How to do feminism right?

I read Loki’s piece on Bella Caledonia this morning and it spurred me to write down some thoughts. This isn’t about him personally or the main thrust of his argument, parts of which I agreed with. It’s about a notion I’ve been hearing more and more of recently, and took away from aspects of Loki’s article.

‘How Women are Doing Feminism Wrong and How Men Can Help.’

It’s not a new or original whine, but one that Feminists have long heard. For as long as there has been a women’s movement there have been men telling them that if they don’t modify their tactics they will alienate/anger/provoke the very men they need on side. Any woman with a social media account knows that when it comes to Feminism, we’re never actually doing the right thing at the right time.

Women shouldn’t have tried to convince the Sun to stop using topless models on Page 3 because if we really cared about women we’d be talking about FGM instead. Campaigns for gender balance in Parliament/media is failing to talk about ‘The Stuff That Really Matters’ because we all know that it is impossible to care about more than one issue at a time. For as sure as we all are that James Kelly is no gonnae sit doon, we are sure that some men, sometimes are going to be offended by Feminism. No matter how well we are doing it.

The dismantling of power structures and the discussion of male violence cannot, by definition be universally appealing to all men. Some groups will feel picked on, marginalized, or held up for higher scrutiny. And in the case of the right-wing media, some – like Muslim men – occasionally are. We’re told if only we did X – then men would get on side and be our knights in shining armor against inequality.

Sorry – but I’m calling bullshit on that one. I do believe men can be Feminists and I know plenty who are motivated to try and help us change things. Those men aren’t the ones popping up in my notifications to remind me ‘not all men’ when I’m discussing literally any topic. They aren’t the ones chirping up during discussions about male violence with ‘What about Rose West?’ They are the ones that understand that maybe women have a unique perspective when it comes to gender inequality and that their tips aren’t necessary. Plus, we’ve heard them all before, on loop.

Pointers on how we can better conduct ourselves in this movement normally boil down to two things.

1. Don’t make fuss.
2. Try and see things from the man’s point of view.

My thinking is that Feminism should be centered around women, and that the men who care about women’s rights are going to look at the bigger picture, rather than pick away at perceived flaws in strategy. Women, just like men, are complicated, flawed, angry, kind, clever, stupid and reactive human beings. It’s easy, from an outside perspective to say ”if you want people on board, then you are going to have to make your delivery a bit sweeter” but it’s not actually as easy as that.

When I’m out walking with my baby daughter in her pram and some creep in a white van shouts ”I’d go right fuckin’ through you” to me, it makes me angry. I couldn’t give a monkey’s teeth that he shouted it with a working class accent. I don’t look at the experience from his point of view. I don’t write it from his point of view. Does that make me unreasonable? Closed-minded? Perhaps. But it doesn’t make me a bad or counter-productive Feminist.

I don’t wake up in the morning and ask myself how I am going to get more men on board with women’s struggles. Feminism isn’t a dodgy pyramid scheme with robots programmed to recruit. We react to things like everybody else in a way that is honest and real to us and rooted in our individual experiences as women. We don’t always have the end goal in sight, sometimes we just want to vent or campaign or talk amongst ourselves.

There are women in Scotland collectively and singularly to try and effect change. Women for Independence, Women 50:50, Zero Tolerance all are constructive and effective bases for activism. So often that is overlooked or dismissed amidst the debate over semantics & need to find flaws. It is disruptive and derailing. In a movement where women are living the inequality they are shouting about it is imperative that they have the loudest voice. I don’t know much about PR, but that’s where I’d start.

*not all men

Comments (29)

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  1. davie says:

    Change yourself.

  2. Mark Crawford says:

    I think the best response I ever heard from a feminist to a man who was trying to “help” was during a research seminar in which a feminist suggested something along the lines that all men are guilty of rape. After she had spoken, a (male) professor said: “but if you say that all men are guilty of rape, doesn’t that just make life a little easier for those men who really are, as it were, actually guilty of rape?”

