Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Beginners Guide to Feminism – Can Men Be Feminists?

The debate surrounding whether men can identify themselves as feminists has raged for many years and there are many different view points surrounding it. So, can men be feminists? Does their inherent privilege make them unable to describe themselves as feminists? Should feminism be all inclusive? I think this depends on your definition of feminism and should consider the notion of male privilege as an obstacle to calling yourself a feminist.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” I like this definition – it’s simple, it’s not convoluted and it’s inclusive of everybody, regardless of gender. Surely, by this definition everybody can be a feminist provided they advocate women’s rights and equality of the sexes? Georgia Luckhurst believes so, telling me that

“I believe men can and should be feminists: feminism is about improving the world for everyone, a benefit that is directly connected to furthering the advancement of women in society, and men should care about that. It’s important that those who have suffered from racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or any discriminatory diatribe are able to discuss their experiences with others who have shared the same problem. It’s important that these people have spaces to discuss amongst one another how they feel. However, for any movement to succeed, it must include anyone who is truly passionate about the cause, no matter what – and men who support and campaign feminist issues are quite honestly my personal heroes.”
When I posed the question on Twitter, the overwhelming response from a great number of people was that yes of course men can be feminists! We should encourage and welcome male feminists as progressive and helpful to the cause! However, others disagree. Indeed, the head of National Organisation of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) claims in this article that
“Although I believe that men can be pro-feminist and anti-sexist, I do not believe we can be feminists in the strictest sense of the word in today’s society. Men, in this patriarchal system, cannot remove themselves from their power and privilege in relation to women. To be a feminist one must be a member of the targeted group (i.e a woman) not only as a matter of classification but as having one’s directly-lived experience inform one’s theory and praxis.”
Brian Kloke (the writer of the quote above and head of NOMAS) claims that as men are intrinsically privileged, they cannot be feminists as they have no “directly-lived experience”. Within the article, Brian claims that
A clear analogy can be made between male profeminism and anti-racism. Men cannot really be feminists anymore than whites can be black nationalists. However, men can be pro-feminist and whites can be pro-black nationalists. 
Thomas Wales agrees, tweeting me regarding the article that he agrees with Klokes analogy.
tomwales
The point made by Kloke is that due to male privilege and lack of lived experience of the oppression feminism strives to hault, men cannot truly describe themselves as feminists. We all know what privilege is – a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. The London Feminist describes privilege as
 “defin[ing] the tussocks and rabbit-holes in the lumpy playing field we’re all on, and where we are on the tilt of it.  (Not very curiously, the people who are most insistent that the playing field is level are the most privileged.)  If there is to be levelling of it, then those of us on the tussocks of privilege need to be leaning over to those falling down the rabbit holes and hauling them up, and likewise when we realise we’re on the way down a rabbit hole, we want to extend a hand and have someone grab it and help us.  And that could be something as major as equalities legislation or something as minor as changing your repertoire of insults to try to remove the ablist ones.”
So does male privilege prohibit men from identifying as a feminist? John Palethorpe says not, in this wonderful piece on intersectionality, privilege and male feminism (set against the backdrop of the Suzanna Moore fiasco). He claims that

Its about inclusive debate, shared experience and sharing experience. The ‘well you’re x so you can’t talk about y’ thing is the antithesis of it. It should be, ‘if you’re x and you talk about y, be prepared for y to set you right on the things you don’t know about, and don’t get in a strop about it’. Yes there’ll be anger, reacting to percieved intentional baiting is – but if you want to do intersectionality and talk outside of your experiences, you’ve got to accept you’ll get it wrong AND you’ll get called on it. And then have a constructive dialogue about it.

So if men want to identify as feminist, they have to bare in mind their intrinsic privilege. Or should they simply not use the term “feminist”, favouring anti-sexist, pro-feminist or feminist ally? The term feminist ally is one that is championed by men and women that feel that men can or should not describe themselves as feminist. I asked fellow feminist Niz Bennett what she thought on the topic and she told me:

“Men can definitely be feminists. Feminism is about equality – if you’re for it, you’re a feminist (congratulations!) It’s true they have inherent privilege and some prefer ‘feminist ally’ or other but privilege-checking is more important. Just as white, cis, able-bodied straight woman can be feminist but may need to check their privilege on occasions, men can be.”

