Pigeonholing Women: The Double-Bind of Women and Women’s Issues

Just consider this post a shout-out to every man enrolled in women’s studies across the United States and around the world.

Ladies, we need more men in our Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies classes.  We need more men who openly identify as feminists.  We need more men who are willing to work alongside us.  But most of all, we need to not be the only ones advocating for “women’s” issues. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

First, because women’s rights are human rights.  It should go without saying at this point that women are people.  Violence against women is absolutely a violation of human rights, especially on the broad scale that we see it in contexts like war zones.  There are always going to be people who point out that there are problems inherent in the concept of a universal human rights framework altogether, but insofar as we in the west buy into the idea of human rights, at least here it is useful to frame women’s rights as human rights.  But even more importantly, I think it can and should be argued that if we aim to uphold human dignity as much as possible, the women of dignity should be included in that.  There are other rights, though, that the United Nations recognizes as human rights for women-~-the Cairo Accords, for example, affirm that access to abortion in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother is a human right, a facilitative right needed in order to access human dignity.

Just something to think about.

But second, the issues that impact women impact social development and should be taken as broader social issues.  The United States is never going to reach its maximum potential if women who would be able to meaningfully contribute to the sciences or politics or international affairs are driven out of their fields or given no real chance at promotion, due to inherent sexism in our system.  While Fox News is looking at our recent influx of women to Congress and comparing them to “The View”, we should be rejoicing at the increase in diversity in our leadership and what that could mean for us as a country moving forward.  Issues like sexism impede our political and economic progress, and those are issues that everyone should care about, not just women themselves.

There are other issues that feminists often align themselves with that should be of concern to Americans at large.  Teen pregnancy is rampant in the United States of America (still more on this coming up on this blog).  Abstinence-only isn’t working, and many (I won’t say all, feminism is too broad to say that we are ALL advocating for anything at this point) are advocating comprehensive sex education.  Access to contraceptives is an issue that many feminist organizations have been fighting for as well.  The ability of women to make rational and responsible choices about their reproductive health and then to enact those choices needs to be taken into consideration.  While feminists will argue that this is because it has such an impact on the individual, I’m also willing to acknowledge that unplanned pregnancies, including and maybe especially teenage pregnancies, have incredible social costs, and place increased pressure on our social services including welfare and the foster care system.  This isn’t just an issue for angry women with signs to yell about, this is an issue that should concern everyone.

And that’s the real point of this post: women’s issues SHOULD be concerns for everyone, because they are social issues that intersect with other issues, and which impact our society at large.  But when we label things as “women’s issues”, and when women are the only advocates for these issues, we lose the attention of men.  We lose the attention of a large portion of the population, and we allow them (or at least, the believe that this allows them) to wash their hands of these problems, because it’s a “women’s issue”, and it’s not theirs to deal with.  This presents a real problem in terms of enacting change.

Whether it’s a matter of laws or a matter of access, women can’t make these changes alone.  We may have more women in Congress than ever before, but let’s face it: most of our legislators are men.  And we ourselves are only half the population.  We need to be willing to frame the issues, not just in terms of how the impact individual women or even women as a group, but in terms of their broader implications.  These aren’t just “women’s” issues, after all.  These are important matters of human rights and social development, and they need to be seen that way.  They need to be taken seriously, not just by a few feminists, but by women and men more broadly.  And by painting them as women’s issues, which only women care about, we lose the ability to really achieve change.

For more analysis on “Five Women’s Issues Men Need To Start Being Part Of The Solution For”, check out this post.

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~ by Randi Saunders on January 18, 2013.

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