Stop encouraging boys to 'say no to feminism'

The sense that a feminist conspiracy is corralling young boys to march themselves into ideological prisons is laughable ...

The sense that a feminist conspiracy is corralling young boys to march themselves into ideological prisons is laughable and worrying. Photo: Stocksy

Perhaps one of the most absurd things to come out of 2015 is the increase in paranoia around feminism and its supposed impact on men. Feminism has always tried to destroy society, but now it's, like, really trying to destroy it. Women have all the power. Feminism is just a misandristic hate cult that wants to see all men banned from the world forever. Men are the truly oppressed beings now - in fact, there is no one more oppressed than the humble white man who isn't even allowed to express his own opinions and have them be universally respected anymore. It's a real tragedy.

This hypersensitivity around a more vocal feminism has definitely made itself felt in the online world. Aggrieved men's rights activists (MRAs), gamer gaters and anonymous trolls may have all embraced the mocking language around 'safe spaces' in an attempt to ridicule the people whose politics scare them, but they seem spectacularly unaware of their own insistence that broader culture protect them from views that call their privilege into question. No! That's not allowed! If you make boys and men think about feminism, you are pushing a hate filled ideology onto them and forcing them to apologise for being a man! It's reverse-sexism, which is kind of like real sexism but MUCH, MUCH WORSE.

The UK's Telegraph added to this paranoid dialogue last week when they published a piece under the headline, "Boys should have the right to say no to feminism". Writer Glen Poole opened by arguing, "The evangelical drive to teach boys to be feminists reached a new high last week with the news that every 16-year-old in Sweden is to be given a free copy of [Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's] book 'We Should All Be Feminists'."

Poole goes on to write, "It may sound comical but in a truly egalitarian world we would welcome such declarations of male and female empowerment with parity. And yet my personal experience of the feminist worldview that dominates gender politics, is that rather than encourage the empowerment of men, it expects us to apologise for our maleness, our masculinity and our manhood."

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There it is again - the expectation that feminism is a movement devoted to gender blind empowerment of men and women. I hear this so often from men, this accusation that feminism isn't really about equality because if it were then it would be focusing on all the problems that men face. That if feminism were really 'legitimate' in its aims to end domestic violence, it would spend just as much time advocating for the comparatively miniscule numbers of male victims of female perpetrators, despite the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators of violence against men are other men. That if feminism wants to be 'taken seriously' (as if it its drastic increase in popularity as a political movement isn't precisely the thing terrifying so many of the people previously cushioned by the status quo), it will become more 'egalitarian'.

All of this is complete rubbish. Feminism was a political ideology borne out of the gender inequality that has oppressed women physically, sexually, emotionally, financially and socially throughout all of history. It is a movement that seeks to liberate women from oppressive gender roles and establish real equality between the sexes. It is not a movement designed to reinforce the age old practice of women performing unpaid emotional labour to ensure that men never lose the advantage of power that keeps them at the top of the pile. Feminism's success will benefit men - but as a movement, it has no obligation to prioritise them or the false concoction of oppression they imagine happens as a result of women's empowerment.

This sense that an overarching feminist conspiracy is corralling young boys and men to march themselves into ideological prisons is both laughable and contradictory. Feminism can't be both a movement women are abandoning in hordes (as limply argued by so many anti-feminists looking for justification for their retro views) and yet also something that is so all-powerful it dictates the movements of governments, education programs and even company employment choices.

This paranoia around feminism and its influence says far more about those objecting to it than those who think broadening people's viewpoints is a good idea. Handing out copies of 'We Should All Be Feminists' isn't akin to strapping children in cinema seats, injecting them with drugs and then brainwashing them over a series of days. It's a book - people are free to read or not read it, like it or not like it, care about it or not care about it. That the works of women - particularly women of colour - are so rarely assigned as reading material in schools is something Poole seems to have little appreciation for, aside from his unnecessary observation that Adichie is both intelligent and beautiful.

But even after all this, what Poole and his ilk still fail to grasp is that boys are completely free to reject feminism. In fact, the evidence of this rejection is on display every day, when boys call girls and women whores, sluts, bitches, c--ts, hos, thots and any other name designed to dehumanise and degrade her. Boys are free to reject feminism whenever they insult another boy by likening him or his actions to that of a girl. They reject feminism when they blame girls for their own sexual assaults, when they say girls were 'asking for it', that she made him do it, that she's lying because she's a slut.

These boys reject feminism every day, and then grow into men who continue to reject feminism. No one can force them to be decent human beings, and many of them have made it perfectly clear that they have no interest in that title. Yes, boys should have the right to say no to feminism. But when girls and women are still being raped, beaten, murdered and abused simply because they are girls and women, it's a depressing outlook on life that so many of them still do.