Niz draws the point that although their is certainly the point of argument that as men have inherent male privilege they are in no position to hold opinion on something that they have no experience of, privilege takes many different forms. Niz believes (as I do too, incidentally) that men can be feminists – as long as they understand their privilege and keep a check on it. Lyndsey Gormley agrees, telling me that

“Feminism can only work if privilege is acknowledged and used to benefit the masses, not the individual. It is about acceptance of all minorities, and unlike Julie Burchill in recent weeks, does not discriminate or ‘simply decide’ who is a feminist and who is not.

So, why do I believe that men can be feminists? Because those who are fighting patriarchy, stereotyping, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual assault, the glass ceiling, misogyny, body shaming, pornography, domestic violence, sexual harassment, reproductive rights and inequality do so, not because of their gender binary, but because of their ability to see the difference between right and wrong. Feminism is humanism.”

However, a great number of people disagreed. I was lucky enough to witness a great discussion surrounding this topic and was struck by the number of feminists who claimed that they prefer the word ally, for exactly the reasons discussed above: intrinsic male privilege and lack of lived experience of oppression. Ben Pike claimed that he describes himself as a feminist when in the company of men/non feminists, but is happy to use the word ally when in feminist company. He says that

 I think people’s problem comes from that some have had bad experiences with men who self identified feminist which I completely understand and am happy to count myself as ally with these people. It saves pointless and unproductive arguing or hurt over semantics. I’ve found it puts people more at ease, some people aren’t comfortable with men identifying as feminist for whatever reason, I’m ok with that.

with @planetpavs remarking that any true ally would have no problem at all with describing themselves as such. Angela Towers emailed me her thoughts on the matter, saying:

When asked this question I am reminded of Natasha Walters description of current feminism; a stalled revolution. The revolution did stall, and not only that it began barking up the wrong tree. I think it’s time we climbed out of the tree. Feminism needs to be all-inclusive, it needs to be; understanding, but not complacent, powerful but not aggressive. In short; it needs to rise above and unite the many.

[…] For me Feminism is not about women or men, it’s about all of us. We really are in this together. I think we should not be fighting one another, but holding up a collective mirror to the face of society, and the more people to lift the weight the better.

Another side of the arguement that one must also consider that sexism does in fact work both ways – although I personally would argue that it’s more of a one way street than it appears. Katie Sinclair messaged me her view on the subject, saying

One point that [is] interesting to consider is the concept of “egalitarianism” vs. “feminism”, as some men agree with the concept of gender equality but take issue with the word (as do some women, of course). I would say it’s necessary to use the word “feminism” because most instances of male discrimination come about as a result of men expressing traits/occupations/interests that the gender binary dictates as exclusively “feminine” and therefore “lesser” e.g. a man who wants to go into hairdressing might be patronised/bullied for choosing a career trivialised because it’s seen as a woman’s work. Socially constructed terms “masculine” = good, “feminine” = bad. Feminism therefore concerns all genders, as all are affected by patriarchal concepts.

This is an excellent point and one that I have to admit I hadn’t really considered until Katie messaged me. Although I personally disagree with the notion and feel that the patriarchy is far more harmful to women than to men by its very nature, male discrimination does exist as a result of the patriarchy and for some men it is in their personal interest to end this gender binary. Perhaps then, as Katie points out, the term egalitarian may be more apt?

What have we learnt? Well, to start of we have learnt that this is a far more complicated issue that it appears on its surface – although ideally we’d like to think that everybody can and should identify as feminists, there are those in the feminist community who simply do not believe this to be the case. This is something that everybody needs to decide on themselves. Personally, I feel that if somebody is sincerely dedicated to women’s liberation and empowerment then of course they’re a feminist, regardless of their gender – although for arguments sake, identifying as a feminist ally is a-okay by me too. Will Brooker, a Twitter friend of mine, tweeted me his contribution saying:

“Men can certainly identify as feminist and be part of feminism but I think that is for women to decide. In any case, men’s principle role within feminism is to shut up and listen.”

