The Fword reports on the most recent backlash against women’s rights, leading to a discussion of whether women will ever lose the rights we have gained, perhaps especially cogent in the recent attempt to reduce abortion access. While I think that it is very possible that women’s rights may be reduced, and we should be careful to protect them, I don’t think we shall ever go back to previous age.
Why? Because feminism is good for men.
In the patriarchal societies in the past, male power was balanced with considerable responsibility. In a world where women’s economic opportunities were limited, either by domesticity or unequal wages, men were responsible for providing for wives, daughters and other unsupported women, such as orphaned sisters or widowed mothers. They were expected to keep them in ‘ the manner in which they were accustomed’. Feminism made the responsibility for provisioning households more equal.
This restriction within patriarchal societies, in part, justified stringent or non-existent divorce laws. Men, who separated or divorced their wives (and for most purposes this was the practical economic result), were expected to provide for them throughout the remainder of their lives. This alimony was considerably larger than contemporary settlements that expect women to work after divorce. Feminism brought divorce and separation legislation.
In patriarchal societies, women’s behaviour was a reflection of their husbands or fathers. In many cases, this meant that women could impact on a man’s career, reputation, and social standing. In some cases, it meant that a man was criminally responsible for his wife’s crimes (and she wasn’t). Men were meant to be able to control women and an inability to do so reflected on their masculinity and particularly their virility. A gossiping, idle wife was a reflection on her husband’s inability to control her, which was closely related to his ability to pacify her through sex. Feminism removed male responsibility for their wife’s behaviour.
Under patriarchy, a man’s children were his own property, not his wife’s. This may sound good to some men, but it meant custody always went to men. They couldn’t leave their wives and children for a new wife and family. They couldn’t walk out on their responsibility. Wives didn’t get weekend custody- men had 100% of the children 100% of the time. They were also responsible for any ‘illegitimate’ children and more than just financially. Feminism removed the burden of providing for children exclusively from men and shared it with women.
Before feminism, men had to marry a woman to have sex with her. While prostitutes were available, they cost money, frequently had VD, and could ruin a man’s social standing and reputation (chastity wasn’t just for women). You certainly couldn’t try before you buy (ok, I am generalising about social customs here, but generally marriage either preceded or closely followed sex). The sexual revolution wasn’t just for women.
Feminism came with contraception. Enough said.
Feminism reduced male responsibility, by recognising women’s humanity. And this wasn’t a bad thing. Men no longer had to shoulder the burden of power, the stress and responsibility, alone. The buck no longer stopped with them. They were no longer forced into a restricted role of husband and father, because society expected it. They had greater freedom to choose what they wanted to do with their lives (occupationally and otherwise) as they no longer (or less frequently) had to think about other people in making their choices. They could take greater risks; behave more frivolously. When they married (or didn’t!), men could choose to do so for love, knowing they could share intimacy and responsibility for the household with a partner, rather than worrying whether their choice could land them in jail or destroy their social standing. They could have conversations with an educated and informed equal. They could choose to spend more time with their children and even be house-husbands. They had the choice of divorce when things didn’t work out. They could ask for help when they needed it and it wasn’t a sign of weakness.
A backlash against feminism sucks as much for men as it does for women.