Feminist Theory

So you’ve heard… feminism wants to take men’s rights away

“Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie”. This is a statement that has been used many times in response to the myth that feminists are trying to raise women’s place in society above that of men. The general ethos of the mainstream feminist movement isn’t about giving women rights to take away men’s rights, but about striving to bring women and other marginalised genders to the same level as men.

But, on a more focused scale, we should examine what rights we are talking about. And maybe we shouldn’t so quickly disregard the idea that equal rights might be like pie. If we imagine rights as pie, we could argue that currently, men’s rights in society form over half the pie. Women’s rights in society may form a quarter and the rights of transgender and non-binary folks do not even form a single slice.

To let everyone have their pie and eat it too, society currently seems to think that we simply need to bake more pie. This is what mainstream feminism argues; we need to fight to add rights for women and marginalised genders, until they match the expanse of pie that men currently have. But what if we can’t bake more pie? What do we do then?

It is important to remember that gendered inequality is relational and oppressive; women’s and trans rights aren’t lacking simply because no one has thought to bake as much pie for women, but because these rights have been actively denied by the ruling male classes of our societies.

Let’s reimagine equal rights as a bar graph with a single line that represents equality in our society. For women and men to be equal, each group would receive 50% of freedoms and rights in our societies. To be equal participants, neither group would infringe on the other’s rights or take their rights away. 

This is not what the current state of society looks like. Rather, men are enjoying many more rights than women, and in order for women’s rights to reach equal ground, men need to give us some room and need to give up some rights in the process. Of course, the foundational rights to personhood, to suffrage, to life and to self-ownership are never in question here. Rather, we need to examine the acts that men feel so entitled to, that have become either codified or assumed rights in many countries: the right to violence and rape without punishment; the right to harass without consequence; or the right to dictate and deny bodily autonomy.

Our political, justice, criminal, educational and family structures have been set up in such a way that men are able to exercise these ‘rights’ freely and generally without consequence. Granting women the vote, or allowing them to get an education and open their own bank accounts are milestones that help that singular bar graph inch more towards the middle.

But women do not yet have equal rights to their own bodies, to safety, or to justice. This is directly a result of the over-inflated share of rights and allowances that men have granted themselves. Unfortunately, it is not because we just haven’t baked another pie for women. 

In the effort to make feminism more palatable and accessible, especially to men as a class, there is the unfortunate consequence that foundational aspects of the movement are glossed over. It is fairly inoffensive to suggest that all people should have equal rights and work towards that goal.

It is more contrarian to draw attention to the fact that this movement is a struggle between two larger classes of people; women, transgender and non-binary people have been intentionally silenced, oppressed and denied active and equal participation in society. Achieving equality means gaining back territory that we have been excluded from; it follows that some things need to change, and it is men’s self-granted and codified rights to silence, oppress and violate us.

The frank reality is that men need to lose these ‘rights’ for society to become safer, more just and more egalitarian. This is precisely the source of discomfort for men as a class that needs to be confronted: “when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. And feminists cannot stress this enough: it really isn’t.

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