As a woman in the 21st century, I owe a lot to feminism. Thousands of women before me fought for the right to vote, to be economically independent, and to have bodily autonomy. (OK, we’re still fighting that last one.) The situation isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s hard to deny that women have many more options than they did several decades ago.
Men, however, don’t seem to be making the same advances.
Usually when someone tries to steer a conversation about feminism away from women and toward men, it’s just a diversion. It’s an attempt to draw attention away from very real injustices women still face all over the world. However, that doesn’t mean that men have nothing to gain from feminism.
Because of the name, you might be forgiven for thinking that feminism is all about women. It really isn’t, though. While no one can lay claim to the title Arbiter of Feminism, the movement has matured and evolved over the decades to become more intersectional, now integrating race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so on into feminist analysis. (Although the continued existence of TERFs and the recent Ani DiFranco controversy indicate that we have a long way to go.) It’s really about more than tearing down the arbitrary gender walls that keep women from realizing their full potential. It’s about smashing those wall for everybody.
I remember growing up, the last thing I wanted to be called was girly. I didn’t want to wear dresses or wear makeup or do my hair. I wasn’t a tomboy, really, but I also wasn’t especially feminine. And I certainly didn’t want to be like those other girly-girls. Pink was nowhere to be found.
It’s not as easy for boys to eschew gender roles. Despite progress in making traditionally masculine activities and characteristics available to girls, activities and characteristics seen as feminine are still considered a step down. There are still very few men in traditionally feminine jobs:
While women have broken into fields once dominated by men, such as business, medicine and law, men have been slower to pursue nursing, teach preschool, or take jobs as administrative assistants. Census data and surveys show that men remain rare in stereotypically feminine positions.
When it comes to gender progress, said Ronald F. Levant, editor of the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, “men are stuck.”
This could be, of course, because preschool teacher doesn’t pay the same as doctor. But what about a nurse? That’s a relatively well-paying, stable job. Why wouldn’t men want to get on that train?
It’s not surprising that men haven’t quite caught up with women in this regard considering how we still speak about women. Everyday lingo places women in a weak position. Don’t let anyone see your feelings, Steve! You don’t want to be called a [insert crude term for a woman's genitalia here]. Because Odin forbid that men and boys be allowed to get in touch with there feminine side.
Adult perceptions about the relative merits of masculine traits as compared to feminine traits matter. As reported in the LA Times, boys who seem more girlish worry the adults in their lives more than girls who seem more boyish:
Boys stick with typically masculine toys and games much more consistently than girls adhere to feminine ones, Harvard School of Public Health research associate Andrea L. Roberts found. Biologically male children who defy those norms are referred to doctors much earlier than biologically female ones who disdain “girl things,” said Johanna Olson of the Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Even the criteria for diagnosing gender dysphoria were historically much broader for effeminate boys than for masculine girls.
Why? “Masculinity is valued more than femininity,” University of Utah law professor Clifford Rosky said. “So there’s less worry about girls than about boys.”
None of this is to say that things aren’t changing. Pressure from consumers has had some success in de-gendering toys that have been marketed in gender-specific ways. In Europe, at least, toy stores have started to eliminate boys and girls sections and one Swedish toy store even did a little gender swapping in their catalog.
Things are changing for adults, as well. According to The Atlantic, most new fathers working at Fortune 500 companies take some paternity leave. In fact, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have guaranteed 6, 12 and 13 weeks of paid paternity leave, respectively. While this mindset isn’t that widespread yet, family leave policies are starting to be something both men and women take seriously when looking at potential employers.
Hopefully, as we start a new year there will be even more recognition that rigid gender roles don’t just hurt one gender. We’ve come a long way, but maybe the real progress is yet to come.
Photo Credit: Jason Pratt via Flickr
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