This morning, I watched as my Twitter and Facebook feeds filled up with heart emojis and punching emojis and excitable proclamations – “Ewan McGregor!” they exclaimed, “what a hero.” McGregor is a hero, they said because he stood up for women. He refused to engage in misogynistic attitudes, which harm more than half of the world’s population.
More specifically, McGregor is a hero because he declined to appear on Good Morning Britain to promote his new film in light of Piers Morgan’s comments about the women’s march on Saturday. Morgan previously said that the estimated three million people who showed up, across the world, in multiple, landmark, record-breaking peaceful protests on Saturday “rabid feminists” and postured that he would throw a “men’s march” to counter the “global emasculation” of men.
Women fought back. Susanna Reid boldly told Morgan that he “sits next to a feminist everyday”. But it wasn’t until this morning, after McGregor posted his declaration, that the press picked up the pace. A man spoke up on the side of women. Headlines were written, screenshots tweeted, status’ posted. “LOVE”, Facebook said.
And it was, on the face of it, a great move. It made a searing point and lost Morgan some work and kudos – a celebrity appearance – for his morning show, which has got to be worth something. I’m not saying that I disagree with McGregor; in fact I’d go as far as to thank him. The more people, regardless of gender, who take a public stand against toxic attitudes towards equality, the better. But why do we still heroise men, just because they don’t support misogyny?
The sentiment was similar at Saturday’s march. Boyfriends were commended for coming along too, marching men admired from afar. We debated whether they were more attractive just because they were there, standing among us all. A friend came to meet me for a drink after he’d marched with his housemate, just the two of them, and I thought of him as a little kinder, as potentially more selfless and with a little more fondness.
We should be aware, and scrutinise, the fact that the world still listens harder when a man speaks up – and that all men should support equality as a basic minimum, not a bonus
Was it patronising that I thought that way? Possibly. I questioned myself. That, in some small way, I gave men more credit than women for coming out on a cold day and standing up for 51 per cent of the population’s rights felt uncomfortable. But then I saw the pictures of boys standing up for women getting more likes, and more shares than others. Articles outlining men’s reasons for marching got more clicks than women’s. Some coverage of the women’s march went further: the Washington Post ran a story proclaiming “At the women’s march, it’s the men who mattered most,” before editing it to a softer “men mattered too”. “When ‘Mommy has to march’, routines shift”, said the New York Times, then changed the headline to: “How vital are women? This town found out as they left to march.” Men, they said, “had to meet weekend demands alone”. Poor guys! What a good job they did! Imagine if there was a headline each time women did such a thing. It irks of the same sentiment that surrounds viral parenting videos – a mum pops her daughter’s hair in a ponytail every morning and she’s just a mum. A dad does the same and he’s a SuperDad, one in a million – “amazing!”, “so cute!”, “what a guy!”. Why?
Do we need to raise our standards? That we’re often so surprised and enamoured because a man supports or advocates equality, the same equality that will also benefit them, which women tirelessly campaign for, is a little depressing, if nothing else. To warrant this reaction – a huge pat on the back for being a decent human being – male feminists must be even rarer than I thought. And I wasn't particularly optimistic to begin with.
Unless we stop heroising men for doing things we give barely any credit to women for, this will only continue. We should thank men like Ewan McGregor – and all of the men that came out to march alongside millions of women last weekend – it's no secret that the movement will really make progress with increased support from men. We should thank the women too. But we should be aware, and scrutinise, the fact that the world still listens harder when a man speaks up – and that all men should support equality as a basic minimum, not a bonus. It’ll be a much better world when we’re not surprised that they do.