    To which she replied: “I’m not sure you understood my point. I just told you that I believe all men ARE actually guilty of rape.”

    1. Frank says:

      What a bizarre contribution to the debate.

      1. Mark Crawford says:

        Bizarre is good in my book. Nothing worse than a pedestrian plod through the usual “debate”.

        1. Frank says:

          Oh, you are such an intellectual.

          1. Mark Crawford says:

  3. leavergirl says:

    Bravo, sister! Well said.

    It’s just another stage in the one upmanship game that so many men are addicted to. One of the moves is to never be happy with what the other side does. It’s never good enough, nice enough, clearly communicated enough, right enough. F that.

    I only want to add that while I think in theory men can be feminists, it would really be better for the women’s cause if men stopped playing that card. Because it just creates another layer deception and rationalization. Men who are feminists become that way by behaving right towards women. Not by self-identifying with the cause while continuing the same crappy behaviors as before.

    Women’s movement is about women. Period. If you don’t like it, go play another game.

  4. Kenny says:

    How is a man supposed to respond to something like that? I mean, I just don’t know how to take ideas like “all men are rapists” or another version of that I saw, that “all PIV sex is rape.” I really just don’t know what I’m supposed to think or do about that.

    I totally get that the personal sexism that most women face on a regular basis is something that’s nearly impossible for any man to understand. I do think that once you start discussing underlying issues, causes and structures and so on, there does need to be some effort not to antagonise men just because they don’t have that understanding. When a guy says “not all men…” then the odds are that he’s trying to signal something positive about himself. If the response is “no, ALL men,” then what is he meant to learn? That having a cock makes him fundamentally flawed? That there’s no possibility of change and redemption? That he’s already a rapist and no matter how assiduous he is about consent, he always will be if he dares to have sex at all?

    As a rhetorical device, talking about men and women in the abstract doesn’t bother me much. In the comments under Loki’s article someone mentioned his not saying “*some* radical feminists” as a problem. I didn’t see that as an issue any more than I would for “men” used on a similar context. But when an individual man says “I’m not like that,” then I feel like that’s an opportunity to enlighten and engage, when far too often I’ve seen it be an occasion to shut that man’s opinion out altogether. Sure, it may be as nothing to a woman’s lifetime of having her voice suppressed, but the man in question doesn’t feel that. He only feels the bitch who called him a rapist when he’s actually quite a decent guy who wanted to understand more. Where’s he going to turn for comfort and understanding for that confusion and anger now?

    1. Mark Crawford says:

      Kenny, there’s no need for that kind of offensive and misogynistic language.

      Now if you’re referring to my anecdote from the research seminar in my comment above, then I should emphasise that the point of the story is that it can be very easy for men to not really hear what feminists are saying, even when those men think they are trying to be helpful. Whether or not all men actually are rapists or not is, in a way, incidental to the story (the context was, after all, a research seminar at a university intended for cutting edge theoretical discussion, not a town hall meeting).

    2. Alan Bissett says:

      What you have to understand is that when feminists hear men – even well-intentioned ones – simply arguing for them to think about The Men in any given discussion about feminism, rather than women, they quite understandably get pissed off, given the extent of the historical and current oppression they have faced and which men have not. Men might not even be aware they’re doing it, but it reveals more than they think it does. If you genuinely care about engaging with feminists, or having feminists engage with you, then stop throwing arguments in their way. For example, those whose first thought is to say, ‘Not all men!’ instantly negate the very point they think they’re making. It’s not rocket science.

    3. leavergirl says:

      Kenny, you are not supposed to done anything with it. “All men are rapists” is bullshit. Men need to call women on bullshit just as we need to call men on it. P.S. No need for invective.

      1. Kenny says:

        There was invective there? If you mean my use of the word “bitch,” I thought it was obvious that it was meant to be indirect speech.

