Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why can’t men join the feminist movement just because it is the right thing to do?

 There is a lot of momentum in the media lately about including men in the feminist movement. Moreover, feminists seem to be spending a lot of time trying to convince men that gender equality is actually a good thing. Yet despite the perks of involving men in the feminist movement, the efforts women are taking to convince men to support gender equality are far from ideal.  Why can’t men join the feminist movement because it is the right thing to do?

“Choreplay” is a recent attempt to try to get men to support gender equality in the home. Choreplay, as defined by the Daily Beast, is the use of household chores as sexual leverage – for example, women leveraging sex to get their partner to take out the trash. Granted, the New York Times Op-Ed written by Sheryl Sandberg coining “choreplay” cited a study stating that couples that split household chores have more sex. That might be true, but it feels like we are demeaning men’s intellect by assuming they will only partake in household chores if they get a “carrot” for doing so. If the garbage is overflowing, can’t we assume men will just take out the trash because it needs to be taken out? Moreover, using sex as a reward for taking out the trash feels like a twisted way of over-commodifying the female body. Sexual empowerment and agency is great, but can’t choreplay be easily reduced to men doing the dishes as a way to pay for sex?

Men should support gender equality not because someone came up with a kitschy, quid-pro-quo pun to get them to do so. They should support gender equality in the home because it’s the right thing to do.  As Jessica Valenti points out, these are the men we want participating in the feminist movement – not the men who only do the dishes as a way to get laid. She states:
But we can give men more credit than this: many are smart, many are feminists, and I truly believe that a lot of them are interested in helping women achieve equality for equality’s sake, not just because they can get something out of the deal… It’s those men that we want on our sides.
Similarly, we should stop proposing gender equality to men as a movement to support just because they can get something out of it. Gloria Steinem recently pitched feminism to men by explaining it in terms of providing a more compatible life partner. In reference to marriages in the 1950s, she stated: 
Men have been lonely without partners who share interests, and without that kind of closeness… They were being told essentially to marry housekeepers with whom they may or may not share interests, and their lives became instantly different in the home and outside the home. The conversation and closeness and comradeship was very, very difficult. Each one was a trophy for the other, but not a person, not a whole person.

While this is a legitimate point, something seems to be amiss by pitching feminism to men this way. Perhaps I am being too optimistic, but I want to believe men would still join the feminist movement if solely to help the oppression of 50 percent of society – not because they are trying to increase the compatibility of their romantic partners.

5 comments:

Jessica S. said...

I agree with your post. I think it is difficult for women, even some highly educated feminists, to put it all out there. Often, women can be afraid to mention oppression. This can either be due to the fact that men still retain a lot of power in society, or women do not want to confront the responses informed by privilege. Many privileged individuals are offended or indifferent when the oppressed group puts pressure on them to actively change the system.

I was watching Anita Sarkeesian's "How to be a feminist speech" and it mentioned that women need to stand together on the big issues, and not get sidetracked onto more minor problems. I feel that the feminist movement has taken a reputation hit, and many women are once again trying for minor changes because they are afraid of alienating both men and women. The movement needs to refocus on major oppressions, and not let obstacles discourage us or force us into using gender stereotypes to gain acceptance. Hopefully, more men and women begin to see that feminism is about the right thing, and not what the media has twisted it into.

Hart Ku said...

It might be cynical, but I do think that any sustainable, voluntary human association or social relationship is based on some form of quid pro quo or another. But if sexual satisfaction or conformity with simplistic gender norms is the foundation of a relationship, it's clearly a relationship on a path to failure. And it's certainly not a recipe for mobilizing men to fight for equality for the sake of itself.

As the blogger mentions, I think in many cases, we are not being equipped by our society and culture to form the right sorts of relationships for the right reasons. And that bleeds into everything else. Admittedly, men can be the worst transgressors. But not necessarily out of ill will. I think it doesn't even occur to a lot of guys that their life partner should or could be their best friend, and someone they need to make "team" decisions with. Men mostly aren't told that this is a priority.

More often than not, men seem to rationalize their relationships by how attractive a women is, how good a mother they might be, how supportive she is to him, or even just how different from him she is. I'm sure women have their own checklists that can be equally unhelpful, or even subversive to forming a partnership of equals.

Jessica S. said...

I think Hart has a good point. Most people really are not absorbing the right things from our culture, and it is difficult to deprogram ourselves. I think that is why it is frustrating for me to see so much discussion and change on gay marriage and other issues, but we still relegate intimate relationships to advice articles. A more inclusive, non-pop message could help men and women work through things.

Juliana said...

I do think Hart's comments regarding relationships being some form of quid pro quo are a little cynical, but at the same time, perhaps true. For example, when it comes to conceptualizing marriage as a business contract with tax breaks, public benefits, etc, I can see how such a relationship resemble a form of quid pro quo.

On the other hand, the idea that 'we are not being equipped by our society and culture to form the right sorts of relationships for the right reasons' just seems like a nice way of saying 'we are not being equipped by our society and culture to form non-patriarchal relationships.' Granted, this might be a broad oversimplification, I'm not sure how you increase gender equality in domestic relationships without calling out patriarchy.

Ahva said...

I too feel frustrated that things like "choreplay" are being used to persuade otherwise disinterested men to engage in egalitarian behavior. I think that there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we think of feminism. Instead of selling feminism to males by merely emphasizing that "feminism benefits males, too!" we should be focusing on the fact that female advancement results in improvements for adults and children across all spheres of life, including nutrition, physical and emotional health, education, and economic growth, to name a few. (For more details on this topic, read this post: http://femlegaltheory.blogspot.com/2015/03/how-using-only-half-our-human-capital.html)

For example, imagine living in a world where female objectification did not occur. Men would likely be more compassionate toward females by viewing them as humans (not objects) and the incidence of domestic and sexual violence would likely decrease. These benefits cannot be said to benefit women alone - all of society benefits when women can live their lives free of violence (or the threat of violence) because both victims and predators can better focus their energies on being productive members of society, and less resources will be spent on ameliorating the sometimes long-lasting effects of violence against women.