Are Men Important? Many People, Apparently, Don’t Know

“They’re perfect.” “They’re goddesses.” “Good at everything.” These were the responses pedestrians, men and women alike, gave to the prompt “What are women good for?” Somehow, the opposite question managed to stump people.

By Alina Clough2 min read
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Shutterstock/All kind of people

Jess Gill, host of Reasoned UK, stood out on the street asking variations on two questions: “What are women good for?” and “Are men important?” While everyone was incredibly supportive of the former, even men often couldn’t answer the second. Many women, and even men, found it funny to say that men “had no purpose in society.” 

The street interview was just a small showcase of a much larger societal trend. One of the only men brave enough to give a real answer said, “Men are good for a lot of things,” immediately tempering his answer with ”...but nothing women can’t already do.” 

While third-wave feminism claims to be building on previous waves’ successes in advancing gender equality, is it leaving us with a narcissistic view of what it means to be a woman?

How Feminism Lost the Plot

Feminism hasn’t always been synonymous with man-hating. Rather than trying to turn them into men, early feminism aimed to foster an appreciation for women as they were. This meant that rather than simply advocating for them to enter the workforce in the exact same roles as men, early feminist advocates like Mary Wollstonecraft wanted women’s work as mothers and homemakers to be better appreciated for its economic value. 

This changed quickly with later waves that insisted that the only way to empower women was to make them more similar to men. This fueled the feminism we know today, which insists on things like on-demand abortion and universal hormonal birth control to facilitate their participation in hookup culture. Rather than liberating women, these dynamics forced them to compete in the job and romantic markets on male terms, additionally leaving them with an even greater burden when it came to their reproductive support. In just a few decades, feminism became totally unrecognizable to its founders.

Early feminists wanted women’s work as mothers and homemakers to be better appreciated for its economic value. 

Third Wave and Zero Sum

Treating women as men isn’t just detrimental for single mothers, working women, or those hurt by hookup culture. It’s creating a cold war between the sexes. As women make progress, it seems that many people view them as being able to do everything men can and more, leaving nothing for men to uniquely bring to the table. Richard Reeves, a scholar who focuses on economic equality research, says there’s an issue with how we’ve grown unable to talk about the value of men without it feeling like an attack on women. “It’s sort of a whose side are you on question, rather than just being on the side of human flourishing,” he says, noting some of the growing disparities in men’s educational and labor achievements resulting from this outlook.

Men are in crisis. They’re increasingly dying from deaths of despair like suicides and overdoses, and they’re experiencing worse mental health, employment, and educational outcomes compared to their female counterparts. 

“If there are men missing from certain areas of our society, it’s hard for men to flourish in those areas,” Reeves says, noting that men make up barely 1 in 4 teachers, a figure that is only falling over time. This is causing boys to fall behind in school, where girls are an average of an entire grade level ahead of boys in English and have already caught up in math. The gender gap extends to college, too. While feminism claims to be solving inequality, the gender gap for completing a college degree is wider than it was 50 years ago, it’s just favoring women now.

Closing Thoughts: What Is Feminism Good For?

Feminism that advocates for women’s well-being is still sorely needed. Women continue to need voices that insist on their healthcare, rights as employees and mothers, and sexual values that protect, rather than exploit them. But a feminism that insists on women being “men, but better” is only going to perpetuate a society that treats gender relations like a zero-sum game. Answering the question of whether men are important should be an easy “Yes.” 

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