Feminism and men: Working Together for Gender Equality?
Sandy Ruxton and Nikki van der Gaag
For this workshop we were shown a presentation and then got into groups to discuss different questions.
Thankfully Feminism has done some positive things over the years. There have been changes within the legal system (though still far from perfect), women have the vote (although not in Saudi Arabia), girls’ access to education has improved generally, and in turn women’s employment prospects. These progressions can be why some people think we are equal already. Women and girls have changed a lot, whilst men and boys have not. There is not one country that has achieved true equality yet, and current rates of progression suggest that it will take 95 years to achieve gender equality according to the UN.
What still needs improvement?
Everything that has improved is still not perfect. One of the biggest problems stopping further progress is a culture of sexism and misogyny, all too clear on the web, but, equally prevalent offline. Violence against women is still a big global issue, and along with this is the maternal mortality rates in the developing world. Women do a majority of care work, which is often unpaid. One way to move forward would be to gain more political power; although having women in power doesn’t necessarily mean that women’s issues will be put at the forefront, it would be a massive step forward. Along with this, the glass ceiling still exists when it comes to women moving up the career ladder.
What does men’s involvement not mean?
-It does not mean shifting the focus away from women and girls.
-It does not mean men are less powerful than women (Men’s Rights Activists tend to express the view that women are now more dominant).
-It does not mean men should lead on gender issues, but rather that they are standing besides women and supporting them in the fight for gender equality.
The European Context
Ruxton has focused on Europe, and so he delivered some information about the context here. He noted the impact of the financial crisis has in turn seen a rise of right wing populism and racism. One big issue is sexual exploitation and again, the cultural landscape of patriarchal dominance.
-Men may be apathetic or resistant to change, either from benefiting from patriarchy, or being in denial.
-Men’s Rights Activists can be hostile towards women.
-There can be a distraction from support for women.
How to encourage men to get involved:
-Men obviously need to see that there are benefits for men too. Sadly, talking solely about women can lead to defensive attitudes.
-The diversity of men’s experiences needs to be taken into account e.g. class, race, mental health issues.
-A focus on opportunity moments in men’s lives and what they can do practically.
-Assertion that gender equality is right in terms of a a wider concept of social justice.
-It is important to address real problems that men experience and open a dialogue.
-It is vital that alliances are built with women and women’s groups (to avoid being an MRA).
Examples of ways men can get involved:
-Through education e.g. Great Men Value Great Women.
-Caring for children.
-Anti-violence programmes e.g. White Ribbon.
-Involving men at senior levels in organisations.
Now for the group discussions…
Unlearning patriarchal masculinity:
Due to traditional gender roles being part of the patriarchy, it is important that men do not take over what women are saying due to their position in society. A good point to focus on is that these gender roles exist for both men and women and that this is a problem as it restricts us all as humans. This was the first discussion group feedback that highlighted the significance of education, and it was not the last. It was stressed that fatherhood is a key time to communicate and pass on an awareness of notions of masculinity in a way that deconstructs the norm. This group commented on different models of power, and that questioning and challenging problematic views was better than being defensive. This was also noted with regard to group situation. The difficulty of this was noted due to the fact that men are often the beneficiaries of the patriarchy.
The desire to conform was highlighted as a big obstacles, as well as the idea that it is often not seen as a men’s issue too. This also goes in hand with education about Feminism and why it is important to keep the label. One of the men in the group disagreed that Feminism was something that needed “selling”, but perhaps this isn’t reflected in the opposition that women and Feminists are often faced with. It may be a sad fact that we do have to be aware of how we package it. The concept of the invisibility of privilege was also discussed (which also reinforces the idea that we need to present Feminism in an accessible way).
How can we foster men’s involvement?
Some of the ways to do this came up in the discussion on obstacles, but again, engaging different groups of men was stressed, and doing so in cross-disciplinary ways. A method of engaging men from a young age, or even with those with an outdated view of Feminism, would be to find the language to engage with them without the barrier of the label and then saying ‘hey, well that’s Feminism!’
What actions can men take?
I was in this group and I ended up speaking first from a personal experience where I had felt silenced and wished I had the support from my boyfriend and male friend. Whilst we all agreed speaking out against sexism and misogyny was integral to the fight for equality, it was also seen as important to think about barriers that stop men from doing this, such as the need to conform. It was also highlighted that we needed to eradicate the association of guilt and shame with inequality; it is not a case of men vs. women, and individual men need not take on the burden of representing the patriarchy, but should instead unite against male dominance in society for a more egalitarian environment. Again, an education of Feminism both past and present is a a vital way to take action. A focus on positive actions is needed in order to go with this idea of rebranding Feminism, so that it is not misunderstood, as it often is. Again, there was an emphasis on joining men’s groups with women’s in order to form alliances.
Some books were mentioned, including ‘Tackling Macho Values’ and ‘Why Some Men Hurt Women and How Some MenCan Help.’ Some final points were noted about men believing we have equality and having a confusion about Feminism, and with that not making men feel like they are the enemy just because they are ignorant to this. Anger was brought up and there were mixed views on the impact of anger, with some men saying that it could be off-putting, whilst others showing an understanding that it a normal reaction to injustice. A woman commented that anger comes from a position of powerlessness and so it is important to recharge by coming together with like-minded people to talk about these things. It can be exhausting going to yet another boyfriend and explaining why you’re a Feminist and why he should be too. I thought that anger is sometimes inevitable, but it is important to hone these feelings of upset and anger. So, instead of it taking its toll on personal relationships, you can make videos and blog posts about these issues. Then you can show others what you think in a more articulate way than within arguments that make occur spontaneously from conversations on gender equality.
I felt close to tears, but as we were rotating poems between the three of us, I had to put it to the back of my mind and tell myself she must not have understood the poem. I stayed for a bit of the Stepney Sisters, but left early as I was tired and had a long journey to go back to the suburbs. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference and wonder where I will be on the journey of Feminism then.