I've identified myself as a feminist for my entire adult life, but I've sometimes wondered whether the movement made a tactical error in its choice of name. 'Feminism' suggests a female problem, which the female population is responsible for solving. And yet the majority of the discrimination and abuse against women is carried out by possessors of the Y chromosome, suggesting that much of the problem lies with men, and that the responsibility for change must be shared by them. Indeed, with men still holding power in so many realms around the world, practical change has to involve men. Women can batter at the door demanding change, but far too often it is men that hold the keys.
The positioning of feminism as a women's movement has often created a sense of men and women being on opposing sides, and at its worst, has drawn accusations of 'man-hating'. This Us vs Them mentality can see men become defensive at what they see as incursions into 'their' territory, with gains for women being viewed as defeats for men.
This perception of opposing sides locked in battle has also made it difficult for men who support gender equality to take an active role in the fight. Until very recently a man referring to himself as a feminist would have been viewed as suspicious and, frankly, a bit weird.
So I was greatly heartened by the recent United Nations initiative HeForShe. Rather than entrenching the old battle lines, the campaign encourages men to work with women to create meaningful and lasting moves towards gender equality. Because women aren't men's enemy. Women are their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. Supporting gender equality is a means of helping those they love. And men aren't women's enemy either. There are many, many good men, who respect, encourage and empower women. Shifting the focus from 'feminism' to 'gender equality' allows and encourages everyone to play a part.
The campaign was launched in 2014 with a heart-felt speech by Emma Watson. The head of the initiative, Elizabeth Nyamayaro, gave a TED talk in May 2015 which updates its progress. It's inspiring stuff!