Discussing feminism today is a tricky business. The topic annoys, disturbs, scares, or outrages some, just as much as it inspires and empowers others. Most people would agree that the “F-word” has never been regarded with more mistrust than it is today. Yet, one group in particular seems more hesitant to talk about it: heterosexual men. How can it be that we have reached a point where a notion that stands for the struggle to foster a more equitable society is rejected immediately?
There are many causes as to why feminism is becoming a rather unpopular concept worldwide. The causes differ from country to country, and socio-cultural context is important in order to better address each particular example. According to a report by The Fawcett Society, the UK's leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, more than two thirds of the Britons interviewed supported gender equality, but only 7% of them would call themselves feminists. An overwhelming majority adheres to the cause and shares feminist values, but would not openly manifest it or don't want to be associated with the label. There seems to be a certain kind of reticence to even use the word.
Lad culture in the UK is part of the reason why men would prefer to remain silent about their position concerning the rights of women. This term is currently associated with men who adopt a position in favour of heavy drinking, sexism, and violence. This subculture is particularly strong in schools and universities, where it is hard to tackle because it has undergone a sustained process of normalisation. Perhaps not coincidentally, 59% of the women surveyed said they have faced sexual harassment at school or college.
The problem with using terms such as “lad culture” is that they are linguistic stand-in for a reality it fails to fully acknowledge and describe: self-legitimising misogynist behaviour. Physical and emotional strength and a dominant attitude are still the core of common definitions of masculinity, which enlarges an existing identity gap, predicated on restrictive aspects of difference: men are expected to act like men; but it is precisely this “like men” that is, despite decades of gender studies and feminist critique, left under-examined in mainstream discourse.
White heterosexual men are recently being seen to occupy a critical position, with gender and racial minorities increasingly affirming difference and diversity, against the whiteness and heterosexuality essentialised in Western societies. The fallacy is that, in an attempt to maintain or regain the power and privilege perceived as lost, these groups resist a stronger, more genuine form of empowerment: the one that comes from rejecting the unjust and prejudiced roots of one's own privilege. The struggle for women's rights should not be a fight of women for women, at the expanse of men; it needs to be a gender- and race-blind fight for true equality and fairness, of the stronger on behalf of the weaker, of all for all.
Words: Astrid Scheuermann
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu