Should Feminists Worry About Alienating Men?

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.

Bill Bailey 2

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.

Image source:

Image source:

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.

Sustainable Development Goals

The UN has launched 17 global goals with one of the key aims being to eradicate gender inequality in the next 15 years. 

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.

Defilement in Uganda: The silent epidemic

By Josephine Namusisi-Riley

New Picture (49)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Getty images

About six years ago a very close relative of mine was faced with the horrendous fact that her six-year-old granddaughter Dina, had been raped, by a farm hand in her home. It is impossible to imagine the trauma this angelic child experienced, or the devastation her grandmother felt upon that realisation.

Like so many parents in Uganda and elsewhere, Dina’s care had been entrusted to an older and experienced family member; her grandmother, in the full trust and reasonable expectation she would be safe from harm. This was shattered the day a relative saw Dina upset and on close inspection noticed blood on her clothes.  On being questioned, Dina explained how the farm hand, Kato, had taken her into his room and forced himself upon her a number of times. She was in pain but had been told not to tell anyone.

When the farm hand was confronted, his first reaction was to ask if he was at risk of catching HIV from the child. The full horror of what he had done was completely lost on him. The police were called; but within days, he had been released from custody, a travesty, which occurs more often than not in cases of sexual abuse in Uganda.

In some regions, justice comes second place when police are offered cash bribes in exchange for freedom. These out-of-court settlements are illegal, but the harsh reality is that trial proceedings will sway in the favour of the highest bidder.

In this case, Dina’s family decided to focus their energy on rehabilitating her, instead of pursuing an unfruitful case against the farm hand, who is likely to have bought his freedom.


Dina’s innocence was cruelly taken by this man, and following the attack, she became withdrawn. Her grandmother was kind and wanted to do everything she could to repair the emotional damage, to reinstate a sense of normality for the child, but this was impossible. Dina’s grandmother was consumed by guilt, she couldn’t forgive herself for failing to notice the abuse that went on, undetected until that day.

As a woman, she herself lived in an abusive relationship; tormented mentally emotionally and physically by her husband. In the end, she left him to set up her own home, a sanctuary of peace for her and her children.

Dina’s parents suffered from guilt too, for exposing their child to abuse. Unfortunately their experience is not unique. Save the Children Uganda analysed the country’s Police Crime Report back in 2007, which revealed ‘over 25 children are defiled every day in Uganda which further translates into two children every hour.’

I doubt that accurate numbers exist, with many parents choosing not to report cases of defilement. Social stigma means the child will be viewed as ‘damaged goods’ in later life, bringing shame to the family.

Uganda’s daily newspaper New Vision reported “Half of criminal cases reported to police are about defilement of children. This means that the biggest number of crimes committed in this country is against children,”  and quoted the Minister for Economy, Henry Banyenzaki saying defilement was “silently ruining the country’s next generation.”



Where statistics are hard to verify, I am certain that almost every adult in Uganda will know a child who has been sexually abused or exploited. And what do we choose to do? In many cases, turn a blind eye, in order to protect family reputations, allowing the perpetrators of these hideous crimes to go unpunished. We ignore the innocent sufferers and instead carry on as if nothing happened.

The one question I am dying to ask is how we would feel if this happened to our own flesh and blood? I know what I would do and it is not appropriate to put into print in this blog! I think it’s time for children to have their voices heard. We need clear, strong laws that protect children but also that publicly state that if you abuse a child, you will be severely punished.

For too long, sexual abuse against children has been hushed up in Uganda, swept under the carpet and it is this stigma, shame and secrecy that allows abuse to permeate the core of our society, generation after generation.

It is our duty to protect our children, so I would like to call upon every man and woman to declare boldly that we will not be silent about this problem, we will empower our children by giving them the courage and tools to speak out.

At a community level we need to talk to our children about the dangers out there. As parents, we need our children to understand that their safety is the most important thing to us. School teachers, churches, we all need to unite and speak with one voice against this evil. If we don’t, then we all share the guilt of abandoning our children to suffer abuse in silence.

Being a woman: Evolving notions of femininity

By Chelsea Ellingsen

Lucy Salago Illustration image source: berlin-artparasites

Lucy Salago Illustration image source: berlin-artparasites

Our contributor Chelsea gives a raw and honest insight into her experiences growing up as a woman. Chelsea is from California but has been based in Uganda for the last three years. 

