Thanks and all, but no thanks: I don’t want men in my feminism

Yes, I’m one of those feminists who doesn’t want men in feminism, the type who doesn’t think men can be feminists.  I’m quite happy to talk with you, work in partnership with or alongside you, even count a select bunch of you amongst my friends, but call you feminists: “Nah.”

Men – you’ve had since time immemorial to get your shit together.  For the sake of argument, let’s start from the assumption that as a species we’ve been around for about 200,000 years.  Evidence suggests that early societies were egalitarian but that with the development of agriculture and domestication around 11,700 years ago, came the emergence of patriarchy, of men’s domination of women.  What we refer to as first wave feminism gained prominence from the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, though this is western-centric and writes out women’s earlier struggles in Europe from the 15th century.  Even if we take  Mary Wollstonecraft’s  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman published in 1792 as the start of women’s fight for our rights, men had eleven and a half thousand years to do something about sex inequality – if only a) you had wanted to and b) you weren’t too busy enjoying the benefits.  What’s suddenly happened for you to want to get in on the act?

Feminism is more than the demand for rights for women or equality between women and men. For me, feminism is the fight for the liberation of all women as a class from subjugation under patriarchy.  Loose the structural analysis and feminism gets lost in the rights of the individual, in identity led politics and notions of choice and agency fail to take sufficient account of context and impact.  Get men in and feminism is almost inevitably reduced to the problem of inequality and usually it isn’t so long before the ‘men suffer under patriarchy too’ line is trotted out.

Men, revolutionaries,  when you fight for equality you’re too quick betray your sisters.  Women were fighting for the rights of women as a class, as well as the overthrow of totalitarian regimes in the Arab Spring, but women’s status has been seriously threated in the countries that achieved changes of government.  The end of communism in Eastern Europe, and with it the rise of choice and consumerism furthered the commodification of women and men’s right’s to choose to profit and purchase. In the UK,  the Socialist Workers Party handling of rape shows that misogyny, sexism and sexual violence were seen as equality issues of lesser importance.

Men, you take up too much public space.  This post by End Victimisation and Blaming cites Dale Spender:

“Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.”     […]

“There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.”

Spender is absolutely right if my experience is anything to go by, the situation she described was not atypical. In the media men dominate, they take up disproportionate space. In politics men dominate, they take up disproportionate space.  Even on public transport men dominate, you take up disproportionate space as illustrated by this blog and this.  Seriously fellas, we know that your balls aren’t that big.

This piece by Glosswitch on the vitriol directed towards a twitter hashtag #sharedgirlhood and its protagonist Victoria Brownworth (@VABOX) explores the importance of a collective approach to women’s oppression.   Too few women get to know the joy of mass women-only spaces. It’s increasingly rare to find even a feminist event that is women only, and those that seek to provide this, increasingly face challenges.  Bullying from men’s rights extremists led to the London Irish Centre cancelling a booking for the women-only radical feminist conference Rad Fem 2013 for safeguarding reasons and because the venue could not handle the volume of complaints, though the conference went ahead peacefully elsewhere.  What’s the big threat?  Are you afraid that we’re plotting to overthrow male privilege or something?

Men, how about you prioritise taking responsibility for your violence above asking ‘What about the men?’  Services for women who have experienced sexual and domestic violence are increasingly required by commissioners to offer services to men too, despite evidence that this is not what women want, despite women being overwhelmingly the victims and men being overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence. Despite even the recognition of this by the government in its strategy to end (male) violence against women and girls. Incidentally men, if you focussed on ending male violence, you’d be helping a whole lot more men – and women – than you are by overstating your victimisation by women.

Men, how about you challenge the pornography tastes of some of your brethren?  Other men and boys listen to you, use their sexism for the greater good.  How about you challenge the sexual objectification of women without needing to call yourselves feminists to do so. Just do it because you recognise that objectification is damaging to women, a cause and consequence of inequality that upholds patriarchy.

Men, how about you sort out the rest of society – that in which you dominate – and make that more equitable and safer for women before you insist on occupying our space?  There is a role for you, plenty that you can do,  and I really hope that you will be influenced by feminism but in my experience, it is the men who exclude themselves from identifying as a feminist, who instead see themselves as allies, supporters or pro-feminist who have the more sophisticated analysis.  Men who realise that feminism is not about or for them, not about what they think.

The silencing of women by men in the public sphere is deafening; the habit of overlooking and failing to respond to women’s subordination is entrenched, structural and serves men as a class. By insist on inclusion in feminism, once again, men’s wants and needs are prioritised over women’s and women’s subordination is reinforced.

Vawg – I hate how vawg has become a word.

Yesterday I went to a meeting about men’s violence against women and girls in London.  Access to the meeting room was initially difficult because when I entered the building and told the person on reception that I was here for the ‘Violence Against Women and Girls Meeting’ in Room X, she told me that the room was booked for something else. Eventually she told me that the room was booked for the ‘fourth meeting’.  Could someone have asked to book a room for a ‘vawg meeting’ and been misheard, I suggested. Yes, of course they could, it transpired.   I hate how vawg has become a word and this was an unwelcome reminder.  At the start of the meeting, I started doing a tally about how many times the word ‘vawg’ was used.  I almost immediately forgot because the actual subject matter demanded full attention and constructive engagement.

