“We have spent so much time making girls feel proud and joyful and able to campaign for their own rights. But we kind of have neglected our boys for our generation.” These were the words of Caitlin Moran, well-known journalist and feminist, most notably for her groundbreaking memoir How To Be A Woman in 2011. Like for many others, Moran’s bold claims on the BBC Woman’s Hour and the wave of responses that followed was a prominent feature on my social media accounts. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Moran’s appeal that women have been empowered at the expense of men was taken out of context, so I sat down and listened to the whole segment.
Unfortunately, the answer is both yes and no. Advocating for her new book What about men?, Moran said that her research was promoted by the growing number of men who showed up at her events and asked just that question. She goes on to state several statistics (including that men are more likely to kill themselves, be addicted or go to jail), and that we need to focus ‘the second half of feminism’ onto applying the rules we’ve used to help the girls to now help the boys. While she clarifies that feminism is about the equality between all genders, she also states that she believes that in today’s world, it’s easier to be a woman than to be a man.
There’s a lot to unpack here. While it may seem that women have it easier, we cannot disregard the decades women have fought to get to where we are today. We have claimed autonomy over our bodies and our lives against a plethora of opposition and pushback. We didn’t simply end up where we are because we chose to start living outside of the gender stereotypes that were assigned to us. Yet to say that because we have reached the point we’re at today, it’s now easier to be a woman completely disregards the political and social inequality that still exists everywhere around us. If we look at the UK alone, the gender pay gap still stands at a staggering 14.9%, only 30% of ministerial positions are held by women, girls’ happiness was just found to have reached a 15 year low, and on average, two women a week are killed in cases of domestic abuse.
And this is where we enter Whataboutism. Like Moran experienced during her events, when men asked ‘but what about men?’, whataboutism has been the go-to rhetoric to dispute feminism. Let me give you an example.Tell a misogynist that two women a week are killed at the hands of their partner and you’ll likely hear that, actually, 73% of homicide victims are male. It’s easy to ignore the elephant in the room, because the main takeaway from these statistics is not that men are more likely to be victims (what about men?), it’s that the underlying cause for both male and female homicide is male violence. 93% of perpetrators in homicide cases are male.This is the juxtaposition that we are forced to argue against over and over again when we try to explain why we need feminism. When we argue about outcomes, we forget to concentrate on the cause: both of these scenarios are direct consequences of patriarchy and the systems it enforces.
Which leaves the question: How much room should we make for men’s issues within feminism? I agree with Moran when she says that in order to fix women’s issues, we need to address men’s issues, but historically, feminists have been doing just that. And while feminists advocate for equality and structural change for all sexes, it has been overwhelmingly men that have advocated for their issues at the expense of women. But what about men? stems from the sentiment that people don’t want to fight for an issue if it doesn’t directly benefit themselves. Often, feminism is misconstrued as putting one gender above the other, but it’s not. Feminism is about equality between all genders and living free of narrow gender stereotypes. When people resort to whataboutisms, it seems clear to me that the call is coming from within the house: The perceived oppression many men claim to feel isn’t caused by women; it’s caused by patriarchy.
The narrow structural concepts of patriarchy are what prevent women from equality, but they also prevent men from living authentically. Moran is correct when she says that men are more likely to kill themselves, but this isn’t because it’s harder to be a man in today’s society. It’s because patriarchy teaches men to be strong, don’t show emotions, and they are thus less likely to seek help when they are struggling, or even realise how badly they’re struggling. “Men seek help for mental health less often,” says psychologist Jill Harkavy-Friedman to the BBC. “It’s not that men don’t have the same issues as women – but they’re a little less likely to know they have whatever stresses or mental health conditions that are putting them at greater risk for suicide.”
I completely agree that there should be room for men’s issues within feminism, yet to advocate for men’s issues as the second phase to feminism is absurd.On the one hand, it implies that women’s progress has come at the expense of men, and on the other hand it fails to address the historical oppression between genders. The burden of fighting for equality shouldn’t lie with those that have historically been oppressed, yet whether it’s the fight for racial equality or gender equality, it seems to me that, in many cases, the only way to convince the historical oppressor to support equality is to show them that there is something in it for them.
But the truth of the matter is that while patriarchy hurts men as well, they just don’t have a history of being oppressed. As BASW’s Wayne Reid put it so eloquently: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” But a misogynist will never believe this if they hear it from someone they don’t see as equal. So while feminism should address how patriarchy negatively affects men, women shouldn’t have to apologise for their progress. Driving this change has to be the responsibility of men in order to educate those that fight the war on feminism.