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Moving beyond feminism?

No, this is not one of those "do we still need feminism" or "why I'm not a feminist" posts. We very much still need feminism and I very much am one.

But Emma Watson, bless her, has caused quite a stir this last week over her speech to the United Nations. Her speech--correctly--has brought to the front all sorts of dialogues about the role of men in feminism and the equally-interesting discussion about what happens when feminist principles are brought to the men's side of things. There's a lot going on here, but I'll try to unpack a little of what I've seen.

Dads immediately had a positive reaction...what I saw, at least. Especially at the attempt to identify the fight to bring an end to male stereotypes and discrimination against men. It was posted on walls, quoted, and links to the speech were added as a great step forward in gender equality. For those of us who have daughters we're trying to raise with feminist ideals, it's not such a far step to hope that our sons are given the same rights and opportunities. The fact that not everyone sees (yes, including some feminists) that men face struggles of inequality and need advocacy makes it an even more hidden and important matter.

On the other hand, some feminists have taken issue with Watson's speech. For a variety of reasons. For some women, the mere fact that men are given time in a feminist speech is betraying the heart of feminism. For others, the offense was in the way that Watson and the campaign she was representing seems to be asking for men to take a more active (leadership?) role in what is primarily a woman's realm. Some critics simply said she offered nothing new.

Many feminists I know embrace the idea that a man who talks about men's issues is still doing feminist work. Some do not agree, obviously. But my point in response to one of the critics today was that while I have no problem wearing the feminist label in talking about wanting radical inclusiveness for men, somehow the language and vocabulary isn't "ours." By that I mean that many otherwise feminist men wish there was a level beyond feminism where we could talk about gender equality and gender issues with a less female (or male) centered path.

The best example I can think of is dad groups, mom groups, and the debate over whether we should be working together (as "parent" groups) or separately. What we need is a kind of "gender pluralism" that advocates against the status quo for both sides. We can celebrate what it means to be a man or woman while also simultaneously working to end the problems facing each gender. Of course, how that is best done is what we're having a national/global conversation about now.

The bottom line for me is that we're all now talking deeply about what it means to be a feminist and the culture is more friendly to hearing ALL voices--men, women, trans--about how we live our gender and the obstacles we all face. That has to be a good thing. Whether we get to a place of inter-gender harmony is probably about the same odds of getting to a place of interreligious harmony. The important point here is to not let the voices of exclusivity and hate swallow the voices of cooperation, acceptance, and lasting positive change for everyone. Gains of one gender cannot come at the expense of another.


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