Is Feminism Emasculating?

Saleha Suleman,

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


Feminism. Such a popular word in today’s day and age. But what does it really mean? The most basic, straight out-of-the-dictionary definition of feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is a range of ideologies, political and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.”

From the definition alone, we can say that the simple answer is that no, feminism isn’t emasculating. And this is truly not the voice of someone who is a staunch ‘feminist’, a word that has grown unpopular over the years, or the voice of someone who hates men (which is not at all a feminist trait, by the way), or even someone who believes that women are better than men. This is a response from someone who believes in the theory of feminism.

There are so many surprising false notions about feminism. The most shockingly misogynistic one was probably in this article I came across – written by one man addressing other men – because it said, and I quote, “most unattractive women are more likely to gravitate towards feminism”. He also goes on to say that women want equal rights without equal responsibility, which is really not the case.

Like any advocate for feminism will tell you, we don’t want to turn the tables to the opposite extreme and have us ruling the world and other extremist nonsense. Feminism is not the belief that men should bow down to women. No, it is the belief that women should be respected for who they are, for the choices they make (which includes whether they want to work or stay home, whether they want to have one child or five). Feminism does not mean a woman wants to be the ‘man of the house’ and take all the decisions, it isn’t a dictatorship. It wants us to have an equal say. Feminism is not the belief that being aggressive or ‘girly’ causes you to forfeit the right to call yourself a feminist. No again. You can be a feminist regardless of your choice of dressing, interests and faith.

You can be a feminist regardless of your gender.

Yes, that’s right. I say men can be feminists too because feminism isn’t just a fight for our equality, it is for yours too. It is the fight to break free from these self destructive stereotypes that limit us, those that say that you aren’t ‘man enough’ if you are sensitive or chivalrous, if you take advice from another person, if you admit an insecurity. In his TEDTalk titled “Why I’m done trying to be ‘man enough’ ”, Justin Baldoni says, “I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with you or me, and men, I’m not saying we have to stop being men. But we need balance, right?”. And that is exactly what we want too. He adds  “Growing up, we tend to challenge each other. We’ve got to be the toughest, the strongest, the bravest men that we can be. And for many of us, myself included, our identities are wrapped up in whether or not at the end of the day we feel like we’re man enough.” But it’s not. It shouldn’t be.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe if men can accept and can be accepted as the altered, better version of being ‘a man’, women and men alike won’t need to fight their instincts so hard. Emma Watson, Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, delivered a moving speech in 2014, in which she speaks about similar issues faced worldwide. This is an excerpt from her thirteen minute speech: “We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are, and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals. If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer.”

As a Muslim woman with many Muslim friends, much too often, in schools and homes, in lives of my friends, I see that anti-feminism has become synonymous with religion, often related to Hijab and chastity. It’s not quite like that though. Islam and feminism aren’t mutually exclusive, they are interrelated.

There are, of course, many historical instances which prove this, especially from the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Not only was his wife (one of the most affluent merchants of the time), Lady Khadija, an integral force in the spread of Islam, he proudly spoke about the affection he had for his daughter when the people of his time mocked him for having no son and thus, no heir.

Among other missions that the Prophet had been sent for, the one to bring respect to women in the hearts of the men of that time was a vital one. He declared that women “have rights to inherit property and determine who and when they marry. For this, the Prophet was ridiculed for mixing with the ‘weak’.”

“Their Lord responded to them: “I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female – you are equal to one another.” (Qur’an, 3: 195)

It is safe to say that Islam is a religion that empowers women. What we face is often a bias that stems from our cultures. In fact, in a news blog article on The Huffington Post, Muslim women are described as the ‘true feminists’, because our feminist ideals go beyond the singular aspect of our body alone.

The same follows for men and boys in Islam. Never has a messenger of God been described rightfully as insensitive or resistant to advise from their female counterparts.

So to reiterate and to answer my initial question, feminism is not emasculating, unless your definitions are still old school.

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