Indonesian social media today is teeming with feminist activist accounts. Their posts mostly try to educate our society on feminism and increase awareness on the current state of women and gender. From these accounts, I also realize something. Most feminist movement in Indonesia is made by women, for women. It mostly aims to increase women’s awareness of their subjugated condition in under patriarchy. In the few accounts that targeted men, like the Instagram account @lakilakibaru, the posts focus on getting men to support feminism for women's sake.
I’m not saying that this is wrong. Women are and have always been the main victim of patriarchy. We need women to realize their victimhood and to rise from that point to lead their own emancipation. We don’t need women’s emancipation under the patriarchal leadership of men – like a gender twist of the 'white savior' narrative into a 'male savior' one. Women are the ones to lead their own emancipation.
But. at the same time, the fight for equality shouldn't be a battle of the sexes. Women and men don’t have to fight each other for equality. Men also shouldn’t support feminism just out of empathy or to repay our privileges. Because men are also victims of patriarchy, most of us just don't realize it.
The truth is patriarchy gives men power, but it is given conditionally. For men to obtain power, we have to exhibit traditional masculinity. Only then would our power be acknowledged by other men.
How does this work in real life? Just look at how much pressure is put on men to be “real men.”
Men cannot show emotion, we have to be stoic, logical, emotionless people. The most obvious being is the stereotype that men shouldn't cry. Male emotion should only be shown in a dominant way, not in weakness. This stereotype is enforced on men since we are children, barring healthy emotional development.
Men are also pressured to be family’s breadwinner. The stereotype is that men provide for their family. Provide could mean a lot of stuff, but in a patriarchal world, that word is reduced to providing material needs.
Men are also encouraged to engage in “masculine activities,” not in “girly stuffs.” Men are considered men if they engage in competitive sports, either as enthusiastic fans or as players. On the contrary, men are not expected, indeed they are discouraged in some way, to engage in domestic activities such as cooking and childcare.
And what happened if men fail to fulfill this patriarchal expectation? We would lose our “men card,” so to speak. We would loss our masculinity and, therefore, our power in patriarchal society.
The truth is men live in such perpetual fear of losing our “manliness.” We have been taught so such since children. The young used “sissy” and “girly” as insults against non-masculine male. As teenagers, we shame non-athletic male who suck at sports. Even as adults we are afraid of being emasculated. Our popular culture is littered with comedies that put submissive men and “cuckolds” as punchlines of jokes. We are perpetually afraid that our wives would earn more than we do; we are afraid we are out-manned by other men and especially by our romantic partner.
Just as patriarchy demands women to be feminine, childbearing domestic housewives, it also demands men to be masculine, athletic, logical family providers. It is thought to be our “rightful place” and such thought is harmful for men as well as women.
The fear of losing our masculinity and self-worth is stressful. To make this stress worse, men are not allowed to discuss their stressed psyche. To do so would also cost us a point in manliness, a no-no in patriarchal society. And when all this loneliness becomes unbearable, men implode. There's a reason why men attempt more suicide than women –and are more successful at it.
Patriarchy doesn’t just harm men personally, it also makes men hurt others. The constant fear of emasculation creates insecurity about our masculinity. Some responds to this insecurity by overcompensating, behaving in exaggerated aggression and domination in a behavioral pattern that we know as toxic masculinity. Our insecurity harms our sense of self-worth and the toxic masculine behavior alienates us from meaningful relationships.
It does not have to be this way. This constant insecurity and perpetual pursuit of masculinity is not something that one has to suffer as a man. Men comes in all spectrum of gender, some naturally express their manliness with traditional masculinity, some does not. Patriarchy prioritizes one group of men over others, but feminism say otherwise.
Since the Second Wave in the 70s, feminism no longer exclusively fights for the female sex. Feminism fights against patriarchy for equality among sexes and genders. In effect, feminism fights not only for women to fill traditionally male spaces, it also fights for male freedom to not follow the standard of masculinity. Feminism agenda for men has never been about emasculating men. It is about liberating men, to be finally honest about our preferred gender expression. A feminist man would not fear emasculation because they'll understand there's no harm in not being masculine.
Men need this liberation. For too long have men been emotionally isolated and stunted. For too long have men forced ourselves to express masculinity, even when we're uncomfortable with it. It has not made us better people. It has cost us emotional wellbeing, relationships – even lives.
The first step in the right direction is to make men realize we are not all masters in patriarchy, we are also its slave. Men need to realize that supporting feminism will also liberate them from the yoke of patriarchy.
I am a man, and I need feminism.
Illustration by Adhitya Pattisahusiwa