7 Things Feminists Should Understand About Today’s Men

The feminist movement began as a struggle for basic rights: women’s suffrage, reproductive rights, access to work and education, and equal rights within those institutions. Through the hard work and dedication of our foremothers, many of those feats have been won. As a result, our culture has become dominated by a narrative that is not representative of the country’s reality: A progressive picture of fairness and equal opportunity regardless of sex or race. One where the fight for Civil Rights eradicated racism and feminism ushered in an era of “equality” between the sexes.

Yet, in reality, not much has really changed where gender relations are involved. Though a small percentage of men and women have entered fields that they were once barred from participating in because of their sex, most work fields are extremely gendered, many of the most dangerous occupations are still dominated by men and society still has very restrictive gender ideals.

For that reason, the future of feminism requires thorough examination of the roles gender and patriarchy play in the lives of both men and women. That means that the conversation must be inclusive of men. Only through inclusivity can the conversation truly progress. This does not diminish the daily struggles that women face while attempting to combat sexism, it serves to merely provide a clear depiction of what “manhood” and “masculinity” means today so these terms can be more closely evaluated.

1. Patriarchy has negative psychological effects on men that must always be considered. Patriarchy not only has negative affects on the psychology of women, but also places huge burdens and unattainable expectations on men. We must never forget that society is largely responsible for the socialization of our boys and many of the messages received all throughout childhood, adolescence and even adulthood diminish their emotionality, empathy, caring (or any positive traits that society has condemned as “feminine”). This devaluation of “femininity” negatively impacts men and boys, because gender expression should exist on a spectrum. Denied access to any degree of femininity, boys grow into men who are disconnected from their own emotions and inner selves. That disconnectedness translates into a host of mental and internal conflicts. When we do not consider the importance of access to a multi-layered gender identity for men, women actually undermine the strength and power of femininity.

2. Men are more likely to sacrifice their lives for their country or family than women. According to the Department of Defense Military Demographics report, men comprise 81.9 percent of the enlisted military personnel population. Though there is a drastic three fold increase in female participation — especially Black women who account for 31 percent (twice the percentage of the Black female population in America) of all enlisted female personnel — the vast majority of individuals who lose their lives in combat or are actively serving in the military are men.

3. The most dangerous occupations are still very much male-dominated. Despite efforts to desegregate male-dominated occupations, a huge gender gap persists. The top 10 most dangerous occupations are: logging, fishing, construction, agriculture/farming, drivers, electrical power line installation and repair, sanitary work, iron and steel work, roofing and aircraft piloting.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2013, a mere nine percent of construction workers are female and 17.9 percent of farmers, ranchers or other agricultural managers are female. Men are overrepresented in the most dangerous occupations at a rate between 4-10 times that of their female counterparts.

4. Men are overrepresented in the prison system. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the male incarceration rate is approximately 15 times that of the female incarceration rate. Black and Hispanic men face increased odds of landing in the prison system, often for non-violent crimes especially because of the nation’s extremely racial “War on Drugs” policies that have helped to triple the prison population since the 1980s.

5. Many women continue to restrict men to roles defined by patriarchy. Countless mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends hold men to societal standards created by this patriarchal society. These women can be heard demeaning little boys because they cry or are upset, saying infamous phrases like “boys don’t cry” and “that’s for girls!” They may possibly condone violence inflicted upon men by women, demanding that the “stronger gender” should not retaliate against a “weaker” aggressor.

There are also many women who may not actively condone, but passively benefit from the system of patriarchy. These women enjoy the “perks” of femininity that demands men not only protect and provide for women, but also reap the benefits of the feminist movement that allows them more access to social and financial benefits. The visibility of this particular brand of feminism is extremely harmful to the movement.

6. In every age group, the rate of death for men is higher than for women. Nature seems to account for male life fragility; even though males are conceived more frequently than female babies, miscarriages tend to be mostly male. Even after birth, baby boys are more likely than girls to die. Then adolescence comes around to really cause a spike in the numbers of male death. Between the teens and early 20s, boys are more likely to die due to accidental, homicidal, war-related incidents and violence. Though many will quickly resort to blaming testosterone or other “natural” factors for behavioral differences between men and women that put guys more often in harm’s way, culture and socialization most assuredly plays a role. An examination of cultural factors that reenforce these male behaviors could save many male lives.

7. Family Court may not be biased against men, but modern custody cases demonstrate just how steeped in patriarchal norms society continues to be. Many men attempt to make the argument that Family Court is biased against men, because women typically win custody of children and are rewarded more custodial support than their male counterparts. That argument is inaccurate: most child custody decisions are made outside of the courtroom and are usually settled between the parents before a judge can even hear the case.

The fact that women more frequently obtain custody of children in such cases may not reflect a bias in the court system, but it certainly demonstrates society’s gendered biases. We still hold on to notions that men cannot parent as well as women, and women cannot work or make as much money as men. Many men want to play active roles in their children’s lives, but society still expects men to fulfill provider roles, even at the expense of his relationship with his children. These expectations are harmful to mothers, fathers and children.