Being a feminist is a no-brainer for me — why can't it be for all men?

I frequently feel ashamed to be a man, but I am always proud to be a feminist

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The Independent Online

I pity men who believe feminism to be a kind of conspiracy against them. It is in the interests of men, and not just women, to pledge unwavering support to feminist causes. The UN's HeForShe campaign, which began in March, calls for men to stand with women in the pursuit of gender equality.

“Feminism,” said Emma Watson in a line of her speech to the UN this week, “has become an unpopular word.” Watson calmly pointed out that the definition of the word 'feminism' is that “men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”, and it is interesting to note that even within that tiny three-word phrase 'men and women' there lies an unconscious privileging of the male. It would be encouraging to hear the phrase "women and men" more often.

Being a feminist is a no-brainer for me, as I believe it is for many men. But being a man in this stage of the 21st century is a strange phenomenon, because many of the ugly attitudes that were latent for so long are suddenly becoming stark and visible. Around us, women are making use of more media and platforms of support to express their opposition to discrimination. A lot of men – and a surprising number of women – don't like this development, and use the same platforms to hound and harass women for highlighting gender inequalities, or for simply discussing video games.

Watson spoke to the UN about “men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes”, comments which ring true for me: though I would without shame call myself a feminist, it is not always easy for men to say so. Last year I was due to attend a talk on feminism and, when speaking about it with a friend of mine, I downplayed its significance, virtually shutting down discussion of it once I had raised the subject. That I did not explain that the issue is important to me has always been a source of regret.

And men ought to regret missed opportunities like this because, as is the point of the campaign, more of us need to declare ourselves in favour of gender equality, and not just in theory. Given that there ought to be over 3.5bn of us, there are still too few male feminists: those willing to stand up for a woman's bodily autonomy; those not threatened by the mere existence of women in their sphere of work; those who do not assume "feminine" qualities to be negative.

There are numerous, almost daily, irritations that contribute to my desire to identify as a feminist: constant reports of rape; women forced to shroud and dehumanise themselves because of a fault that is apparently men's anyway; female writers hounded off social networks simply for being women; old men writing legislation that all but forbids a woman to have an abortion. For these and many other reasons I feel more than enough rage to be part of the cause. Empathising with women in a way that seems so alien even to the politicians with the power to improve women's lives, means that I do my utmost to see how much easier life tends to be if you are a man.

 

Men unwilling to call themselves feminists might feel like this because of a fear of being thought weak in some way, which, ironically, is the kind of issue feminism aims to tackle. With any luck it will soon be this distorted perspective that is the unusual and unpopular opinion among men.

In this climate, I often feel ashamed to be a man, and I hope my other male friends can say the same. It is so often called a "privilege" to be a member of the male sex. It doesn't feel like a privilege; more often it feels like something for which to apologise. For any man who realises that life will drastically improve if women are treated equally and men are not pilloried for helping, join me by signing up to HeForShe.

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