When I was younger I associated femininity and being female with strength, magic, with limitless possibility. It was Amelia Earhart, glitter, unicorns, Hermione saving Harry’s ass every time. I could DO anything. I could BE anything. It’s what my literary heroines did, it’s what my teachers and coaches taught. It’s what my peers and I believed.

Image source:

At 15, sweetly ensconced in my safe, suburban Southern Californian upbringing, I scoffed at the notion of feminism. Who needs that?

Being an A-cup and a shy wallflower, boys in class ignored me. Sexual harassment and objectification didn’t filter into my adolescence.

Halfway through college, my naiveté and trust began to collide with cold, hard experience.

Throughout my twenties I endured staccato bursts of male violence across three continents– all from complete strangers or men I had just met. After refusing to give a stranger fellatio on a dark street in Maryland I was insulted, humiliated, and strangled, but my screams enabled my escape.

I lost my shoe and the belief that men were benign.

My earlier definition of femininity evaporated into whimsical girlhood fantasy.

Confronted with the sharp edge of reality, the idea of femininity corroded into fragility and vulnerability.

Artwork by Ana Teresa Barboza image source: berlin-artparasites

Artwork by Ana Teresa Barboza image source: berlin-artparasites

Not having grown up with the tools or awareness to properly tackle cruel, entitled masculinity when it bared raw, red, and angry in my face, I tended to be passive when my boundaries were broken.

Afterwards, the shock would dissipate into a quiet rage that fueled vengeful, fitful dreams. Where did men get the idea that their wants and desires trump my own? Why did they work so hard to actively silence, cajole, and coerce me? Why was my “NO” never enough?

Image source: berlin-artparasites #ThingsIllTeachMyDaughter

Image source: berlin-artparasites #ThingsIllTeachMyDaughter

This year I found myself caught in a convoluted cycle of abuse.

He didn’t push any of my triggers. He completely disarmed me with his charm and false empathy. Early on, in a bid towards closeness, I shared my harshest moments I’ve experienced with misogyny. Through my grief I unwittingly revealed my pressure points.

He stowed away these painful shards of memory, sadistically throwing them at me like poisoned darts in the middle of nine-hour arguments he would start, debilitating me and sending me into unending waves of panic attacks that he would then deride me for.

To go from being blind in love to having your insides scraped out and openly mocked is excruciating.

Abuse mars your confidence. It destroys all sense of judgment. Abuse robs you of your ability to reflect on the building discontent. The ability to make sound choices dissolves into vertigo.

'Unravel' sculpture by Regardt van der Meulen, image source:

‘Unravel’ sculpture by Regardt van der Meulen, image source:

Love, pain, fear — coalesce into a twisted, sticky mass. The only sane course of action is to leave, yet this resolve is met with paralysis and the sheer terror of being alone. You retreat inward, stop reaching out, become addicted to the destructive dynamic, but the turbulence keeps increasing as time goes on.

To witness your partner’s delight at instilling fear and dominance over you is terrorizing. My partner sought power by repeatedly degrading me. Realizing that he gained validation through victimizing me was a turning point.

Having clawed my way out of his toxic grip I’ve salvaged most of the relationships he did his best to tear apart and now I’m here, dismantling his tangled web of putrid lies one by one.

I struggle with how to distill these hard-won insights to my future daughter or to my baby cousins who are just about to enter the shaky precipice of early adulthood.

I want to scream when I see my friends caught up in similar states of quicksand, unable to get out.

Artwork by Simone Haack, image source: berlin art-parasites

Artwork by Simone Haack, image source: berlin-artparasites

Intervening is a delicate proposition. Too harsh and she’ll shun you for judging her. Too blasé and she’ll be unprepared for the looming crisis. Ultimately, you need to craft your message so it empowers and emboldens her to leave. Telling her she has chosen this or dishing out tired tropes like ‘you get the love you deserve’ will only serve to further push her self-doubt into free fall.

How do I reconcile my fractured definitions of femininity into one that is integrated and whole? How do I reconcile the pieces so they affirm the resilience and grace that reside in each of us?

I continue to search for a masculinity that honors my trust and vulnerability and that recognizes the overlapping axes of oppression that work against many disenfranchised populations. Traumas are not weapons to use against us. Trauma is a part of our story, but it does not define us.

We cannot and will not be afraid to walk the streets at night, and we cannot be silenced. Survivors need to share our stories, to heal, to gain courage and to support others in coming forward, as well as illuminate the endemic violence that so many are unfortunately blind to.