        1. leavergirl says:

          M’kay then. πŸ™‚

  5. Alastair McIntosh says:

    The basis I find helpful to operate on is that feminism is the presumption of the equality of women and men.

    Equality in what way?

    Equality in being, and becoming fully human.

    For me, that’s a statement with ramifications social, economic, psychological and spiritual.

    It is not about overturning one domination system with another. That is the narrative of violence. It is about countering all domination systems, all that inhibits the emergence of full humanisation, the narrative and demanding practice of love.

    This an understanding I’ve learned from spiritually aware feminists, some of whom I named in one of my replies to Loki. Such may not be every women’s idea of feminists, but I, for one, am grateful to them, and think they have much to share with those of us who were born of our mothers as men.

    1. leavergirl says:

      Yes, Alistair. For me, it’s about equalizing power. Love, I don’t have to have. I’ll settle for being treated with decency, respect.

      And I appreciated your mention of the foremothers. Esp. Mary Daly. πŸ™‚

      1. Alastair McIntosh says:

        You prompted me to go and take MD’s “Gyn/Ecology” down from the shelf after many years. I’d forgotten how much she’d influenced wilder aspects of my own style. So much pithy stuff, of huge if denied theological importance. Just opening at random:

        “Crones kindle the Fury of our own kind against the god-fathers who burned our foremothers. The uprising of Cinderellas from the cinders/ashes of our mothers is the righteous Renaissance. In our rising together, Hags affirm the true identity of our foremothers who were burned as witches during the alleged ‘renaissance’.” (P. 383, WP, 1991 edn).

        The sad thing is, that by quoting the likes of that, there’s many who’ll think I’m taking the piss. Well, let them read Mary Daly.

        1. leavergirl says:

          That takes us back, don’t it? One of my formative books. I read it by a campfire in the woods, taking a break here and there to whoop, I am a witch, I am a witch! πŸ™‚

    2. annabella says:

      “All men are rapists”. I cant get my head round the logic behind that comment, my dad, husband, son, brothers are men, decent men who do respect and treat women as equals none of them are rapists and feel the same about rape as I and all the women in their lives do. They also want the same kind of world for their daughters as much as their sons. What is a comment like that supposed to achieve other than to anger, it pissed me off and im a woman.

      1. Alastair McIntosh says:

        Annabella, on the rare occasions that I’ve encountered an “all men are rapists” or, more usually, “bastards, sort of feminist (if that’s not a misnomer), I try to temper my reaction by thinking of those people who’ve been savaged by a dog, and for whom the trauma lingers as “all dogs bite.” The same approach might be go for men who’ve had difficult relationships with women, for example, smothering mothers; but that’s a whole other realm. Where there’s hurt or hurt reactions, including from such thinkers as Loki at times, then we have to look behind, not to “excuse, but to humanise and become ourselves more humanised.

        1. Mark Crawford says:

          Alastair,

          When I was in that research seminar and heard the argument made that “all men are rapists”, I wasn’t thinking “oh, this person is suffering a lot of hurt” – I think that would be a totally sexist reaction, as if such an extreme proposition could only be the result of one’s emotions getting the better of oneself.

          As it happens, if I recall correctly, what I actually thought at the time was how extreme the intellect can become, minus the emotions. But, then, that’s the paradox: if human emotional life is dominated by patriarchy’s libidinalisation of inter-subjective recognition, then for some feminists, the only option may be to reject the emotions (“humanising”, you might call them, as if that term wasn’t always-already gendered) altogether and be prepared to go the extremes of rational thinking.

          But, in the end, the point made by Kirsty remains: it doesn’t matter what strand of feminist thinking men is the most effective or “correct”. Just listen and if you can take something onboard, then all the better.

        2. leavergirl says:

          Alastair, I had to kinda go with what Mark says. To say “all men are rapists” is abusive. And to immediately excuse it in your head as “the poor suffering soul must be so wounded!” is… well, it turns you into an enabler. Doesn’t it?

