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Men can be feminists too

Men can be feminists too

Charlie holds up a sign that reads men of quality do not fear equality

This month, we celebrated International Women’s Day. It’s an important moment every year when we recognise the ongoing inequality faced by women and girls worldwide – but also celebrate the progress that we are making, slowly but surely, to challenge it.

As an experiment to mark the day, the media team at Plan International UK commissioned a survey, run by the lovely people from Opinium, to ask people about their views on gender equality.

The results were encouraging. Nine out of ten people said they believed that men and women should be equal, and enjoy the same rights (let’s just assume the remaining one in ten hit the wrong button, yeah?)

We then asked people whether they considered themselves to be a feminist. As you’ll know, ‘feminism’ is a bit of a charged term, and is used quite differently by different people.

The first thing we noticed was a strong generational difference. Nearly half of those aged 18-34 were self-declared feminists – twice as many as older generations (just 19 per cent of over 65s agreed).

Doubly interesting was the numbers of avowed feminists among young men. Almost the same number of men aged 25-34 were comfortable with the term as women of the same age. As someone who fits that category, it made me think about my own views.

I would categorically describe myself as a feminist; I wouldn’t hesitate at all to use term. For me it simply means that I believe that men and women should be equal, and by extension, that we should be taking action to ensure this is the case.

Of course, there are going to be plenty of different views about how we get there, and maybe that’s why some people are hesitant about the word. I’m not worried about that: feminist is part of my identity in the same way as I’m a Brummie, I vote for a particular political party and I read a particular newspaper. It’s fine for it to be a broad church.

A refrain you sometimes here from men is ‘what about us?’ Men, the argument goes, also face discrimination, and action that society takes to level the playing field might unduly work against guys.

Personally I find this view a bit problematic. There’s no doubt that men can face problems that are associated with their gender, such as mental health difficulties. But any objective observer can see that it is women who are more consistently and systemically discriminated against in society.

Take a look at the benches of the House of Commons or the board room of your average large company. At a global level, think about why it is that girls are forced to drop out of school and marry as teenagers, while their brothers continue to learn.

What’s more, what I’ve realised since working at Plan International UK is that gender equality – and so feminism – is good for men and boys too. Creating equal societies means men and boys thinking about their own roles and identities. And while no one could ever accuse me of being macho, it can only be a good thing to break down stereotypes which lead young men to believe that they shouldn’t show emotion or that they should brag about drinking, sport or sex.

There’s no one type of feminism, or perfect definition. But if more and more people are using the term – men included – then we should be encouraged that while it might be many years before we achieve equality, it is certainly possible.

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