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Men! International Women’s Day is also important for you

By Louis Lostis (European Political and Governance Studies - Manuel Marín Promotion)

On March 8th, we are celebrating the fight of women for their rights. At every stage of this fight, there has been a backlash orchestrated largely by men in power. This backlash has often simplistically reduced the feminist cause to a fight against men solely because they are men. Indeed, for the critics of feminism, rights and recognitions gained by women are a threat to men and masculinity. In other words, the relation between the two genders is a zero-sum game where women’s achievements cannot be anything other than a loss for men.

As students of European affairs, we all know that this zero-sum logic is deeply flawed. It is a logic that has pushed our continent into war several times and it creates more chaos than it solves problems. There is no reason why gender relations should be different from relations between European nations. Away from this destructive logic, there is a way for men to understand the importance of fighting for women’s rights, not just because we, as men, care for the rights of our female friends, girlfriends, mothers and sisters. We also have to fight for our own liberation.

Away for an archaic vision of masculinity

Feminist theorists have always known that the fight for women’s rights was not a fight against men but a fight against a system, namely the patriarchy. This system, by definition, is imposed on all of us, consciously and subconsciously, through our socialisation. At birth, a baby will be socialised differently depending on whether they are a girl or a boy. Through childhood and adulthood, an individual will be expected to behave a certain way according to their gender. If you try to disturb this difference you will face a social sanction, ranging from stares, vocal disapprobation, nasty jokes and sometimes violence. As Simone de Beauvoir said : “On ne nait pas femme, on le devient”. A formulation that is equally applicable to men: On ne nait pas homme, on le devient.

When a baby is assigned as a boy at birth, the parents, the teachers and the rest of society will project on him a vision of how he, as a boy, should behave. Typically, he is expected to be strong (not soft), handsome (not cute), adventurous, troublesome, etc. When he falls and scratches his knee, he will start crying. His mother will hold him and tell him “now, you’re a big boy, stop crying”. The child, like a big sponge, will absorb all those expectations and try to behave accordingly. He will stop crying, not because, as a boy, he has a ‘natural’ tendency to endure physical pain but because he wants to be the ‘big boy’ his mother expects him to be.

The patriarchal system tends to put men as the ‘default’ gender. Therefore, as an adult, the man will learn to define himself against the Other. He will reject anything that is remotely feminine, and he will be reminded by society not to be a ‘pussy’ or a ‘sissy’. He will also value himself in comparison to other men. He will disapprove the masculinity of other races or other social classes. He will consider that a ‘real’ man should contain his impulses, especially regarding women. Paradoxically, he will also learn that a ‘successful’ man has many sexual partners that are the equivalent of conquests. Hence, the traditional vision of masculinity is asking men to be the Conqueror (daring and active) AND the Wise man (reserved and authoritative).

There is a crisis of masculinity, but it is not caused by the fact that women have rights. This crisis is enshrined deeply into the archaic vision of masculinity. Although being stoic or assertive are not fundamentally bad character traits, it is their assimilation to one specific gender that causes problem. Pushed to an extreme, a Conqueror might be reckless, impulsive and violent. That would explain a disproportionate number of (young) men are involved in car accidents. To another extent, a Wise man might become incapable of expressing his emotions, closing himself to the world. That would also explain the disproportionate number of men committing suicide. There is, therefore, a problem with masculinity. It is a psychological and mental health issue with a very great impact on society.

Feminism as a solution to the crisis of masculinity

The crisis of masculinity can be resolved by taking into account the feminist revolution and making it our own. It is not a question of renouncing aspects of who we are as men or limiting ourselves. It is about allowing ourselves to be the kind of man we want. It is, most importantly, about allowing future generations of boys to grow up as liberated men. And this is why March 8th is also crucial for us men, because the liberation of women should also mean the liberation of men from an archaic vision of masculinity and its constraining expectations.

There are many solutions to this crisis. Here are a couple of examples:

- Why is there such an important disparity between maternity leave and paternity leave in most European countries? Our lawmakers and employers believe that the woman is the primary caregiver and that parental leave is bad for a career. How can we reduce the gender pay gap if men are not expected to equally share parenting and domestic chores?

- Before the #MeToo movement, a ‘law of silence’ ruled over sexist behaviour and women struggled to find recognition and support within their organisations. It is our responsibility as men to oppose this silence and indifference. Most of all, we need to refuse the ‘Boy’s Club’ logic that allows some men to undermine women without fear of social retribution from their peers.

Call yourself feminist or ‘ally’, be active everywhere and anywhere you feel is necessary. Most of all, make this day your own! By helping women, we help men and society as a whole.



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