Beyond Gender: Why Feminism Benefits Everyone


Feminism is everyone’s business, requiring a whole-of-society approach. It is not only women’s work, and it certainly is not a women’s club. Feminism is for anyone of any gender.

protester holding sign that says "what lessens one of us lessens all of us"

Feminism challenges power imbalances and the discriminatory practices and institutions that reinforce harmful social norms and inequalities. Feminism extends beyond women, to men, to marginalized groups, and to all parts of society. Seen from this perspective, feminism is everyone’s business, requiring a whole-of-society approach. It is not only women’s work, and it certainly is not a women’s club. Feminism is for anyone of any gender.

Where are the men? Engaging men and boys in feminism

I come from an Eastern European country, Romania, where the intellectual discourse about peace and security is still male-dominated. In fact, men there are not only at the center of intellectual discussions about security, but also very much in control in many social contexts of everyday life. Understanding “how men and boys carry power and privilege at the structural level” is key to ensuring that they “take responsibility for dismantling systems that perpetuate discrimination,” as a series of curated discussions among gender advocates found in the leadup to the second of two meetings in UN Women’s 2021 Generation Equality Forum. Feminism is at least partly men’s work, and more men are needed to help ensure that all human beings can enjoy fundamental human rights and equal participation, including by supporting a feminist foreign and development policy.

As a first step, this would mean challenging patriarchal beliefs and harmful gender norms that constrain what is acceptable and appropriate for women and men to do in any given context. These social and gender norms have harmful implications for the lives of men and boys, too, and we should seek ways to better understand how men experience these harms.

Secondly, men should reflect on their own power and privilege as men and acknowledge how patriarchy favors them and excludes other groups. Any work in this area should start with self-awareness and thinking about the ways in which men, historically, have always enjoyed privileges and opportunities.

Thirdly, engaging men and boys in feminism, including in feminist foreign and development policy, does not mean they are losing out overall. The benefits for men of gender equality will far outweigh any currently perceived loss of privilege and power – for example in the potential time, energy, and transformed relationships they are likely to gain as a result. This should not be viewed as a competition with winners and losers. This is about ensuring that all human beings enjoy equal opportunities and human rights. Feminism does not intend to threaten men, but rather to empower all individuals equally.

So, tailored strategic communications aimed at overcoming the lack of understanding of the issue(s) among men and boys is of utmost importance. And that will require safe and diverse spaces for discussion on the topic, places and conditions that allow women and men to understand each other’s perspectives, stories, and concerns. Men need opportunities to get involved in feminism and to build coalitions and partnerships with like-minded, supportive men. Change can’t happen if men, one half of the population, are not engaged and don’t join in the fight for greater equality.

Last, but not least, we need to recognize that not all women are feminists or advocates for feminist policies. Women also, too often, sustain gender stereotypes and harmful manifestations of masculinity. Consequently, any sort of coalition-building needs to take that into account and include women, men, and individuals of other gender identities who believe in the cause and are ready to set examples that others can follow, in the interest of the greater good.