Once again, I have encountered a common misconception of feminism: that it is a movement that only supports women’s rights, and that feminists don’t care about men’s rights. The most outrageous claim is that feminists quietly approve of violence against men.
Do feminists approve of violence or rape if the victim is a man?
Of course not! What kind of sick person would approve of something like that? Feminists campaign against violence directed at women because in the overwhelming majority of rape cases and cases of domestic violence, women are the victims. Let me ask a counter question: Is there something wrong with opposing violent assaults on women? Should women simply accept that men beat us and rape us, because they can? I don’t think so. I think violence against women is wrong.
But for heaven’s sake, that doesn’t mean I approve of violence against men! I was asked when have I ever heard feminists defending male victims of rape and domestic violence. The answer is, during the SlutWalks. I happen to know one of the people who organised the SlutWalk in my town, and she wrote to the paper about the message of SlutWalks, and she made it very clear in her article that raping and beating men is just as unacceptable as raping and beating women. I also know from personal conversations that she is very much against all violence.
SlutWalks were mostly about women, however, and the reason for that is very simple. The movement was a response to a police officer’s advise to female students to avoid provocative clothes to protect themselves from rape. This is wrong because the woman’s clothes are not responsible for the rape. The rapist is. SlutWalks were about women’s right to dress as they please without getting assaulted, but the organisers of SlutWalk, as well as single participants, did not forget to speak out for male victims, too.
Do feminists care about men’s rights?
Yes, they do. It is true that in the early history of feminism the movement only supported women’s rights. The reason for this is that women were seriously oppressed and they had to fight for the rights we now take for granted, such as the right to vote, the right to file for a divorce, the autonomy over our bodies.
However, in the past twenty years there has been a major shift in feminism towards a focus on equality for both genders. But this is implicit to begin with. If women are equal with men, then men are also equal with women. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you are not a feminist and you believe men should be considered above women.
As women’s situation in the society has improved, feminists are taking an interest in issues where men are treated unfairly. Take the custody of children in divorce for example. If there is dispute about the custody, courts usually favour the mother in their rulings. Feminists oppose this policy because it is not self-evident that the mother is the best care taker. Each case should be considered individually, without a gender bias. When this topic is discussed in the media, feminists repeatedly state where they stand on the matter. Yet the claim that feminists ignore men’s rights continues to be a common straw man argument used to discredit feminists.
Do feminists only support women’s rights?
No. As stated above, they also support men’s right to be treated equally. The custody of children was just one example. In Finland, feminists campaigned for women to be allowed to join the army because they thought it was unfair that only men were responsible for defending the country. Now women can join the army but the situation is still not equal because women have a choice where men don’t. Men can opt for civilian service instead of military, but women can opt out of the military without having to do civilian service. Obviously this is unfair for men. Feminists have different solutions to this, depending on their personal views. Some hold that serving in the army should be mandatory for men and women alike, others think it should be voluntary for all, while the most hopeless idealists, such as myself, would rather abolish all armies.
Anyway, it’s true that feminists are still working on improving especially women’s rights. This is simply because despite all the advances, women are still not equal with men. Take salaries for example. All over the world, women earn less money than men do. In Finland, women’s average earnings are about 81 % of what the men earn. In the USA that percentage is 77 % (or 68 % for African-American women and 58 % for Latin Americans). It is common that women get paid less than their male colleagues for doing the same job, but partly the gap is due to the fact that traditional women’s jobs pay less than traditional men’s jobs. Besides being dictated by the market economy, the differences in wages in different fields also shows that typical men’s jobs in fields like business and engineering are held in higher value than typical women’s jobs in healthcare and education.
The Equal Pay Enforcement Act was recently repealed in Wisconsin on the grounds that “money is more important for men.” This is ridiculous. The way I see it, women’s work is just as valuable as men’s, and women are entitled to the same wages as men.
Supporting equal pay for men and women is obviously a women’s cause because men have it better. But if you think that supporting women’s rights, such as the right to equal pay, is not valuable or necessary in itself, or that it would be downright harmful to men’s interests, think again! Women are not the sole beneficiaries in this. If women earned more, it would improve the economic situation of those women’s families, so the husbands and the children would also benefit.
Feminism advocates women’s rights but it is in no way contrary to men’s rights and their general wellbeing. Improving women’s position reflects positively on the whole community, including the men.