The Human Issue
Today – for the second time in my life – I heard a guy describe himself as a feminist. I’m not saying that I haven’t met men before who didn’t support gender equality (although they might not have put it in quite those terms), but it is undeniably rare to hear the word ‘feminist’ issue from the male mouth. As a feminist, I’ve learned to expect this, though I’ve never ceased to be disturbed by it. And so the question must be asked: what is it about feminism that has rendered it so taboo, for men as well as for a surprising number of women?
The inequality of men and women – in legal terms, the business world, popular culture, and the home – has been distorted as a problem that pertains only to those who stand in an obvious position at the receiving end of inequity. These inequities have thus been termed “girls’ problems” and “women’s issues." However, when women are abused at college parties, sexualized in the media, refused the right to control their own bodies, silenced, condescended to, or even sweetly praised for their ‘attempt at being taken seriously,’ what is ultimately at stake is their humanity. The unfair treatment of any individual or group of individuals has been seen in history – and must continue to be seen – as a violation of basic human rights and dignity.
I propose that feminism is not a “women’s issue” but a human issue. And, if I may be so bold, I propose that all of humanity, men very much included, have suffered the consequences of this violation. For over two thousand years half of the human race has been oppressed, though, over time, the oppression has managed to manifest itself in increasingly subtle and perverse, yet no less detrimental, ways. How can humanity possibly have benefited from such a total subjugation of half of itself? How can our world exist in any semblance of balance and harmony when one sex dominates at the expense of the other, and even of itself? It is time that anyone who cares about human life begins to care about the life of human women.
But calling the cry for gender equality a “women’s issue” does more than pervert its human relevance. By semantic association, it immediately robs it of legitimacy and importance. After all, something that chicks worry about can’t be that serious, right? I mean, women’s issues are tampons and make-up and shopping. Feminism? Just another women’s issue, dude. But this – the dilemma of dubbing equality a “women’s issue” – brings us right back to where we started: anything associated with “women” is negative, frivolous, insignificant, and even – God forbid – cute. It is that very association that feminism seeks to correct.
Unfortunately, the term ‘feminism’ has been radicalized, turned dirty, made to carry in its wake all sorts of unpleasant baggage. I would attribute this both to the distorting of the aims of feminism over the decades, as well as to the simple fact that a woman standing up for herself – no matter what that action is termed – often cannot help but be seen as a radical one. But feminism, at its heart, is not a radical idea. Unless, of course, you want to claim that equality and justice are radical ideas. But no one wants to claim that, do they?