Hooray! Feminists have managed to make inequality between the sexes so obviously ludicrous, so obviously discriminatory, so unpalatable, that even men want in on the act. Sadly though, I think this is more an ‘own goal’ than a cause for celebration. It’s not unusual any more for a man to say that he’s a feminist, and it’s even less unusual for women to say that men can and should be involved in feminism. But for this to have become possible, it has been necessary for a shift in the understanding of what feminism is. Feminism, women’s fight for liberation from male oppression, has become widely understood as the struggle for gender equality. That this shift has happened as men have clamoured to be involved, is not a coincidence. Invite the oppressor to the game and the goal shifts. But the shift renders feminism meaningless. Gender is a social construct, it is one of patriarchy’s best tools for maintaining inequality and the illusion that inequality between the sexes is natural and inevitable. Gender is a hierarchy, it is subordination and domination sugar coated in pink and blue. Gender equality is an oxymoron, gender is inequality. Feminism needs to fight for the eradication of gender, not for it to be enshrined and protected in legislation.
As Andrea Dworkin identified, feminism requires that which patriarchy destroys in women, our ability to confront and resist male power. As women, too many of us are caught up in societal Stockholm syndrome. As an oppressed group too many of us have bonded with those who hold power and see society though their perspective. It is an understandable survival strategy, but it is also one of the ways our collusion is created. I understand how women love their male partners, their sons, fathers, male friends and relatives. I understand that some men, maybe even many or most men, are good men who respect women and purport to or even genuinely desire equality with women. As a sentient human being I understand that masculinity encompasses ways of being that some men reject or even feel imprisoned by. As a human being, I can sympathise with and support their desire for change. Yet cries that ‘patriarchy hurts men too’ leave the feminist in me unmoved. These positions are not mutually exclusive, but feminism needs to centre on women’s oppression, tinkering with gender equality will never produce the change for women that feminism demands. Whilst feminism must ensure that the additional structural oppressions faced by some women are not ignored and cannot be blind to the ways that class and race bring advantages for some women and disadvantages for others, the focus must be on women’s oppressions, not on men.
When we look at male violence against women, the difference between a liberal and a radical feminist analysis is the difference between looking for individual or class solutions. One of the biggest gains of feminism is getting male violence against women on to the policy agenda and almost seen as a mainstream issue. The biggest threat against this gain, is that those male dominated institutions of power, under the auspices of dealing with the problem, have shaken all but the barest hint of feminist analysis from discourse on the issue. To end male violence against women, we need to end male power, and dismantle all the institutions that uphold male supremacy. It is this power that creates and is reinforced by male violence against women. We will never end male violence by believing that we can change one man at a time, though sensitising education programmes. We will never end male violence against women by being gentle to men and sympathetic to the harms of masculinity to men, not without destroying the institutions that uphold and create male supremacy. We will never end male violence against women, against children, even against other men, if we fail to recognise and name men as the overwhelming primary perpetrators of almost all forms of violence.
A 2014 study of the worldwide cost of violence, found that domestic violence against women and children costs $8 trillion each year and is the biggest single form (and cost) of violence, yet that same study fails to name the issue ‘male violence’ against women and children. Male involvement in the field of male violence against women became ‘men can be victims too’, became the failure to name male violence and this allows male violence against women as a cause and consequence of inequality to continue. How many men genuinely choose not to see the massive imbalance that is violence between the sexes, male violence against women? How many men do not know that rape, assault and murder of women are wrong? Men who want to support women in our struggle to end male violence need to join us naming the problem, they should not need to demand access to our spaces to do so. Men need to see male violence against women as the problem, not create women’s violence against men as a false equivalent and not place this as secondary to them learning how not to be harmed by masculinity. When we look at homicide, there is no sex equivalence, women are overwhelmingly killed by men; men too, are overwhelmingly killed by men. When men kill their women partners and ex-partners, it is usually after subjecting them to years of abuse, the comparatively few women who kill male partners or exes, usually do so after they themselves have been subject to years of abuse. There is no equivalence, not in rate, not in precursor to killing. Men need to learn to listen to feminists, to learn from us, rather than fight to have their voices be the ones that feminists listen to.
Men, through their socialisation, their training to be the dominant class, dominate space. Mostly they can’t see this happening, and women, through our socialisation are equality taught not to see this. Last month I attended a conference on fatal domestic violence. According the delegate list, 91 out of 101 attendees were women. After the first session of speakers, questions were invited from the floor, the first two ‘questions’ were from men. Taking the composition of delegates to be 10% men and ignoring all other differences between the sexes, the statistical probability of this happening is one percent. One percent, but any feminist attending similar conferences will be able to tell you that this isn’t unusual. Why? Gender. Male entitlement and men and women’s socialisation in to our genders make this unnoticed and accepted.
Feminism needs to be radical, not liberal. Radicalism understands that oppression is group based harm, liberalism is individualist. Not only has feminism been reset as gender equality, the notion of ‘choice’ of the individual has become one of its central tenants. This is another false lead. Of course women must have the right to choose, but our choices need to be understood in their wider social context. Women ‘choose’ to wear restrictive and uncomfortable clothes and footwear, to maximise our assets, to flaunt our curves, to sell sex, to view something called beauty as desirable and saleable because society has been constructed to maintain inequality and the best way to maintain social power is to persuade an oppressed group to collude with their oppression. Men are raised to believe in their entitlement to women’s bodies; sexual objectification, pornography and even non-sexual objectification of women create this. Women have been socialised to view ourselves through the lens that is the male gaze because society is built upon those foundations. The objectification and commodification of women, like male violence against women, like gender, are means of maintaining male supremacy.
Men, I do not want you in my feminism. I want something a bit more complex than that. I would like you to realise that feminism is not about you, it is not about what men need but it is about what your class does to women. I would like you to shut up and listen and learn. Then I would like you to take that learning and communicate with and change other men. You do need to want to change society. You do not need to call yourself feminists to do this. You do not need to be part of the women centered space that is feminism. You do not need to alter the goals of feminism so that you are included.
By the time the precious few men that ever realise that they are advantaged by patriarchy get round to realising it, they have already benefited from being socialised as men and their awareness does not prevent them from continuing to benefit from their socialisation and from how society treats women and men as a class. Every man benefits from male supremacy. Feminism cannot succeed if we allow the very goal of feminism to be hidden or extinguished. If our goal as feminists is not mass social change, the eradication of male power, but gradual blurring of the boundaries between what is deemed masculine and feminine, then sex inequality will never be erased. None of this means that men do not have a role in creating change, but that feminism has a particular role in creating how we understand the change that is needed. We can’t create equality from a system that is predicated upon inequality. We cannot afford for feminism to become the fight for gender equality rather than the end of male supremacy. This is why feminism cannot be for or about men. If our feminism does not make this obvious, which sex benefits from things staying as they are?