Note: To be honest, there is a slight feeling of unease writing about feminism when you’re… well, how can I put this delicately… Male? However, if I were stopped on the street and asked “do you label yourself a feminist?” I’d say yes, so I’d hardly be true to my views if I shirked away from writing about these things just because I’m one X chromosome short of a better set of hips.
“As a feminist, I want to see fathers’ rights recognised in Irish law…”
This is the opening line of an article by Senator Ivana Bacik about why Irish fathers should get paid paternity leave, and to be honest I didn’t get past that first line before I’d opened Word and hammered out a few notes that I could turn into a blog later. The line floored me, because we (or at least “I”, but I think it’s a common enough problem) have a very set idea of how any sentence that begins with “as a feminist, I…” is going to end.* This stereotypical sentence will often include phrases like “a woman’s right to choose…” or talk about gender disparities in our male-centric culture. This is, of course, utter bollocks in the same way that people might expect any sentence which begins “as an atheist…” will end with an hour long lecture about why we shouldn’t say “Bless you” when someone sneezes. Feminism has come in every shape, size and strength of opinion you could ask for, and there are a great many feminists who care about issues that men face too.
As it happens, Senator Bacik’s article isn’t about a man’s right to have paternity leave so he can have just as much of a chance to take part in raising his children as a woman can, but rather about how men still dominate the workplace and so the introduction of paternity leave would level the playing field when it comes to women being prejudiced against because they take maternity leave. I’m sure this is a very valid issue, and discrimination in the workplace is certainly something that we still need to talk about, but I couldn’t help but feel that an opportunity had been missed here. With that first line, “As a Feminist, I [comment about an unfair disparity in male rights]”, I thought a new precedent might be set, with a feminist article in the mainstream press looking at gender equality from a gender neutral standpoint, rather than looking at it from a woman’s perspective. Of course, the clue’s in the name, it is FEMinism, so it’s only natural that people would focus on the female perspective, but it can sometimes leave men (and particularly male feminist) feeling a little isolated when it comes to talking about these issues. Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and say “I’m a feminist, and I care about men’s rights” in the same way it’s sometimes important to say “I’m an atheist, and I care about freedom of religion”.
I don’t want to make too much of a meal about this article, because I agree with the idea that men should have paternity leave, just as I agree that women have it tough in the workplace and that introducing leave for men would be good for women as well as men, but I can’t help but feel that “men should have paternity leave because it’s the right thing to do and we should all be equal” is a more powerful message than “men should have paternity leave because then women will have more of a shot to become CEOs” (particularly if the message begins “as a feminist, I believe…”). I don’t think Senator Bacik disagrees with either of these messages, and I don’t think I’m the audience she had in mind when she wrote that piece, so I acknowledge I’m almost certainly making mountains out of molehills here. It’s just that sometimes it’s too easy to read articles like this as saying that men are the problem to be fixed, and that’s when people start throwing words like “Feminazi” around. If feminism is about the quest for equality then it should fight gender inequality where it finds it, not because it will benefit women, but because living together in a fair society benefits everyone.
I may disagree with how Senator Bacik laid out her argument, but by God it was one hell of a first line…
*I appreciate that this reflects much more badly on me than it does on your average feminist.