When I saw the NYTimes Europe piece called “Feminism of the Future Relies on Men,” I was a little bit confounded. The piece was written concisely and surely, with no hesitation, and started by describing “women closing ranks to battle blatant sexism, get an education and go to work” as the feminism of the past. After all, wasn’t that just women acting like men? Well, it sure was. The next step, after all, as the author promised, was “pulling men into [the] women’s universe — as involved dads, equal partners at home and ambassadors for gender equality from the cabinet office to the boardroom.”
The problem here isn’t the first or second goal included for the feminists of today; we’ve been working hard to ensure men play an equal role at home. But relegating men to being “ambassadors of gender equality” is tricky when it plays out like this:
Basically, guys are the more effective feminists because other guys are more likely to listen to them.
This was the point where I had to pause for a minute to observe her logic. Pulling men into women’s worlds shouldn’t have to mean forcing them to care about our problems for us (the idea of handing off the battle for equality is a little scary and seems quite careless), it should mean achieving social equality that doesn’t discourage them from caring about these problems with us. Men can be great allies in the women’s movement, and much has been written about their inclusion in the feminist movement. But none of those writings would go as far as to discredit the impact of women in the movement, or to discourage them from going on the front-lines themselves. None of those writings think of men as ambassadors to equality, but rather think of them as partners in a movement.
Men being uninterested in the issues that affect women and their inequality is not a problem best solved by waiting for exceptional male leaders to give us tastes of what we rightfully deserve; it isn’t a problem best solved by begging men to handle our anger, our stories, and our futures for us and sitting back to wait for the day our salvation comes.
It’s also not a problem best solved with insufficient and incomplete logic that disregards our lopsided opportunity to achieve our goals through institutions like government:
It took a male prime minister to sell the legislation to the country, and it took male leaders in Sweden and Norway to pass similar laws. It was a man who championed Norway’s boardroom quota obliging companies to fill at least 40 percent of the seats with women.
Would a female Spanish prime minister have been able to appoint a cabinet that is 50 percent female in 2004?
Would a female Spanish prime minister have been elected in 2004? The chance is underwhelming.
The biggest problem with this approach is the damage it could do: telling women to let someone else worry about their equality, relegating them back to playing a passive, gracious role instead of pushing them into the battlefield and letting them fight like hell, and accepting our current reality as silenced, ignored members of a world population as okay and worth working inside of is only going to slow this movement, and any movement experiencing these same characteristics, farther back.
So to the women of Europe and the world: I know that it’s frustrating to be disrespected by institutions, persons, and cultures; I know that it is hard to work for equality when your voice doesn’t matter in the boardroom or the bedroom; I understand that we’re all happy for the progress we achieve through whatever means possible that makes it more likely we will soon be given the trust, power, and opportunity over half of the world’s population deserves; and I know that it feels like feminism may be too old, too tired, too vintage to take care of it anymore. However, keep fighting, keep yelling, and keep raising your voices.
Women of Europe and the world: don’t ever put your personhood in someone else’s hands.