          Maybe the person says it to mess with your head. Or maybe she says it because it fits into an academic project — she is trying to find out how much verbal abuse men will take without calling her on it. And so on. Gazillions theories can be made up. Only the person knows, really. Maybe. πŸ™‚

  6. chris says:

    well an easy search for feminism brought up ” the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities ” .
    I agree and find it very easy to do so , unfortunately there are so many differing opinions , beliefs , ideas, movements that does not agree .
    There are so many opinions ,beliefs, ideas, movements that I don’t agree with but I have no part of them in my life physically . I see them , read about them , get annoyed at times with them but I have a happy life and live for the moment letting the happiness far outweigh the negativity .
    Pursuing an opinion , belief , idea or movement that will never achieve total agreement with all men and women is negative to me .
    But good luck to all who persevere

  7. Fran says:

    Anther definition of feminism is the complete liberation of women’s minds. The idea that we’re not saying things the right way or we’re upsetting the men by pointing something out is a story told every day over and over again by women in abusive relationships, who are generally punished for it with some sort of violence.

  8. howauldzyergranny says:

    Alan Bissett there, mansplaining why women get annoyed at mansplaining but yet somehow managing to mansplain.

    Has Kirsten Innes lost the fucking power of writing or something ? I think we should be told.

    Bella hires Loki to tell it like it is, then they hire someone who doesn’t want their newly found place on the equality ladder challenged to come and take him down.

    To me that’s absolutely fucking out of order.

    Heres where your equality and right on-ness is at:

    All of you, YOU ALL FUCKING KNOW Mr Darren McGarvey is a VERY fragile guy.
    I don’t even mean in the the bruised ego way, I mean in the going tonto and ending up in the grave way.

    Yet here you all come, not giving a flying fuck -the champions of the left- running down ashton lane with yer pitchforks screaming because your position as part of the right on new establishment has been questioned.

    What happens to your book deals and opinion pieces in the national if someone points out you’re full of shit eh ?

    1. Alan Bissett says:

      Oh dear.

  9. Loki says:

    Can I say that I am grateful to see people respond to my writing and I always do my best to engage with that response even if I am being challenged. I enjoy immersing myself in the logic of disagreeable people though I respect this is not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Can I also thank you Kirsty for sharing some of your personal experience. It seems you, perhaps more so than Mhari, understood that my article was not about feminism. My piece was about a clash of ideas and trying to understand how someone arrives at a position which is unsympathetic to prevailing social justice orthodoxy.

    My piece was about the human condition. I was simply exploring how these esoteric theories play out in the real world where many people are operating off their instincts and their lived experience.

    I wasn’t trying to tell women how to be feminists though I accept that may be what I inadvertently said. As many women have agreed with me as have not. So its hard to gauge.

    For me there’s a practicality aspect of this. Ultimately, we want to see our ideas of social justice prevail. In order for that to happen we not only have to understand and believe in our own personal ideas but we also have to be able to express them in a variety of ways to a broad range of people.

    Currently, we are not very good at doing that.

    I was attempting to make some kind of contribution to how we carry our message to those who are not privvy to our lexicon. I was attempting to put forth my own ideas, having been considering them for quite some time, as to how we can accommodate moderate views which may not be to our liking and by doing so create a real dialogue and empathy for one another’s positions.

    Human beings are constitutionally incapable of submitting to an idea unless they justify it to their internal logic. If they cannot or if they feel it is being forced upon them they will reject not only the idea but the proponent of the idea. Our activism often fails to account for this basic human behaviour.

    What I see are lots of good men and women, having perfectly natural reactions to being challenged by new ideas that not only shake their world view but also hold them partly accountable for something that is morally unacceptable to them.

    We inadvertently rouse suspicion and prejudice in one another because our engagement is always conditional. We engage only to inform our subjects of our values which they can either adopt or be discarded from our consideration.

