I am firmly of the view that the feminist goal of achieving freedom for all genders needs a widespread re-appraisal of masculinity and manhood in order to succeed. The issue of paternity and maternity leave in Britain offers an excellent example of this. Because fathers are still predominantly perceived as breadwinners and mothers as carers, fathers receive weeks of paternity leave as opposed to the months of maternity leave which mothers receive. Employers’ fears that women of childbearing age are unreliable are reinforced and this in turn contributes to the persistence of the glass ceiling for women.
If new fathers were offered the same amount of leave as new mothers, fathers would have the opportunity to make the best use of their caring attributes. At the same time, employers would have no reason to discriminate against women on grounds of their potential for their taking maternity leave because their male employees would be just as likely to take leave. This is just one small example but it gives an insight into how reconfiguring masculinity can lead to benefits for mothers and fathers.
At a recent roundtable discussion on portrayals of beauty in the media, I found the debate concentrating on how awful lads’ mags are for taking advantage of women and using the female body for financial profit. Of course, it’s perfectly correct to criticise these magazines for objectifying women. It is at least as important though to make the argument that the attitudes of lads’ mags make it normal for men to objectify women. In the words of Catherine Redfern, in her review of John Stoltenberg’s book Refusing to be a Man, ‘how can the oppressed be free unless the oppressors change?’ There are certainly good reasons then for feminism to engage not only with the lives of women but also with the lives of men.