Men and Gender Equality
Though still a rampant issue, modern pop culture is familiar with the issue of women feeling intense peer pressure to look a beautiful as a male-dominated society defines it. We are also well acquainted with other related issues like the salary gaps between the genders and women feeling like they have to be overtly sexualized in order to get ahead. However, there is another side to the coin as well.
When Emma Watson was accepted by the UN to be the ambassador for gender equality, most people were automatically thinking women’s’ rights, which would be fine and is needed anyway. However, she turned the idea completely on its head by including men who suffered from social pressures as well as women, and that they were equally victims of a society that wants to perpetuate an image of what both genders should be:
“I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.”
Men are accustomed to being called part of the problem when it comes to the issues that women face, probably to the point where we become numb to it unfortunately. Watson’s speech though included men as also suffering from it! That was a proverbial WTF and some are extremely skeptical of it. An article by self-proclaimed feminist, Lily Rae, titled, As a Feminist, Emma Watson's UN HeForShe Speech Makes me Uncomfortable, mentions that while it’s great that men get onboard with supporting the fight, she also questions the legitimacy of the claim that men are equally invested in it.
And to be fair her claims are valid. We are the ones in the power seat so to speak. We do most of the spousal abuse and are more likely to get paid more for the same job as a woman. So what claim then do we have to say that we have the same problems?
One of the Boys
To start out with, it’s not exactly the same. Much of the issues that we have differ from women in that its largely connected with social expectations than legalities. Where it does cross into more serious ground is in areas like suicide and depression, but it’s rare that you’ll hear a story about a man being beaten to death by a woman. Where it does concern us is that the pressures we face can influence how we see and interact with women.
Take example the problem of over-sexualizing people. When we go to public places like Time Square or the local mall, the image we get hit with is the young 20-something guy shirtless with a six pack…and of course with a woman who is equally semi-naked and pawing over the guy. Many of the shows and movies we watch have the guy being in phenomenal shape, confident and proud of his sexual abilities.
The most recent example of this is Nick Jonas’ pictures imitating Mark Whalberg’s modeling days in the 90’s with him shirtless and in his underwear. Men also feel the social pressure of having to be successful to find a partner or even a one-night stand. If we don’t have a nice career, a nice house or apartment, and of course, are ability to sexually perform with our large penises, we’re considered failures as men and at life. If you doubt that, ask yourself how you would feel if the woman you just slept with said you were horrible.
Not being able to live up to these expectations can take a person in two directions. Either they become depressed or they become frustrated and angry. The best example of this is in the gritty speech from Tyler Durdon in 1999’s Fight Club:
“We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.”
The irony of that movie is that it stars Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, with the latter as the dirty but sexy alter ego of Norton’s character, who narrates the movie and is the complete opposite. It perfectly encapsulates this aspect of the pressures males face.
Society teaches both sexes that there are leaders and there are followers, but there’s no co-sharing. Our self-images of each other are intertwined and often determined by whose driving. In fact, many world societies operate this way and often times this plays out as one gender has to become second class for the other to assume the lead. Lily Rae correctly says that the issue is dealing with a mentality that is thousands of years old and does not vanish overnight.
However, when it comes to issues of human rights, it’s not a contest of who gets it the worst.
Any injustice done to anyone, anyone made to feel like they are less than human because of not meeting an abstract standard, is wrong. There is no shoving down one problem over the other to climb to the top of the ‘who-gets-the-most-attention’ mountain, which is usually how we play out multiple-problem situations. Many of these issues are interconnected and if we really want to solve them, we have to deal with all of them, not just the ones that are of interest to our individual lives.