by Jake McMillan
Disclaimer: There will be some generalisations below in order to keep this post succinct so whenever you see one please assume I don’t mean it for all people or situations, I am aware that there are exceptions, that not everything is an accepted fact and there are different points of view.
I write this post with great trepidation as for a man to write or talk about feminism is like walking through a field you know is almost completely full of mines. It is not an easy topic for women to talk about either, but when men do it, it often has an inflammatory effect. Sometimes this is because what men say is stupid or offensive and sometimes this is because it is just a man talking about issues which concern and effect women. You will have your own view which end of the spectrum I am being.
Although I will be critical of feminism in places below, the aim of this is to be constructive and offer in a positive way my humble views that may help feminism achieve its aims. I am not a professional expert on this topic, I do not believe I know all the answers, but this a considered view based on experience and some research.
“Come on, just get on with what you are going to say!”. I will, I will, I promise, please forgive me, but previous experience in discussing this topic with female feminists has pushed me into making disclaimers and caveats first.
Feminism and feminists have changed the world we live in. Comparing today’s Western society with that of a 100 years ago, I don’t think anyone would argue that we do not live in far more equal society. Is the job completed? No, far from it, but a great deal has been achieved. However, in recent years feminism has been less effective than in the past, with many people seeing it as losing its way, becoming fragmented and confused? There are different points of view on how true this is, but it is true that there are many people who support feminism and its aims but would not dream of saying they were a feminist. There has become a stigma in saying that you are a feminist as many will have a perception about you, the stereotype of being angry, militant and man-hating.
Looking at it solely from a marketing and PR perspective, to have people who support the cause but would not dare say they are a feminist, is an absolute disaster. Something has gone wrong along the way. Feminism is still very relevant today, with sexism against women still apparent in the media and the workplace, to name but a few, so why are not more people standing up and proudly saying they are feminists?
I think it is wrong to say modern feminism is failing, but you could argue that is not very successful at the moment. There are, however, great efforts to try and change this with a lot going on campaigning-wise, the No More Page 3 petition (almost 60,000 votes at the time of writing), for example, is very visible at the moment and there is a lot of research and lobbying looking at sexism against women in the media. Feminists such as Caitlin Moran seem to be connecting and providing a voice for women in today’s society.
The fact I’ve taken the time to write this post is an example of feminism being talked about and that it is relevant, however, a lot of discussion in forums and comments on articles are not very constructive and does not seem to be helping the cause. Rather than discussing sexism and equality, many debates seem to degenerate into men versus women type arguments. Some of these campaigns seem or appear to polarise people through preaching to the converted and pushing away further those who disagree. They have been good though for getting people talking about the issues so should not be dismissed. For feminism to be successful it needs to reach people who disagree or are not sure about or familiar with, the issues and feminist aims and convince them.
My view is that the solution for feminism is to widen the focus and not let it be just about women fighting issues that effect women.I believe they should involve men and I also believe they should look at the wider issues of sexism, i.e. both genders.
I can almost hear the blood boiling of some female feminists as they are ready to rant at me why they would not want this and/or do not want a man telling them how to solve their problems! Please hear me out.
Historical feminism has closed the equality gap a long way (people will argue the extent of this), but to get to a society where men and women are treated equally and that your gender does not determine your path in life, I believe we need to have a different approach to progress significantly.
Let’s imagine we are in the future and we have reached a place in society where there is no sexism and there is equality across the genders. In this future society how should we address sexism when it appears from time to time? My hope and wish is that all members of society will feel responsible to eliminate it, not just men looking after sexism against men nor just women tackling sexism against women. Both genders working together for the good of society and ending sexism.
We should not wait for the end of sexism to start operating like this, I think we should start working like this now as this sets the standard as well as being the most effective way of reaching this goal.
The approach of a lot of feminist campaigns that are used today seems to me to have a divisive effect and I have been appalled at some of the sexist comments that have been made on recent blogs and articles. However, feminists are not blameless either.
On a feminist blog earlier in the year, I was trying to put forward some suggestions as a discussion point along this idea of widening the focus of feminism and I was told:
“Men’s problems are not down to sexism. And women don’t need you or any other man to tell us how best we should go about ending it. If you want to support feminism, shut up and listen to the people on the receiving end of sexism instead of perpetuating male dominance by telling us what to do and what we should be addressing.”
“Men telling women how they should be doing feminism in order to get men to like us more is one of the best arguments I’ve ever heard for women-centred organising.“
Even if you thought (or still do) the suggestions of men about feminism were ridiculous, this approach or reaction to male involvement does not help the end goal. For feminism to be successful, you need both genders (i.e. men too) to buy into it and agree with it. It’s only logical. Perhaps, just perhaps, excuse some men of their views and misunderstandings, welcome them into the fold and educate them rather than alienate them? This approach would not assert male dominance or lead to men telling female feminists what to do, it would help men who have been rejected and turned away from feminism to better understand it and then in turn better support the issues and causes.
Language has a big impact here and a lot of articles and blogs about feminism, whether it is tackling sexism, domestic violence and rape, do contain latent sexism in their language. There is a link to a Guardian article above (and here) about sexism in the media and I found it very interesting and informative. The one small but important issue I noticed is that throughout the article it talks about sexism in the media and it assumes that the only sexism in the media is about women? I have been in conversations with people about domestic violence and rape and again it is assumed these terrible things only happen to women. They happen to men too.
The point is that there are many many issues that effect both men and women. Sexism effects both men and women. Yes, if you were to add all these issues together and prioritise them, the majority of issues effect women much worse overall than they effect men. Nevertheless, having a joined up inclusive approach would be more efficient and effective for both genders.
Many female feminists are very sceptical and put down issues that men face as they either see them as being far less significant compared to issues women face and/or this is a product of male dominance in society giving men privileges and advantages over women that outweigh any issues they might encounter. Even if this is true, this kind of analysis is not helpful as it polarises men and women, pitting them against each other and all debates and conversations seem to ultimately end up with female feminists saying they don’t need men to help them and so men do not get involved in or supporting feminism.
Modern society has progressed to the stage that a feminist approach of just women fighting issues that effect women has limited effectiveness. Not all female feminists reject male involvement, of course, and it has actually been refreshing to hear one very recently saying don’t just be a “nay sayer” and would not just want support under set terms only (as suggested to me above) but would actually welcome my ideas and would have no objection to me or other men helping to lead feminism to reach its goals. This is very encouraging as you can tell by the disclaimers and caveats I have felt the need to make, it is not an easy thing for me or other men to talk about.
So, I hope you will take this in the spirit of what is intended to be? I am not demanding or telling feminists what they should do, this is merely my humble suggestion of an approach that I think will lead to a society without sexism and gender inequality. This is something I want and I support any initiatives (regardless of the “ism”) that help achieve this.
If you are feminist who hasn’t been too enraged by this post, you might wonder if a logical conclusion of my suggestion would mean feminists should stop what they are doing and do something else? No, my approach would mean feminists should carry on tackling the issues of sexism and gender inequality as they have been, but take a wider and more inclusive approach to include all sexism or gender inequality of the issues they are confronting. This approach also actively encourages the involvement of men, even if at first they appear like they don’t get it or have odd views (not sexist ones hopefully) or you are suspicious they are trying to assert male dominance, give them some time, you may be surprised by the results.
I have no hidden agenda for male dominance. As a society we need to end sexism and gender inequality and I simply feel both men and women working together to tackle all issues of sexism and gender inequality is not only the best method to achieve this goal, but will act as a blueprint for a society where sexism no longer exists.