Proudly a feminist
THE EDITOR, Sir: THE PRIME minister said the F-word and I enjoyed every minute of it. It is not often that we have political leaders, particularly males, claiming the title ‘feminist’. It is a word that has been misinterpreted and misused by individuals in society who are distrustful of women becoming equal with men. Finally, we have a political leader who (and I am being optimistic) is willing to demystify the word ‘feminist’ and, hopefully, this can create a shift in the conversation around gender equality.
A feminist is a person who believes in social, political and economic equality of the sexes (wise words from Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche). Feminism is concerned with men and women having equal opportunity and equitable access to public goods. Feminism, however, has been misconstrued as man-hating rhetoric which is about putting the women on top and men at their heels.
What feminism wants is not the destruction of men, but rather the destruction of patriarchy – a system in which men and those characteristics associated with them are treated as valuable and women are devalued and subordinated.
Patriarchy operates on the basis of gender stereotypes which say all men are (and should be) one way and all women are (and should be) the other way. Patriarchy creates an idea of masculinity which requires men to be leaders, emotionless and disinterested with ‘soft’ things like school, standard English and neatness. Men who are educated, speak standard English and are neat are often labelled ‘gay’. Within patriarchy, a gay man is not truly considered a ‘real man’. These ideas about masculinity have harmful effects on men.
Boys who are raised to be real men are encouraged to be reckless and are not taught self-control. This has a direct impact on their performance in an education system which requires obedience and quietude to succeed. Patriarchy prevents boys from achieving academic success at the rate at which girls are achieving it. The result is the current gender ratio of matriculation from local universities.
And even after this disadvantage to men, somehow women only make up 17 per cent of the leadership (board members) in the private sector and 19 per cent in the public sector. Parliament is less than 25 per cent women. Even though more women are leaving universities, the unemployment rate is higher among women. This is an inescapable feature of a society which celebrates with women who give birth to boys on their first pregnancy, and weep for the women who have girls on the first go. In spite of the disadvantages, men remain privileged. Women are still seen as homemakers rather than leaders. They are subjected to higher levels of harassment and sexual violence.
Like my prime minister, I am a man and a feminist. I understand the harmful impacts of patriarchy and gender stereotypes.