I actually don’t like the word ‘feminism’, because like all ‘isms’ and other obscure words, it stops people from thinking what it actually means.
But, for lack of a better word, I’ll go with feminism.
Some people still think that feminism is a political battle, where women were historically denied the vote in many countries considered ‘progressive’, such as Britain. They therefore reject the feminist ideology that something needs to change.
A cultural struggle
Though we now have equal rights, in the sense that we’re allowed to have jobs, own property, our parents aren’t allowed to marry us off (although not true in many cultures), are allowed to vote and become MPs, the battle hasn’t been won.
It was actually easier when there were concrete things you could reference to point out how women are not equal to men, like not being able to vote. Then ridiculous arguments could be made and refuted, a concrete topic debated and eventually reason could triumph.
A question of ego
I can only assume that people who are against feminism, on the misguided premise that men and women are treated equally in society, believe that women are intoxicated by a false sense of importance bred by feminism. Some people are clearly suspicious that feminists are trying to get an ‘easier ride’.
Or, individual men feel aggrieved that they personally are being accused of being ‘sexist’, when they are perfectly wonderful individuals.
But there’s a difference between fighting attitudes at a societal level and relating to people as individuals. Many men who would refute feminism as a movement are perfectly pleasant to their wives, daughters, female friends, and colleagues. They’re not rapists or old-school bigots.
However, some people struggle to draw themselves out of their direct experience to look at society with a bird’s eye view.
What needs to change
My heart sinks every time a list of accomplished leaders is published and women are barely represented.
Every time that a legal case is publicised in which a woman is blamed for her own rape.
Every time another politician argues that women should not have the right to control their own bodies.
It shouldn’t be hard to see that these are real problems in society, but the resistance to feminism’s message persists through what I think boils down to a lack of empathy. This isn’t a phenomenon restricted to feminism, but afflicts the movement for racial equality as well.
People need to understand that remaining passive means that things will never change, and that, if circumstances were even a little bit different, it could just as easily be them on the receiving end of discrimination.
The power of empathy
Although I’m not ‘racist’, I can see how my passive role in society could contribute to ‘racism’, which something which I should actively stand against.
I can’t dismiss the need for a movement to fight against discrimination based on skin colour, even though I fall on the ‘right’ side of the colour spectrum.
Neither should men – or women – dismiss the need for feminism, just because they themselves don’t identify with feminism’s problems.
Even though individual men are generally not ‘sexist’, this doesn’t mean they’re not passively contributing to a society-level problem.
It’s because I have empathy that I can see how issues that don’t directly affect me may still require me to take action.
If one thing is wrong in the world, and at one time in one place we want to address it, this doesn’t equate to saying we shouldn’t tackle other wrong things.
Cultural progress benefits everyone
But if you really need another reason to see why we still need feminism, it actually affects men negatively. I’m not even talking about the studies that show diversity is good for business, although that is true.
By polarising the sexes, men are forced into roles that aren’t necessarily beneficial to their mental health.
Men are meant to be ‘strong’, ‘successful’, ‘dominant’, just as women are meant to be ‘beautiful’, ‘passive’, ‘caring’.
And men’s mental health issues become critically important when you consider that suicide is the biggest killer of young men, and 78% of all suicides are male.
Men are pushed into overly masculine roles where expectations of them are incredibly high, and they can be deterred from working through their feelings by being expected to maintain a ‘stiff upper lip’.
Surely men want to be surrounded by women who are strong, successful, and empowered? And women want to be surrounded by men who are in tune with their feelings, capable of intimacy and humility?
When women are invisible
Life is more beautiful when we don’t have to debate whether women are ‘people’.
This tendency to erase women from public life was yet again highlighted when sports commentator John Inverdale ‘forgot’ that Venus and Serena had won several gold medals each, when he asked Andy Murray how he felt at being the first person ever to win two Olympic gold medals. It’s a testament to Andy Murray that he immediately corrected the interviewer.
Despite incredible examples of individual men going against the grain, I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me when I think about how some people inhabit an entire world where women don’t exist in any meaningful way.
I’m not an international superstar tennis player, but when I imagine the hours and the sweat that the Williams sisters will have poured into training to become champions, which is so casually ignored by one ignorant commentator, my heart hurts.
I’ve said many times that women need more role models, but men also need more role models.
I love it when men can embrace an issue out purely of feeling empathy for other human beings, like the male founder of amazing initiative Next Tech Girls, Sam Kamyar. Next Tech Girls provides free tech opportunities to girls to encourage them to enter the tech industry.
Another example is Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada and leader of the liberal party, who is a self-proclaimed feminist and generally awesomeperson.
We need more men like Andy, Justin and Sam. It’s easy to forget, when you’re participating in the #womenintech bubble, which is a thriving community of male and female professionals, that these crucial issues don’t even register in many circles. Let’s all pledge to change that.
Read more about why women should get involved in technology as a career.