Reason One: Giving Up is Hard to Do

I’m a strong believer that men gain a huge amount from feminism. It’s been a theme of my writing and public speaking for thirty years (including in my new book, co-written with Michael Kimmel, The Guy’s Guide to Feminism.)

But, let’s face it, you don’t make omelets without cracking a few eggs. In this case, the eggs are the forms of power and privilege men have traditionally enjoyed:

  • In the past, we men only had to compete with half of humanity for most jobs. Now, we have to compete with all of humanity.
  • At night, men got to relax, go out with friends, or pursue our careers, sports or hobbies while our wives (even if they worked outside the home) did most childcare and domestic work. Now, we’re expected to do our fair share.
  • Some workplaces were straight out of locker rooms. Now, with sexist behavior challenged, for some men, work just isn’t as much fun.
  • No matter our personal abilities, society automatically valued us. Some religions said we were closer to God. We were automatically seen as stronger, more rational, and leaders.
  • In relationships we got cooked for, shopped for, cleaned up after, and emotionally stroked.
  • We could (if we so chose) have power in getting sex. Now, we can get put in jail for things that not long ago were seen as men’s rights.
  • In some families and relationships, we were the ultimate decision-makers. Now, we have to share power and decision-making.

In other words, some men are afraid of feminism because it challenges forms of men’s power and privilege that one-half of our species foisted on the other about 8,000 years ago. Giving up is hard to do.

Reason Two: Being a Man is Hard to Do

Here’s the strange thing: many men also fear feminism because they fear they’re not “real men.” I’ve written a lot about this, what I call “men’s contradictory experiences of power.” What this means is that the ways we set up our male-dominated societies not only bring men power and privilege but, paradoxically, is the source of pain for men.

One source of this pain is that we set up impossible ideals of manhood: You know: always strong, fearless, in control, etc. etc. Of course no man can live up to these ideals. But so long as we had uncontested male-dominated societies, we could pretend to ourselves and each other that we did. Why? Because we could contrast ourselves to the other half that clearly did not.

Now that women are asserting their strength, power, smarts, and sexuality, now that women are saying that anything a man can do, they can do as well, it takes the air out of the sails of many men. If deep down they didn’t feel like real men before, now those feelings are unconsciously multiplied.

Reason Three: Changing Ideas is Hard to Do

In spite of amazing changes that are benefitting most women and most men, the ideas associated with male domination still cling hard:

  • Religions and traditional beliefs have a life of their own and a deep staying power. Especially in a time of economic, political and social upheavals when the future seems tenuous, some men (and women) cling to old ideas.
  • Old ideas continue to morph and adapt. You might think that right-wingers are against women’s equality. But actually, many of their current ideas would have been seen as crazy feminist ideas forty years ago: A woman can be president or prime minister?  Women are as smart and capable as men? Women have as much right as men to pursue careers and education? … In other words, feminism has actually had a big impact even when it seems there is still huge opposition by some men and women to it.
  • Parts of the media have continued to do a remarkable hatchet job on feminism. Ask people in many countries about the specific issues associated with gender equality or violence against women. Many (and in some countries, most) will take a feminist stance. But ask if they agree with feminism and they’ll bring out their stereotype of who or what a feminist is and say “No!”
  • Finally, feminist women and pro-feminist men haven’t done a good enough job of transforming the mainstream. If we truly believe our ideas are just and are right, then everyone should subscribe to them! We should not be afraid of working in the mainstream. We should not be afraid of differences among us, but rather we should find ways to work with those who we don’t see as natural allies, and agree to disagree on specific issues. We should not be afraid to make mistakes or to not be perfect.

 

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27 Responses to Why Are (Some) Men Still Afraid of Feminism?

  1. Alison says:

    It works in much the same way for women. Many women deny feminism even though they want the benefits feminist politics have brought them, but when asked if they are a feminist they say “NO” – and then say something nonsensical like they like being feminine – not really understanding that feminism is about equality NOT about sexuality.

  2. jawad says:

    I would add one more very important factor: people confuse personal bigotry with structural. [They say] “My friends and I are not sexist, therefore sexism does not exist or there is nothing for us to do. Why should I be blamed for the actions of my group?”