I tend to agree. I’d like to end on another quote from the wonderful Lyndsey Gormley:

The biggest myth concerning feminism is the notion that we hate men and that all men in return, hate us. Feminism, to me, is the fight against patriarchy towards the equality of both genders. It is the acknowledgment of privilege and oppression in order to campaign towards the liberation of straight, LGBTQ, cis-gendered, gender queer, able bodied, disabled, white, WoC, working class, middle class and upper class women.

That concludes our whistle stop tour of the issue surrounding male feminists, male privilege and feminist allies – I don’t pertain to have covered everything here and if it is a subject that interests you there is a plethora of articles, opinion pieces and blog posts out there on the internet on the topic. I hope to have outlined all the major talking points. If you have anything to add, feel free to post a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@nitramarual). I will be publicising the next Beginners Guide on Well Behaved Women and on Twitter if you’d like to be involved.
Twitter handles of the contributors
:

Laura Martin: @nitramarual (author and editor)

Angela Towers: @MissesTea
Ben Pike: @BenCPike
Georgia Luckhurst: @secretactivist
John Palethorpe: @JohnPalethorpe
Katie Sinclair: @katiemsinclair
Lyndsey Gormley: @LyndseyMG_
Nick: @NickehBee
Niz Bennett: @NotASquib
Terica Adams: @danceTEAdance
Thomas Wales: @tomwales_
Tilly Grove: @tillyjean_
Will Brooker: @willbrooker

For general support and definitions:

Little Tweets: @stfumisogynists
Pavs: @PlanetPavs
Stilli: @Stillicides

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Give Me Strength.

This is a post I’ve thought about writing for a while now. I decided to do it eventually because my lovely Twitter friend @CatEleven posted this amazingly eloquent post about the same thing. Putting a face on.

When I was a child I used to be woken up by my Dad every day. I’d splash some water on my face, have some Shreddies and get ready for school. Then I put my game face on. I’ve done this my entire life. I fluff my hair up, grin at myself in the mirror and ask which deity it is up there to give me strength and perseverance and bravery. It’s become a little part of my routine. When I wash my face or my hands I take a moment to ask for a little strength. If I have to make a difficult phone call, write a particularly heinous essay or whatever particular trial I’m dealing with at that moment I stop, take a breath and say (often aloud): “give me strength.”

Recently, my mother was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour – she’s been very ill since 2010 but is really truly nearing the end. At the age of 55 my cheeky, funny, wonderful mother is going to die. I’ve come to terms with that fact. It doesn’t make it easier but I’ve come to terms with it. At 21 years old I am having to deal with one of the most difficult things that many people ever have to deal with. What makes it infinitely more difficult is that her medication is making her pretty much immobile. As I write this, I am currently nursing a strained back muscle from having to physically lift her up the stairs with the help of my brother, aunt and dad. If we lower the medication levels and make her more mobile again, she becomes hysterical. The tumour is putting an immense pressure on her brain. She can’t help it. As a result, I’m finding myself taking a step back more than ever, clasping my hands and almost shouting out for something, anything to give me some fucking strength, some perseverance, some bravery.

Then I go to work. I go to University. People ask me how I am, how my Christmas was. I give them a wry smile. “Yeah, not too bad thanks” I reply. “Yourself? Do anything interesting for New Year? Oh, you know, same old.”
Most people I’m acquainted with do know about what’s happening to my mother. Those that I haven’t told have heard it through the grapevine. I get looks of sympathy as I walk through the department, mere acquaintances giving my shoulder a squeeze or a lingering hug that goes on that little bit too long. People look me in the face and say with all sincerity “If I can help at all, please just let me know.” I smile. “I’m fine, really I am. Don’t you worry about me!” For the most part, I am fine. I have a wonderful friendship network, my department have been absolutely fantastic, work have been so understanding and my boyfriend… well, I don’t know what I’d do without him to be honest. He is the only person that I don’t have to put a face on for. I am not a particularly religious person. I wouldn’t say I’m an atheist as such but I certainly don’t attach myself to any particular religion. It’s just that, as Cat says in her absolutely amazing piece: we put our game faces on.

