Patriarchy is not a vast conspiracy orchestrated by evil men - it is a system of norms, traditions and assumptions that harm both women and men, and that we are capable of changing together.
Too often have I heard wilful misinterpretations by otherwise rational, intelligent people, of what feminism stands for. This is, of course, most apparent on the bastion of rationality and intellectual integrity that are internet comment boards. Here is one such example:
“SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) believe in this conspiracy in which all white people […] are organised and conspire to oppress everything that isn’t white men. […] Despite that and feminists claiming the same about men, I managed to miss 24 years of memos and orders from said organisations that supposedly exist and that I’m apparently part of.”
Because this comment is, I think, representative of a lot of people’s misconceptions – mostly propagated by Men’s Rights Activists (MRA) – it is worth taking this International Women’s Day to explain what we’re actually fighting against.
First of all, nobody is smart enough to be intentionally operating and organising the sexist or racist machine, even all together. White men have not organised and conspired to oppress people - because white men aren’t evil. They just benefit from a system which does this for them.
This is what MRA’s and apologists need to understand. Those you patronisingly call ‘Social Justice Warriors’ simply want you to realise that your life has never been directly hindered by your gender or race. Not that your life has never been hindered, nor that you haven’t had challenges to overcome. That would be a ridiculous claim, and the electoral results of 2016 have demonstrated that the white, working class demographic very much faces class-based challenges which they (rightly) feel are being ignored. And this is perfectly valid. But the challenges facing working class white men are not specifically caused by their race or gender. This is equally valid.
White men have not organised and conspired to oppress. They just benefit from a system which does this for them.
The comment I quoted earlier came from a debate over whether you can be racist to white people. This particular rabbit hole is filled with knife-shaped semantics, and one’s answer to the question is entirely dependent on your working definition of racism. But let’s try anyway.
Is it possible to discriminate against a white person on the basis of their race? Yes, probably, though I have never seen an example of it in my sheltered European life. Does the institutionalised racism, prevalent in all western societies affect white people as much as it affects other races? It would be absurd to say so.
Likewise, can you discriminate against a man on the basis of his gender? Yes, probably, and in fact I have seen some instances of this. But, does the institutionalised sexism, prevalent in all western (and non-Western) societies affect men as much as it affects women and the transgendered? Again, it is simply absurd to think so.
There is still a factual inequality between men and women, and between white people and black people. It is institutionalised, and it needs to change. Women still generally make less than men (see ‘GAO report 04-35’; Pew Research Center Survey 2013), even within the same sectors and accounting for other variables.
Women still make up a disproportionately small percentage of the workforce – even when you consider women who chose to be homemakers. They are significantly more likely the be the victims of sexual assault (see George Mason University, Worldwide Sexual Assault Statistics, 2005). Including prison rape statistics is an effective tactic to portray men as victims in the sexual assault debate, until one remembers the gender of the perpetrator. However, nobody is making conspiratorial claims that all men are deliberately keeping things this way.
Sexism is simply a fact of life, like the racism that has made 12% of the US population 40% of the country’s prison population (see U.S. Department of Justice, 2009). Black people are not more prone to crime, they are more prone to being economically disadvantaged, looked over for jobs and housing, targeted by police and the justice system and generally neglected by the state. This is most apparent when we compare drug use to drug arrests in the US:
- Source: PolitiFact
- Source: PolitiFact
Feminism supports a change of attitude, not a change of leadership – though the leadership will naturally become proportionate as a result of the attitude change. Men are not responsible for the world they were born into, but they - like women - are responsible for what they do with it. Feminists want a world in which they feel valued in the workplace and safe on the streets. They want the opportunity to succeed, whether in motherhood or the boardroom, without their femininity being questioned. Ultimately, they want the unbridled access to the public sphere that men unquestionably enjoy every day. It’s not a vendetta, it’s a movement for equality that includes men too. Portraying it as anything else is simply disingenuous.