feminism needs to include, not exclude, men
We often think of feminism as purely a women’s movement, based on the inclusion of women and the exclusion of men. The phenomena of ‘Sisterhood’ itself, advocating for the solidarity of all women, implies the existence of a movement of women, standing up for women and challenging social institutions that support men. While I have no doubt sisterhood is important, I have some reservations about the idea that feminism will achieve success through the exclusion of men.
Now don’t get me wrong; I am NOT anti-feminist or oblivious to the fact that women face issues that are unique to those that face men. I don’t believe feminists are man haters, and I do understand very well the importance of the fight for equality, and the advocacy of institutional structures that specifically meet the needs of women. It is not any of these things that concern me, but rather, it is the somewhat pervasive idea that feminism is the fight against men that I find concerning.
As a young feminist and social justice advocate, I try my best to always support feminist and pro-equality events. I praise the individuals who organise them, advertise the initiatives or events to my networks and friends, and if possible, I personally attend. I think the fact that these kinds of initiatives seem to be rising in number is wonderful, but the distinction I have observed between what is considered feminist, and what is considered pro-equal is something of a concern.
While social justice events concerned with issues such as access to higher education, the alleviation of poverty, and the importance of individual rights tend to be pro-equality, hostile to any form of individual or group discrimination, it has been within my observation that events labelled “feminist” are somewhat discriminatory: they tend to exclude the welcome participation of men.
This was evident to me at an event I attended during the weekend just gone. ‘Girls Day Out’ was an event to raise funds and awareness for women’s cancers. The event featured expo and market stalls, food and drink, and entertainment. It was decorated mostly with pink and all of the advertising and promotion material claimed that it was an event for women.
But despite this targeted marketing, I took not my Mum or Sister, but my boyfriend along with me to support this event. I ignored the stereotypically feminine advertising, and in the name of gender equality, I thought it seemed right to include men.
In my opinion, this turned out great. Nic was happy to support the pro-women event, and as a med student took great interest in the expo stalls promoting awareness of women’s health. But while I thought I was supporting a pro-equality event, I found that many of the other women attending did not seem to agree with my decision to be pro- gender equality and take a man along to a women’s event.
While walking around and talking to the expo holders, and while looking at the market stalls and watching the entertainment expos, I could feel the hostile stares of many women, and their sisters and daughters.
Nic was even explicitly asked by one woman, ‘What are you doing here? You’re a boy!?’… Yes, it’s true that Nic was definitely the minority in the crowd being male, but as a young feminist I personally thought that this could only be a good thing, not bad.
Surely we should be supporting any male who is willing to attend a pro-women event. Whether it be in support of women’s health, education, or occupational rights, I think that any event considered feminist should be open and in fact SUPPORTIVE of male participation. It’s true that feminism still has a long way to go, and the fight for rights and equality separate to the institutions that support men is still on the go, but personally I think it is only going to be harder to achieve if we continue to exclude men.
The fact is that social institutions still serve the interests of men over women; men still predominantly hold the highest positions of power, and still receive higher awards and prestige than women who are otherwise relatively equal. Yes, this does need to change, but it will be easier if the advocators for change include those who are in more powerful positions, which includes men. If men are the ones with more power, then men are the ones who can effectively influence decisions. If feminism has men in its fight for equality for women, then the fight will be more successful. Feminism needs to include, not exclude men.
When I attended the ‘Girls Day Out’ on the weekend, I felt pretty discontented with the hostility that was posed towards my boyfriend. As a pro gender equality and social justice advocate, I thought that the idea of day out promoting good female health was a fantastic idea. But my thoughts became pretty ambivalent with the discrimination I noticed at the event.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve noticed such discrimination. There seems to be a recurring theme at the feminist meetings and events I’ve attended of the dominance of women, and the exclusion of men. Very few men attend such events, and when they do they often face hostility and exclusion. To be honest, I’m not sure how intentional this is. Perhaps it’s just that women feel uncomfortable with having men at an event that is aimed at challenging the power of male dominated institutions. But regardless of the reasoning, I think it needs to change. To me, feminism is pro-equality; it is not the exclusion of men.