If one thing has become clear over the past couple of years, it’s that no-one wants to be put in a box by society and be told how they should or shouldn’t act or look or dress or speak. These are issues faced by men and women in everyday life, and often women find it empowering to speak about these issues. But for men, there is a very real stigma attached.
For helping to align women’s rights, we have feminism, but what label do men have under which to voice their grievances? Meninism appears to be the chosen term, but sadly it’s already been utilised by some as a tool to ridicule the feminist movement.
Meninism, or ‘The Men’s Rights Movement’, argues that there is no pre-existing imbalance between the rights of men and women. It takes issues such as genital mutilation and rape culture, using them to suggest the injustice surrounding these issues is at an imbalance which prejudices men.
But what we should all be working towards is rights for men and women – irrespective of labels and titles for such a movement. Society should simply be striving for equality, but it’s clear that men are still fighting a very underground battle in their own arena.
Where Women Have the Upper Hand
Take the issue of body positivity as an example: huge waves were made last year in the circle of female modelling, the diversification of female models and France’s landmark bill on banning unhealthy models from catwalks – and that’s only three examples. Male modelling hasn’t seen such a drastic change, however. Menswear designers face barely any criticism for the ‘skinny boy’ look they adopt for their campaigns and catwalks, and men continue to remain largely silent about the lack of diversity represented in men’s fashion – the only exception being the recent ‘dadbod’ trend.
Another area where men are being failed is domestic abuse. This form of abuse affects both males and females, yet it is difficult for male victims to come forward due to shame, embarrassment or simply not knowing that the situation they are in is a case of domestic violence. A recent example took place on The Jeremy Kyle Show last year, where Kyle quickly came to the defence of a man who was ridiculed by the show’s live audience after explaining how he’d attempted to escape an aggressive former partner.
A recent news story that also reflects the hypocrisy surrounding gender issues is one of female student, Shadiya Omar, who stabbed a man in the eye with her stiletto heel. The man was assaulted after he offered a crisp to one of Omar’s friends then tried to tip them over her when she knocked the bag away. He was treated in hospital for cuts, bruises and a fractured eye orbit. A lot of people have argued that they believe the charges received by the attacker would have been much more severe had the genders been switched.
Equality would mean women having equal pay and equal representation in businesses and the media, and men being able to speak openly about weakness, mental illness and body image, and having stereotypically female careers without being ridiculed. Women might think men are stronger, wiser and more physically authoritative and able, but in reality men are just as bound by social standards as women.
Is Social Expectation Solely to Blame?
It’s these high expectations about the ideas for each gender that have created sexism. Many men feel they have to be physically fit, rich and successful in order to even be given a second look. They feel a pressure to show masculine attributes and carry out stereotypically male activities in order to be considered ‘one of the lads’. Many men don’t have an outlet to speak about their vulnerability and grief because it’s just not socially acceptable to do so. God forbid if a man shows emotion or sheds a tear…
They must adhere to their masculine stereotype at all costs, or face ridicule.
Having meninism or something of that ilk isn’t going to get to the root of this issue, though. Sexism is deeply ingrained in society and is introduced early on in childhood. Girls have pink toys, Barbies and dolls, and boys get blue toy guns, dinosaurs and cars. School uniforms? It’s skirts for girls and trousers for boys. These tiny factors all add up to create a clear impression of what each gender should hope to achieve and expect from life, in everything from appearance to career. If this could be eliminated, the problem would dramatically subside within a few generations.
Feminism by definition – and, indeed, meninism – emphasise differences between genders and evoke ideas about how men and women should be perceived. But they have got it all wrong.
A lot needs to be done to achieve equality for both men and women, but the tension that has been created between the two genders because of sexism will only push back efforts to resolve the issue. We cannot combat these issues by fighting to the death about equal rights without taking a moment to seriously consider the rights of the opposite gender rather than just our own. Plenty of men label themselves as feminists, and fight for equal rights for women, but how many women can say they do the same and stand behind meninism?
Once these social stigmas are more widely exposed, perhaps then the rift we’re so avidly trying to close will finally begin to mend.