Why is the term „feminism“ so looked down upon? Why do men find it so hard call themselves feminists? It’s high time (if it wasn’t since always) to fly this flag, speak up and say: We should all be feminists. Feminism is not just „women’s business“; as little as human rights should be of concern merely to victims of persecution. Feminism is not just an attitude on the fringes; it should be self-explanatory. And feminism is not just some blurry term for „women’s rights“; it is more than a representative women’s quota, and more than #MeToo.
Feminism isn’t just for women
First, the absurd idea that feminism were only something for women is pretty widespread. Why is that so? Because a pretty big majority simply does not seek conversation with feminist ideas. A pretty big majority unacquainted with grand feminist ideas such as those of Simone de Beauvoir, Sandra Harding, or Judith Butler. But a majority too, and much more importantly, that hasn’t reflected the slightest bit on how decisive a feminist position and attitude could be – especially for men.
The history of feminism spans from early women’s rights movements to the sexual revolution of the 1968 generation and today’s popular social constructivism, which understands gender roles independent of biological sex in terms of performance and intersubjective construction. Feminism remains divided into a liberal mainstream that advocates, for example, a women’s quota at the workplace and in the top tiers of businesses; and a radical fringe that pleads in favour of fundamental societal, cultural, and political overhaul.
Both notions share some sense of feminism with the common aim of emancipation from a patriarchal society. Yet they see that very emancipation as a very different thing – and in very different places. Importantly, patriarchy is not what self-proclaimed everyday sexists claim it to best: a ridiculous conspiracy theory. To the contrary, patriarchy is a very straightforward theoretical concept about the institutionalised ways in which women have been and continue to be suppressed.
Patriarchy is everywhere
Second, it should be obvious that there is a patriarchal tendency around the world. You don’t need to be a left-winger to agree on this point. In Germany, women are subjected to „absolutely normal“ everyday sexism by their superiors at work, in schools, in politics. In India, which has recently been declared most dangerous country for women, gang rapes happen on a near-daily basis. And in wars and conflict everywhere, sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. This is no news: sexist remarks, „just grabbing“, and physical harassment are part of the life, if not the every-day, of women around the globe.
How that concerns men? First, they enjoy privileges in the largest part of this planet, which often incentivise them to abuse their power position. And the abuse of power begins where it is least recognised: in everyday life, in between the lines of the jokes we make, in our implicit expectations. That’s not to say that men were arseholes by nature. To the contrary, claims about patriarchy make an explicitly political argument: we’ve designed our societies in such ways that men enjoy structural advantages at the structural disadvantage of women.
Every political argument has its political counterfactual, and particularly so in the case of the more „trendy“ constructivist understanding of feminism: that which we have constructed we can construct otherwise. That is precisely why men ought to realise their part and join the feminist ambition. For if this is a problem of power, the behaviour of the powerful should clearly be of key importance.
Feminists are no fringe figures
Third, often people portray feminism as some other „youth culture“, a minority position, or destructive radical activism. To be sure: Pussy Riot & Co. do make an important contribution to the global feminist movement; and every movement has its own style, its own attitudes, and its own goals. Feminism however is much more than a declaration of war against men, and anyhow it’s not simply „anti-men“. Feminism is an attitude – not just a political attitude, but also a cultural and philosophical one.
Another part of feminism is the conviction that societal structures can be disrupted and changed, and that those structures are expressed as well in the most banal-seeming everyday stuff. Phenomena that may seem trivial or non-consequential to some should thus be taken seriously and subjected to debate. The same argument prevails in critiques of xenophobia and racism: just because you don’t find it important to stop making racist jokes because you don’t feel affected by them, it doesn’t mean that others won’t feel affected. Yes, it’s that simple.
Feminism is more than a women’s quota
Fourth, feminism is far more than demands for women’s quotas. In this regard perhaps we shouldn’t just all be feminists but radical feminists. Liberal feminism relates to radical feminism like aspirin to intensive care. For some it’s enough to fight symptoms without wanting to deal with root problems, while others hope and strive for more fundamental change.
The difference is one of the perhaps oldest political divides around, but there is something that unites them. At least we should all be able to concede that we need to create spaces beyond mere representation, as obviously this is about more than better positions at the workplace (although I’m not saying it’s not about that).
So it’s about more: It’s about cultural-political inclinations, expectations, tendencies. Take education as an example. In my Master’s curriculum at university I’ve counted how much of our core readings (of the entire year) were written and published by men. The results were shocking. Out of a total of 270 authors only 30 were female, which is roughly 11%. Among those 11% a clear majority are feminists and critical theorists – that is, among the few women there were at all, the majority was put in the „fringe corner“.
What does that say about what higher education thinks about women and female knowledge? And with what consequences for the education of men and women? What worldview underlies a curriculum that structurally excludes women – and if it includes them, then only under the condition that they talk about „their“ issues?
Feminisms for all
In sum, of course there isn’t only one feminism to which we’d all have to subscribe. There are many feminisms. Every single one of us will have a different idea of how we should work towards emancipation and what we actually need to emancipate ourselves from. So why should everyone be a feminist?
Because the underlying social structures, political attitudes and concrete consequences with which feminism is concerned matter to everyone. Power imbalances and injustice are social, cultural, and political problems in the hands of all of us. In order to overcome such problems we don’t only need the resistance of those affected, but also and particularly the re-thinking and re-doing of those most privileged. A man who doesn’t feel feminism matters to him is therefore not different from a human being who doesn’t feel human rights matter to her.