Should I Be A Feminist?

Back in August 2015 I wrote a post questioning whether I actually could be a feminist. I was presented with a book in the October of that year so I might “start getting it”. Of course, this changes the question I ask from whether I can be a feminist to whether I should be if it’s possible.

So I started thinking about masculinism! Of course, the best place to start is usually with a definition, so I open Google and start looking at the first few articles that come up. The first thing I looked at (partly because I avoid Wikipedia when I’m looking for simplicity) is the link titled “Definition of masculinist by Merriam Webster“. Fair enough, the link was to the -ist and not the -ism, but what I saw amazed me so much that I actually checked whether it was a wiki page that had been hijacked. No, it’s not. Apparently “for more than 150 years, in print and now online, Merriam-Webster has been America’s leading and most-trusted provider of language information”.

The definition I found for masculinist was “an advocate of male superiority or dominance”. What?! Really?! So I searched the site for “feminist”. Interestingly, America’s most-trusted provider of language information does not have a definition for feminist, only feminism. For the record, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”.

I ignored Urban Dictionary because, well, it’s Urban Dictionary and moved on to the third article on Google by “London Feminist” who takes on #INeedMasculinismBecause from early 2013. Apparently what the hashtag “tells us is that we need more feminism” again, because feminism is concerned about overturning the patriarchy. Or, in other words – “You don’t need to, we got this”.

I started with “masculinism” as a way to rationalise the things I don’t get about feminism figuring that another side of the debate would demystify it. It hasn’t, and here’s why trying to define masculinism hasn’t worked for me either.

 

The Naming Convention

Naming a movement aimed, supposedly, at the overreaching term of gender equality after one particular gender can never achieve that aim. At best it’s confused, at worst it exhibits victim mentality and somewhere in the middle it shows a little bit of hypocrisy that one gender is better than the other at solving a particular adverse situation.

There are two analogies that can be used to think about redressing balance between two groups. They both use two equally sized glasses and some liquid. One way to achieve equality is to put the same amount of liquid into each glass, and this can be done by taking from one and giving to another. But here equality is achieved by even distribution of inequalities. Things are made fair by making sure both parties have the same quantity of unfairness. The other way to create equality is to take one glass in each hand, pour out all the liquid and return them to the table empty. Neither party sees any inequality and life is good.

The easy comparison is with racism. It is not called caucasianism, blackism, asianism… It’s aim is society not recognising races at all, or just one human race. Those who campaign against racism want empty glasses and that is inherent in a name that does not identify one race as any more needing of equality than another, even if this dynamic most certainly exists in practice.

Emma Watson, in her speech to the UN on the #HeForShe campaign in 2014 towed a similar line, kind of getting it right before then ruining it when she said “It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. [Yes…] We want to try to galvanise as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for change.” No! If it’s not two opposing ideals and it is a spectrum, stop galvanising men and boys and start galvanising humanity!  To her credit, Watson did attempt to remedy that, although not quite making it, by saying “We need more of those [galvanised men and boys] and if you still hate the word [feminism], it is not the word that is important. It’s the idea and the ambition behind it.”  With that last sentence, I concur.

 

What actually is Feminism?

My struggle with the naming convention of this movement is based around the fact that I can’t seem to get to grips with what feminism actually stands for.  There is the type of feminism alluded to earlier that rubbishes #INeedMasculinismBecause because feminism is about equality for all, while at the other end there are radical feminists who don’t believe in equality, but rather that men are the reason for everything bad in the world and it is actually women that should be governing men without equality.

If feminism is all about equality for all, why do those surveyed in Have You Ever Beat Up A Boyfriend? Cause, Uh, We Have (and many of its commenters) at feminist website Jezebel take amusement (“Okay, that one made us laugh really hard”) in noting how they’ve beaten up the men in their lives? (I understand, although cannot be certain, that Jezebel at the time of the “survey” had 3 editors, 5 staff writers, and 2 editorial assistants meaning that 40% of their female staff have admitted to being domestic abusers).