    Some people mistake that for principle. Personally, I think that’s an emotionally illiterate way to behave. This is where the ‘missing million’ come from.

    It’s not too dissimilar to the ‘subject/object’ dichotomy in feminist theory. We, the arbiters of social justice, act upon the objects we would absorb into our cause. If the objects are of no use to us we externalise them as cogs in the enemy power structure.

    But I am of the view people are always in philosophical flux and its merely a matter of the angle of your approach prior to opening a negotiation. We have to get real about how we carry our message and accept it as a practical necessity, regardless of whether it is fair or not. Irrespective of whether it is irritating or not.

    I dislike the fact I cannot metabolise ethanol. It does not change the fact that if I take one drink I will end up in jail, hospital or dead. I think the left has to come to terms with the limitations of our current activism and evolve it to meet the human needs of the 21st century. Part of that will involve accepting where others lack the emotional, intellectual or ethical wherewithal to see it from our point of view and temporarily picking up the slack until they are endeared to our cause.

    Only then can we be sure who we need to fight. Just now so many moderate folk are getting caught in social media crossfire.

    But what the fuck do I know Im a raging misogynist.

    I can relate to being spoken down to, patronised and feeling at the mercy of unseen forces wielded by people who seem unable to perceive them.

    My thinking has been pre-occupied with this issue for quite some time. I feel the tectonic plates of class and feminism jar at times, producing uncomfortable but necessary tremors. If there is one aspect of current progressivism I resent its that class has fallen to the bottom of the grievance pile despite class being the canal system by which so much privilege is (or isn’t) distributed.

    I want to be a better ally. My journey to feminism was stilted by years of drinking while brooding about my abusive mother. I recognise where my experiences have formed retrograde attitudes and I am always trying to challenge myself as well as surround myself with people who WILL also challenge me. I am a work in progress. But arent we all.

    I also have a duty to the young men because their experience is so poorly articulated. I have so many of their eyes and ears in a culture that struggles to accommodate or communicate with them. They are the demographic so many of you cannot reach…and in that frustration you sometimes draw inaccurate conclusions as to why this is the case.

    My piece was an attempt to feed back some of the difficulties current social justice ideas will face when they run aground in planet scheme.

    In this area my experience is both considerable and rooted in more than theory.

    So please bear in mind, Just because I look at a bird in the sky, it does not mean I cannot see the sky.

    It doesn’t have to be one struggle or the other. My piece was at pains to emphasis this from beginning to end.

    Thanks for the engagement.

    1. Alastair McIntosh says:

      Nice one.

  10. Highlander says:

    Mmmm……I think feminism is a myth. But before I digress…! Human nature over millions of years of development,proclaimed, women, to produce children. Bear with me! Men, wishing to find a partner and procreate, desent men, put their female partner on a pedestal. When a woman opens her mouth and talks like a man, behaves like a man, would it really be strange to find her being treated like a man. This is feminism! During Emily Davidson, time, corporate companies trying to extend there markets spoke about a woman’s right to smoke, and the feminism movement pick it up and run with it! Do you not think this is stupid behaviour. Okay, so you got to smoke! Then, came the First World War….feminists too pleasure to go around handing out white feathers to men refusing to fight for those vermin and ancestors of those in Westminster today. Instead of creating harmony, feminist take delight in creating anarchy with in the home. That’s not how men and women should live there lives. That’s an idiot poking a finger up another idiots nose and taking the weak minded up the garden path. Time women realised, they are special, they have more rights than any man, deservedly so, and all men should stand legally on woman beaters. But that’s not feminism, that’s your right as a human being.

  11. Peter Clive says:

    I think the problem arises when men feel they need to participate in some discourse that includes their own experience and see feminism as the template. However, it is *really* important for men to realise that feminism is not a suitable template for their own equivalent discourse. I discuss this in more detail here

    http://moflomojo.blogspot.com/2016/03/are-beards-are-feminist-issue.html

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