While I do not necessarily call myself a feminist, there are some who may argue that in some respects, I am one. I do agree with some of the fundamental ideals for which the movement advocates. In particular, I think individuals from both sexes should have equal opportunities, and I would love to see the end of sexual abuse (or abuse in general for that matter) and an increase in opportunities for equal pay for women. However, I think the current movement often hinders itself from being effective, particularly in its current use of the term “feminism” and in the way it communicates with and about men.
First, I struggle with the word “feminism.” While I believe that at one time in the US, it was an appropriate name for the movement, now that women have gained many rights such as rights to vote and to have more career opportunities, I wonder if a gender-neutral term would be more effective. Sure, in some countries where it is the norm for women to experience regular abuse and neglect, the word “feminism” is more powerful. However, now that many of the goals that originated from the movement have seen significant progress in the US, some people may not understand the need for the movement to continue, or they may start confusing it with misandry.
The term “feminism” also sounds like it excludes men, and the name of a movement often gives the first impression. I have heard advocates say that feminists also fight for men’s rights regarding issues such as sexual abuse and equality, but those arguments are not very convincing when the very term that refers to the cause sounds like it only includes those who identify as feminine. If we are going to fight for men as well, we need a term that makes everyone feel like they can join the fight.
Also, I believe the movement does not effectively reach men. I will sometimes read articles on issues such as rape culture, and the authors seem to have good intentions. However, they seem to indirectly make it sound as though it is the fault of every man that such a culture exists. Even when the articles don’t attack men, they seem to rarely take the time to recognize how admirable men have stood up for the rights of both sexes. I see upstanding men who might normally join the cause push back from any association with feminism because they feel they are being indirectly accused of mistreating women. They are less inclined to hear what feminists have to say because they feel they will be attacked or ignored for the good they do. Wouldn’t it be more effective if we started highlighting what we appreciate about the good men in our lives? Couldn’t our society use examples of good in society rather than hearing more of what not to do? For instance, my husband is very supportive of my career goals. He always wants me to feel safe, but he doesn’t doubt my ability to take care of myself. He values my opinions, and we regularly exchange ideas and learn from each other. If anyone makes sexual slurs or advances toward me or even looks at me in a way that makes me uncomfortable, he is angry and is more than willing to confront the offender if that is what I want. I believe the cause of feminism would be more effective if it put as much effort into highlighting the what we appreciate about the men in our lives as it does pointing out faults.
If we want more people to join a cause, we have to make them feel included. Using a term that focuses on one group more than another and ignoring the fact that there are men who are standing up for women’s rights can only hurt the cause. However, using a more gender-neutral term and promoting stories of great men in our lives can only help the movement, and it is highly unlikely that it would hurt it. And if those changes were made, even I may start identifying with the movement.