In an article I wrote at university about Radical Feminist Views of Pornography, one of the main views presented by feminists such as McKinnon and Dworkin was that pornography is about the sexual objectification of women as mere body parts for the amusement of men.  I’m not going to go in to this subject now (I’ll try to find my essay and post it) but it is then confusing that, again at Jezebel, Dodai Stewart admits to finding an at-the-time under age Taylor Lautner “hot“.  I was once personally pulled up for liking a picture of Ana Ivanovic in a swimsuit on Instagram by the same person that wanted to see a film at the cinema because she thought that the lead actor was good looking.

In 2005, the National Organization for Women (NOW) released a memo opposing shared parenting in cases of the breakdown of the family unit. (This despite NOW and its co-thinkers once encouraging fathers, fathering and shared parenting. In 1971 Gloria Steinem wrote that children suffer from having “too little father” in their lives, and that a more equal balance of parenting was needed. Karen DeCrow, president of NOW from 1974 to 1977, says “it was clear from the feminist writings and ideas of the ’60s and ’70s that joint custody was what we supported after a divorce.”)

On the face of it, the 2005 statement seems pretty even handed when at first talking about “primary caregivers” and concluding that “the parent who assumed primary responsibility for the children during the marriage, either father or mother, should continue to be the custodial parent” but is tinted with sexism by saying that “increased father involvement does not necessarily result in positive outcomes for children” and calling out “abusive fathers“.  Incidentally, research conducted has noted that between 2001 and 2006 in America 71% of children killed by one parent are killed by their mothers with 60% of the victims being boys.  NOW further ruin their statement by raising another opposition in 2009 when they say “Father’s rights groups are in the forefront of the push for legislation establishing a presumption in favor of joint custody… Joint custody over the wishes of one parent facilitates using the children to maintain access and control over the other parent’s life”.  Again, they have moved from equality to the inference at least of a man who will use children to exert control over their mother.

It strikes me, going to the smaller things, that feminism means different things to different people.  For example, some feminists are probably happy for a man to hold the door open for her, seat her at a table and pay for her dinner on a date.  He could then take her home without expecting sex and she would walk into her living room, pull out her phone and message her friend saying that she had had an amazing time and that her date is an amazing person and has an equally amazing arse.  Yet the next day she can join a protest advocating equal pay for women.

And I’m not saying that this is wrong.  I actually think it’s staggeringly normal to approve of politeness and well meaning generosity as well as approving physical characteristics in a potential mate.  I also understand that people can take parts of any belief system and query others.  Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t help me work out what feminism is and therefore what I would be believing in.  If I believe in somethings that feminists campaign for, but not others, can I be a feminist?  Which issues tip the balance?

 

Competition

With some types of feminism, I’m being told that, as a middle aged single white man, I cannot face adversity simply by being.  Because I can not be offended, I am one of the men who perpetuates gender inequality.

In an article in The Telegraph entitled “International Men’s Day is being ‘debated’ by MPs? Spare me“, Rachel Argyle derides the need for a recognised International Men’s Day because men’s issues simply aren’t as important as women’s.  The hypocrisy can be summed up when Argyle picks women’s issues around inequality in employment, child marriage, FGM , sex trafficking, kidnap, rape, murder… “These inequalities mean that women and girls in the world are suppressed, hurt or dying.”

Argyle then goes on to list male issues (punctuating the word male within inverted commas because men can not be kidnapped, raped, murdered or be unemployed in the same way that women can get testicular or prostate cancer) and mentions things like higher suicide rates in men compared to women but fails to mention that a man committing suicide actually leads to a man dying.  Argyle also ignores institutional sexism against men such as that highlighted by Prof. Sonja Starr’s paper Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases who found that men in the US receive 63% longer sentences on average than women do and that women are twice as likely than men to avoid incarceration altogether when convicted of the same criminal offence.

Argyle’s male friends think that International Men’s Day is OK because it’s not a competition.  Argyle herself claims it is and that the competition needs to stop somewhere.  That line for Argyle is drawn from her conclusion that when the same thing happens to both sexes or whichever gender, it is worse when it happens to someone who is feminine (and that can’t be a man).

