Feminism Is Reversing Gender Norms and Roles: What It Means for Men and Women

By Dzelila Maslesa

Whether intentional or not, third-wave feminism has steered away from the traditional goal of feminism—the equality of men and women—and reversed gender norms and roles. Men and women have lost sight of what they actually want for themselves and each other. Without a unified sense of what men and women want third-wave feminism to achieve, the movement becomes nothing but a disillusionment or performance, and both parties are left feeling the same or worse than they were decades ago. 

One area where the gender role reversal manifests is the student population at colleges and universities in this country. According to spring 2021 enrollment estimates from a nonprofit organization called the National Student Clearinghouse, 59.5 percent of college students in the U.S. were women, while 40.5 percent were men. An even more shocking statistic reveals that male students at U.S. colleges and universities have decreased by 71 percent compared to five years ago. Douglas Shapiro, the executive director of the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse, told the Wall Street Journal that if this trend continues, two women will obtain a college degree for every man. 

Of course, women aiming to reach equal opportunity in male-dominated fields like science and technology is not a problem, but equal opportunity is not a one-way street. If women continue to outnumber men on college and university campuses, then men will have to work low-wage jobs, and women will secure their breadwinner status. With men unhappy about their jobs, women are going to be unhappy too; a study conducted by Harvard sociology professor Alexandra Kilewald found that divorce rates were a third higher among couples in which the wife out-earned the husband. What is supposed a feminist move actually hurts women, especially considering that most of them are unwilling to marry men with lower incomes or educational levels than their own. To ensure long-lasting marriages, well-educated and high-achieving women might have to lower their standards, which is not ideal. 

A more obvious indication of third-wave feminism leading to a gender role reversal is the hypersexualization of women and girls. Under the guise of female empowerment and freedom, women and girls are taught to embrace their sexuality and therefore claim their independence. Online platforms like OnlyFans allow women to take ownership of their bodies, but on a larger scale, they center exclusively around male satisfaction—as all sex work does. Since the platform relies on the commodification of the female body, it reinforces the idea of women as subordinate (though it gives an illusion of female control) and inadvertently contributes to phenomena like the gender pay gap and unequal division of labor in the family. 

Sexualized media content is on the rise and is much more accessible than it was years ago, which has consequences for how women perceive themselves. In a study carried out by psychologists at the University of Kent, it determined that there is a direct link between the objectification of women and acts of aggression and violence against them. Unsurprisingly, sex workers are most subject to violence and sex abuse. Consuming more sexualized media content also leads to more female self-objectification, which can foster cognitive fragmentation, body dissatisfaction, appearance anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. On top of that, self-objectification results in less social and political engagement, affirming the notion that “objects don’t object.”

Men are suffering from female hypersexualization and self-objectification as well. Many of them are no longer just consuming sexual images but going out of their way to pay for them. Digital is easy, requires no risk, and demands little to no effort, which is part of the appeal. Since younger men are growing up in a digital age where physical interaction is no longer required for sexual gratification, they are less likely to approach women in real life, and when they do, they have a difficult time navigating the female mind and body. Women are left feeling either unwanted or wanted just for their bodies, and men are so used to women initiating everything and being in control that they take a step back and tap into their “submissive” roles. The reversal of gender norms and roles does not benefit men or women in the long-run. With women claiming their individuality and bodies, yes, they are fighting against traditional gender norms and roles, but mostly in ways that hurt them in the long-run or exclusively appeal to men. And while men think that this change benefits them, it actually does more harm than good, not only emasculating them but distorting their understanding of what they and women want. A lot of us forget that feminism is supposed to uplift both men and women, so we must reach a consensus on how to do so. Men, who have historically benefited from unequal power relations, must work with women to develop a vision for equality that caters to female wants and needs without drastically interfering with theirs—that is the only way equality can coexist with gender norms and roles

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