I wrote this article on Monday, 31st of October hurriedly, because it was the last day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It didn’t make it here that day because of fear. “What if I get misunderstood?” “What if “hard core feminists” attack me without reading it to the end?” “What if, what if…”. Today I’ve decided to share this article regardless, because we will always be misunderstood. It’s just a part of life and humanity that neither you nor I can control. But I ask that as you read, you try to understand my stance and for any parts you disagree with or misunderstand, let’s have a mature dialogue in the comments section. I’m not one to engage in rude discourse on the internet; it’s pointless. I’m here for intellectual, uplifting, mind baring conversations and of course, constructive criticism.
Breast Cancer, Feminism and Men
I had my friend tell me this morning that he hates the word “feminism” – not what it stands for – because of what modern day feminists have misconstrued the word to be. I understood where he was coming from because even as a woman, I sometimes feel that way too. Although, I’ve chosen not to hate or love the word; I’ve just let it be.
I am not a feminist. Heck, I don’t even know what feminism means. Most feminists will argue with me what my feminism is if I were to be one. Plus, I hate titles and I’m trying not to rack up too many as I go through the course of life. Like I always say, being a woman is enough and I do not need to hide under a title or an umbrella school of thought to know when to stand up for women’s issues. A feminist might say this choice I have today is afforded me due to what feminists suffered in the past. I’m not too sure what to say about that but believe it or not, you and I are here because of a sacrifice someone somewhere made in the past. Are you exactly walking in that person’s shoes today to enjoy the benefits? Not really. Think of Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Theresa. They simply did good. You too can do good or fight for what you believe in without any association or title.
Because of my on-looker approach to feminism, I have been able to identify a core problem with the fold – the exclusion of men. This month, I attended an International Day of the Girl event and even though that seems very feminist, you would also see me at an International Day of the Boy event if there were to be one. Why? Because we fail to include our boys in conversations and environments that uplift them. We make the mistake of thinking our boys/men are empowered already when really, they just have a huge ego that fuels them and makes them look confident. Half of the time, they don’t really know what they are doing and in my opinion, the men are becoming more fragile than women because their feelings have long been discarded. According to society, men don’t have the right to feel, let alone the means to adequately express those feelings. They don’t even know what feelings are and what it means to feel, because that’s what they have been told.
We have failed to educate our boys the same way we educate our girls. We like to take our girls aside from the boys and feed them with things that often leave the girls feeling like boys are their enemies or competition while we leave the boys with the sense of entitlement to any woman or any dream they want to pursue. “Boys will break your heart, boys will get you pregnant and leave you” or “Apply to that Women’s only Scholarship and maybe you’ll get funding to pursue your dreams”, we tell the girls. But to the boys, we say “You have no curfew, but make sure you don’t make any girl pregnant or “You will get that job, just apply”. We are skewed in our upbringing of the girl child and the male child.
So as much as you will see me attending International Day of the Girl, you would also see me attending an International Day of the Boy event. At the end the event I attended, I overheard a lady telling some girls from the Girls Scout that they could achieve their goals and do it better than the boys. I immediately sensed the unintended harm in this statement and told one of the girls (and others who were listening) that they can achieve whatever they set their minds up to achieve and they should never compare themselves to boys when they have a vision and goal in mind. Simply put, I told them not to look at things as being girls vs. boys. They nodded and I can only hope they understand that fully in years to come.
Pitching girls against boys doesn’t only harm us as individuals, it harms the society. There are so many broken relationships daily because women and men fail to understand each other and have been raised to see each other in a mostly negative light. And this does not only affect romantic relationships. It affects any interaction between women and men. Men constantly think that they are better than women because they have been raised to think that way and some firmly believe that women are an accessory to their existence. Women also think that men are out to get them so instead of tackling life head on, they instead feel beat down. From an early age, women are shielded against their male counterparts while the men are allowed to go out and “be men”.
