The Problem with Feminism: Part Two
Where did we get to?
Issue number two: Feminism has a problem with men.
It feels simultaneously obvious and problematic to write that statement. Obvious, in that it plays into the tired trope of feminists as man-hating lesbian witches; and problematic, because writing that sentence feels like an admission of failure. If feminism truly is the fight for equality, why then does a lot of our rhetoric pit men and women against each other?
Don’t get me wrong: it’s crucial that we coin and use terms that identify a problem and help to combat it. “Mansplaining”, for example, is genius in this regard – it gives women the language to talk about how they have been silenced and condescended to by men, who themselves have been socialised to feel entitled to the intellectual space. You have to name the beast before you can fight it. But what is not helpful is when such terms are over-applied and generalised to the point where they are used to dismiss or silence the male voice.
On the other hand, one could argue that men have, historically, held the monopoly on the intellectual, social, political, and intimate spaces we all occupy, so who cares if we upset a few broflakes? We’re bringing balance to the universe, bi-atches! Feminism has no obligation to tiptoe around the eggshells that make up your ego, so shut the fuck up and cry your tears into my special mug!
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I get it. I get the impulse to dismiss, or even laugh at the objections of men when they complain that, “It’s not faaaaiiiir!” “Not all meeeeen!” “That’s reverse seeeexism!” Because, to quote the queen that is Latrice Royale, “Good God Get a Grip, Girl!” Having your privilege pointed out to you (or occasionally thrown back in your face) is not a form of oppression.
It somehow doesn’t feel right to me. It feels like we might be throwing the baby [potential allies] out with the bathwater [MRAs, misogynists, and douche-canoes]. If feminism (as a movement) really were exclusively about the plight of women, then fair enough – there really is no need for it to concern itself with men and their feelings. Be as dismissive as you please! However, if you believe, as I do, that feminism is the weapon with which we fight the Patriarchy, and you acknowledge that the Patriarchy is “an unjust social system that enforces gender roles and is oppressive to both men and women”, then to ignore the ways in which our society treats men poorly is hypocritical.
While it might initially be difficult to see how a system designed to benefit men can harm the very group it’s supposed to privilege, it becomes painfully obvious when you just take a second and look. Look at the way society minimises and ridicules the experiences of male victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Look at the way boys are taught from a young age to be actively sexually aggressive towards women, and are rewarded by their peer groups and society at large when they “score”. [Score??? Against who? Against women? Are we your fucking opposition???]. Look at the fact that men are more likely than women to commit suicide because society literally trains them that the worst possible thing they can do is be open about their emotions and mental health. Simone de Beauvior, we have a problem.
So…what? We make feminism about men’s issues now? Is that what we’re saying?
No. What I’m saying has already been said (far more eloquently, I might add) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – and that is that we should all be feminists. Truly intersectional feminism includes everyone, regardless of gender identity. The whole point is that it’s shitty to discriminate on the basis of gender, so why on earth would feminism subscribe to that?
I think one of the biggest barriers to success faced by modern feminism is the rift between those who welcome male feminists and allies, and those who don’t. While I do see myself as occupying the former camp, I had to think long and hard about it (and drink many glasses of wine) before I was sure. After all, wouldn’t we be foolish to dilute what little power we’ve built up in feminism by handing over our platform to men? And even if the Patriarchy does hurt men too, it’s not nearly as damaging to men as it is to women. Is focusing our attention on men’s issues just another example of the conversation being derailed and diverted from our own interests?
These are all incredibly important issues to be aware of, but I don’t think that any of them provide a strong enough basis for excluding men who genuinely believe in feminism and who are prepared to put in the work. And boy, you’d better WERK!
To you, my male feminist readers: I say go forth and do your homework. Learn to recognise when your privilege is kicking in, and find ways to include the voices of those you might previously have talked over. Actively seek out conversations with other feminists, but be prepared to listen. Really listen. Call out sexist bullshit when you see it. Create a social environment where there is no room for casual misogyny. Accept criticism graciously, for you will be criticised. And don’t expect a fucking medal for participating – I’m looking at you, Bono!
And to my female readers: I’m not going to tell you that you have to do one thing or another – there are those of us who say “Men are trash” and mean it 100% because that has been our lived experience. That fucking sucks, and I have no right to tell you that you should make space for men in your feminism, if that’s the case. However, if you as an individual are prepared to welcome men into feminism, then let’s do it without being dicks about it. I enjoy the work of Richard Dawkins, but the man doesn’t exactly endear himself to those who hold a contrary point of view, even though he’s probably right. I feel like feminism might have a similar problem when it comes to men: we might be right when we say, “these are the facts, and you’re an idiot if you disagree”, but you’re not going to win anyone over by yelling at them that they’re shit. To paraphrase Neil DeGrasse Tyson: facts + sensitivity = impact. Let’s try being a little more sensitive. Be more Neil.
I would like feminism to continue to have an impact, and I think one of the best ways to do that is to get men involved. Emma Watson was right when she suggested that many men didn’t feel welcome to participate in conversations about gender equality at the launch of HeForShe in 2014, but a rebrand of feminism that labels men as saviours and asks them to “take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls”, while conspicuously ignoring men’s issues, is not the answer. So men, don’t become feminists because you want to help women (that’s…nice… but it’s more than a little patronising). Become feminists because it matters to you. Because it’s the right fucking thing to do. Because you’ve got skin in this game whether you like it or not – so come on: you might as well play.
Article by Sarah Bradnum