Here, I will not speak of the inequalities faced by women. I am a woman, speaking of the privileges that come with being a woman. Fighting for women’s rights is something I am extremely grateful to our ancestors and modern day feminists for. I will not, in any way, dispute the role that the various forms of feminism and other social justice movements have played in bringing greater equality to the way in which our current systems are constructed. As a 32 year old female in 2013, living in Canada, I am experiencing the positive outcomes of the past century’s women’s rights movement. Now, how can we continue to stand up for equality in a way that doesn’t leave our boys and men behind?
Let’s first take a look at the very notion of gender equality. Equality, in my perspective, is much more subjective than the way we often reference it. The word equality is commonly used to describe balance, equal access, mutual respect, sameness, and promotion of horizontal rather than vertical structures of power distribution. In our history of fighting for gender equality, the focus has been on breaking down the barriers encountered by women, mostly, to have access to rights and privileges that are equal to those of men within patriarchal realms. The Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Trans/Queer communities have definitely brought an additional layer to the gender equality debates in recent decades by challenging the definition of gender in and of itself. These communities have joined with other social movement groups in raising awareness of where the real inequalities exist. What if you aren’t part of a group and aren’t sure what your identity is, but somehow experience a power imbalance in the way you are permitted, or not, to be who you truly are and express yourself openly and freely? I don’t think that it’s just about gender, but there are inequalities that are certainly constructed within social expectations of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Layered and intertwined with these notions of gender-specific inequalities, we find the barriers related to economic class, race, culture, religion, ability, and more.
So, what does gender equality really look like today? I’m actually not sure because of how complex gender identity and social equality have become. What I am sure of is that many of the boys and young men that I work with have been emotionally deprived of the ability to heal and talk about some of the inequalities they have truly experienced because of the additional layer of inequality that exists within the context that boys and men are often taught to hide, suppress, and avoid certain deep emotions. Basically, the boys and young men I work with have demonstrated to me a layer of inequality that is socially constructed and one which women are not the victims of. More often than not, women are given the freedom to express emotions, speak truth, and be vulnerable. Growing up as a girl is different than growing up as a boy. I don’t think we can argue anymore that one or the other is better or worse from a perspective of equality. We can only argue that one is better or worse on the basis of his or her freedom of expressing who they are, healing from past wounds and dealing with real emotions freely and wholeheartedly.
Yes, women are the victims of male-perpetrated crimes. Men are also, and even more dramatically so, the victims of male-perpetrated crimes. Rather than focusing solely on the suffering experienced by the victims, I suggest we draw our attention to the suffering experienced by the perpetrators which is causing the replication of suffering among each person he (in cases where it is a man) takes it out on. The experience of being in a room with a group of court-mandated teenage guys and creating the context for them to talk about and name their feelings is something I do not take for granted. For them to be given permission, with each other, to talk openly and safely about the effects of male-on-male violence, bullying, the pain and anguish that resulted from the abandonment of their fathers, or the abuse they lived growing up, or the simple messages they have received about needing to act tough and never cry – for them to be given the freedom to express everything they have been taught to suppress is something I love being a part of. It’s also hilarious in a way that comes from the way in which they bring humour to every deep conversation.
Depending on how you look at it, anyone can experience inequality. It’s a privilege to be granted permission to talk about and express deep emotions without the fear of being rejected or put down. In today’s western world, women not only have the right to vote, thrive in their careers, and stand up for inequalities, but we also have the right to do it with passion and emotion. Let’s raise all children to have equal access to that.