Someone I’m following on Twitter, @quietriot_girl, recently put out a call for any interested men to discuss feminism. I volunteered, and she sent the following list of questions, to which I’ve attached my answers here.
1. Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
If so, why? If not, why not?
People have many different ideas of what feminism means, but all the formulations I’m most familiar with seem to describe philosophies that I consider important and worth following. One of my housemates at uni had a bumper sticker up in her room with a quote to the effect that “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people”. I can get behind that.
It’s not exactly a revolutionary observation that gender discrimination against women has been a pretty shitty and widespread thing throughout much of the history of civilisation, and we’re still not over it today. There are still ways in which unhelpful and unfair stereotypes and assumptions about women’s role in society linger on in the way people think and act, and I think it’s worth taking an active role in addressing this, beyond merely adopting the passive stance of “not being sexist”.
2. Look at this list of speakers for a forthcoming Feminism In London conference.
As you can see there are no men speakers scheduled. Would this put you off attending such an event? If not, please elaborate.
Well, I’m just an antisocial person, so this wouldn’t really be my scene anyway. Putting that aside, I suppose that seeing a long list like this of all women speakers might make me doubt how welcome I’d be, as a man. Which is okay; I wouldn’t begrudge the organisers of this event if they wanted an exclusively female attendance.
If this was representative of a more general trend, this may be a cause for concern, as I think that men have an important part to play in the feminist movement, and blocking us out entirely from open discussion and involvement can only be counter-productive. However, it does fall to me to be careful how I phrase such objections, so that I don’t come across as just angrily trying to barge into a discussion these womyn-folk are having to make sure I’m heard because I’m a MAN, dammit.
All the feminist activism I’ve experienced has tended to be very positive, inclusive, generally in line with my own values, and has never made me feel like I’d be an unwelcome part of it. I don’t personally feel like the voice of male feminism is being systematically ignored or shut down, so I don’t worry too much about the under-representation of men at certain events. It may speak to a broader problem within certain organisations, but I don’t feel equipped to judge that.
Also, let’s not forget that the reason for interest or concern in men’s role in feminism is not because of a general problem of societal oppression of men, or the hardships men traditionally face as a result of gender discrimination. It’s because getting men on board with the cause can help advance feminism. I do think that feminism would suffer if it lacked any kind of outreach to get men involved, but this wouldn’t be that grave an injustice against men themselves.
Also also, my friend Jessica deserves a shout-out for being a voice of positive, inclusive feminism in the context of Christianity. Again, I don’t know if she’s just radically out of sync with the usual tone of “mainstream feminism”, or if mainstream feminism has some more inclusive corners than you’re giving it credit for.
There were also two follow-up parts to question 2…
Are there any issues you would like to see discussed at feminist events that are not represented here? What are they?
Are there any specific people (of any gender identity) that you would be interested to hear speak at a feminist event?
…but I feel less qualified to comment here. I’m not that immersed in the feminist movement that I feel like I really know what they’re discussing most of the time, and I’m unlikely to find out by attending any “feminist events” because, hi, still quite antisocial.
The one thing I suppose I’d want to suggest be talked about more is the concept of practical, evidence-based activism – establishing what works and what doesn’t, what tactics will get people on our side and what will put them off, when it comes to trying to make a wider audience understand what feminism is trying to do and why it’s important. If our aims are no more specific than to “stand up for” certain ideas, or to “fight” for “equality” without ever nailing down what those words mean, then we’ll just end up talking at cross purposes and confusing things.
3. Do you have any other comments on how you perceive feminism to be at the moment? Especially from the perspective of being a man?
Well, I know that its failure to be sufficiently inclusive to men is one of the things you’ve criticised the mainstream feminist movement for, but my own experience of feminism hasn’t found it at all off-putting or unwelcoming. This may simply imply that it hasn’t been primarily “mainstream” feminism that I’ve been interacting with, which could well be the case.
The skeptical movement is my main thing, the big cause and community that’s hooked me for the past few years, and my burgeoning interests in equality and politics and journalism and so forth have all kinda spun off from that. Feminism and racial equality are both non-trivial parts of the skeptical movement, and I think this is largely why I’ve taken as much notice of them as I have.
A big part of the feminist message for me comes from people I already respect and admire as skeptics in their own right, perhaps most notably the Skepchicks. The purpose of that blog is to provide a more female-oriented wing of the skeptical movement, but they know that they’re working as part of a male-dominated community, so they’ve made sure things don’t start to feel exclusive in that regard.
Maybe that says something useful about a broader feminist approach that could be more widely adopted: rather than “feminism” simply existing as a stand-alone movement on its own, a better way forward would involve pre-existing groups or communities of people with shared interests, who currently happen to be predominantly male, taking on the task of feminist outreach themselves.
4. Where do you live?
5. What is your ethnic origin?
I’m as White British as they come.
So, that’s the game, folks. If you’ve got anything to add to this perspective, let me know, and I’m sure Elly would also like to hear.