In his piece comparing the media’s reaction to two apparently sexist interviews, one instigated by a man and the other by two “privileged, multi-millionaire Hollywood actresses”, Martin Daubney notes the difference in outrage when the victim is a woman rather than a man.  Both interviews were not reported uniformly, but in a way to promote one particular agenda.  If facts are conveniently ignored simply because of their inconvenience to that particular agenda, why should we listen to the things that aren’t? “Not only does the entire house of cards topple, but, in time, a growing number of men will not listen to a single thing liberals or feminists say.  Is that the brave new world of equality they really want?”

Men must be able to talk about more than feminist approved topics such as how the patriarchy leads us to be emotionally constipated.  Men should be able to talk about more controversial concerns: wrongful accusations of rape; sexual harassment policies that selectively penalise men for innocuous “banter” (I hate that word); lack of options to avoid unwanted parenthood once conception has occurred. Such a conversation would also acknowledge that pressures on men to be successful come not only from “the patriarchy” but, often, from women as well.  Men should be able to talk about these on an equal footing to women’s issues which Argyle appears not to accept despite, allegedly, feminism being about equality for all.

 

Guilt

In an associated thread to that above, in 2013 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered a TED Talk with the title “We Should All Be Feminists“.  Her talk makes a lot of good points with which it is hard to argue.  However, some of her points also make this white, middle-class male feel guilty simply for being born this way (adding to his mother’s disappointment upon my birth that calling her second born son Catherine might cause confusion in later years).

Adichie says: “Some people will say, ‘well, poor men also have a hard time’ and this is true, but this is not what this conversation is about”.  Really? Why not?  Why is it up to the female matriarch to decide what gender issues men are able to openly discuss?  After all, we’re talking about equality, aren’t we?

Adichie blames society (presumably the male patriarch) for doing boys a “great disservice” by moulding them to become men by making them feel “they have to be hard” and therefore unable to talk to about things such as feelings.  Society does this by defining masculinity in such a narrow way and that we put boys within “this small, hard cage”.  She says that gender “prescribes how we should be rather than recognising how we are” but her way around this is to declare that we should all be feminists.  This could be because, quoting Adichie again “many men do not actively think about gender or notice gender”.  Yet I suspect a strict feminist reading this post at the moment would actually see me as anti-feminist rather than someone thinking freely about gender politics entitled to my reasoned opinion.

Indeed, compare Adichie’s stance to that of radical feminist Mary Daly who actually banned men from her courses in theology, feminist ethics, and patriarchy at Boston College on the belief that the men inhibited class discussion.  Here we have two feminists at odds with each other, one claiming that men don’t think about gender politics while the other actually actively sought to curtail discussion with men.

This is where I feel my guilt.  When I was presented with the book so I might “start getting it”, it was assumed I didn’t because I don’t openly display a “I Am A Feminist” membership card.  I am being made to feel guilty for not being a feminist or else told that I am not a feminist because I simply don’t know enough.  I am then made to feel guilty by Adichie because if I was a feminist the world would be a better place.

I have seen other situations where a feminist actually cites women declaring themselves do be non-feminists as having “irrational” beliefs or “stepping in a pile of poo“.  Women are choosing to make other women feel bad about their beliefs as free-thinkers.

In her talk, Adichie declares proudly “I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and for my femininity and I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be”.  Yes, she should, and so should all women.  However, she does not set the stage for a man to be able to declare himself proud of his masculinity.

Instead she blames this masculinity for creating men with fragile egos which the patriarch then expects subordinate women to massage.  But is Adichie’s call for every human to be a feminist and Argyle’s assertion that women’s issues are greater than men’s not a sign of a fragile female ego that cannot accept that everyone has the right to be accepted for who they are?

Jude Kelly, organiser of the Being a Man Festival, puts it well when she says, “There is no one kind of man, just as there is no one kind of woman. And if the debate around gender equality keeps moving forward – which I think it will – that doesn’t mean it should specifically focus on women. It means something more, something about how the entire human race organises and understands identity”.

 

Bringing People Together?

Laurie Penny and Linda West write the most compelling reasoning I can see for declaring myself to be feminist.  They highlight a theory that it is not men as individuals who are oppressors of women, but the fact that a patriarchal society does this in general, to men and women alike.  This is the result of years of “normal” actions in which men did unfairly discriminate against women on the basis of their sex and gender.

