January 7, 2012
The thing is, boys, it’s not about you.
I am going to say this once, and once only; and then it’s going to be dealt with for the purpose of this blog, for the purpose of anything else I might write for some time to come, and, hopefully, for the purpose of some other people’s conversations in some other places, too.
Feminism, yeah? The women’s movement? The proverbial “F” word? Wanna know something really important about it? IT IS NOT ABOUT MEN. Okay, fine; it’s about men, in as much as it’s about social power relations, and men are part of society, and according to many different ways of slicing the society pie, they’re a part of society with MORE power than women or people of other genders. Particularly people of other genders, I would argue, but let’s keep that one for another day.
In her version of “Which Side Are You On”, the mighty and marvellous Ani Di Franco sings, “Feminism’s not about women”. She’s making the same point I do above, I think, about the fact that really we’re talking about social dynamics and the need to change them, and the need to have everybody involved in order to change them, and the fact that every man’s death diminishes me as I am involved in mankind, and an injury to one is an injury to all, and so on and so forth.
But actually, practically, feminism IS about women*. It’s about how we experience things; it’s particularly about how we experience inequality, but that isn’t the end of it. Because “the women’s movement”, which is one of the least coherent, most plural movements I’ve encountered, is or should be a progressive force for change. So it’s not just about when we experience inequality; it’s also about when good things happen to us, how we live and how we would like to live, what we love and what we would like to do differently in the future.
It’s about making things more equal, but it’s not about making women be more like men. I always express disinterest in the boardroom pay-gap – perhaps I have expressed this too loudly on occasion, but I don’t feel much like apologising for that – because I have a profound disinterest in, and antipathy toward, boardrooms in general. I think big business and its boardrooms are part of the problem. And I think they’re part of the gender problem not just because they don’t pay women as much as men or let women get to the highest ranks as frequently, but also because they espouse a particular, masculine, way of comporting oneself in order to get ahead.
Whilst I think that we need to change conditioned behaviours in order to make progress, I don’t think the way towards the kind of equality that I want to see is to condition everyone to take on a flinty CityBoy persona, regardless of gender. I think that all expected, and accepted, behaviours need to change – so as women, we ought to have the opportunity to imagine the kind of space in which we might feel equal, and start to set up processes that help us on the road to that equality.
And actually, we’re the only ones living our lives; women are the only people who can say what would make them feel better or worse. It is simply impossible to know that without being female.
Which is why, men can’t be leading decision makers in the women’s movement. Understanding something intellectually and being empathetic and considerate is brilliant and necessary, but it is totally different to experiencing something first-hand, from the frustration of being constantly overlooked for promotion in favour of male colleagues, to the physical and emotional pain of violence from people who think trans women aren’t really women, so it’s okay to hit them.
The men who are our allies in this understand all that. Feminist, or pro-feminist, men (I more or less think that distinction is semantics: discuss), do not feel maligned by this. You’re doing great, keep being great, spread the word! Love, thanks and solidarity! The reason that I’m writing this and the reason I want to stress that really, feminism is NOT ABOUT MEN, is because I never, ever again want to have one of the following conversations:
“Feminism’s all good up to a point, but some people take it too far, and it’s not about equality anymore.” Really? Who does this? WHO? I know that female supremacists exist, but I am not convinced I have ever met one – and I’ve met like 95,000 different kinds of feminists, even some with whom I agree about nearly everything! Why do people still say this SO OFTEN?
“I don’t think you can achieve equality by excluding men.” Sorry, what? Who’s excluding whom, and from what? By saying men can’t lead this PARTICULAR charge, poor chaps, we’re not excluding them from anything. We’re building something more inclusive, something that will be inclusive of EVERYBODY. Women-only spaces, yeah? They’re not secret covens for plotting the downfall of all men. They’re spaces for strategising and reflecting, and practising new ways of doing things, and sharing experiences, THE BETTER TO BUILD SOMETHING MORE INCLUSIVE. Is that clear?
“Don’t feminists, like, hate men?” No. No, they don’t. This is stupid. Go away.
“As socialists/ liberals/ anarchists/ probably conservatives, it’s a while since I asked one, we are already fighting for gender equality as an inherent part of our political ideology. We do this collaboratively, we don’t need to separate men and women to do so.” OH REALLY IS THAT WHY THERE IS SUCH BLISSFUL GENDER PARITY AND SUCH A PLURAL APPROACH TO GENDER IN THE HISTORY OF ALL YOUR MOVEMENTS, THEN?
There’s one thing I’d really like to happen this year. I want to start a conversation with somebody new, about feminism and the women’s movement. Someone interested, but not “active” per se. And I want the conversation to be about WOMEN, not men.
*When I talk about women, I absolutely always mean anyone who self-defines as such. Comments disagreeing with this will be considered trolls, trolls will not be fed.