Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Women's Issues are About Men Too

As with time, I'm a bit obsessed with language. I strongly believe that healthy and developed communication is the key to our interactions, and I am especially interested in how language can shape our perceptions and actions. This is true within several dynamic issues in the 'women's rights' realm.

It's time to admit and actively advocate that 'women's issues' stop being such a gendered thematic. Education, daycare, women's health and violence against women are as much men's issues as they are the women's. But as we devolve the language around these subjects into purely female words and experiences, we not only remove men from the dialogue, but from any actionable involvement and solution as well.

The US Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, pitting the Affordable Care Act against a woman's access to contraception. In short, if the Justices favour the department store's arguments, they will be allowing, for the first time, a for-profit corporation to claim religious rights and protections which may then directly prevent insurance from covering women's access to birth control, if these corporations can prove that such coverage is a 'substantial religious burden.'

Or, should your boss decide whether you get birth control or not?
Twitter has exploded in #NotMyBossBusiness advocacy campaign.
And quite rightly so.

I have written several articles on the importance of contraception to women's rights: to their access to the workplace, to their rights over bodily integrity and protection, to their enjoyment of sex, to their autonomy and choice in a relationship, to their financial independence and security. The Pill revolutionized women's movements between the public and private sphere - allowing her a political and economic participation in the public forum. The government of President Obama has recognized this and is seeking to protect it.

To read more about the case before the Supreme Court, this excellent article goes into detail on both side's arguments.

This case may also have far-reaching consequences beyond women's access to contraception, and the NYTimes has a great article on that, here.

What I want to stress more emphatically is that the protests, campaigns and advocacy around this unbelievably important case should not be the sole work of women. Men too should be primordially interested that their partners, sisters, mothers, coworkers and friends maintain their autonomy in sexual relations and access to the workplace. Affordable contraception is in the best interest of both men and women - healthy relationships, good sex, financial equality or at least, contribution, and security. We must involve more men in the conversation and encourage more men to advocate alongside us.

It is preposterous, nowadays, that child care, welfare and child education could also be described as women's issues, as if there aren't more single fathers or more men actively involved in childcare than ever before. Coupled with the rise in female breadwinners, men must be written into the discussion, and actively participate in demanding policies that are advantageous to the new realities in which they are involved.

Another area is our reporting and coverage of rape and abuse cases. Sexual violence is not a woman's issue. There is clearly more than one person involved: and men have to be part of the prevention, prosecution and action around this violence. There is a brilliant Ted talk by Jackson Katz about how we have written men out of the reporting, going from "John beat Mary" to "Mary is a battered woman." This creates a vacuum of men's voices and of their experiences. It paints women as constant victims, allowing women to be blamed for a rape committed without a perpetrator. It also prevents men from speaking out against sexual violence, and being active in creating new definitions of masculinity that don't prize power, aggression and control as successful male traits.

If men aren't part of the discussion, how can they be part of the solution?

White Ribbon is doing some amazing and far reaching work with male youth, adolescents, men and fathers. Their recent work "Give Love, Get Love" involves fathers in promoting gender equality and equal relationships.

Finally, women's issues also centre heavily on media portrayals of female beauty: that ever restrictive contortion of ideals: white, thin, fit, perfect hair, perfect breasts, perfect legs. Women are role models in their femininity: as mothers, carers, and givers. Women are princesses in Disney films, longing only for happily ever afters. They are name called and slut shamed in magazines and TV shows, paying high prices for speaking in the public realm, both politically and in social media. But if we are to speak out against these awful portrayals of women, then what about the burdens on men? What about men as constant breadwinners, as ever more powerful aggressors, as able bodied and six packed, as needing to be in total control? What about our child programs and movies that show men as conquerors with little brains, all buff and with a sole mission of capturing the princess? These alpha male stereotypes are harmful to men too - and to their relationships to women. Let's use inclusive language to talk about redefining masculinities too.

Gender is about both men and women and everyone along the spectrum between and outwards of the two. The issues that crosscut the spectrum do so in many shades of grey, with far reaching effects. Often, these questions are more complex then clearly defined along gendered lines. We might be more productive if we listened to each other's sides, because we might find out that these issues we've relegated to one side - well, they affect us both.

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