It’s not uncommon to hear that once women identify themselves as “feminists,” they’d almost always be labelled a “man hater” or even “feminazi.” Perhaps this stems from the problem that many of us still haven’t grasped the true meaning of “feminists”. 

There are, of course, women who say that they believe in feminism, but end up indulging in what many would consider “misandry” – which is the female version of misogyny. However, this is far from what “feminism” actually means. 

What is Feminism?

“Feminism” is defined as “the belief that women are and should be treated as potential intellectual and social equals to men” (according to Urban Dictionary). The findings of the 2020 UN Development Forum gender index found that 90% of the population in 75 countries is biassed against women. 

The core idea of feminism is to help raise the social standing of women to be at least on par with men, and therefore it’s essential for everyone to understand that empowering women does not equate to disparaging the opposite gender. It’s not a competition – in the game of feminism, everybody wins.

The concept of feminism – and gender equality – also shouldn’t just be fought by women. In a world where men are still valued over women, there’s a need for the opposite sex to help fight for women’s rights. Men CAN (and should) be feminists as well because feminism is just as beneficial to them as it is for women. 

Why men can be part of the solution

Sadly, we live in a world where sexism against women can result in girls and women suffering from domestic violence or sexual harassment by strangers. Sexism against women extends to the workplace too; women consistently make less than men for the same job, or are ridiculed for being too “assertive.”

While not all men exhibit sexist behaviour or commit violence, they can consider how to play an active part in promoting change and in encouraging other men to do so. Men shouldn’t tolerate violence, aggression, and bullying or participate in male camaraderie built on mocking women and those who are different. Instead, they can play an important role in challenging other men over their sexism, misogyny, and violence by calling it out, supporting victims, or bearing witness. For men, the first step to fighting for feminism is recognising their own privilege.

As Edmund Burke puts it, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Against patriarchy, not men

To reiterate, feminists do belittle the opposite sex. As Canadian author Justine Musk writes, “The enemy of feminism isn’t men. It’s patriarchy, and patriarchy is not men. It is a system, and women can support the system of patriarchy just as men can support the fight for gender equality.”

Ironically, the progress of feminism has been met with the emergence of incels and men’s rights activists, who believe “the efforts to enhance the rights of women have become toxic efforts to undermine the rights of men.” However, women’s rights isn’t to blame for their issue – it’s the patriarchy. 

A WHO report comparing 41 European countries found that men are more satisfied with life in countries where the sexes are more equal, and they’re half as likely to be depressed too.

In his book “Why Feminism is Good for Men,” Dutch activist Jens van Tricht argues that feminism is not just about improving the perception of women, but also about freeing men (and women) from the restrictive gender “codes” that hold them back. For example, toxic masculinity mandates that men must act tough, and have an inclination for violence, chauvinism, homophobia, and other traits.

Feminism can facilitate the shift towards more equal relationships and eradicate toxic masculinity. The good news is that there are organisations like White Ribbon (working with men to end violence against women), MenEngage Alliance, and Promundo that focus on changing the social norms of male behaviour and advancing gender equality.

Some women and women’s organisations may fear that attempts to engage men will distract from the primary task of empowering women, or that “men will take over” women-led actions and campaigns. However, only with united support from both sides can we truly make a change to achieve sustained gender egalitarianism for all, and make our society a better place to live.