Do male youths understand what feminism is?

Bryony Brooks



I conducted research on a sample of teenage boys at my sixth form college here in England to investigate, amongst other things, whether or not they fully understand what feminism is. Long before the Steubenville rape case media coverage spread over the pond and caused enormous upheaval and questioning of rape culture, and how young men are raised, I sent out a questionnaire and spoke to a number of seventeen to nineteen year old male students on their thoughts about female empowerment, role models and what they take feminism to mean. I might just like to add that although the subjects of my research present a range of opposing views, I appreciate that not all young men hold the same values. So if I make sweeping statements don’t shoot me down; I’m just working with what I’ve got.

To start with, two thirds of those questioned said that they have a female role model in their lives; a statistic that was surprising for me, as on further questioning it transpired they all have mothers who wash their clothes, cook their meals, and have cared for them since infancy. I wasn’t asking if they had a female idol in their lives; I was simply looking for a woman who they could look up to and respect. Still, the majority did have a female role model, so I’m not completely downcast.

What I found most concerning was their various definitions of what they believe feminism to be. Some gave short, one sentence definitions while others went into more detail; analysing homo-sapiens instinctual behaviour and evolution. Half the respondents hit the nail on the head with something along the lines of »the belief that men and women should be equal in society» whereas others voiced their personal thoughts on the topic, without further explanation or reasoning; »Women moaning about having more rights that they don’t really need» and »Trying to create equality for women #Bullsh*t». Okay, so women having equal pay in the workplace so they have enough money to support a family is a right they don’t need? Interesting. Allowing women the freedom to drive, to dress as they wish, to talk to who they want and have occupations outside the home is bullsh*t now is it? I was blown backwards by the ignorant and chauvinistic answers these young men came back with, and most alarming of all, they are taking these views into modern society and using them to view women merely as sexual objects or completers of domestic chores. I joked with them that if they still believe a woman’s place is in the home cooking, cleaning and caring for children every day, they should surly be down a coal mine or fighting on the front line. I’m not suggesting that they should do these things; I was trying to make a statement about the fact that we have progressed as a society to create duel-earning households, and increased quality of life in the twenty first century.

Finally, when asked »Do you think complete equality of the sexes will ever be achieved?» all of the respondents answered no. I appreciate this is a generalised question, but I clearly was not asking about physical strength or biological differences, for, as we are all well aware, women will not exceed men in this field. I was talking about rights, laws and acts that allow women be an equal citizen in society as men are, and to be viewed by all as competent and capable individuals. Women have come a long way since the 1870 Married Women’s Property Act, in which women were finally allowed to be the legal owners of their own money and inherited property. One could use the example that since that first act, many legal battles and equal rights movements have been passed and it appears that today in Britain mothers are awarded sole custody of their children in 71% of all cases, while fathers have gained sole custody in only 7% of all cases (Stats from IWILL). This illustrates how females have gained more rights in some legal cases than men. It is however, something that I, as a liberal feminist want to see changed. It takes two to make a child, and after the primary care and breast feeding stage is over, the child should be seen equally by two people. Anyway, I digress...

To conclude my thoughts on young, male attitudes toward feminism and equal rights, I will quote one of the more liberal-thinking boys; »There will always be people clinging to yesterdays ideologies, always be those who use religion to create reasons for male prowess.» In my view, he is right. If we are constantly stuck in the past, how will be able to progress as a society? We need to change attitudes towards female empowerment, and rid ourselves of values that oppress other individuals leaving them marginalised and looked down upon. To put it simply, we need to embrace change and move onwards and upwards.