In this Women of Words Blogcast, myself and Melissa of Hugzilla Blog had a chat about a recent article we’d read that was a male opinion on a feminist activist and also about male feminism in general- those who identify as male feminists or consider themselves feminist allies. We also tossed around ideas and ways that men can be great feminist allies versus what we see being done now that just doesn’t work.
Amy: Recently, New Matilda published this article written by Jack Kilbride, a young, self-proclaimed male feminist. There were quite a few standout moments for me- what about you?
Me, reading the New Matilda article.
Mel: For me, the revelation was less in the content of the actual article and more in the responses in the comments. Ironically, the male author was essentially saying that Clementine Ford’s brand of feminism was off the mark, but the comments to me revealed just how much she has shifted the dialogue, re-framed the debate and re-established the rules of engagement when it comes to feminist activism.
Amy: She absolutely has. Almost every attack I see on her essentially proves her right because what she is doing is pointing out how poorly women are treated in various circumstances- a lot of perhaps uncomfortable truths. For pointing out those truths, she is abused, threatened, harassed. With Kilbride’s article on NM, I intensely disliked his attempt at tone policing women, basically saying that Clementine Ford and everyone else who gets angry at the marginalizing/abuse/harassment of women that to make progress should not react with anger because we need the men committing the abuse, harassment etc to be on our side. He said this was the “goal of feminism”. Dude, what?? I think for men to be feminists, or feminist allies, they can’t come in and tell women how they should feminist, for starters! Learning about feminism would also be an excellent start, as would resisting the urge to redefine it’s aims.
Mel: Yes, I think it comes down to this socialising of women to be polite and to always be mindful of the feelings of others – even if it is at their own expense. It also plays into the idea that women at all times need to take the moral high ground and to play fair, even when they are being attacked by people who aren’t. Again – it is more policing of women’s behaviour.
Mel: The terrible thing is that it distracts from the shameful behaviour of the men they are reacting to. It becomes more important for women to be polite and to speak without using profanity than it is for men to stop abusing women with rape, death threats and mutilation.
Amy: I know Clementine Ford has actually said more than once that it’s not her job to educate misogynists and frankly, it’s not ours either. But what about the men that are interested in feminism- what would you tell them? Obviously tone policing is a big one- don’t tell women they can’t be angry about something, instead look to what they are angry about.
Mel: I would tell them this:
I am subscribed to a wonderful page on Facebook called Blackfulla Revolution
. It is a page dedicated to sharing the stories, history, culture and struggles of the indigenous population of Australia. I love jumping into a Facebook conversation as much as the next person but when I am interacting with this page I never comment. Ever. I know that the best thing I can do as a white Australian is to shut up and listen. As a white Australian, my experiences are represented everywhere: in the media, in the education sector, in popular culture, in history books. I have a voice. When I am on that page the best thing I can do is stop talking and listen to people who are dealing with racism and social oppression on a daily basis. There is no need for me to explain that to them and it would be insulting if I tried. There is a term for that – whitesplaining
. The best thing I can do is listen, learn and share those experiences with people, and to support their cause without invalidating their experiences. To me, male feminists should do the same. Their experience of sexism, gender discrimination and gendered violence is not equivalent to that experienced by women, so they need to step aside and let women tell those stories in their own voice. Also, male feminists would be best supporting the cause by calling out violent and sexist behaviour of other men. We need their voices to condemn those behaviours too.
Amy: Yes- we need their voices there more than we need them telling us how we are allowed to act, or react. I think if men want to become involved in feminism, they need to be aware of their privilege and definitely to listen and accept what women experience. And they need to do so without derailing. If I, as a white person, went onto Blackfulla Revolution and found every post relating to racism and reminded them that not all white people were racist, that would be derailing; trying to make the conversation about me, instead.
Mel: Yes – it can be confronting when your privilege gets called out. It can be confronting when you get lumped in with bigots and racists – and the urge to jump in and say “Hey! I’m not like those assholes!” can be very strong. But this is not about me. It’s not about my hurt feelings. If men want to be a part of feminism, they need to step up and call out their peers for violent and abusive behaviour. They need to pull other men up for microaggressions and the daily minutia of sexist behaviour. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
Amy: When it comes to male feminists or feminist allies, what we need from you is for you to listen to us, believe us and let us speak. No need to remind us that #notallmen- we already know!
Mel: Yes, put your personal feelings aside. When women make statements about sexism or systemic inequality it is not a personal indictment of YOU as an individual – we are all complicit in this culture. The same way I wouldn’t go onto the Blackfulla Revolution page and bombard every post with #notallwhiteopeople. It’s obvious. It is mostly out of our control by virtue of our birth but we still have to acknowledge the role that privilege, and the opportunities we are afforded by that, plays in our social status and in the way we are treated by others
: Exactly, because when people derail and go all #notallmen- they take the focus off the grievance. It is saying that it’s less important that 2 women a week are murdered
or 3 women each week are hospitalised
with traumatic brain injuries due to male violence against women- it is actually more
important that we acknowledge that you or the men you know didn’t perpetrate those attacks.
Mel: Yes, it becomes all about the hurt man-feels and less about the acts of violence, discrimination and sexism that are women’s daily reality.
Amy: And that is just fucking crazy.
Mel: I for one would happily support any campaign aimed at supporting and raising awareness about the male victims of violence if they were done in a way they didn’t diminish or invalidate the real life experiences of female victims.
Mel: Both of those conversations are valuable, and one doesn’t invalidate the other.
Here’s a quick list we put together to share with men who are keen to be male feminist allies:
Is there anything else that you think men can do to be feminist allies?