April 2, 2013 2 Comments
The Guardian and I are not pals at the best of times but sometimes they really do take the piss. If I’m correct, they published an article a few days ago about whether feminism has failed working class women. Today, I see this. Readers’ responses. If there’s one thing worse than handwringing, it’s getting other people to do your handwringing for you.
Anyway. I read it. “This might be interesting,” thought I. A few minutes later:
Where to start with the tremendous wrongness seeping off the page?
Ok, so first things first. Yes, feminism has failed working class women. It has also failed trans* people and people of colour. And I can even go halfway to explaining why this might be… Because feminism in the western world is largely driven by cis women who are white and middle class. I’m not saying these feminists are *purposely* wrong but this is a little blind-spot known as privilege. Basically they have failed to create an intersectional feminism that works for *all* women regardless of class and race because they aren’t negatively affected by those things, so they don’t really know what the issues are, let alone how to begin tackling them. I’m white, middle class and cis, but I try to find out from other women who are not these things, how, by the very nature of not being the same as me, they are treated differently. How, by the nature of being trans*, they might be wary of using public toilets, or they might have to spend more effort on passing as cis. How, by the nature of having less money, they have less opportunities than perhaps I and my peers do.
I’m sure you get the point by now. I’m not arguing at all with the idea that feminism has failed certain women because it undoubtedly has.
Onto the comments, then.
Martin, from Portsmouth says:
What irks me is when feminists talk about seeking equality. When I see women queueing up for jobs down coalmines, I will believe they are serious about it.
Firstly I didn’t think there were jobs in coalmines in post-Thatcher Britain. Secondly, Martin, read your history. Lots of women wanted to do these kinds of jobs but were not allowed to because it was deemed unsafe for them. That’s the Patriarchy for you. We can’t really win. We want to do these things, but we can’t because it’s not safe, then when eventually we are allowed to do these things, we’re told we’re horrible job-stealing-harpies, and on top of this, our children will surely suffer because clearly women should be the ones staying at home to look after them.
Seb from somewhere I’ve forgotten says:
I am sick of the second-wave dinosaurs who are currently in power, lecturing me on my undeserved privilege, berating me as an oppressor, excluding me for being male – when by and large I am sympathetic with the majority of their goals. I just don’t like the way they have turned what should be the greatest civil rights movement in history into a single issue lobbying movement which furthers their unearned privilege as wealthy white western women, ignoring everyone else who has suffered from patriarchy (including working-class men).
Whoa whoa whoa, too much wrong here. Please do point out to me where second-wave feminists are in power because I can’t see it. Seb, you’re berated as an oppressor because as a man you are benefiting from your privilege day to day. No, it’s not something you chose. No, it’s not something you can help. But you should acknowledge it and own that fact. As an example from my own life… I’ve indirectly, through generations, benefited from slavery, I’m sure. In some way. I’m not a fan of slavery (well, I object to it more strongly than ‘not a fan’) and I think it’s abhorrent but facts are facts and I can’t get away from the fact that I have the lifestyle I have due to exploitation of others. Not directly. Not because I wanted to. But because of a little thing called colonialism. Because I happen to be white.
Men can’t get away from the fact that they actively benefit from ongoing sexism and oppression of women. Maybe, Seb, just maybe, instead of getting angry at THE INJUSTICE OF IT ALL you just need to look in the mirror and tell yourself “I will not take criticism of societal structures to heart. I will not be personally offended when confronted with truths.” It’s hard, I know. Trust me, I’ve done it and you need to swallow your pride but you’ll feel better once you’ve said sorry for being a total dick about it. Anyway, he goes on:
With my work, I saw working-class boys being treated as disposable war assets by the government, or as disposable criminal problems by the penal system. If eight times more women than men were in prison, it would be a feminist issue. If three times more women killed themselves every year, it would be a feminist issue. The lack of support in men’s mental health is terrible; my (male) doctor does not even know who to refer a male patient to for support. This impacts me personally, but these issues impact all female family members too. There is so much more we can achieve as a team.
Ah the old men were sent to war tripe. Seb, you do realise that, again, women did want to go to fight in the war but they weren’t allowed to the same extent that men were? You do realise that men were in charge of the country at that point, so it was men sending men to fight? How is this feminism’s problem? How is it my problem that men self-loathe? How do I even begin solving that one?
The reason men suffer more with mental health problems is because masculinity and the pursuit of being seen as a ‘Real Man’ get in the way of actually going to a doctor and seeking help for their condition. Lots of feminists would agree with me here, but it is not a product of feminism, and nor is it in feminists’ interests to fight for that, when there are women in the world who are suffering in much worse ways. Asking women to fight battles for men is like me asking Bob Geldof why he didn’t give me some money raised from LiveAid. It’s not fair, because, like, some people have more money than me.
I am also not saying this is a pleasing by-product of Patriarchy; I think it’s awful, and I very much dislike the culture of masculinity that arises from a Patriarchal society. I think people should feel able to seek help when they need it. But the fact that some men don’t (because they are taught that to ask for help is to admit defeat and weakness) isn’t my fault, and neither is it the fault of women as a group. If anything, feminists are actively trying to change this because they don’t believe that gender socialisation is a good thing, and in looking for equality between genders (or eradication of gender overall), they are trying to fight for a society where it’s ok to cry, ok to admit defeat, ok to show weakness, ok to raise children – because ultimately we are all human and these are human feelings and actions.
These issues that Seb mentions are not feminist issues because, my god, we have enough to fight for without literally worrying about the menz. I don’t know who told these people that feminism is supposed to fight for men too, but they are grossly wrong. While it’s true that feminism is about equality and correcting inequality where seen, it pretty much is concerned – for the now – with ensuring that women have equality to men because largely the inequality is skewed that way. No feminist, I would think, would say that it’s good that some men are suffering. But it isn’t our fight: I would in fact go further and say it’s not even particularly to do with gender. This is why there are other organisations and activist groups that exist. I have no idea why one would assume that feminism can fix everything for men that they perceive to be wrong, when largely the issues most men are likely to face are to do with class, race or sexuality, and not gender.