You are walking down the street and come across two men throwing punches at each other. As a spectator, you would probably feel a mix of fear, danger, and for some more than others, excitement and anticipation. Now imagine a woman and man in the same scenario, hitting each other in a heated fistfight. What crosses your mind this time? Most of you would feel a sense of indignation—as if the latter scenario is somehow more immoral and unjust than the first. In other words, the focus of your attention seems to have suddenly shifted from violence to a debate about whether a man should be allowed to lay his hands on a woman.
What accounts for this shift of focus? One of the major factors that come into play is the high degree of sensitivity surrounding gender inequality, caused by a clash in ideologies between feminists who demand more rights and individuals who feel that men have been subjected to reverse discrimination.
The reason behind this misunderstanding is that people often perceive gender equality as a zero-sum game, one in which men have to give up rights for women to gain rights. This idea that women are somehow “taking away the men’s rights” is an unhealthy perception that will undoubtedly prevent our society from ever achieving true gender equality. It is thus imperative that people realize gender equality is desirable—not only because it is moral, but also because it will provide even men with larger short and long term benefits.
To start off, gender equality provides men with increasing flexibility and freedom. If women are provided with equal opportunities as men in the workplace and less expected by society to solely be in charge of taking care of children, women can also begin to take initiative in handling family investments, thereby alleviating men from handling the pressures of financial burden all by themselves.
Opening up job opportunities to women will also lead to a higher quality of life for men, as more men will be able to enjoy hobbies that they truly enjoy instead of the ones that society tells them to like. Indeed, gender stereotypes imposed on men—that they need to work out during their leisure time, that they need to stay out of the kitchen, that they need to handle financial affairs—often rob them of openly enjoying tasks traditionally done by women.
Bafana Khumalo, co-founder of Sonke Gender Justice, found in his study that men are often reluctant to admit they like cooking. Some of them feel so ashamed that they even draw the kitchen curtains when making meals. Such example stands as a testament to the often forgotten truth that men are also victims of stereotypes, and that gender equality will allow them to step away from such stigmas and freely enjoy their lives the way they want to.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, gender equality allows men to lead a more harmonious family. According to studies conducted by Michael Kimmel, an American sociologist specializing in gender studies, when men share housework and childcare with women, their children do better in school, with lower rates of absenteeism and higher rates of achievement. They are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, require a child psychiatrist, or be put on medication. In addition, when men share housework and childcare, their wives are happier and healthier. Statistics show that they are less likely to see a therapist or be diagnosed with depression. In other words, wives whose responsibilities extend beyond cooking food and taking care of the child report higher levels of marital satisfaction. The day men and women start looking at domestic tasks as equals is the day society is one step closer to creating harmonious familial relationships.
The issue of gender rights has long been a seesaw tilting in the direction of men. It is like this, has been like this, and will continue to be like this—that is, unless society begins to comprehend the collective benefits that gender equality will bring forth to both genders.