Women’s issues shouldn’t just matter to women

Traditionally gendered problems need to matter to both partners in a healthy relationship

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Man distracted from women talking
Why suffer alone when we could make others suffer with us? ILLUSTRATION: Angela Shen, The Peak

By: Hannah Kazemi, Peak Associate

I was laying half-naked on a crinkly white sheet of paper with my legs spread, waiting to get a little T-shaped plastic device put into my uterus, when I opened Instagram and learned that Roe v. Wade was overturned. There I was, getting a particularly invasive procedure done to help regulate my irregular hormones — which I treat with hormonal birth control — when the right to get an abortion was stripped from people in the US. They said that birth control could be next. The irony, right?

“Reading this shit makes me feel sick,” wrote my boyfriend as I laid there with my feet in cold metal stirrups. I appreciated the sentiment. 

Normalising discussions about “women’s issues” and making those issues matter to men is a thought that has been percolating in my brain for a while. I’ve made sure to be really open with the men in my life about my experiences. I’m grateful that I’ve been consistently met with support and genuine curiosity from them about the challenges I’ve experienced — but I know many women who have not been so lucky.

Since my boyfriend and I started dating I’ve always been very open and honest about what I’ve been feeling and experiencing. Painful periods, mood swings, changing birth control, hormonal issues, the list goes on. He knows it all. Most recently, those conversations have included how nervous I was to get an IUD, how the procedure went, and how I felt in the days following. 

I don’t tell him these things to make him feel bad or to guilt him for being a man; I tell him these things because he’s in a relationship with a woman, and living in a society where issues that affect women are predominantly seen as only our own does not often allow men to be exposed to these things.

Reproductive health affects men as much as it affects women. While pregnant people will bear the physical impact, there is an emotional toll an abortion can have on both partners. The same goes for contraceptives. Using birth control is a shared responsibility. If the condom breaks or the pill fails, the blame is often placed on women despite the fact that sex is something that both partners have to consent to — not to mention the body-altering, life-long implications pregnancy has on someone’s life.

And traditionally gendered concerns don’t stop with reproductive health. Last year saw the Canadian gender wage gap, measured by comparing average hourly wages earned by women and men, increase from 10.9% in 2020 to 11.1% in 2021. Articulating this disparity against it helps male partners recognize their role in perpetuating an oppressive system. As an ally fully informed of the wage gap, they can help to make change in the workplace — or at the very least, they can be understanding towards a pervasive gendered problem. 

The impact of tackling “women’s issues” is positively felt by men, too. A 2020 World Health Organization study found that gender inequalities are tied to worse health outcomes to everyone. That’s because efforts to address gender inequality, including greater funding for social services like education and family planning, contribute to men’s success. Without efforts to combat gender inequality, men have poorer health and live shorter lives. Not confronting “women’s issues” by ensuring gender equality is quite literally killing men. Beyond wanting to be a good partner, men have a vested interest in ameliorating traditionally gendered issues. 

Men should be part of these conversations, even if they are not in a relationship with a woman. Of course, the onus should not rest solely upon women to educate their friends and family members on the issues and challenges that we face, though many women do take on that responsibility and feel like it is up to them to teach others about their struggles. The simple truth is that society doesn’t care to make “women’s issues” matter to anyone other than women themselves, so the responsibility ends up falling onto us.

Women should not be made to feel like they’re alone in their struggles. Partly because a positive relationship means both parties support one another, and partly because the importance of “women’s issues” actually transcends gender.