Who is feminism for?
"Why can't it include everyone?"
Hello everyone. I am writing this from Turkey, where I am about to interview some pretty amazing feminists here that work on the issue of femicide ( women and girls killed by men because they are female), and it occurred to me that there is no stronger example of why feminism should always centre women and girls. Perhaps to Martians dropping in to planet Earth that would seem a bit mad. For example, of course the black civil rights movement centres people of colour, the labour movement, working class communities, and the disability rights movement, disabled people, etc. But feminism is the only social justice movement in the world that is constantly under pressure to include everyone (i.e. men) and to work on behalf of all other oppressed and marginalised groups.
Here is an extract from my latest book, Feminism for Women: The real route to liberation. This is my view, and you can take it or leave it, but I hope it makes you think, even if a little, as to why feminism is and should alway centre women and girls.
The mantra that ‘men can be feminists’ is depressingly common, with many men claiming that they are feminists and women welcoming them with open arms.
Once upon a time, men were upfront about their dislike of feminism. They would openly deride women who used the label, calling us man haters, lesbians and ugly. Today, the tactics of sexist men that claim to be feminist have changed. In order to claim feminism as their own, these men have had to change its meaning to suit themselves. There is a direct connection between the views and tactics of those men that openly disliked feminism back in the early 1970s, and those who, more recently, appropriate feminism and wish to be called a feminist.
The myth that men can be feminists has grown in popularity over the past decade and is a reflection of the current state of what passes for feminism.
Feminism was not created for men, its goal is not to improve the quality of men’s lives, but it is available to men if they care about the women in their lives and if they want to change. It was always a fundamental principle of the women’s liberation movement that any involvement by men had to be in mixed groups run by women.
Feminism must be a political movement organised by women for women, or else it simply is not feminism. Men need to listen to women and use what they learn from women’s experiences and analysis of male behaviour to inform their own lives and choices. This may include, for example, to learn about the harm porn does to women and to stop consuming it. Think about it in the same way as you might do regarding choosing to give up meat. It is a small step towards the ultimate goal to stop animal cruelty/climate crisis, but it is at least something.
Once a man has begun the process of rejecting his power status, for example challenging other men about sexist behaviour and remarks, and stepping aside from activities such as speaking at a public event to make way for women with more direct experience, it should be incumbent upon him to actively encourage other men in establishing their roles in supporting the movement.
Many men on the left who consider themselves to be anti-sexist realise that to openly express their hatred of feminism and would rather rebrand feminism to suit their own interests. As Andrea Dworkin said, “Only when women’s bodies are being sold for profit do leftists cherish the free market”
The young women who dare to challenge them are routinely punished by being exiled from friendship and community groups, often for merely re-tweeting a woman who has been labelled a ‘bad feminist’ by men and women out to bash women on social media. There are GIFs and memes produced by victims of this craziness that are as on-point as they are funny. For example, there is one of two witches being burned at the stake with one witch telling the other why she was being put to death: ‘I re-tweeted Julie Bindel.’
Ella*, a second-year student at an English university, says: “We are currently existing in a cesspit of woman hating but we are fighting back. I am contacted almost every day by women of all ages telling me they are sick and tired of men deciding what women’s liberation is.”
The left-wing Guardian columnist Owen Jones considers himself a feminist ally. But Jones does not appear to be critical of the capitalist cesspit that is the global sex trade. In March 2015, Owen devoted a column to the subject of pornography after it had been revealed that three judges had been sacked, and a fourth had resigned, for watching porn on computers in court buildings.
‘None of it was illegal but they were still publicly embarrassed and dismissed,’ wrote Jones. ‘[And] yes, there’s clearly a sound argument that judges should be doing their jobs, not getting off on porn.’ However, Jones thinks it’s still fair enough because, ‘all sorts of procrastination that goes on in the workplace. Who knows, maybe an otherwise tense judge seeking a quick bit of relief will concentrate better.’
Jones, like many men on the left, does not seem to understand that the sex trade is built on oppression and abuse, primarily of women and children but also of some men and boys.
Gay men are not exempt from misogyny and sexism. Much mainstream gay culture is steeped in misogyny and hatred of women. Gay men are also on the receiving end of threats and violence from heterosexual men, but this does not exempt them from their status of men or from their responsibility for colluding in misogyny
Patrick Strudwick is the LGBT editor for BuzzFeed News and claims to be a feminist. ‘TERFs: I heard all your arguments 20 years ago,’ declares Patrick in one headline. ‘My mother was a TERF… I disagree because I bothered to listen to trans people.’
However, feminists do listen to trans people. Many of us share platforms and respectfully debate with trans activists. The problem is not feminists’ reluctance to listen, it is more that any proposed debate or discussion is often boycotted and picketed by trans activists who, in claiming their right to identify as they choose, say, ‘My right to exist is not up for debate’.
Perhaps the ultimate mansplaining is men telling women who can and cannot claim the label of woman. Many of those who hold the opinion that trans women are indisputably women also hold that natal males should be able to self-identify as women if that’s how they feel on any given day. So how can these men possibly campaign against sexism if they don’t understand that women are a sex class?
Circumstances in which women would formerly have risen up and formed feminist groups are now an amalgamation of gender identity, queerness and virtue-signalling in primarily upper-middle-class settings. In less privileged circles, such as the working-class communities in the North East of England where I was raised, there are women who have much to lose by rejecting male protection or validation, but do so nevertheless. Where are the opportunities or the impetus for these women to become involved in debates about individual gender identities, and what good would it do them to do so? The feminism these women are involved in is grass roots – the type that makes real and material difference to the lives of their sisters. Whether it is running refuges, campaigning against homelessness, or supporting migrant women and their children, there is little or no support from men for these feminists.
Women are treated differently from any other political movement or category. We are told that if we say men cannot be feminists then we are rejecting potential support. But these critics don't understand the difference between the labels ‘feminist’ and ‘pro-feminist’. A feminist is something only women and girls can be. A pro-feminist is a man who supports feminism and the efforts of feminists in challenging patriarchal norms such as male violence.
In Victor Seidler’s anthology about the men’s rights magazine Achilles Heel (1991), it is recalled that the magazine once wrote: ‘We were generally sceptical about men calling themselves feminists or feminist men. We were more concerned to learn from feminism in a way that enriched our exploration of inherited forms of masculinity.’ If only those men who call themselves feminists today would take this line. Not only have these men not learned from feminism but they seem to have adopted it as their own personal liberation movement and twisted the meaning of feminism beyond recognition.
When a man wears a T-shirt that says he is a feminist, many women go soft and think the man is lovely and a hero. These are the same women who think that whenever it is a man doing a ‘woman's job’, he is better at it and more rewarded for it (such as ‘babysitting’ his own kids). That is precisely why we are not asking them to be feminists or to be women. Because they will always think they have to compete and be the best. But all they are doing is wearing a T-shirt and, despite Batman, nobody becomes a superhero just because of what they wear.