At last weekend’s inspiring Women in the World Summit, Hillary Clinton passionately declared once again that “women rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights once and for all.” This rousing message was reiterated and reaffirmed in different ways throughout the two-day summit. Whether it was a rousing panel on maternal health in Western Africa or a discussion on education for girls in Pakistan, the speakers of the summit all insisted on declaring that violations of women’s rights are violations of human rights; therefore, everyone, not just women, should rise to protest them.
And yet, why is that so much of the time it seems as though women are shouldering this battle alone? Why is it that so often, people are so quick to flee from an issue that has any sort of “go women!” connotation? Globally, and more specifically here at Harvard, I urge more men to step up to the plate by speaking out louder to stop violations against women and to make more of an effort to be part of the conversation surrounding women’s rights.
Of course, there are countless men who are already working hard to ensure equality and respect for women. Perhaps one of my favorite speakers from Women in the World this year was a male activist named Ravi Kant, who participated in a panel on violence against women in India. Ravi, along with his two brothers, runs Shakti Vahini, an Indian organization that works to combat human trafficking. Kant pressed men at the summit to fight for the rights of their daughters, mothers, and wives. Similarly, Harvard is not without its dedicated male women’s rights activists. Student organization Harvard Men Against Rape does excellent work to encourage male students to speak out against rape, which disproportionately affects female students.
And yet, both globally and here at Harvard, I find that men like Ravi or members of HMAR are the exception to the rule. Although Ravi fights every day for justice, there are many men who believe and accept as a reality that “if girls look sexy, boys will rape.” Although countless men around the globe believe in women’s rights, it is harder to find men that are actively fighting for them or vocalizing their importance. It is common for these issues to either by dismissed or mocked.
At Harvard specifically, while I believe that most men truly believe in equal treatment for all, this belief often does not translate into action. Male students are much more hesitant to voice their support for feminist issues than women. Let’s take the now very exhausted topic of Tyga singing at Yardfest, for example. The day that the infamous news was announced, my Facebook was flooded with posts from female students who felt outraged that someone so misogynistic had been chosen to play for our spring event. I counted one or two posts from guys, but not many. This may seem to make sense upon first glance: Tyga’s offensive lyrics are directed at women, so of course, more women are going to be angry than men. But male students should be just as upset that an artist whose lyrics present utter contempt for women had the chance to voice that sentiment on Saturday. Tyga evidently doesn’t care, as he made clear when he eloquently said, “fuck the haters.” But we should. Words that are offensive to women are offensive to everyone.
I believe that there is a stigma attached to men advocating for women’s rights, at least on Harvard’s campus, and this needs to change. I have heard many people assume that a guy is gay because he is attending an event on women’s empowerment or encouraging people to attend Take Back the Night events. I have been reprimanded, in a friendly way, by guy friends for being obsessed with “women’s issues.” We need to change this strange conception of masculinity. Just because a man supports and speaks out for women’s rights does not mean he’s “feminine” (god forbid!). This misconception impedes progress. I cannot help but call to mind a scene from Tom Wolfe’s “I Am Charlotte Simmons” in which a hypocritical character fears attending a gay rights rally because he is terrified that girls will assume he’s not straight.
If more men include themselves in this discussion, it will start to seem less “cool” to be anti-woman. So much of the time, peer pressure and fear of undesired interpretations prohibit the issuance of vocal support. If fighting for women can become accepted among men, the power will increase. So to the guys reading this, in the next few weeks, I encourage you to join some “lean in” circles, attend some Take Back the Night events, and join in actively in dining hall discussions—maybe even begin them. I’m not asking you to immediately start storming the Yard with “Hillary 2016” posters. I am asking you to take a first step.
You don't have to be a woman to stand up for women's rights. You don't have to be black to stand up for equal rights for African-Americans or gay to be repelled by homophobia. You don’t have to be a tree to be an advocate for a greener environment. You just have to be a civilized human being. I implore my fellow beings to exert more action, first from on campus and then into the world.
Isabel H. Evans ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, is an English concentrator in Adams House.