Men Standing On The Side of Women

Few months ago the Jakarta Post released a photograph showing some young men in mini skirt stood at Bundaran HI (Hotel Indonesia traffic circle) rising awareness on escalation of rape case in the country (The Jakarta Post, 08/04/2013). There were many public responses following the action. On one side, some readers supported the young men for their bravery in condemning the abusers who are mostly men and calling other men to respect women’s rights. On the other side, some readers opposed the men’s group and labelled them as “sissy” or effeminate boys and even stigmatized them as a gay and accused them for creating a sensation to gain popularity in the media.
Even though there was no a debate afterward, analyzing the phenomena of Indonesian young men supporting the rights of their women counterpart is interesting. It leads to theoretical and ideological discussion on feminism, the ideology that focuses on bringing to light the interests, experiences and lives of women, which have been overlooked and underemphasised on mainstream debate (Crowe, 2011).
One classic question may arise before us, can men be a feminist? And it seems the answer remains the same where some theorists and activists claim that men are impossible to be feminist for men do not have experiences of being oppressed like women. Meanwhile, some other theorists and activists argue that men can be as feminist as women because having consciousness on social justice is not necessary for people to have experiences of being treated unfairly. For instance, to be anti racist, people are not necessary to have been racially discriminated and oppressed. For the later theorists, dominant and privileged group such as white, heterosexuals, men may become potential ally for claiming the rights of marginalized group such as black, homosexuals, women or people with disability (Fabiano, et al, 2013).
This article argues that the presence of men speaking the interest of women will create a crucial political shift in perceiving gender inequality issue in Indonesian society. However, the men who advocate the rights of women may encounter challenges. To fully engage in the feminist movement, they must be aware and able to deal with those challenges in order to make their involvement meaningful in achieving gender justice.
It is obvious that men, who involve in feminist movement, as quoted at the beginning of this article, send a strong political message that respecting and protecting women’s rights is not merely women interest but men’s as well. Other point is that not all men agree on their domination over women and even they resist men power over women. Raewyn Connel (1997) maintains that not all men gain advantages from patriarchal society. There are many men suffer from discrimination, marginalization and oppression as women, especially those at lower position of social hierarchy such as working class, coloured , and gay men. Connel also argues that interests are relational which is constituted in the social relation. Most men have relational interest with women: mothers, wives, partners, sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmothers, and neighbours. Therefore, the engagement of men in claiming the rights of women means that they advocate the interest of those who have close relation with them. In addition, this engagement can also be aimed at advocating other men who also experience social injustice.
Men who take stand on the side of women also emphasise that the discrimination and oppression over women is not an individual problem. Instead, it is a structural issue in relation to cultural values and norms in our society. Gender inequality is deep rooted on patriarchal culture which treats men and women differently and provides men with privileges and power for free. These values are systematically maintained and sustained through policing mechanism such as family rearing, educational systems, religious teachings and state regulations. Therefore, to dismantle the problems, it requires transformation of those values and norms as well as the structures that support the culture such as families, schools, religious institutions and state government. Any individual interventions such as clinical treatment for male perpetrators of abuse or merely legal punishment are not sufficient to create sustainable change regarding gender equality.
Men who support gender equality and against men’s violence toward women and girls is an antithetical of mainstream image of masculinity. Since the dominant notion of manhood is characterized by superiority, domination, and violence. They offer alternative images of being men which are softer, more empathy, more respect and against violence toward others regardless their identities. These images will be influential factors for nurturing future generation and creating safer, more respectful and peace world.
Despite the fact that there are many strategic roles of pro-feminist men, there are many challenges. When the men challenge the mainstream culture, they have to be aware that they put themselves in a vulnerable position. They are at risk of being attacked emotionally and physically by other men because they are considered as a deviant which may destroy existing  structure in society and create identity confusion. They may also be accused for making men weak and becoming loser and therefore, put men in crisis because men will lose their basis of existence: power and control.
Another challenge is the fact that men remain the dominant and privileged group in society nowadays; therefore, men who advocate women voices are also at risk of being trapped in constructing new domination within feminist movement. As a consequence, from the outset pro-feminist men are required to have a distinc political stand that they are supporters of feminist movement and they will not take leadership role, otherwise, they will weaken feminist struggle and still become part of structure which dominate and oppress women.

About Nur Hasyim

peminat kajian maskulinitas, trainer dan fasilitator tentang gender, maskulinitas dan kekerasan serta ayah dari dua anak perempuan. Saat ini menjadi pengajar di Universitas Islam Negeri Walisongo, Semarang

Check Also

The economic and social benefits of gender-equal homes

It is impossible to talk about women’s economic empowerment or gender equality in the workplace …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *