MadamJMo wrote this post about the UK Feminista’s FemSchool which was held recently. The workshop she talks about is one run by Matt McCormack Evans called ‘Mobilising Men Into Feminist Activism’.
I wasn’t at the conference/school, so I don’t want to dissect what was or wasn’t said, but just consider the issues with men identifying as feminist, or men being in the feminist movement. I think a lot of the points she raises are really interesting and worth discussing.
Does feminism need men?
At one point apparently Matt said that “feminism needs men”, and I see why this is hugely insulting to those women who have worked tirelessly for equal rights for women and who still fight against the patriarchy, and other women. I recently joined a small feminist group, and it was decided before I joined that every 3rd or 4th meeting would include men. This decision was reached because the majority of members wanted a safe space where they could discuss issues without worrying about men being there – without feeling intimidated into silence or not wanting to discuss personal anecdotes. I absolutely agree with this, I think women need safe spaces without fear of men interrupting or taking over conversations.
But… Personally, I think it’s important to have men on-side – that is, men who understand the aims and issues in feminism, and who are willing to look at those issues from a different perspective than one of male privilege. I would agree with Matt in that, feminism needs men who understand womens’ struggles. Not to particularly be feminists or to be active in the movement on their behalf, but for them to understand their own privilege, and learn how their behaviour affects women. Also, how can feminism be effective, if men are dominant and ‘in charge’, but they ignore feminism? At some point, men have to get involved.
The other thing that is interesting is the idea of ‘pandering’ to men. I’ll admit, I do it. In believing that men simply need to be persuaded that feminism is basically better for everybody regardless of gender, in the same way I tackle any persuasion or discussion, I tread softly. I think something like feminism is overwhelmingly complicated, with so many different views and interpretations, that it’s actually quite difficult to try and understand it all in one go, or to rush into it headfirst. When I talk to men who are interested in it, I don’t shove ‘patriarchy’ ‘rape culture’ and ‘oppression’ down their throats – I try to get them to question their own assumptions and their own views so they can figure it out for themselves. I lead them to articles that helped me when I first started.
Having said this, though, there is a growing trend among men to identify as ‘feminist’ – in the way that burlesque, prostitution and stripping is ‘feminist’. That is, they’re only interested in exploiting you. Of course this is one perspective but the amount of times I’ve heard men say “I’m a feminist, I sleep with girls who are feminist, and I’m respectful” in the course of chatting me up or trying to sleep with me… I’ve heard it a lot, let’s say. The best one was “I want to help you empower yourself”. I didn’t realise sleeping with strangers was empowering!?
This is the kind of male ‘feminist’ we need to be wary of, but otherwise, I would think that there is nothing wrong with men being pro-feminist, identifying as feminist, or in other ways expressing solidarity or agreement with the aims of feminism… Whether they are ‘humanist’ or just ‘for equality’ in general.
Men who are under threat
The idea of men being on the receiving end of sexism was also brought up at the workshop. I think this is a difficult one, because sexism against men can’t be ignored but at the same time it’s not as pressing an issue as inherent, societal sexism against women. In her blog, MadamJMo says:
They’re expected to be uber macho, and to like only football and tits, when they might like something else. Oh, so what?! They should try being a woman in a male-dominated society! I know that men experience sexism… but by turning it into the tired old “what about the men?”, “think about the men” argument, it totally devalues all the good work of hardcore feminism.
I totally agree with this. “Men experience sexism too” is a derailing tactic used by anti-feminists, or men who don’t understand feminism, to try and ‘look at the bigger picture’. The bigger picture, sadly, is that percentage-wise, more women are abused, more women experience sexism, more women are raped. But the difficulty lies in the uncomfortable fact that men are raped too, and actually they are sidelined more than women are when it comes to sexual abuse. When men are abused sexually, it’s not really seen in the same way. While women are blamed for their own victimisation, men are ridiculed because “how can a woman possibly rape a man?!” – of course both of these are dreadful responses.
How do you address these two facts – a lot of women are sexually abused in some way, and some men are raped – without belittling either group? How do you address the fact that men who are transgender, or queer, or who otherwise don’t conform to gender norms, are treated just as badly as women are – sometimes worse? This is why, in my mind, LGBT groups and feminist groups are natural allies. Feminists have a lot on their plate in terms of fighting to have feminism recognised as a progressive movement.. But if feminism can’t fight against male-on-male oppression, and male-on-male abuse, then do men need to organise their own movement to address this?
Feminists not really being feminists
In the post, MadamJMo said:
..there are some women at a feminist conference who want to lose the word ‘feminist’ because it has “negative connotations”
And, discussing the Fawcett picture of Bill Bailey, and the fact that people hadn’t seen it before, she said:
…they’re feminists. How could they NOT have been to the Fawcett website?
I think these comments come down to the same reason: These are people who have probably only just dipped their toe into feminism and feminist concepts. They are right, feminism does have negative connotations in the media. Namely that everyone who is a feminist doesn’t shave, is a lesbian, and hates men. Might be true in some cases but I would imagine in most this is a stereotype that is absolutely not representative of the huge variety of women that identify as feminist. I still feel uncomfortable about identifying as a feminist because it is a label that is constantly ridiculed. With regards to the second quote, I’ve read a lot about feminism in books and online – and I’ve never been to the Fawcett Society website. Why would I, when I can read anything I want to understand, by googling key feminist terms – or reading one of many feminist blogs/books that I know of? I don’t really see the FS as an absolutely integral part of feminist discourse, because I have done perfectly well without it and I feel like I have a good enough grasp on it, and the resources to research new ideas if I need to. But maybe I am wrong.