The Griffin Goes Back: Feminism also benefits men

by Elizabeth Sawka and Darby Ratliff

Assistant Opinion Editor and Opinion Editor

This article is part of The Griffin Goes Back, which is a series dedicated to considering Opinion (once called “Viewpoint”) articles from years past and interpreting the same subject now. Ultimately, the goal of this series is to consider the many ways in which either our campus or our culture has changed in the last several decades. We’re sure it’ll contain some interesting anachronisms.  The original article with the same name is from October 8, 1999 by Alan Berkeley-Hitt.

My newsfeed has been cluttered with lots of articles about how sexism is still very much engrained in our social structure, but it might be because I follow lots of feminist magazines on Facebook.  I also happen to be Facebook friends with lots of feminists—birds of a feather and all that.  Alan Berkeley-Hitt’s piece addresses how feminism has changed the dynamic of friendships and marriages between men and women.  His piece was published in1999, and it’s interesting to see the way we talked about gender less than 20 years ago.  From Berkeley-Hitt’s article, you would think feminists had just started making real strides in combating gender expectations.  However, Berkeyley-Hitt’s conceptions of feminism are still problematic when viewing it through a 21st century lens, particularly given its popularity as an issue in both today’s society and today’s Canisius.

He uses co-ed sport teams as a way that men and women interact as equals, specifically his co-ed ultimate frisbee team.  Although he explains that men and women can bond as equals over sports, he categorizes women into two categories: strong, athletic women and “wimpy” spectators.  The issue here is that in his example women can be either admired for stepping outside of gender role expectations by being interested in sports, or they are shamed for fulfilling their stereotype.  In particular, he writes, “Back home I played Co-ed Ultimate Frisbee weekly. We played through the rain, wind and mud. The wimpy spectator girls went home but the athletes stayed.” It’s interesting to see the fact that he automatically judges women who did not stay in inclement weather, calling the women “wimpy” without certifying that there may have been men who left as well. Praising women who defy gender roles does not add to the equality movement because it pressures women to confine themselves to a box, much like we see men pressured to conform to hegemonic masculinity.  

I recently watched Suffragette, which illustrates the women’s suffrage movement in 20th century Britain and follows the stories of several activists in the movement.  Women who were householders thirty years and older were granted the right to vote in the United Kingdom in 1918.  It was not until 10 years later that women 21 years and older gained the right to vote.  One of the pitfalls of this article is that Berkeley-Hitt assumes that the feminism movement is new and just beginning to change the way men and women interact when in fact it began long before, even back to the times in which emancipation was first being discussed. Further, he also considers women as passive figures in all of their roles, repeatedly saying that they were recently (even in the 90s) unable to offer opinions, work outside of the home, or even be friends with their husbands. Apparently, we’ve forgotten that much of classical literature details relationships with men and women where a couple is at least friends if not equal (in some feminist literature).

It is interesting to see the fact that Berkeley-Hitt considers how men are changed by feminism as well, nodding toward the idea that feminism, instead of man-hating, is a move toward equality instead of simply an attempt to woman-wash society. He sees it indeed as beneficial for men, but at same time, gives women more agency, though not necessarily in the most progressive of ways. In some ways, it’s inherently problematic that he chooses to consider feminism within the context of how it benefits men, just because it could be construed (and this is not necessarily Berkeley-Hitt’s purpose) as only allowing for women to strive for equality if it does allow men to have some perks as well. This does not negate the progressive nature of his comments because it likely was not his motivation (though I suppose that’s lost to Canisius history) to belittle women’s issues.

It’s also curious to consider the fact that the sum total of Berkeley-Hitt’s article considers the fact that there will be, in his vision, a masculinity movement. Because our discussions of gender as society have changed so much, it is unlikely that we’ll ever see a strictly masculinity-oriented movement (unless, of course, we do choose to declare women the dominant gender; we should not). However, the fact that this was something he considered less than 25 years ago is peculiar, especially because he roots the particular freedom a man should receive as part of this movement in the fact that women will not longer fear men. Somewhat Machiavellian in nature, his consideration of fear and love as means of exercising power is interesting, thinking that the true power and freedom of one gender is rooted in the liberation of another, but it also almost creates a double-standard. If men don’t fear women, will women be more powerful? Or is simply a repetition of the fact women were not taken seriously in the past?

Either way, Berkeley-Hitt acknowledges that feminism means equality between the two genders while still invoking the “reverse discrimination” that men see as women are more liberated. Perhaps we should just focus on how feminism benefits society.

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