A big criticism of feminism that I’ve heard come up again and again is how it does not support men’s rights. As anti-feminist Lauren Southern claims, “men are held to ridiculously high societal standards, just like women, yet feminists continue to place this blanket judgement over all men that they’re all privileged.” Putting aside the fact that the second part of that statement is not at all true, I want to address how the “ridiculously high societal standards” that men face are in fact very closely tied with feminist issues.
I’m in no way unfamiliar with the pressure that is put on men and boys to act tough, to not show emotion or cry, to be strong and fit and manly. Watching my little brother grow up, I heard my father tell him countless times to not cry. This was always directly followed by a reminder that he was male, as well as an explicit equating of crying with weakness. Although my parents are far from explicitly anti-feminist, the differences in the way my brother and I were raised signal significant underlying sexism in our society. While I too was told not to cry as a child, I was never reminded of my gender. I was told not to cry because it wouldn’t solve anything, not because I was a girl.
My brother, on the other hand, has been reminded of his gender every day. Every sign of weakness he shows is scoffed at, scorned, and mocked. How dare he lose that Judo match to a girl? It didn’t matter how good she was; she was a girl. How could he not score that goal? The goalie was a girl. Nothing else mattered. Every act that wasn’t manly enough — playing with stuffed animals, talking in a high voice, watching certain shows or movies that weren’t tough enough — was looked down on, but only when it came to my brother. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted; in fact, my father loved that I was a bit of a tomboy as a kid. I could climb trees and have bike races as well as play with dolls, but my brother was never allowed the latter.
All these unspoken rules came in the form of small comments, subtle, but made almost every day. The unstated assumption in all the above cases, whether my parents meant it or not, is that being female is a bad thing. I’ve never heard anyone say “crying is for the weak, not for women,” but I have heard “you’re a boy, and crying is for the weak” hundreds of times. Some of the most common insults for men are “sissy,” “pussy,” or “girl,” which are used synonymously with “coward” or “wimp.” It’s no coincidence that the derogatory terms used to slander men for being weak puts them on the same level as women.
Being a boy has put a great deal of pressure on my brother growing up, in a way that I can’t relate to. Men are constantly expected to be better than half the world’s population, which is not something anyone has ever expected from me. It’s undeniable that there as just as many unrealistic social standards for men than there are for women, however, both stem from the underlying belief that men are the better sex, which is why (among many other reasons) feminism is still very relevant, and does actually address a lot of issues that make life harder for men. As a feminist, one of the main issues that concerns me is how so many boys are pressured to prioritize strength over compassion, toughness over caring, because this is how our society defines “manhood.” If women were truly seen as equal to men, there wouldn’t be such a pressing need for men to tougher and stronger, and my brother could sleep with as many stuffed animals as he wants, for as long as he wants.