  3. Men have not seen it as a subject worth male achievement. When feminism….or pro-feminism, as we carefully call it in the African context, become a subject that men will want to identify with or pride about or even “die for” then the men will see the benefits.
    Programmes that engage men from a point of responsibility – not blame apportioning – work better…..and you do not have to package it as feminism: Peace, human rights (in general initially), leadership, GBV, HIV, development and child protection are topics that connect and easily open up discussion towards gender equality-women rights-feminism.

  4. Cath says:

    I think your reason number 2 is very interesting and could be retitled “because patriarcal values are damaging to men too”. Idealized patriarchal “masculinity” is be hard to live up to, and it also excludes quite effectively a large portion of the male sex and labels them “effeminate” or another such term which indicates how they are inferior to a “real man”. This of course breeds anxiety.I think that this also feeds into another common reason why feminism is perceived to be dangerous, the idea that feminism wants to “emasculate” men. While masculinity is rigidly defined by these patriarchal ideas, any attempt to bring equality in the interactions between male and females can only be interpreted as an attempt for women to appropiate “manliness” (ie superiority in a relationship) and to thus “emasculate” them by making them only equal rather than the “natural” superior.

  5. Claire says:

    Feminism is a dirty word and people do not want to identify themselves as such – even if they are feminists. There are too many feminists pointing out what is wrong with the view of another that is close to theirs instead of progressing the cause. It’s detrimental to equality. Great post!

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  7. Paul says:

    There is so much wrong with this article it makes my head it. It makes me ashamed to be of the same gender as the author.

    • Sarah says:

      I’m sorry it makes your “head it” and causes you to feel ashamed. You should feel ashamed, but guess again as to why.

  8. chris says:

    Men are afraid of feminism because it is a weapon used to persecute and marginalise them.

  9. Elias Irving says:

    I have no problem with the word “feminism” and I understand that it carries a lot of assigned meaning in the west (as my only experience I can claim is an american upbringing). We shouldnt change the term because many people have out of dates views about the feminist movement. As in any movement, people will argue about its direction internally. I think the most important thing is to keep having honest discussions about gender inequality and about how we can work to correct it.

  10. Kurtis says:

    As a man, I can’t support feminism because it doesn’t do anything for me. If feminism is about equality breaking down genderoles and stereotypes then what what are the feminists representing feminism doing to help men? Considering all of the “man up” articles popping up lately written by women trying to tangle men back into the roles that have been demonized by women. Do feminists as collective wholes speak out against the treatment of fathers in family court? Do they fight for men’s right of separating the consent of sex with procreation? Or paternal surrender as in if you give up or rights to a child you can also surrender your responsiblity to same child without going to jail? Are there outcries when from feminists groups when a violent women abuses a innocent man then the police comes to arrest him rather than her? If there is such abundant proof that feminists are then please direct not just me but all men so such theories can the truth as being self evident.

    • Lyn says:

      Kurtis, don’t you think it strange that the examples you use are predominantly things that would label a man effeminate?
      These are as much feminist problems, or more accurately, are equality problems. They are being worked on, the support has been growing since the 80′s. But if you reject the rights of feminists, you reject the rights of males to be non-traditional as well. Ultimately, true equality will need us all to accept both sides of this equation.

    • Ivi says:

      I have to agree, Kurtis you have a good point. But this is also a call for equality. Being a feminist (I strongly believe that the resonance this word leaves in our heads is not perceived for what it should be – which is in essence civil rights movement for equality – not for “some animals are more equal than others”) it is very difficult and painful to observe spread of a hostile comments becoming more and more demeaning and aggressive whenever inequality is pointed out or word feminist us used. Like this one http://femfreq.tumblr.com/post/52673540142/twitter-vs-female-protagonists-in-video-games.
      There is a lot to be done ground up. Great article.

    • Lucie says:

      Kurtis – 83% of men make up congress. 50.8% of women make up the US population. We need to work together in unity and support each other.

  11. Mark says:

    Reason 4: Some women take it too far

    Some women are using feminism as a weapon against men. Many men are rightfully afraid of these women. They have the power to swing inequality in the opposite direction. I believe that there are far too many of these women, and that there are far too many more women and men that share their beliefs.