Of course, their shared view is difficult for me, as a man, to take.  “You might be a lovely guy with your heart in the right place, but it’s still your fault.  In fact, the vast and overwhelming majority of you might all be really nice guys with all your hearts in their respective correct positions, but you’re still all to blame.  And we know you didn’t have any choice over the chromosomes you have but, well, what can we say? Deal with it.”

Unfortunately, the feminism I am seeing which regards all the inequalities I have touched on above as byproducts of a general rather than specific male power over women is tending to reinforce rather than challenge the double standards it seeks to remove.  Indeed, when Emma Watson in her aforementioned speech spoke of wanting to end the idea that “fighting for women’s rights [is] synonymous with man-hating”, she does not only need to address this to the men she wants to galvanise, but to the likes of Penny and West.

While I have already said that West in particular makes a good fist of explaining the “fem” in feminist (even if I don’t, for a reason I haven’t quite put my finger on yet, like her analogy), if Penny is also of the opinion that feminism is not about man-hating, why complain so vehemently about being “asked to modify our language so we don’t hurt men’s feelings” when talking about misogyny, for instance, so as not to generalise about all men as oppressors?  Penny should have no problem not seeking to hurt individual, well-meaning men if her problem is with society.

Watson should also address her assertion to those who believe in ironic misandry as a way “to weed out cool dudes from the dumb bros” who don’t understand it, because in this instance the “cool dudes” are feminists and the “dumb bros” are not.  It is, again, reinforcing the double standard rather than bringing people together.

Even #HeForShe indicates two distinct parties.

I’m not sure I can be part of a movement that contradicts itself in so many ways and where various parts of its membership do not agree.

I am well aware that there are still far too many countries in the world where women still lack what the reasonable person would call basic human rights and where patriarchy is still very real.  If tagging these issues with the “feminist issue” title raises awareness in a way that a more generally equalist movement can not, then all well and good.  In Europe and the US, various women’s rights movements have been a great success and, while they must continue (globally) because there is no doubt that there is still work to be done, they should continue with the equal inclusion of the other side of the revolution.  The main thing that a decent society should want is to not recognise gender at all.  #WeForUs?

Moving away from the subject of gender politics, a decent society should want to celebrate diversity while not accepting inequality that can be unfairly applied to any demographic whether minority or majority, and this is the crux.  Why do I have to get feminism? I can understand that there are issues that women face that men do not.  I can understand that there are issues that women face more than men.  I understand that people of a certain age can be unfairly discriminated against.  I understand that people can be unfairly discriminated against because of the colour of their skin, their race, or their nationality. I understand that people can be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and religion.  I understand that people can be discriminated against because of the colour of their hair, whether they have body piercings or tattoos or if they wear Nike as opposed to adidas…

If we want equality, let us all fight the battle under a name that we can all be happy with, and maybe let that be that some of us just want to be decent human beings.

I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no nameI want to feel, sunlight on my face
See that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I want to take shelter from the poison rainWhere the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no nameWe’re still building
Then burning down love, burning down love
And when I go there
I go there with you
(It’s all I can do)

The cities a flood
And our love turns to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust

I’ll show you a place
High on the desert plain

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name

Still building
Then burning down love
Burning down love

And when I go there
I go there with you
(It’s all I can do)

Oh, when I see love
See our love turns to rust
We’re being blown by the wind
Blown by the wind

When I see love
See our love turns to rust
We’re being blown by the wind
Blown by the wind.
And when I go there
I’ll go there with you,
It’s all I can do.

Where The Streets Have No Name by U2

 

 

 

 

 

EDIT 21.02.16
I submitted this post to reddit for sharing, comment and discussion. I tried to post in the feminism sub-reddit, and was subsequently banned from posting by the moderators of the group. Read in to this what you will.

banned

Comments 3

  1. Poor Robert

    There is absolutely nothing controversial about this post. I’ve been a male feminist for years. Some have told me that I didn’t have a choice being the only male (including the pets) in my house, but we always have choices. I loved the post and your style so you now have a new follower. Keep it up.

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