Earlier this week, Emma Watson gave a speech to the UN that launched HeForShe, a campaign designed to mainstream feminism and attract male allies. Watson’s tone was careful as she reminded her audience that “feminism by definition is: ‘The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.’” She went on to enumerate ways that the oppression of women also hurts men and to point out that currently no country in the world can claim that they’ve achieved full gender equality.
It was a speech that I would have thought only MRA Trolls would take issue with, but yesterday Time Magazine ran an article titled “Sorry, Emma Watson, But HeForShe is Rotten for Men” in which author Cathy Young argues that “feminism in its present form has too often ignored sexist biases against males, and sometimes has actively contributed to them. Until that changes, the movement for gender equality will be incomplete.”
This is a strange argument to level at a speech that focuses largely on how men suffer when they are not valued as parents or allowed to express their feelings. Young is unable to articulate precisely what HeForShe should be doing to directly support male allies; the most specific complaint she offers is that Watson didn’t use any of her 12 minutes to call out man-hating feminists. According to Young, misandry is a pervasive problem in the feminist movement, and yet she’s unable to provide a single compelling example of it.
For instance, Young asserts that “It is true that in the 1970s and 1980s, feminist challenges to discriminatory, sex-specific laws helped end formal preferences for mothers in child custody matters. But as fathers began to fight against more covert anti-male biases in the court system, most feminists sided with mothers.” Apparently, neither Young nor Time Magazine thinks this statement requires any kind of elaboration or data. But I can’t help but wonder who Young refers to when she says “most feminists”. A few people she met in the eighties?
Young goes on to complain that the women’s movement has neglected male victims of abuse. She writes, “Despite several recent high-profile recent sexual assault cases in which the victims were teenage girls, disturbing cases in which boys were victimized — by other boys or by girls — have received far less publicity and sparked little outrage.” You’ll note that Young has provided live links to prove her point. But click on the example of boy-on-boy violence and you’ll see a story about a thirteen-year-old who was hazed. The example of girl-on-boy violence links to the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who assaulted an autistic boy. She’s comparing these examples to the Steubenville rape case, but of course there is no comparison. The Steubenville story gained traction because on so many levels it revealed how systemic rape culture is: there were multiple perpetrators, and both the community and the justice system initially jumped to the defense of these perpetrators. Furthermore, Young’s examples connect to a larger problem about which we actually are having a national conversation and taking action. It’s called bullying. This is its own problem, and it happens to be outside the scope of feminism.
All of this brings me back to what might be the strangest part of Young’s essay: it’s title. By what logic is feminism “rotten for men”? Young of course works very hard to prove that there are some man-hating feminists out there (she still hasn’t shown me any, but she’s tried), but no matter how far I reach I can’t quite grasp what men risk losing via this movement. These guys who are taking selfies and tagging them #HeForShe, they actually look pretty happy.
— ELLEUK (@ELLEUK) September 26, 2014
I can’t help but think through some parallel titles, e.g. “Marriage Equality is Rotten for Straights” or “Civil Rights is Rotten for Whites”. Really, when you get down to the basics of allyship, isn’t that beside the point? I mean, say I’m a straight person (I’m not, but let’s just say) putting a sticker in support of marriage equality on my car. I’m not doing so thinking “What’s in it for me?” And if, later that day, I park in the grocery store and someone catches sight of my bumper sticker and gives me the finger, I don’t conclude “Damn, I really wish the gay rights movement would address the problem of how straight people get harassed sometimes. Until they take up that issue, I just can’t sign on.”
And here’s the kicker: Emma Watson’s U.N. speech was specifically designed to invite more people to the table, to engage them in the conversation, to look more deeply at how the oppression of women negatively impacts all world citizens. For some reason (we know the reason: click bait) Time and Cathy Young decide to arrive at the table, insult the hosts, and attempt to turn the whole thing into a drunken brawl.