Why men matter in the fight for equity

Why men matter in the fight for equity
Source: John Stephen Agbenyo​ | www.agbenyo.family​ | steve@savsign.org
Date: 20-08-2018 Time: 12:08:04:am


Feminism has been variously explained as a bouquet of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal of defining, establishing and achieving political, economic, personal and social equality of sexes. These also include strongly, educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for the men. It is also aimed at ensuring that there are equal rights and legal protection for women.

The term feminism has been around for many years but only got impetus from the 1970s.

Maggie Humm and Rebecca Walker opine that the history of feminism can be divided into three waves. The first wave was in the 19th and 20th centuries, the second in the 1960s and 1970s, and the third wave from the 1990s to the present.

Undoubtedly, Feminism has really changed deep-rooted perspectives in a wide range of areas, ranging from legal rights to bodily integrity and autonomy, abortion rights, reproductive rights (including access to contraception and quality prenatal care), protection of women and girls from Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).

I am for Women Empowerment. I am for Equity. I am not a Feminist

Interesting, right? Some of you reading may be going like…what is he talking about? I know. I have had this conversation over and over again with colleagues at work, with family and friends. This is purely an intellectual discussion.

For those of you who know me, you will know that I am for women empowerment. Yes, I am. I will continue to create platforms, opportunities and advocate for opportunities for women that are equal to those for the men. I, however, will not call myself a feminist.

Recently, the new Gender, Children and Social Protection minister-designate for Ghana, Cynthia Morrison, indicated in an interview that she is not a feminist, and will ensure that issues of men are not relegated to the background during her tenure. She assured that the Ministry, which has been viewed as championing mainly issues of women and children, will focus on issues of men and boys as well in order to succeed. She was quoted as saying “When you want to get things right for women, we have to bring the men along; without the men, we can’t succeed,”

She was taken to the cleaners mostly by women. She became a laughing stock on social media and this was predominantly championed by women. This is precisely why I will not call myself a Feminist but one who is an advocate for women empowerment. Why do we want to take her rights away from her? She decided not to be tagged a feminist and that one too is a problem? What we need to keep, is an open mind and to probe further on the reasons why people are afraid of being called feminists.

Please don’t tell me that I do not know what Feminism is because I do.

“Femin-” comes from the latin root word “femina,” meaning woman.

“-ism” is a suffix derived from the greek “ισμός” or “ismós” that turns the preceding noun into a verb, implying a belief, practice, or worldview.

The first recorded use of the word in English was in the year 1851. At the time, it just meant “the state of being feminine.” In 1837, French philosopher Charles Fourier coined the word “feminism” to mean advocacy of women’s rights.

In today’s world, my favourite definition comes from Dr. Susan Currie Sivek who defines Feminism as “a movement that seeks equality for people of any gender. It is founded on the belief that people should be able to pursue any opportunity and demonstrate any characteristic regardless of gender.”

Both men and women can be feminists. Feminism is in favour of equality between genders, not dominance of women over men.

My question therefore is: If feminism is pro-equality, why is it “feminism”?

My very good friend, brother and colleague, Alhaji Rashid has a beautiful wife. He is a typical traditional man with the orientation that the man rules. There is a programme to, however, empower the wife by giving her skills, voice and economic power. The programme does not take into account how Alhaji Rashid will feel about this new change. He does not get the orientation and is not engaged in any conversation that it is to his own benefit that the wife gets empowered. Is this not recipe for chaos at home?

Unfortunately, a number of programmes that we those in the civil society space design miss this point and we stand to lose greatly if do not have a conversation around modern feminism.

A respectable number of feminists are really going overboard and pitching men against women, when what we should actually be doing is to carry men along and have men see the need to empower women and girls, support them and provide same opportunities. There are a number of men who still think that the fight is really just about equality. Many are unaware that it’s also about equity. Therefore, rather than pitching men against women, we should be educating men about what equity is. Conversations about feminism today online and offline in my view are particularly unhelpful. Let us advocate the need for truth, rules of evidence and contextualisation of the concept feminism. When I speak about context, I refer to a juxtaposition of one of the things I learnt about American Culture while I was at the Arizona State University……keeping arm’s length. In Ghana certainly, this has to be placed in our cultural context.

Radical feminism isn't feminism

Think about the recent case in Ghana of the feminist group calling itself Pepper Dem Ministries.

I have heard someone say once on TV that “if you do not domesticate your male child, you are only creating a problematic husband for someone one day in marriage”. I am sure that the real, honest feminists like my sister Affi Agbenyo will tell you one thing. Men are equal to women, women are equal to men. Both should be appreciated and treated the same way. Anything extreme is not in the original theory or concept of feminism. The reason why people like me will not have the tag of a feminist. There are double standards which should be taken care of.

Anyone working for women’s rights is automatically assumed to be a feminist, no matter what form their work takes. For me, the use of the term “feminist” does not tell me enough about those who use the term to describe themselves. It, of course, tells me that in some way, they believe in equity, but so do many non-” feminists”. It is possible to be an advocate for equity without tagging yourself a feminist. I do not feel any sense of loss or disadvantage in working without the tag Feminist. In fact, it gives me a much greater sense of freedom to do much more and to keep an open mind.

Why Men Matter?

According to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, in a healthy time and culture, we wouldn’t need to ask why men matter, because the answer is obvious. The role of good men is to provide, to protect, to build, to lead, and to teach, both by our words and by the example of our lives.  None of these things is exclusive to men, of course.  Women can do all of these things in their own way, with their own particular genius. 

Men can support this fight. Men do support this fight. The fact that the Gender Minister designate does not call herself a Feminist does not mean that she is anti-feminist.

Abigail Shrier wrote an article in the July 21-22 2018 edition of the Wall Street Journal with the title “Masculine dads raise confident daughters.”  I encourage you all to take a read if you have not already done so. Shrier notes that…

 “My father’s own unapologetic masculinity made us feel secure . . . [He] never let me get away with self-pity.  Never allowed me to win an argument with tears.  He regarded unbridled emotion in place of reason as vaguely pathetic . . . And when young men didn’t like me or were poised to treat me badly, it was my father’s regard that I found myself consulting and relying upon.  When a man tries to mistreat a woman . . . he is unlikely to get very far with [someone] whose father has made her feel that’s she’s worth a whole lot . . .  [So] Dads, whatever you’re doing for your daughters, double it.”

I believe in Equity!

This writing is in no way to fuel anti-feminism. It is to give a perspective on how we can increase the movement, gain support and place men as catalysts to propel the attainment of the goals we set to achieve. It is meant to trigger discussion around the reasons why people disassociate themselves from the word feminism.

Please read my other gender-related posts:

Constraints in ICT and gender

Gender equality and sustainable development