Feminism: A Zero-Sum Game?

Micah Murray recently offered up a brilliant piece on How Feminism Hurts Men. It is a purely satirical piece pointing out that men still have the advantage along pretty much every measurable dimension possible: wages for the same work, positions of power in the church, victimhood to violence, etc. And of course there are some in the comments who think by pointing out a rare exception (e.g. percentage of undergraduate population in colleges and universities) they are therefore proving women really are equal, but I won’t spend time on how crazy that is. I do, though, want to quickly discuss the concept that feminism is anti-male. As a man, obviously the whole concept should get me very upset if that were the case. It doesn’t, precisely because I think feminism helps men as much as it helps women.

The reason people think this, I submit, is an assumption that feminists are playing a zero-sum game. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it simply means that for a gain in one area there has to be a loss somewhere else. Many people do assume that the world is a zero-sum game, which is why most people take on an ethic of “looking out for #1.” They look out for themselves, maybe their families or others like them (gender, race, nationality, etc), and accept that to do so sometimes hurts others in the process. Each doesn’t necessarily just want “enough”; they want as much as possible. I imagine there are a few feminists who are playing this zero-sum game, but none that I have ever encountered out of the hundreds who happily bare the label.

Of course in some sense this is true; men will inevitably have to give up some of our worldly power. We won’t hold all the seats in government. We won’t hold all the votes at church. We won’t get arbitrary veto power over our wives and children. We can’t physically or sexually abuse whenever we like, and we must accept blame ourselves when we do instead of pinning it on the clothes they were wearing or the way they smiled at us. I know, this sounds like a terribly rough future for men. In this sense, yes, we are the “losers” here.

But what if that isn’t really losing? What if the “game” isn’t about hoarding as much power as possible for myself and people like me? What if this is the exact kind of thing that Jesus meant when he said things like “the first shall be last” and “you must lose your life to find it”? Maybe losing the game of life is actually winning it because it isn’t zero-sum.

Any research on the subject seems to suggest that this is indeed the case. By challenging assumptions that not all women are the same and not all men are the same, feminism helps those men who don’t fit the stereotypes of masculinity. By taking away our temptation to simply veto others and get our own way, feminism helps men learn that being in loving relationship – with other men, with women, with God, with creation – is more important and more beneficial than getting our way. By pushing for equality in the work force, feminism helps men as well as women by building a healthier economy. Many non-profit organizations – Christian or otherwise – are even focusing far more heavily on developing life and work skills for girls because it is well proven that this will have a deeper impact on the whole community. And perhaps the most important of all (I say sarcastically): feminists, men and women, have the best sex, which corresponds with Paul’s teachings that men are to give themselves for their wives in the bedroom just as women do for their husbands.

My favourite definition of feminism:

The radical notion that women are humans

Nothing about dominating men or reversing power dynamics. Just the simple but radical notion that we’re all in this together, all equal image-bearers of God who should be treated as such.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Kristen Rosser

    This is really good! Another way feminism helps men is that is releases them from the “women and children first” paradigm that treats men as disposable. Men should be viewed as valuable individuals in their own right, not as cannon fodder.

    • Thanks. That’s a good point I didn’t consider.

  • Hannah Heinzekehr

    Nicely put, Ryan! Thanks.

  • John Ayala

    Great article Ryan! This is a great way to frame the unecessary fear.