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Living with Chronic Migraines.

Here’s a little known fact about me – I suffer from chronic migraines. The first migraine I can remember having was on my first day of secondary school. Poor eleven year old Laura, desperately trying to appear cool and make friends after a horrible time at primary school and what happens? I get taken out of my first class because I am virtually blinded by the aura, feel like I’m going to be sick, can’t feel the left side of my face and every time I turn my head my eyeballs feel like they’re going to pop out. I know this seems hyperbolic but when you’re in the throws of a migraine all you want to do is lie in a darkened room and cry. This particular migraine ended with me throwing up on the head girl, deputy head mistress and  my new head of house – Ms Rinks, if you’re reading I am so sorry. Thus, my reputation for making at scene is created.

Another memorable migraine was during my first few days at a new job. Unable to see, move or speak I wedged myself in a corner of the staff room and cried. Eventually I went to the doctors – when I was 17, six full years after my first migraine. I was prescribed Zomitriptan, a little tablet to take at the first sign of a migraine; for me, the aura comes first. The best way I can describe is it is being like when a VCR jammed in the drive – everything becomes distorted and personally it’s as if the fabric of the world is tearing before my eyes, the void filling with a swirling vortex. Sometimes it can take up the whole of my vision – you try to look away but it just moves to the centre of eyeline again. Eventually it migrates to the side of your field of vision and disappears. I know, how melodramatic.

I found this image on Google and don’t know who to credit it too but this is the best artistic impression of a migraine aura I’ve ever seen – if you’ve never had one, imagine this bad boy cropping up in your field of vision: 

Migraines ruled my life for a very long time. Not all migraines are hideous events resulting in the puking on of high status teachers – right now, I am tending a niggling, nagging migraine right behind my eyes. I’ve had it for about 4 days now. It’s not the sort of pain that normal paracetamol can touch – it requires lying in a darkened room with a cold flannel on your face for a few hours drinking massive amounts of water. They can be completely debilitating. Chronic migraines are not a registered disability but in my opinion they should be. I can be bed bound for days, unable to move, see or eat. I get them worse than the vast majority of migraine sufferers. Since being put on Zomitriptan things have improved dramatically but its effectiveness depends on them being taken at the onset of symptoms – if I put it off even 20 minutes I could be out for several days. I don’t ever intend to let it get so bad I have to give up work because of it but I know that the possibility is there. Hopefully one day research will help us to understand migraines better and make treatment more effective. Until that happens, next time someone tells you they have a migraine don’t tell them to shake it off, work through it. It doesn’t work.

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Street Harassment: It’s not a compliment.

TW: Sexual harassment. Also, if you’re reading this Dad, sorry.

I’d like to start by telling you a story. It’s a story that I’d wager the vast majority of women can empathise with on some level because I don’t know a single woman that doesn’t have a similar tale to tell. It’s a hot and humid day in mid-August 2008. You can see the heat in the air. Even the insects seem a little lethargic and surprised by it. I fan myself with my Oyster Card wallet . There are beads of sweat on my forehead, my hair is scraped up in a ponytail to keep it off my shoulders. My make up has completely melted. I’m wearing flipflops, shorts and a vest top, purely for practical reasons. It’s really bloody hot. There is a fair amount of flesh on show but I’m not an idiot, I had a wide rimmed hat and my SPF 50+ to protect me! No sunburn for me, no ma’am! By this point I’d been waiting for the bus in a suburb of London for about 20 minutes. There was no shade to speak of and I was getting pretty annoyed. I got my phone and impatiently check the time. Just as I looked down I heard a car door to the left of me. Looking up, I see a boy roughly my own age (16) or possibly a little older. “Alright sexy, you’re fuckin’ hot” he leers. I give him a look of absolute disgust. “Yes I know that – it’s 38 degrees” I reply, feeling pretty smug at my own witticism. His top lip curls. “Are you stupid?” he asks. “I mean I wanna fuck you.” I laugh in his face. Thankfully at that moment my bus appeared. I boarded with him shouting after me that I was a slut, a whore, a sket.

