|By Matthew C|
FemSoc to write this, and hence have. Within this article I’ve spoken or implied primarily about the experiences of cis men and women. I chose to do this due to relevance to the wider movement, and the complexities of gendered socialisation in trans people, whether binary or not. I realise that is a problem with this article.
Feminism societies are not necessarily women-only societies, many, like the one we have, welcome people who are not women as well. However, we’re there as allies, to support the movement. It is not ours. The fact that feminism benefits men too should be wholly irrelevant to our involvement– if we’re in it for some kind of self-gratification or benefit we’ve entirely missed the point.
In feminist spaces, as in any other spaces, we have male privilege. It doesn’t dissolve just because we’re in a femsoc meeting, and equally just because a space is a feminist space doesn’t mean the women within it suddenly lose everything inherent within female socialisation.
Women have still been socialised to be quiet, to step back, not to disagree with or speak over men – and we have a responsibility to know that, to step back, to recognise that the amazing point, or experience, that we’re desperate to share, may in fact be irrelevant. That point may also be a part of a debate, and it’s easy to get
carried away within debates, but what we’re debating – for example whether someone was actually misogynistic – is something most men are debating in the abstract, possibly against people who have actually experienced their misogyny. We need to take care not to intellectualise debates and forget that what may only be academic to us may be a real threat faced by women.
On the other hand, there is nothing to say that you shouldn’t hold an opinion different to that of a woman. Women are not a monolithic group with a shared opinion and experience and it would be sexist to say otherwise. There is no harm in disagreeing, but be careful that in doing so you’re not silencing the women you’re disagreeing with, when women are socialised not to disagree with men. However, if you find yourself being the only man espousing a certain point of view in a feminist space, take a long, hard look at why.
It’s easy to bring our wider politics into feminist spaces, to try to convince women to vote for a misogynistic candidate in an election because the rest of his politics are just so good, or to try to convince women to join our organisation because we’re just so spot-on on feminism. Feminism is not disengaged from wider politics, nor from life. It isn’t a tool you can pick up to convince people on the one hand, then ignore when convenient on the other. It isn’t easy to be a feminist. You can’t just decide that a bit of misogyny is alright sometimes, you have to stand up to it solidly.
That might cause problems with your other friendships. You might find yourself having to lose friends because it’s not okay to come to a feminism society meeting once a week and be a good feminist, whilst spending the rest of your time around friends making misogynistic remarks, without calling them out or trying to prevent them.
Being a feminist activist as a man, whether identifying as a feminist or as a feminist ally, has responsibilities. You can’t call yourself a feminist if you aren’t completely committed to examining your every behaviour to ensure that you’re not actually being misogynistic, to ensure that you’re stepping back, to ensure that you’re aware of your privilege. You can’t call yourself a feminist if you’re not completely aware that you’ll make mistakes and if you’re not open to being called out on them – being told that behaviour was wrong, and committing to change it. There are no cookies that come with being a feminist. You’re not going to get a reward for being a vaguely decent human being. If you’re a feminist you’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.
What can I, as a man, practically do to help within feminist spaces?
- Always ensure that a space is intended to be mixed gender before entering it – don’t presume because you’re welcome at one event you’ll be welcome at everything
- Put your hand up and wait to be invited to speak by a woman – even if the group doesn’t generally enforce that policy it means you’re speaking only when wanted, rather than speaking over women
- Remain aware of your behaviour and if you get called out for making a mistake stop and think about why, and how to correct it. Don’t get overly upset or make the call-out about your feelings.
- Take on roles nobody else wants to do – do the washing up, set the chairs out, ask the women in the space what needs doing, then do it. Allow the women to be organisers of their own liberation and simply support them in that, taking whichever parts of the burden are impeding their own work most
- Act respectfully. Remember you are a visitor, invited into their spaces, and treat those spaces that way.