One of the things I most commonly do as a guy who participates in feminism is simply provide a male face repeating things that women have said to give them “more credibility” with a certain audience, because people who to varying degrees buy into into patriarchal arguments are to varying degrees going to unconsciously distrust women saying something more than men saying something. (and you know, because there’s a long and unfortunate tradition of men needing to hear men say something before it really takes off)
In that tradition, I’m going to assemble some common objections to feminism so I can link people to this post rather than writing a new argument every time. Let’s go one-by-one.
1: Feminism is out to get men.
On the contrary, every type of feminism holds at its core that women and men are equal. (yes, there are different “flavours” of feminism) It is literally the dictionary definition of feminism. Yes, even radical feminists believe this.
Do things feminists advocate sometimes hurt men’s feelings, or maybe result in small temporary “inequalities” in what’s socially acceptable while we adjust social norms to a more equal framework? Yes. But that’s a problem of practical implementation and usually a relic of sexism that hurts men, (such as the awkward situation where a man defending himself against a women being violent against him is regarded as wronger than her attacking him in the first place for some strange reason because “men shouldn’t hit women”) rather than something that feminism is to blame for.
2: Feminism has been bad for men overall.
Sometimes this argument is phrased as “feminism has hurt both men and women,” but I think the accusation that feminism has been bad for women is so ridiculous I won’t even bother arguing against it here. (it’s usually based on a particular study which has been well-analyzed as not meaning what people say it means, if it’s even robust enough to take seriously at all)
Men have been seen as “default” and a certain view of masculinity as unassailable for so long that it’s not been up for question what it means to be a man, and thus society has brutally punished people who fall to any degree outside that definition. It is now beginning to change and that is only possible because of men beginning to believe in feminist ideals.
I’m constantly pleased by how it’s becoming not only tolerated or okay to have a different idea of what it means to be a man, but how it’s actually beginning to be celebrated.And for those of us who never felt we fit in, this is one of the more exciting times to be alive, even if it means that there are some problems showing up while we figure it out.
3: But feminists didn’t argue against (this thing that hurts men).
Really? Are you sure?
Because feminists argued against conscription, are still arguing against the prison-industrial complex, have stood with gay men to protect their rights, have stood with transpeople (both transmen and transwomen) to help them advocate for themselves, have joined the economy while still facing pressure to pick up more than their share of unpaid work, and have generally been one of the biggest voices in support of men who have faced sexual assault, who may never have received justice without the reforms advocated by feminists.
Usually this argument is one of two things- either a failure to do the research, or in some particular cases, (such as TERFs, eugh) stumbling upon the one splinter-group of feminists who have actually taken things too far and don’t represent the good things that feminism as a whole is responsible for.
4: Child custody cases are biased against men
This kinda falls under the whole “fbm” discussion earlier- the reason child custody sometimes perpetuates a bias against men is because of a patriarchal stereotype that men aren’t interested in childcare the same way women are, and that to the degree that they are, they’re not as competent. (And also the dichotomy of men being viewed as sexual predators when interacting with children vs women being viewed as caregivers)
That you even have the option to contest custody is ironically thanks to feminism. The tradition otherwise would have been that even if your spouse died you would need to find some other woman to look after your children- either a family member, a new wife, or an employee or slave. (yeah, we’re going back THAT far)
There have been trends and individual cases regarding child custody that have bothered me. This isn’t an argument for less feminism. It’s an argument for more.
5: Feminists aren’t consistent in arguing for perfect equality of outcome
This is usually phrased something along the lines of “feminists want precise equality of pay, but don’t want us to (x),” where (x) may be, for example, “release male prisoners until equal amounts of men and women are imprisoned” or something equally ridiculous. (You can also substitute equality of pay for equal numbers of women in Parliament)
Firstly, feminism is an entire school of thought. You will find people arguing all sorts of positions within it, so it’s a bit erroneous to pretend that All Feminists Think (x) for anything that doesn’t directly relate to feminism. And even then, there’s no guarantee that an issue won’t be controversial, or split between different sub-ideologies.
Ignoring that for a moment, let’s talk about equality, the stated goal of feminists. There’s two broad schools of thought on What Equality Is, and those are equality of outcome, and equality of opportunity. The latter claims that if we all have the same rights, that is equality. As the violation of those rights differs by gender in practice, we don’t even have equality of opportunity today in my view. The latter says that we should be able to look at outcomes (eg. statistics about imprisonment, or sexual assault, or number of female parliamentarians, or the pay gap) and they should be close to equal in an equal society.
My personal view is that equality of opportunity should imply approximate equality of outcome. (as in, if women are equal to men, controlling for other factors*, they should be within a couple of percentage points of achieving the same outcomes, such as equal pay) Looking at that in terms of pay equity, the closest women have gotten an acceptable level of inequality is a 6% gap. (ie. being paid 92% of what a man gets, on average) Likewise, in Parliament, you would expect an average of 57-63 female MPs, with that number varying upwards in elections with overhang seats. Since MMP, parliaments have only averaged around 30% female MPs. There’s a really good argument that we should be looking at approximate equality of outcome in those easy-to-measure areas as an indicator of whether gender equality has been realised. (and it also becomes more excusable to have years in which that number is below equal if there are also years in which that number is above equal, which hasn’t happened yet)
The general counter-argument to whatever (x) is, such as prison populations, is that said figures don’t control for other factors. Sure, more men are imprisoned, but that’s because more men are committing serious crimes. New Zealand imprisons about 15.35 men for every woman, and while each type of offending achieves the same rank in how common it is among male and female prisoners, it is noted that men commit more violent offenses relative to their numbers. What we would want to be looking at is conviction rates of men and women among similar crimes, although of course we would expect more variability than in some other gender comparisons, as there are complex variables that can’t be properly controlled for, and it could be that, for instance, one gender is brought to court when they’re innocent more often, and thus should actually have a lower conviction rate. Controlling for all the unrelated factors is extremely difficult, and would constitute a research paper in its own right.
6: Feminists don’t believe in equality because they called me/someone names
It’s not inequality to critique through humour, which is what most feminist name-calling seems to be related to. You also have to understand that for most women, feminism isn’t simply them railing about hypotheticals they’d like to change or things that might be a little nicer. It’s more about screaming at the top of the lungs about how the world is broken and it needs to be fixed and how frustrating that is.
And maybe we should sit back and have a think before we go privileging our feelings about being humourously insulted over their feelings about how much their life sucks, because that’s a pretty terrible set of priorities right there.
* Which all research into pay equity does, with varying approaches and therefore varying results, but by and large it’s pretty rigorous.