Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am a feminist. I think we are a long way from achieving gender equality and know it will likely never be achieved in my or even my daughter’s lifetime. Depressing but true. We have a world built by men, for men. Having a daughter I worry for what her life will be like as she gets older, I worry for her when it’s time for her to be walking home, being assaulted. A study last year found that 97% of women in the UK have been sexually harassed, and as a mother of a daughter this makes me feel sick to my stomach. I want to scream at the world and have the power to change it for her. Before I even get to sexual discrimination, the gender pay gap and how the world has been built with women as an afterthought.
But, I am also the mother of two sons. Two wonderful, gorgeous and intelligent sons who I love dearly. You would think I have nothing to worry about with them. The world was built with them in mind was it not? But, the thing that will keep me awake about them, is that the world may have been built by men and for men, but it’s broken and it’s not really working for either gender. The staggering figure is that the leading cause of death in men under 50 is suicide. Just think about that for a moment, if my sons die before they are 50, one of the main reasons this would be is not cancer, heart disease or a car crash, it’s that they will take their own life. If that is not telling you the system is broken, I don’t know what is.
Feminism for me is not about women getting more than men. Feminism is getting equality for all genders and this is just another reason I am so passionate about it. Gender inequality is affecting both genders detrimentally. In order to truly see this, we need to talk about toxic masculinity.
When it comes to all genders there are lots of preconceived stereotypes and opinions on how we should look, behave and react. It’s always when these are taken to the extreme that problems arise. Male violence being a classic example of this. Be it male upon male violence or male upon female violence. Refuge saw an 60% increase in domestic violence called during the pandemic, we know that 93% of killers are male in England and Wales, but we need to look at society and address the why.
There is nothing wrong with masculinity, just as there is nothing wrong with feminity or any mix that is in between. But stereotypes of masculinity are often dangerous. Toxic masculinity is defined as the extreme of masculinity – aggression, violence, sex and status. Where men have to be strong and anything else is a weakness. (There is a fantastic article on Learning for Justice here if you want to read more in depth).
And if we want a truly equal world, this needs to be addressed, not only to eradicate the terrifying statistics on violence, but also male suicide. How often have you heard the term ‘man up’ and laughed at it? But the stereotype where men do not speak or share their feelings is a societal construct. It is how society has told men to behave and this in turn gets passed onto the next generation. Where any sign of weakness in a man is perceived as a flaw, a flaw that is killing them.
It is not weak to show and share your emotions, it’s not weak to talk about pain. It’s not weak to be masculine or feminine. It’s not weak for a father to care for their child, to cry, to ask for help, to choose to a different life than is dictated to them.
Gender norms is where the weakness lies. Gender norms and constructs, that are entirely that… constructs.
Both Genders Need To Change
In order for true equality to be achieved, it’s not only men that need to change it’s women too. Gender norms and stereotypes persist in all genders and hold us all back from being the very best we can be. It doesn’t mean you can’t choose what works for you and embrace it. I love feminity and all it entails, but there are parts of that that are toxic too.
If we want to embrace true gender equality, as women, we need to concede that men can be equal carers for our children, that both men and women should be able to work flexibly, to both be part of the journey. And at times I know that can be hard. We need to challenge gender stereotypes and encourage true freedom for our children. Talk about emotions and the toxicity of male violence. To break the mould. When new concepts are discussed that feel alien, we need to look at our discomfort and think about why that is. Is it due to our own prejudices, sometimes floating deep down inside? If it feels uncomfortable, challenge and learn. The olden days, truly aren’t the rose-tinted golden days some people believe them to be.
I know it’s hard when it feels like the scales are so far tipped the other way towards men, to give up areas where women may just have an advantage. But if we want a better future, a world when our sons don’t feel like the only option is to end their own lives, we all need to make a change in order to have a better world for generations to come.
Let’s show the next generation a new pathway forwards, for balance and freedom. To end violence, eradicate inequality and where suicide is not the main reason our sons might die when they’re under 50, because that statisitc truly is heartbreaking.