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Style, innovation & equality

The new man

— Who is he... and what do men and boys have to gain from gender equality?

By Viktoria Saxby

The connotations of what it means to ”be a man” are in dire need of modernisation. These are the thoughts, or should we say gifts for men and boys — behind the concept of The New Man.

It is high time to rethink the outdated ideas of ”a battle of the sexes” and learn that gender equality brings gifts to both men and women, both boys and girls. In fact, gender equality is everyone’s best friend. Feminists are men’s best friends. For it happens to be feminism that believes that men and boys are worth so much more than the deal they get today. It is feminism that says that also men and boys are worthy of having better, deeper and more intimate relationships than those that the patriarchy of today has to offer them. To have more freedom to choose who they want to be, as individuals, and not as a big collective with unwritten rules of narrow and strict gender norms and stereotypes. It is feminism that says that the old patriarchal messages about what it means to ”be a real man” is far too heavy a burden to carry, both for men and boys, and for humanity. It is feminism that says that there is something so much better behind the backdrop, something much more real — where gender norms are less narrow and confined, where relation- ships and friendships can deepen, where men and boys no longer need to hide behind facades in order to feel that they live up to the role of ”being real men”. It is feminism that says that instead there can be many more options for men and boys to choose from, modernised options that open up for a world with a lot less shame, and a lot more freedom. Freedom to be who you really are. All of you. I can understand that it is difficult to just ”rethink absolutely everything” suddenly. After all, it is difficult to compensate for just about everything that the entire society, all of world history, and every newspaper, news-programme, fact and statistic in the world has propagated throughout time — namely that the patriarchy is good for men and boys. Men hold the most powerful positions. Many more men are world leaders. More men hold the highest posts — in all arenas in society. Men make a lot more money, and so on... Unfortunately, most people still lack the knowledge of how strong masculinity norms in the world truly are, and how enormous gender inequality in the world really is. Nor have they understood the close link between the two. The first, masculinity norms, are the root causes, behind the other — gender inequality. In many parts of the world, women’s increasing levels of gender equality have been perceived as a threat to men and to ”family values.” This has unfortunately led to a massive backlash for women’s rights that is both serious and frightening. It is rapidly growing stronger in many parts of the world. The Secretary General of the organisation Kvinna till Kvinna, (Women to Women) Petra Tötterman Andorff, describes what the sit- uation looks like today for women’s rights defenders: 1 ”Attacks from right-wing extremist groups who believe that women should know ”their place in the kitchen” are increasing. In some countries, government-led media also participate in campaigns against women’s rights defenders, where the defenders are threatened and restricted, something that is also happening in Europe and in Sweden. The ability of women’s organisations to receive money from international donors is decreasing. Many authoritarian regimes consider funding from abroad suspicious. Between 2014 and 2016, more than 60 countries legislated against it. Organisations get their bank accounts frozen and women’s rights activists get travel bans. Kvinna till Kvinna’s report Suffocating the Movement — Shrinking Space for Women’s Rights, in which 123 women’s rights activists from 32 countries answer questions about their work, shows that ideas and opinions based on human rights are today viewed as biased, provocative and controversial.

The report shows that over 50% of the activists have been subjected to violence or threats of violence and that 58% believe that the increasing nationalism is the main reason behind this development. The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation believes that the three main causes behind the backlash are:

  1. The war on terror; after 9/11, anti-terrorism legislation was changed in many countries at the expense of human rights.
  2. Traditional values, fundamentalism and nationalism sweep the world; This includes the defence of the patriarchal family and the stereotypical gender roles where the woman’s main role is to give birth to the nation’s children.
  3. The fear of change of authoritarian states; All human rights activists are affected, but women’s rights activists are particularly vulnerable because they want to take a different role than that of the traditional mother’s role in the family. The attacks often consist of making the women out to be bad mothers and a shame to their families.”

We simply cannot accept this. A change, a paradigm shift, is needed. And in order to succeed with a paradigm shift, we need to reduce the fear of change and we need to give men and boys a greater understanding of what feminism and gender equality really stand for — in order to increase the full understanding that this change does not at all equal a threat to men and boys. We all need to get better at talking much more and much louder about all the wins for men and boys as well.

Men feel better when they get to be close to their children Research shows that men feel much better, both physically, mentally and emotionally when they have the opportunity to be close to their children from the very beginning. In Sweden, in only a few decades, through a series of political decisions, we have created a completely new reality for men and their children, and with this change, we have been able to completely change the ideas of what parenthood can be for fathers. It’s absolutely amazing. More time with their children makes men healthier, happier — and even gives them longer lives. A strong emotional connection and bond to a child, and the unconditional love this brings, gives something that in fact may prove to be much better than what one used one’s time for before. Further, men’s risk behaviours decrease. Happiness increases. Even longevity. A lot of great research can be found from these organ- isations:, MenEngage, Sonke Gender Institute, State of the World’s Fathers and Promundo Global. Never before in history have fathers had the opportunity to get as close to their children in the way that fathers in Sweden, and the Scandinavian and Nordic countries, can today. It’s a game changer — a paradigm shift. We should all be very grateful to those who went before us — mostly women and feminists, and some pretty phenomenal men, including Bengt Westerberg — who have fought for these political decisions to become a reality. Today, we see dads who are so committed to and engaged with their children that there is even a joke about an American visiting Sweden that goes; ”Wow — you guys have a lot of gay nannies!” The joke has some truth to it in the sense that we still live in a world where there is an abundance of humour built around the idea that heterosexual fathers for some reason would not be able to care for their own children. Since I myself am half-American, I actually know that when friends from the u.s have come to visit, they are literally astounded to see how involved and engaged fathers in Sweden are with their children, not just in being nearby, but in being active care-givers that change diapers, feed, and take parental leave with their children in a way that many men in many other countries do not yet have the luxury to. This is because the structures, and the conditions to do so, are still lacking — and where gender norms and subsequently gender equality — also end up lagging behind. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operational Officer and founder of the organisation LeanIn, and the campaign LeanInTogether, has says, ”Give us a world where half our homes are run by men, and half our institutions are run by women. I’m pretty sure that would be a better world.” I couldn’t agree more. Likewise, the Swedish women’s rights organisation, Fredrika Bremer, that was founded in 1884, has a slogan that says: ”More women where the power is and more men where the children are!” Indeed — it would make for a better world for all. Men actually risk something huge if they do not get time and closeness with their children. A more equal combination and balance between the two, work and private life, is what will make us all happier — not least, give more joy and wellbeing to both men and children. According to Mikael Nordenmark, Professor of sociology at Mid Sweden University, Nordic men are happier than men in the rest of Europe. A study covering 22 European countries showed that for Nordic men, family life had a greater importance, while working life had lesser significance for the overall perceived happiness, compared with men in Central and Southern Europe. Mikael Nordenmark concludes that it is beneficial for people to be involved in and committed to different areas in life, such as family and work life: ”This both generates economic and social resources, and allows for one to seek comfort and satisfaction in one domain when adversity strikes in another.” A higher degree of gender equality, according to the study’s results, thus leads to greater experienced happiness for men.