By Robert Lutz
In his latest blog post, Robert Lutz explores why he feels it is so vital to include men and boys in the fight for gender equality.
Although women and girls make up half of the world’s population, they are severely underrepresented in politics and other influential roles. A recent video by British fashion magazine ELLE illustrates this sad fact in a clever way.
How do we change this? Answer: by mobilising people to advocate for the rights of all people, regardless of gender.
Supporting outreach for women across the world will help grow and strengthen the feminist movement. But what about men? Should feminists worry about alienating men from the movement? Does it matter what men think “feminism” means and what it’s about? Should they worry about getting men on board? Aren’t women then just asking for permission?
I believe involving men and boys is vital to the continued success of the feminist movement. Let me explain how and why we should get men on board.
Why more men? Incorporating men into the future strategy of the feminist movement may sound strange, even limiting. After all, feminism is primarily a response to historical injustices perpetrated by men against women. But there are many reasons why getting men on board is beneficial.
1. Tackling the Root of the Problem
The first benefit is that it allows us to prevent the continued spread of the problem. Just like self-defense training won’t end violence unless we stop the source of aggression, we cannot end patriarchy if we continue to shut out the men perpetuating it. If we challenge men to examine their behaviour, we can effectively tackle the root of the problem.
2. Patriarchy Is Gender-Nonconforming
The second reason follows from the first, women can be patriarchs too, and so the gender binary is unhelpful for structuring our advocacy efforts. Plenty of women perpetuate patriarchal behaviors because of the benefits they reap from doing so. We need to recognise patriarchy as a system, specifically one that allocates privileges and responsibilities within a hierarchy regardless of gender. Whenever we use the gender binary to determine whom to include or exclude, we are actually perpetuating patriarchy.
3. Power Lies in Numbers
The third reason is simple math: capping the potential for involvement in the feminist movement at 50% of the world’s population stifles revolutionary power. There are billions of men and boys out there that can be recruited to push gender equality forward, so we miss a huge opportunity if we neglect to do this outreach.
Know Your Audience
There are convincing reasons why getting more men involved is beneficial for the feminist movement. To make this happen, we need to contemplate who our audience is and how to get their attention.
In reaching out to men, the first important step should be explaining what feminism is and dispelling common myths. Many people who reject the label “feminist” simply do not understand what it means: both men and women are often afraid that it denotes some far-out-there ideology with strange body grooming requirements and an antagonistic attitude toward men. In educating people about feminism, it is key to convey that feminism is simply a commitment to equal rights regardless of gender.
The much more difficult step is figuring out how to get men to care about gender equality. Right now, many organisations frame gender equality as something that needs to be achieved for the sake of women, and men should simply support this agenda in the role of “allies”.
To build a movement, garnering large-scale support and involvement requires us to provide good answers to the questions, “What is at stake for men? How do men benefit from feminism?” In a previous piece, I discussed the nascent movement of men fighting for gender equality. While there is an increasing number of men who are figuring out that gender equality is beneficial for everyone, we need to experiment with ways to reach all the other men who either have not been exposed to feminist ideas or have a strong aversion to them. While some work is underway, we need more scholars and activists to work on this topic.
The Road Ahead
Of course, feminists do not literally have to worry about “alienating” men: women do not require the approval, permission, or support of men in the struggle for equal rights.
As history shows, feminism is powerful and effective even if men do not want to participate. However, getting men on board opens up the possibility of eliminating the root cause of patriarchy. We need to move away from thinking about whether or not having men present in feminist spaces poses a threat. Instead, we need to devise strategies for getting as many men as possible on board with the gender equality agenda.
Policymakers are beginning to understand the importance of engaging men on a global scale. In its brand-new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (often referred to as the SDGs), the UN has declared the engagement of men and boys as an explicit approach for eliminating discrimination and violence against women and girls.
Only time will tell whether the global community will take the UN declaration as an impetus for initiating serious steps to involve men and boys in the struggle for gender equality. While we should use the power of large institutions to aide in movement-building, it is important to realize that we cannot rely on institutions to lead the way—it is our job as scholars and activists to make it happen.