobiography Wings of Fire.

I call myself a feminist. Isn’t that what you call someone who fights for women’s rights? – Dalai Lama.

To call woman the weaker sex is libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, woman is less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman? – Mahatma Gandhi

Educate your women first and leave them to themselves; then they will tell you what reforms are necessary for them. In matters concerning them, who are you? – Swami Vivekananda

I’m not ashamed to dress ‘like a woman’ because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman. – musician Iggy Pop, when asked about his crossdressing habit.

The feminists of an earlier time believed in creating women-only spaces where women could speak out freely on issues like inequality, sexual violence and harassment, but now the importance of men and women working together is being increasingly recognised. After all, feminism can liberate men from gender stereotypes too. A man, who is ridiculed for being ‘too emotional’ or ‘girly’, for having interest in ‘womanly pursuits’ be it cooking or fashion is also a victim of patriarchy, male chauvinism and social conditioning. So feminism can help both the sexes break free from conforming to outdated moulds and charting their own paths.

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