Late last year I received a comment on one of my Instagram posts accusing my words of making a ‘sneaky attack’ on men.
Responding to negative reactions online is something I think we’re all still learning to do, and it’s definitely not something I’m especially comfortable with just yet. But I do think these discussions need to be had, so I initially went back and disagreed with his comment.
However when it became clear that the guy in question was pretty upset, the discussion became a little longer than that. And although I disagreed with his initial feedback, I could understand why he was feeling upset.
Because for many men of the world who are suddenly being told that male-dominated ways of being are wrong and need to be changed, I can understand why it would feel a little scary… especially if those men have had their own bad experiences with the structure and rules of our society.
Now let me pause here to say that I’m not saying the males of our species should have it super easy at this point.
I’ve personally experienced toxic masculinity and its various different kinds of abuse on more than one occasion, and have heard, read and witnessed more stories than I can count over the years from others who’ve also suffered at the hands of our masculine-focussed culture and everything it champions.
I’m a proud feminist who fully recognises the poison that toxic masculinity has injected into our society and I fully support the abusers, the misogynists, the enablers and the other assorted arseholes being held fully accountable for their actions.
The culture that has so long been commonplace in so much of the world needs to be changed, and that’s always going to be an uncomfortable process – never more so than for the people who have experienced privilege in the past as a result of the imbalances and abuses that society has brought about.
However I also do not hate men. And what’s more, I don’t know any feminists who actually do.
Personally, I have a load of amazing men in life and recognise that many of them have suffered as a result of this culture too. I also see how lots of those men – like us – were born with that toxic culture so ingrained into their society that they didn’t even realise it was possible for that to be changed.
I get that because for the longest time I felt the same way – even those I was one of those suffering. Just last week I was talking with a friend who’d been a colleague in the most toxically masculine environment I’ve ever had the displeasure to experience.
Talking back over old times it struck me how many times I’d been in a position where I could’ve said something, could’ve stood my ground, could have demanded change; but didn’t. On some of those times it was out of fear or a feeling of powerlessness because of who I was. But on others, honestly, it was because I thought that was just the way things were and so went along with it rather than rock the boat.
That’s not something I’m proud of – it’s actually something I’m downright ashamed of – but as the great Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, do better.” And now I do. As do many of the men in my life.
All of this has made me think a lot recently about what it is that I’m fighting for and championing when I call myself a feminist, and it’s from that place that I’m writing this blog post.
Because I want to remind us all that although it’s seriously bloody important that we smash the patriarchy, that doesn’t mean we have to hate everyone who identifies as a man in the process.
The two are completely separate. And in fact if the patriarchy is ever going to be truly dismantled, we will all need together to do that.
The Oxford dictionary defines “patriarchy” as:
1. A system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line.
1.1. A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
1.2. A society or community oragnized on patriarchal lines.
Put simply, patriarchy is the society which says that the best way to be, the right way to be, is male – and more specifically for the Western world right now that means white, cisgender, heterosexual, able bodied, well-educated and middle-to-upper class male – and that to be anything other automatically means that we are less then.
That’s not to say that individuals who do not tick all the boxes on that first list can and will never have any opportunities – there are varying levels of privilege in our society after all – but that those individuals will almost certainly have to work harder to get those opportunities, and will inevitably suffer prejudice, abuse and/or pain along their way.
But let’s remember that the paragraph above isn’t an exhaustive list of everything patriarchy agrees with and blesses either. Because, as our delightfully toxic approach to society is also all too keen to remind us, any characteristics deemed non-masculine are generally considered to be a weakness.
It’s why men are laughed at for talking about emotions, considered to be less if they can’t deadlift over half their body weight or have more than a little softness to their physique, why we’re all expected to go at full pelt every single day of the year and why we’re told time and time again that creative pursuits just aren’t valid career opportunities.
Because it’s important to remember that men have suffered the effects of patriarchy too.
Ask the three times as many men who are likely to take their own lives as women (statistic from the Samaritans, 2018) in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
Ask the guy who told me the other week that his resolution for 2019 was to hit the gym big style since he was tired of being laughed at for his “weak, noodle arms”.
Ask the men who’ve lost custody battles over the years not because they were a less viable option as guardians for their children but because “all children need their mothers” (note:
I’m not suggesting that children don’t need their mothers. But I do believe that what children need more than anything is a safe, loving, nurturing home with whoever can and will provide this for them.).
Ask the ex-boyfriend who dreamed of being a nursery teacher and was brilliant with children, but chose a different career path when he was told over and over again that “working with kids wasn’t a job for blokes.”
Fighting patriarchy doesn’t have to mean fighting men, and it certainly doesn’t mean hating them. It means hating and fighting the structures that support a single image and way of being ahead of anything and everything else.
Fighting the patriarchy means breaking down those structures to understand what’s wrong, and how we can all change to champion and bring about fairer societies and ways of living.
It’s not about taking away the opportunities of those who identify as men, but about opening up the field to ensure that those who identify outside of that patriarchal image of perfection have equal access to opportunities.
Because yes, while that means equal opportunities for “women” and “men”, at its heart feminism is about so much more than that. It’s about building a society where we can all be honoured for ourselves, and for the qualities, gifts and experiences that we have to offer the world, rather than being separated and judged based on our physical appearance, genetic make-up, personal backgrounds, beliefs or any other thing that a system so determined to separate us and break us apart would like to categorise us by.
Because while each and every one of those things is important and special – and by gods I will fight anyone who suggests otherwise – not one of them ever means that someone is “less” or “more” than another person.
That’s the key to all of this, the detail that makes patriarchy so damned poisonous and something we all have a part to play in.
I’m a proud feminist, a vowed fighter of the patriarchy and a woman determined to change our society to a more collaborative and balanced one.
But I’m also a proud daughter, sister and friend, and I fight those battles for the whole of the next generation and those that follow, regardless of what gender they identify as.