When I got home, I told a friend of mine about it. “Oh don’t make such a fuss, it’s a compliment!” she told me. “And besides, you’re not exactly wearing very much are you?” No. It is not a compliment. It’s sexual harassment. To this day, I am grateful that the bus came when it did because I don’t know how much the situation would have escalated. A lot of women are not as lucky as I was. Let’s not pretend that what happened to me was a compliment – that what women have to endure on a daily basis from total strangers on the street is a compliment. It’s not a compliment. It is inexcusable. It need to stop.

 

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New Years Resolutions

There are a lot of blogs and vlogs and articles floating around the internet about New Years Resolutions at the moment.
Generally, I don’t think New Years Resolutions are particularly helpful. I don’t think I’ve ever actually succeeded in any in my life. I can see the positives in thinking them up – self improvement can only ever be a good thing, really. However, I’m alarmed by the pressure to think of one. If I had a penny for the amount of times I’ve been asked what my resolutions are I’d have… at least 50p. I’ve been thinking about it and I have a feeling 2013 is going to be a big year for me for several reasons. I will (hopefully!) graduate this summer so with any luck by this time next year I’ll be in some sort of full time employment and/or training. My mothers illness will probably have claimed her life so I’ll have to deal with that at some point. My boyfriend will have taken his Grade 8 and hopefully be a fully fledged instrumental teacher so there’s a possibility between the two of us we’ll be able to afford to start looking at moving in together (although I’m not holding my breath).

My problem at the moment is that what I want to do with my life post graduation will be extremely difficult. I would love to become a journalist and hope one day to be writing a regular column for a large readership. However, my degree is in Geography. Not exactly related. So, what New Years Resolutions can I make that will benefit me in the long run? I don’t see how pledging to shift 6lbs will help me,  or anybody for that matter, unless you’re genuinely overweight. Even if you are, if you’re happy that way then that’s fine by me! As far as I’m concerned the whole dieting and weight loss industry promotes negative feelings about yourself and your body and perpetuates a culture in which fat shaming is prevalent and people are more concerned with looking fit than they are with being happy, healthy individuals. Healthy both physically and mentally. No, I want my resolutions to really, truly help me and be achievable. I want them to be things that I would resolve to do at any time of year, not just because it’s new year and people are pressuring me in to it.

So far, I’ve come up with the following:

1) Write more
Every day, write something. Proof read. Research. Become a better writer!
Gain exposure, through Twitter and blogging and through writing for other blogs and magazines.
This can be applied to anybody, not necessarily writers. Do more of the things you enjoy and that you think will benefit you. If you enjoy painting, paint. If you enjoy reading, read. If you enjoy running, run! You catch my drift. Do something that will improve your wellbeing!

2) Grab opportunities by the horns
Stop being such a wimp, don’t consider jacking it in and getting a nice cushty job that pays reasonably but won’t make me happy. Pursue what I actually want to do with my life.
If you get offered a job but you’re frightened by the prospect of change, I want you to seriously consider whether you’re going to regret not doing it in a years time. If you get the opportunity to travel and meet new people or branch out from your comfort zone in a way that you think will benefit you, for God’s sake do it! Enrich your life with fulfilling experiences!

3) Gain a new skill
I have two in mind: improving my harmonica playing and taking self defence classes. Neither will be really feasible until I graduate. I’ll probably be unemployed for a while so I’ll have plenty of time then. Ha.
This time next year I intend to be well on the way to being a Big Mama Thornton/Jackie Chan hybrid. Kicking baddie’s asses with a gob iron in hand.

I hope that through reading this I have helped at least one person to reassess their resolution to simply lose weight. Magazines and television programmes love to convince us that we’re inadequate and perpetuate a feeling of self loathing. Be the best version of you that you can be – and that doesn’t necessarily equate to being the slimmest. Think of resolutions that you can sincerely commit to and think will benefit you in the long term, not just until mid February.  I have seen too many people crumble in the second week of January at the sight of the left over Christmas chocolate.

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