    One difficulty with combating this phenomenon is that people are particularly sensitive to the feminist movement and willing to condemn men. This is due to men’s relatively recent history of condemning women. Another difficulty is that the ways men are discriminated against are not as obvious as for how women were.

    Women were discriminated against legally and openly. Men are discriminated against socially and subtly. This is something that cannot (and should not) be fixed through legislation. It requires teaching a firm and deep societal belief that the sexes are inherently equal. That there is no such thing as chivalry (that is an inherently sexist ideal). That it is OK for men to be feminine and straight.

    Manifesting such a social change is difficult and the roads to do so are not clear. My hope is that people will wake up and see this problem. My hope is that women will realize it is not in their own best interests for their sex to be “superior”. That they will voluntarily give up their social power and act as people that are not bound by outdated beliefs and stereotypes.

    • Ali says:

      I just want women to stop being objectified, raped, beated and many other problems that are more common for women. Guess this means I’m a ball breaking bitch who is hellbent on world domination?

      • Lucie says:

        Thank you Ali! Agreed.

      • Karen says:

        Ali-No, you are not a ball breaking bitch. But, did you notice, your response shows that you didn’t listen to a thing the author said about his point of view. And THAT’S the problem with feminism. It teaches women to discount and even disdain the male point of view just because there are some men who do the same to women. Equality is healthy boundaries, not domination.

    • Malena says:

      This weapon that you and other men mention being used against them to render you victims, are you referring to laws? It doesn’t make any sense and sounds like paranoid rambling.

  12. Sydney says:

    Very impressive article. I’ll have to check out that book as well.

  13. LKA says:

    Because feminism and feminists are about as likely to genuinely help a man with his own equal yet different set of issues regarding society view of him as they are to exacerbate the issues(intentionally or otherwise. Most likely they ignore and allow the issue to persist which may not be harmful but is certainly not helpful.

  14. Max says:

    This is only half the argument, there is a flip-side to each of those points that reveals why men find feminism unwelcome.
    1. Men are being told to give up their old advantages, but no-one is telling women to give up the advantages they had in a sexist society (an example is stating clearly sexist behaviour as chivalrous).
    2. Women are less accepting of un-manly men than men are. Add to this the fact that women aren’t sharing in all the traditionally male areas, just the high-reward ones.
    3. Telling men we have to change is one thing, but no-one is clear on what the change IS exactly. If women can’t make up their collective minds it is impossible to give them what they want.

  15. Col says:

    Reason 1. is the classic example that my dad doesn’t get & keeps harping on about how bad feminism is.
    Dad says he can’t understand what’s wrong with the women of today “We put women on pedestals”.
    I have to keep reminding him women only stayed on that damn pedestal if they had, no opinions, never argued when treated unfairly, cooked, cleaned, did all the child rearing & minding, never got to go to the pub, obeyed & praised her man for bring home the paycheck.
    Now if a women didn’t comply with all of the above & she wanted a say in her life, she was knocked clear of that damn PEDESTAL & never to be looked at as the perfect woman, she was actually considered crazy.
    Even if women are bringing home a paycheck & doing all the home jobs, men like my dad will still criticize her.

    Feminism my have some fine tuning needed, but I’d much rather be a feminist than on some damn PEDESTAL.

    Life can be great when you work together as a couple, share the work load, including earnings & child rearing. Men actually have so many more choices themselves now.

    But hankering on about wanting feminist to shut up & go make me a sandwich is just making more & more women turn into feminists.

    “Parts of the media have continued to do a remarkable hatchet job on feminism”

    Yes of coarse parts of the media are doing a hatched job on feminism, there’s a lot of scared male media out there. Some men can only see whats lost, not whats gained.

  16. Lucie says:

    Thank you so much for this piece of writing! I am blessed to have come across your work. I was Googling to find out why men feared women for a new blog post and this gave me amazing insights! … We all feel fearful and defensive when we think our privileges are threatened! Thank you for your incredible work.

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  18. john says:

    Feminists neither understand gender difference,nor God. The bible is clear on the subject. Feminism is sin. it will go on like any other sin. But it is wrong.

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