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I just read an absolutely amazing blog post, 'The Disadvantages of Being a Man' by Jason Thibeault which I would like to quote and comment on. The post and the comments regarding the post, the writer's responses – it all really opened my eyes to different perspectives on feminism and for the first time, I've had a chance to read something by a male feminist. One doesn't come across many where I live.

The main idea of the post and what it is about, is pretty much – 'how societal gender roles disadvantage men'.

To begin with, my favourite line in the whole post was 'The patriarchal society we find ourselves in today is a significantly eroded one, where the patriarchy finds itself under attack from almost every angle, but it remains a patriarchy still.' – this sentence pretty much sums up what I have learnt, experienced and seen while living in a patriarchal society with a feminist view of the world. I assume that the erosion being referred to here is erosion from the pure concept that is 'patriarchy' to nowadays where thanks to feminism, equality has been, at least recognised, for men and women. Nevertheless, despite this erosion from certain angles, patriarchy remains. Keep in mind here that when I talk about 'patriarchy', I refer to the version of it that I have seen from conversations with men to the Pakistani society that I have been brought up in.

I believe it is fair when the writer says 'In fact, I strongly believe that these gender roles are largely responsible for all of the gender related issues that all sexes and genders experience today.' If one looks at patriarchy not just from the perceptive of  victimizing women but as well as victimizing men, it all seems to make sense to me. Because it is for the generalization and the gender roles set by patriarchy that gender related issues and discrimination and exploitation arise.

When I talk about feminism, most opinions I get are based on some sort of fear that all feminists want is a matriarchal society. In the absence of knowledge, there is only fear. What I actually refer to, or support to be more accurate, is an end to the pre-set patriarchal gender roles. I am not here to push forward men's suffering as frankly, I am not well versed on the matter. I raise my voice for women's suffering because to me, it is personal and if its my neighbor one day, it'll be me the next. A woman's sole purpose in life is NOT to just to be the 'child-bearer', the same way, as I am now slowly beginning to understand thanks to the writer, a man's sole purpose in life is NOT just to be the 'bread-winner'.

I honestly appreciate the writer's disclaimer, keeping in view, that many feminists might take him wrong as most men who bring up men's issues in a feminism debate refuse to acknowledge women's issues and the problems they face or try to equate the exploitation men face with the exploitation women face – whereas, there can be no such equality between the issues, varying due to extent or type, etc. (yes, I know I'm being vague here; I don't want to get into the details of abuse/ exploitation)

The writer posts: 'I disclaimer my discussion of the disadvantages of being a man with the caveat that I don’t believe these disadvantages taken in aggregate bring the sexes to any manner of parity in our society. But I’m not planning on putting them on a scale anyway, because I strongly feel the best way to overturn both sexes’ disadvantages is to attack the structure that caused both in the first place.'

'Attack the structure' – that is patriarchal with set gender roles harmful to everyone, men and women. One reader mistook the author, thinking the writer to mean 'death to all men'. There is no advantage and nothing will be achieved from comparing and scaling the disadvantages faced by a man and those faced by a woman, this is something I have seen often misunderstood by many. 

Something most men and even women misunderstand about the term/ ideology/ concept that is 'feminism', as the writer points out in the comments section later on: 'At the moment, with the vast majority of the power concentrated in men’s hands in matters regarding politics, finance, sexual and reproductive self-determination, justice, et cetera, being a feminist does not imply being anti-man'. THIS my friends, is where he hit the nail on the head. This is where I as a feminist have gotten into debates with most men on feminism and it is because when it is stated in a conversation that I am a feminist, first of all, it consequences quite a few "Oohs!" and "Aaah!" with some furtive glances; then follow the comments relating to how feminism means 'anti-man'. Totally untrue and well put by a reader who commented with: 'There are a handful of fringe whackjob separatists who think the world would be better if women ran everything, but they don’t represent the mainstream of feminism, or even the most common radical versions of feminism.' 

Another part I liked about the article was how the writer stated some characteristics of a patriarchal society; those roles that I have seen to be true. The ones I was taught to follow but have forsaken. Patriarchy therefore is the basic idea that 'Men were soldiers, explorers, farmers, breadwinners; strong, fearless, and brave, an idealized Superman. Women were men’s support structure, creating textiles, tending the home, providing meals, and raising children — the idealized Madonna. Only men could be landowners, only men could vote, and only men could be politicians and make decisions that affected the course of society.' Till date – these are the enculturated ideas of most of the men in Pakistan, no matter how liberal they may appear in their actions regarding other aspects of life.

And then here is where the disadvantages (due to patriarchal gender roles) are pointed out – 'So men being the brave, the strong, the bold, also by extension became the cannon fodder. …The same gender roles that require from men stoicism in the face of death assumes that women are frail and weak and must be protected from the same danger.' An example of the kind of thinking that not just harms women, but the men in a patriarchal society where yes, given, men are said to be 'privileged' when compared to women. Yes, I am aware that in itself is a term that needs to be defined when being used in a feminism debate so as to not give the wrong idea.

I guess when using the term 'privilege', this is the comment by a reader which helped me understand the use of the term: 'It is only because of the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement, the Womens’ Rights Movement, and the Gay Rights Movement that white privilege, male privilege, and heterosexual privilege are in decline. Burying your head in the sand and pretending that they aren’t real, as he apparently prefers to do, just perpetuates the system of privilege.'

As mentioned above by me speaking from personal experience every time I bring up the topic of feminism in front of most males I come across, the writer states that 'They are, in fact, more often interested in stopping feminism than in working to better men’s lot in those situations where men are at a disadvantage.'

And a very interesting paragraph to a post that helped me understand two sides of the same problem: 'I strongly suspect there’s a reason men have not done more to overturn the patriarchy and the gender roles that give them priority access to politics, money, influence, and justice, despite all these injustices I’ve listed herein. And I suspect that reason is that the people in power recognize that male privilege outweighs female privilege in toto.' – LOL!

When I read on to the comments made in response to the blog post, certain perspectives of course stood out. A statement by the writer in a comment which is worth mentioning is: 'The point is not about the individuals, so much as the playing field they’re on and whether some aspects of that playing field are tilted against them from the outset.' – This statement again pretty much sums up the whole issue very neatly, at least for me.

(Point to note: Something interesting and another disadvantage apparently in the US, which I have not heard of in organisations in Pakistan, 'Another US-centric example: we do not have mandatory paid parental leave. *Parental* leave, not just maternal leave; since women are expected to shoulder all of the care of their infants, even where companies voluntarily offer paid maternal leave, often there’s no paternal equivalent.')