Feminism Is About Liberating Men As Much As Women: A Man’s Account
A few months before my marriage, I was sitting with an elder cousin. We were discussing different aspects of life after marriage, when she hit him me with a particularly startling question: “Raza, Will you allow your wife to continue with her job?” Then she went on to suggest, “You should not allow her. I tell you, a husband is only respected by a wife if he is the bread earner. If she works and, in particular, if she earns more than you, she won’t respect you and you will also feel the strain and jealousy.”
I was quite taken aback by those words. My fiancée was the gold medalist of her batch in university and was, currently, employed at a leading corporation. I knew that she was passionate about her work besides being an ambitious and hardworking person. My cousin’s remark did not sit well with me and I told her as much: “Do you mean to tell me, baji, that if I use my male privilege to stop her from working even though she wants to work herself, she would end up respecting me?” Seeing as I was firmly against her suggestion, she changed the subject and we moved on to other topics.
This episode stuck with me because my cousin’s suggestion was really not out of sync with the common mores of our society. This is undoubtedly a product of patriarchy, under which even women are conditioned to think along such lines. Plenty of working and liberal women resort to taunts and jeers when their husbands are not the major bread earners in their households. Men, on the other hand, are conditioned by this same patriarchy to feel jealous when their wives outdo them. Many a household has had to suffer unnecessary interferences from outsiders when they became out of sync with traditional expectations, leading to disharmony in families and wrecked marriages.
I feel grateful for not succumbing to society’s expectations, of which there was an increased onslaught as our marriage drew near. I was undergoing a personal transformation myself during that time: from a conservative, “religious” and “patriotic” male to a secular and liberal-minded person. I proudly identify as a feminist today (and hope very much to live up to it). I do believe that without this evolution in my person, my marriage would have had little chances of surviving.
Today, I am proud of my wife. She became a Senior Vice President (SVP) in her former organisation within 8 years, a feat most people take decades to accomplish. Later, when I was coming to the US to pursue a PhD, she willingly left her job to accompany me. Here, she enrolled in an MBA class and soon distinguished herself as the topper in her class here too. Right now, she is employed again and in a very respectable position.
My wife is smarter than I am, and she has outdone me by far professionally. It’s not an altogether “strange” situation, except that most Pakistani men I know, whose wives have superseded them in any area of their lives, find reasons to feel jealous and create difficulties.
For her part, my wife never looks down upon me or makes me feel “less of a man”. Nor too do I feel ashamed in admitting that my wife and I share our household chores such that the responsibility of cooking and doing laundry rests on my shoulders. Even now, I can imagine, such an arrangement would easily be met with sniggers by certain people who are unable to free themselves from unexamined prejudices.
My purpose in sharing these personal account is to demonstrate, especially to men, that conventional responsibilities commonly assigned to either gender are mere social constructs and that there is no reason why a marriage that does not follow these should necessarily fail. There is an entirely misplaced notion among many people that feminism is somehow “against men” (although some individual “feminists” may be). Feminism in essence is a struggle against patriarchy, which is the social setup that ascribes particular gender roles and judges a person’s worth based on those. I have found that feminism is not just about liberating women, but also about liberating men, as these lopsided roles exert considerable stress on men too, leading to tensions and mistrust among couples.
This quote from Bell Hookes is worth pondering:
“As the movement progressed, as feminist thinking advanced, enlightened feminist activists saw that men were not the problem, that the problem was patriarchy, sexism, and male domination.”
As a husband, the most important thing for me, is that my wife should happily, willingly, and lovingly be with me. As a Pakistani Muslim man, I do believe that that should be enough for any spouse and couple.
The author is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. His research interests are the political economy of development, civil-military relations, and political Islam.