Men Are Not The Enemy

I know many smart, progressive women who still hesitate before using the F word because feminism has almost become heavy with connotations of division and dislike of the opposite sex. It has almost become a war cry calling for men to be silenced, put in their place and punished for the ignorance of their ancestors.

The goal of feminism is for both genders to achieve equality, to shut down double standards, not create new ones. However, after years of fighting for equal rights, it is quite commonplace now to hear women deriding and insulting men. Over the years, the image of women as weaker, meeker or in any way inferior to the male gender has been challenged and over-turned, yet somehow it is still okay to dismiss men as ‘lazy’, ‘oafish’, ‘selfish’, ‘closed off’ – you name it.

Men must toe the line and show respect for women, but a woman belittling or insulting a man is often seen as an empowered turning of the tables. I understand women have been struggling against judgemental perceptions for many years, and you can call it fighting back if you want, but it is still, like it or not, prejudice. The same prejudice the barrier-breaking women before us sought to eradicate. We do not become feminists by denigrating men. We become feminists by achieving parity with men.

There will always be ignorant people in the world, there will always be idiots on Twitter, but one wrong male voice doesn’t indict an entire gender, any more than the repugnant Katie Hopkins speaks for all women. When we treat men as one big group of selfish, sexist pigs, despite knowing that many of our male peers have been raised by feminist mothers and never held a sexist view in their lives, we risk alienating them, and creating more division where there should be none.

When we make generalisations about the men around us, in a way we would never stand to hear women talked about, we create resentment and encourage men not to care or join in discussions about women’s rights. I often see men excluded from conversations on female issues, as they are told it doesn’t concern them. Can you imagine your outrage if you tried to express an opinion about an issue that didn’t directly affect you, only to be shut down and told you were ‘femsplaining’? Men should not be criticised for taking an interest in issues that affect their mothers, wives, daughters or friends. We are supposed to be encouraging discussion between everyone, not dismissing the varied views of half the population.

There is an unspoken consensus that if we are ‘the other’ we cannot identify with the struggles of different groups. Certainly we may have no direct experience of their issues, but does that mean we cannot recognise injustice and wish to help? Can a straight person can have no opinion on gay issues, a white person no passion for the rights of people of colour? How are we supposed to breed compassion and understanding in a unified society if ultimately we imply that people should stay in their lanes and care only about their own struggles? It is caring about others that makes us human. Certainly expressing your view must be done with sensitivity, but surely voices without direct experience should not just be silenced?

It is also worth considering that the man you dismiss as having no right to weigh in on women’s issues may have been raised by an independent single mother, he may have sisters or friends he has supported as they fought against sexism, he may simply – shock horror – have common decency and believe in equality.

When you see sexism from a man, call it out, challenge it, of course. It has no place in our society. But do not attribute the idiocy of one man to an entire gender. And take a moment to check your own behaviour and ask yourself if you would consider your own words acceptable if the genders were reversed.

Sometimes over-tipping the scales is an unfortunate consequence of seeking equality, but we are striving to live in a society where every voice matters, where every opinion counts, and where we accept that the enemy among us has many faces. Recognise the guilty, hold them to account, but do not make generalisations. When we talk of men in dismissive, insulting tones, we lose our own battle to achieve equality. When men attempt to join in a conversation, they mustn’t be silenced on account of the behaviour of men several generations before them.

We cannot fight sexism with sexism, two wrongs don’t make a right. We all have a voice and we all deserve to be heard. We can stand up for each other, attempt to understand each other’s struggles and fight for one another. But only if we give ourselves a chance.

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