So in that moment, I am glad that I could reinforce these girls’ ambitions and let them know that they were living their lives, the best lives they could possibly secure for themselves, not competing against boys or merely doing things to be better than boys. I wanted them to know that they could be the best if they wanted to be, regardless of who else was in the picture.
We need to have more conversations like these, but with girls and boys, men and women in the same room. It is the only thing we can do if we are to understand each other’s struggles more and be respectful of each other’s wishes and/or issues facing both sexes.
In an article I wrote in 2013, my male friend left a comment that struck a chord. He said that feminists have to be careful not to “alienate potential allies”. What I see today with most people’s notion of feminism is that air of exclusivity where it’s the men vs. women. At least, I’ve heard of some men identifying as feminists so we can’t say it’s all bad or there’s a solid line excluding men; all I’m saying is that we need more of this men for women and women for men mindset. Why? Because in the littlest ways, we need each other. Core things such as biology still demands that men and women come together for procreation whether in a bed or a test-tube. We’ve forgotten that on a day as delicate as Valentine’s Day, most people yearn for the company of the opposite sex even if it’s for a fraction of a second. We’ve forgotten that the best and most long-lasting friendships are not usually between people of the same sex, but those of opposite sexes because in friendships, the pressure is low and there’s that openness and willingness to understand each other more. We’ve forgotten, that the strongest of women will still hold a man who opens the door for her in high regard or at least smile. Ultimately, we’ve forgotten that sometimes it just feels nice to have a guy change our tires or fix the broken sink, even if we’ve been raised to fend for ourselves. And for the men, sometimes, they just want that wonderfully made meal from their lover or wife, not because they can’t but because of the care associated with it. We’ve forgotten that we are built to support, help, encourage and pick up the slack for each other. We are not talking of dependency here or the maintenance/switching of gender roles and expectations. We are talking of co-existing, one for the benefit of another.
As we mark the end of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I would like to plead with feminists and women empowerment event organizers to include men more in these conversations. It’s the only way they can understand as most rude comments thrown by men at women are only done in passing; they have not been made to sit down in a midst of women and get educated on their actions, the consequences of their words or actions and how they would feel if their mother or sister was subjected to same. Simply put, if we always leave men out of the conversation, we are not giving them the chance to understand or view life from our lens.
When we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month, we hand out fliers to women and share tips on how we can perform routine breast examinations but we don’t invite the men and talk to them on how they can help. We don’t teach them how to perform these breast examinations on their wives or partners because we’ve forgotten that men are the ones who suckle a woman’s breasts longer, making them better suited to aid in the early detection of breast cancer. Case in point, we have already eradicated them as potential allies. We don’t make them feel that sense of connection to the cause in any way other than through donations or charity walks/runs. Let’s take this home: how many of your male friends on social media shared a post on breast cancer awareness and in the reverse, how many women share posts when it’s Prostate Cancer Awareness month?
We are so used to empowering women that the idea of doing the same for men is unfathomable. Consequently, we have created this divide where women have more resources to aid their growth, while men have little to nothing to work with. Naturally, women will mature faster than a man her age and with all the resources now accorded to women, we are getting more top-bred women in various industries than ever before. Emotionally though, when you pair this fearless, all-round woman with a man who is less than or feels less than her, the burden inadvertently shifts back to the woman. In some cases, she becomes the bread-winner of the family and the sole provider and it’s only a matter of time till she leaves… another broken home.
I’ll end this article with an idea of what I believe would make an effective TV commercial for Breast Cancer Awareness, one that will not send the men into the kitchen looking for popcorn till the break is over. A bunch of men should be interviewed about their encounter with a woman, say their wife, aunt, sister, mother, boss or friend who is living with or died from breast cancer. In that short commercial, they should be asked to state what they should have known, what actions they would have taken had they known earlier and what they would like other men to know about breast cancer, like the monthly breast examinations. It is only when we start thinking this way and deliberately ask “how can we bring each other together? or how can we pull each other along?” will we slowly eradicate the discourse and foster a better understanding between men and women.
It won’t be perfect but we will be pretty close.
Let’s give men a seat at the table…Hi, Solange! :))