“Should men be studied through the lens of feminism?” asked the posters put up by the Canadian Association for Equality, a Toronto-based group that campaigns to raise awareness of men’s issues. Well, of course not, was my gut reaction. Intrigued, I attended a talk by “National Post” columnist Barbara Kay in which she pointed out how Canadian family law sidelines fathers by assuming that mothers are inherently better parents who have a greater ‘right’ to the child. Both the posters and the lecture got me thinking…
Is it possible to focus on the concerns of one gender without taking away from the issues of the other? Some of the instances in which I had witnessed discrimination against men ran through my mind.
I cannot claim that a movement for male rights is a hate campaign against women, or that there is indeed a feminist ‘wrong’ that has caused a form of reverse discrimination against men. But I can recall a long list of experiences that ring, some subtle and some blatant, of biases against men.
—– In discussing the merits of the hijab, I remember my brother complaining that, as a man, he feels insulted by the idea that a woman must cover herself so fastidiously in the presence of the opposite sex. “Are all men sex maniacs?” he asked. Indeed, don’t notions of women bearing the responsibility to uphold modesty imply that men are incapable of doing so?
—– In societies across the globe, and particularly in South Asian cultures, men face inordinate pressures to be high achievers and strong providers. When a college senior hung himself after finding out that he had been expelled from our university, I thought of the girls who simply married and focused on starting families when completing school was no longer a viable option.
—– I recently attended a convention for Muslim women and sat in on a session in which a respected sheikh told the all-female audience that men are extremely easy to control as long as they are spoken to softly and the wife dresses well. My friend and I walked out of the session, unsure of what offended us more: having a man address the female experience solely in the context of being a wife, or the overly simplistic, almost primitive, portrayal of men for which we could think of several counterexamples in our male friends.
—– I once balked at a “boyfriend treat” sold by a local chocolatier. Although the store owner clearly intended this to be a clever, humorous marketing tactic, I couldn’t shake the discomfort I felt towards the idea behind the scheme—that men are to be controlled, disciplined and rewarded by women as though they are pets. It seemed disdainful towards the male gender.
—– I was once having a conversation with a non-Muslim who mentioned that his daughter was dating a Muslim. I was stunned when he added, “My primary concern was that if she married him [her Muslim boyfriend], he would later want to take another wife.” Just as there is a prevailing stereotype of Muslim women being repressed, there is its equally offensive counterpart: the impression that all Muslim men are bent on living the polygamous life.
My experiences led me to wonder if misandry and misogyny are opposite extremes on the same spectrum. While some indisputable realities are not to be flippantly dismissed—having political and economic frameworks historically established by men for men, for instance—it is important to remember that the fight against gender discrimination is not against one particular gender per se, but any mode of thinking that seeks to oversimplify the human experience and alienates one gender while elevating the other.
We must believe in baraka — in God being a source of bounty and plentitude—and in knowing that paying attention to one issue does not have to mean taking away from the other. We must not disregard efforts to address the male experience, whether it be the upcoming collection All-American: 45 Men On Being Muslim or the need to cultivate Muslim gentlemen of quality. Just as women are penalized for being educated, successful, and outspoken, men are punished for being sensitive, gentle and anything less than lavish providers. If there is such thing as a “feminist wrong” against men, let’s stamp it out while we still can, while the discourse on women and Islam is still fresh.
Sarah Farrukh completed her B.Sc. in Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and is currently a Masters of Information student at the University of Toronto. She writes about faith and books at A Muslimah Writes.
(Photo Credit: Daniel Silliman)