ENGAGING MEN FOR GENDER EQUALITY and WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT

Is
gender equality a man’s issue?  Is racism
a white person’s issue? Is poverty a rich man’s issue? Is fat-shaming a thin
person’s issue?

Funny
thing, this privilege. If you have it, you don’t realize it and if you don’t
have it you don’t realize it either.
But in fact privilege is not something you have or not, it is an interaction. Men
have privilege because of the position that patriarchy puts them in with
respect to women. People who are rich are rich only because there are people
who are poor to compare them to.  White
people are privileged only when compared to non-white people. It’s the center-periphery
argument. The center would not be the center without the periphery. It needs
the periphery to be the center.

Around
the world in recent times, the gender equality debate has taken on a new challenge
Engaging men for equality. It came
into global spotlight with the UNWOMEN program – HeForShe. Emma Watson, (our
very own Hermione who felt like a childhood friend to one too many Harry Potter
buffs) was standing up on a pedestal and urging men to engage for equality.
‘It’s your issue too, men’, she said.  

image

Photo Credit: HeforShe Campaign, 2014 


But if it is really a man’s issue too, why is it called HeforShe? Why not HeforUS or Heforhimself or HeforGenderEquality?

By
calling it HeforShe we are saying again ‘ He is standing up for her’ thus, reinforcing
the patriarchal notion of male superiority and now on top everything else, he is
doing yet another thing for her! (Count
your blessings ladies!)

All
of a sudden everyone from Obama to Prince Harry to Matt Damon are standing up
for equality. And by standing up I mean – talking about why women should be
given importance. What makes me so uncomfortable with this campaign is that
while it is a step in the right direction it does nothing to question the
patriarchal framework that makes men and women unequal in the first place. And
to make matters worse it reinforces many of the horrible stereotypes that widen
the gender gap in the first place. Let’s examine some of these –

image

Photo Credit: HeforShe Campaign, 2014 



“Somebody is standing up for them?” Gee thanks Mr.Obama! Wouldn’t it be
better if they would stand up for themselves and you would stand beside them
and not over them or for them? And what’s with ‘them’ – like we’re cute little
puppies of some sort?! Oh poor little women. Lets stand up for them! And women
should be ‘lifted’ because it lifts the economy and the country – I’m sorry I
thought it was because we are human beings and we deserve it. (Forgive my
birdbrains, after all I’m just a woman * Rolls eyes*)

image

Photo Credit: HeforShe Campaign, 2014 

Dear
Matt,
If we didnt exclude women in the first place, they would not have to be
included huh? ‘Objective’ fact!

image

 Photo Credit: HeforShe Campaign, 2014 

Thank
you so much Prince Harry. But please tell me who decides how much
respect we ‘deserve’? And what is a real man anyway?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this campaign is totally useless. It
is important because it starts a discussion. It is a step in the right
direction but we are in too deep to just treat wounds superficially. Gender
equality is a structural issue. It needs a drastic reframing and rethinking of
the ways in which society is structured. It will require both men and women to
let go of the various patriarchies that govern our lives as well as some of the
many privileges that patriarchy gives us. Gender inequality
is embedded in our collective archetypes as human beings; a campaign is not
going to change that! And especially not one that reinforces some of the very notions
that it stands against.
Further by making a distinction between ‘good men’ and ‘bad men’ we further
simplify and trivialize deeper structures of human societies and lives. Who are
the good men and who are the bad men? If I encourage FGM am I a bad man? But
what if I am against FGM but have no qualms about asserting authority over my
wife by forbidding her from certain things or expecting her to cook dinner for
me and take care of my children at home, even though she has a university
degree that she took pains to achieve!

Our lives are messy, our societies are messy and it is very important that we
see this messiness in all its glory. Gender equality is everyone’s issue, just
as is racism and poverty and obesity! Once we stop seeing everything in a binary
(Men vs women, good vs bad, rich vs poor) we would be in a place to make some
real steps and changes towards ‘our lives.’

Questions of engaging men for gender equality lie at the heart of my research
at Oxfam Novib. How do we engage men in a joint responsibility towards gender
equality? How do we bring about a deeper understanding of the various
patriarchies that govern our lives that affect our experiences as men, women, persons
– as living bodies?  These are some of
the questions my research will try to grapple with through the next few months.

I hope to travel far and wide and learn from some of the examples that have
managed to resist the traditional norms of masculinity and femininity and
worked together to step out  of these
boxes that society packs us into.
We all live in this world together. Our messy lives are all interrelated. In a
bid to become ‘individuals’ and guard our ‘own space’ many times we forget that
we are all interconnected. Only if we walk hand in hand will we be able to move
forward.

Because we are women, we don’t need saving. All we are asking for is some
solidarity, because it is your issue
too. 

This piece also appears on the Editorial Student blog of the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague.

Srushti Mahamuni

Srushti is working on masculinities in DRC in the Women’s Bodily Integrity team at Oxfam Novib and is currently studying at the Institute of Social Studies.  If you are lucky enough to bump into her, expect to be absorbed into her fierce passion for gender justice. Born and raised in India, any mention of body politics can trigger interesting bursts of conversation lasting hours.    

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