Feminism was originally intended to change societal norms that viewed women as being inferior to men and to put an end to gender roles. Ioana Grădinaru looks at the criticism it has received since its inception and whether this should instead be directed at the gender imbalance it seeks to redress.
Although this movement has great principles, it has been under criticism since its emergence, especially by men who feel threatened by women in power. Fourth wave feminism is often criticized because certain individuals think women complain too much and think men are inferior. Is this a valid complaint or is patriarchy once again implying that women’s voices are not important?
Modern day feminism, which includes the #MeToo movement, has recently been critiqued by one of the UK’s new equality commissioners, Jessica Butcher, when she stated that “men have had their careers and reputations ruined overnight by MeToo – some possibly justly, but without any due process, no innocence until proven guilty”. The #MeToo movement was highly inspiring for many women and provided them with a safe space to share their stories of sexual assault. However, during these times the validity of certain claims was questioned in cases such as Brett Kavanaugh’s or Harvey Weinstein’s. This begs the question of how many of these claims are found to be untrue.
Studies regarding claims of sexual assault vary greatly and take many issues into consideration including insufficient evidence or delayed reporting. A study for the Home Office has found that only 4% of cases reported in the UK are suspected or found to be false and a study for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice claims that “the prevalence of false reporting is between 2 percent and 10 percent”. These statistics show that false reporting is very much uncommon, but disproportionately publicised. Even though false accusations are rare, they do exist and can be harmful to someone’s image. However, this does not mean we should assume from the get-go an accusation is false just to protect a potential abuser’s image. Jessica Butcher does have a point, but these situations are oftentimes not black and white. What needs to change is how we view consent and how important it is for both parties’ safety.
Feminism as an ideology does not directly harm men, however, studies have found that there are some discrepancies between men and women’s quality of lives. A study on suicide rates in the UK from 2018 states that “Three-quarters of registered deaths in 2018 were among men (4,903 deaths), which has been the case since the mid-1990s and the UK male suicide rate of 17.2 deaths per 100,000 represents a significant increase from the rate in 2017; for females, the UK rate was 5.4 deaths per 100,000, consistent with the rates over the past 10 years”. Then again, this does not seem like a surprise considering the fact that gender roles are still prevalent in our society and paint men as the ‘heads of the family’. In a ‘traditional’ family, the man is supposed to work and the woman is supposed to take care of kids and the household, which puts a lot of pressure on both genders to do their jobs perfectly.
In an article for the Guardian, Anne Karpf, a sociologist and journalist, speaks on gender equality and how men would benefit from a more gender-equal society. “There really is a lot wrong with men’s lives – the higher rates of male suicide attest to that. Yet the cause isn’t women’s rights but the very way that masculinity has been constituted in profit-obsessed, patriarchal cultures: as feminists have been saying for a long time, the patriarchy damages not just women but also men,” she says. Gender roles bring about toxic masculinity, which damages men’s mental health significantly. The idea of masculinity is very problematic and creates stigma around acknowledging mental health problems. An article by Healthline states that “this model of masculinity may be why men are more likely to underreport symptoms of depression. But certain, more traditionally masculine traits can also contribute to increased rates of depression, according to research that’s found both negative and protective factors to traditional masculinity”. All of this leads to depression and suicide being ranked as a leading cause of death for men.
Men’s issues go further and are more common than many people think. Child custody rights are an example of how the patriarchy works against men. A study from 2013 states that men often lose in custody battles “mainly due to the fact that fathers are regarded as the “less important” parent in the process of upbringing, and therefore they have to deal with the stereotype of the importance of the mother in a child’s life”. This issue is very common nowadays since the rates of divorce are very high and parents lead long and exhausting battles for custody.
Unfortunately, gender roles negatively impact everyone’s lives. The hope is that more people are realizing this and instead of bashing new wave feminism, they are empowering all genders to leave behind traditional ideas. The future is equal, and it is in the public’s hands.