I hate how vawg has become a word because it allows users to disconnect from VIOLENCE against WOMEN and GIRLS.  It hides the violence. If we who are engaged in raising awareness about men’s violence against women and girls as a step towards ending men’s violence against women and girls, want to raise awareness, how are we doing this if we allow the very words to be erased? Never more so when even ‘vawg’ is misheard and becomes ‘fourth’.

I hate how vawg has become a word though I celebrate that as a concept it has entered the mainstream because it connects the different forms of men’s violence against women and girls under patriarchy: rape, sexual violence, domestic violence, femicide, FGM,  prostitution, pornography and other harmful practices.

I hate how vawg has become a word because I am not particularly fond of acronyms and jargon.  Lazy acronyms make important information inaccessible to the ‘not one of the club’ non-specialist.

I hate how vawg has become a word though I acknowledge that it is useful when we’re writing, especially when we’re tweeting and have restricted characters (Men’s Violence against women and girl is 37 characters) and in these situations I use VAWG or MVAWG myself. It really doesn’t take so long to say it: “violence against women and girls” though, does it?

I hate how vawg has become a word because it renders men – the perpetrators –  invisible. I know, I know, not all men. But saying that men as a class benefit under patriarchy and men’s violence against women and girls is an instrument of maintaining women’s subordination is not the same as saying ‘all men are violent and women never are’.  It really isn’t.  Maybe it would be more accurate to say patriarchal violence against women and girls but this also disguises the role and responsibility of men.

I hate how vawg has become a word.

Feminism, single issue campaigns and disagreeing

I’d like to be able to write this without referring to the campaign that has prompted this piece, I’d like to but I’m not sure that in doing so I’d be able to express myself well enough; I’d like to because I support the single objective of that single issue campaign and I don’t want to knock women who are trying to make a difference. Sadly however, as described in this blog by Terri Strange, by describing themselves as “not anti-porn” the campaigner(s) behind ‘No more Page Three’ have located the campaign within a feminist political position that I cannot ascribe to.

I supported the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign because the sexual objectification of women – like men’s violence against women – is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men.  My support of the single issue campaign was and is consistent with my wider perspective.  Pornography is the eroticisation of unequal power relations and women’s subjugation. Add a racial analysis to that perspective and the problems are exacerbated. This is not my feminism.  My feminism is rooted in a structural analysis of power relations rather than identity politics and choice.  A feminism based on a structural analysis of power relations is just as able – in my opinion, better able – to encompass multiple forms of advantage and oppression, such as class, race and disability within and in addition to analysis of sex-class inequality, as identity based feminism.

The eroticisation of women’s bodies as objects of consumption works because women’s and men’s bodies serve different purposes in a patriarchal capitalist society.  For a decent and thorough analysis, please read Julia Long’s ‘Anti-porn or Gail Dines’ ‘Pornland’. For the purposes of this piece, the parody Wrecking Ball (Chatroulette Version)  illustrates my position perfectly well.   In patriarchal society, treating women and men’s bodies the same, isn’t the same.  It just doesn’t work.  Why?  Because of sex inequality.

I understand why some feminists are reluctant to support single issue campaigns.  They’re absolutely right if they argue that we are not going to achieve the liberation of women, the end of women’s subjugation under patriarchy though relatively easily achievable single issue campaigns.  I however, can live with that.  As a feminist whose primary focus is male violence against women, I was  more than happy to support Caroline Criado-Perez’s bank notes campaign and explained why here:

Violence against women and girls is both a consequence and cause of inequality between women and men.  Of course, I am not suggesting that the inclusion of a woman on banknotes would reduce male violence against women and girls.  But I do believe that when we have a choice about whether our actions reinforce or challenge inequality between women and men, if we chose to ignore or exclude women, then we are guilty  of relegating women to a second-class status.  If we think that making women invisible is acceptable, then we are part of the problem.

The problem is different where single issue campaigners knowingly place their objectives outside or in opposition to a wider political analysis.

As a feminist, I have learned a lot from women who have disagreed with me and challenged me, women who have pointed out the inconsistencies within my own comfort zones.  It’s still happening all the time and yet I still cling to behaviours, habits and thought processes that I  know don’t cut it. And I recognise the inadequacy of the choice based defence that I occasionally fall back on.  However, sometimes I listen, sometimes I learn, sometimes my position shifts.  That’s why I cannot agree with those who are critical of the feminists who are critiquing the “not anti-porn” position of the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign.   I am not criticising their campaign, the huge time and energy that has been invested in pushing for change, but I am challenging, questioning and disagreeing with the political – or lack or political –  analysis.  As a feminist, I hear and learn from women that I sometimes agree with, sometimes disagree with, all the time.  Most disagreements do not negate the value of the things I learn.  We need to be able to discuss and disagree.

I hope that the ‘No More Page Three’ campaign achieves its aim.  But I want to see the campaign succeed because pornography is a cause and consequence of inequality and I want to be able to support the campaign because it is part of the solution, not just shifting the problem. And I want to be able to say that – in the hope of spreading a structural feminist analysis –  without it being seen as an attack on other women who are fighting for a better world.