Woman holds banner during Warsaw demonstration held ahead of International Women's Day.
Woman holds banner during Warsaw demonstration held ahead of International Women's Day. Photo by Reuters
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As is common in the human race, in recent days it seems we have two opposing camps: On the one hand, more and more women dare, some for the first time in their lives, to speak out and recall some form of sexual harassment or abuse they’ve experienced. This has even led to the possible opening of a criminal investigation against a well-known journalist. On the other hand, many men doubt the seriousness of the matter, claiming that these stories are exaggerations blown out of proportion. Each of the camps includes members of the opposite sex, but as a rule, it’s the boys against the girls all over again.

Why do men feel the need to doubt the existence and scope of the phenomenon of sexual harassment? Why, actually, don’t they join the effort to root out this distorted, hurtful, age-old practice? The predominantly male reaction is a typical example of a backlash, a reaction to feminism. According to this theory, the recent struggle against sexual harassment signifies another round in the war between the sexes. These claims are heard whenever women try to stand up for their rights and improve their situation. American feminist writer Susan Faludi’s 1991 book “Backlash” characterizes this phenomenon, arguing that it is not a conspiracy by a group of men bent on hurting women’s rights, but more an assortment of events and remarks whose mere mass forces women back to their “natural surroundings.” The backlash’s most severe damage is that it succeeds in persuading women in the arguments aimed against them. This unfortunate success isn’t surprising: It isn’t simple to change concepts that have been around for thousands of years. It isn’t simple for men − or for women.

To tackle the backlash phenomenon, one must understand its origins. It seems that one of its central causes − as well at the opposition to feminism in general − is the perception held by many men that feminism is against them. As if putting an end to traditional discrimination against women would be at the expense of men.

Therefore it is important to clarify this point: Feminism isn’t against men. In fact, it is pro-men, since they, too, suffer from the creeds of patriarchy. Many feminists − most of them, in fact − are heterosexual and obviously have warm feelings towards men. Lesbians too, have fathers, sons, brothers, friends. It seems strange to write it, since it’s supposed to go without saying − but still it needs to be said.

Women who speak out against sexual harassment are not fighting men. They do not believe that all men are potential rapists or sexual harassers. They do oppose men who practice sexual harassment, who treat women as an ornament that should be at their disposal for the fulfillment of their needs. These women yearn for the day when women can go about their business without being a constant target for comments concerning their bodies, or efforts to touch them. They want their daughters − and sons − to grow up in a better world than they did.

The backlash to the struggle for women’s rights increases whenever there is movement in the existing balance of power. It doesn’t necessarily awaken following a significant change, but often takes place even in the face of slight signs of change, as a contraceptive of sorts. Still, change must be in everyone’s interest, men and women. This isn’t a war − since there are no conflicting interests. If all sides understand this − society as whole stands to win.