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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.

6 thoughts on “feminism needs to include, not exclude, men

  1. Great article.

    As someone who identifies as left-wing, I think the greatest historical flaw in the progressive movement has always been a tendency towards defining individuals by their group, and then declaring society as a conflict between these groups (ie. Classic Marxism).

    During the Russian Revolution, and other Communist uprising, this resulted in the mass slaughter of the ruling class, with ones heredity background and wealth being considered sufficient requisites for being revenge-murdered by the working class.

    In the modern era, it means the encouragement of a revenge-exclusion attitude, as if the problem in the first place isn’t that discriminating on the basis of gender is wrong, but rather that women need to simply get even with men.

  2. Thanks Chris! I appeciate your compliments! I in fact identify as a feminist myelf and really hope people don’t take this article the wrong way. I think feminism has a great legacy and has come a long way, but there are some equalities that will never be achieved if women remain hostile to the inclusion of men. Gender equality is not something that can feasibly achieved by one gendered group alone.

  3. The exclusion of men in safe spaces or collectives is vital to people feeling comfortable about sharing their stories and experiences- for example with slutwalk there is no way that people would feel comfortable with men in the collective as sexual violence is gendered, violence is gendered. And it takes power away from the women in the group. I don’t think that challenging exclusivity is something that should be promoted, as males dominate every other aspect of society without apology- many women seek out safe spaces so that they can be heard and validated.

    I’m not sure you can use the Girls Day Out as an example of a feminist event.
    It was not organised with feminist principles or intentions- inclusivity. It was completely heteronormative, able-bodied white middle-class tailored event and it didn’t make reference to any other groups of women, e.g. *trans women, women of colour-especially in the advertising. It was an incredibly heteronormative event and most of the women I talked to had no interest in going simply by looking at the advertising and how women were portrayed (hence why you saw me there with no friends 😉 ).
    Having said that,to be honest I felt uncomfortable with a lot of the heteronormative stuff being so fitness/ and fashion/ stuff in your face.
    Sorry for being scrambly! xx

  4. This is a really interesting article and food for thought!

    I tend to agree with Laura. I don’t think that the feminist movement excludes men as an ‘us’ against ‘them’ tactic. It’s about women having ownership over our own space. We shouldn’t apologise for that.

    I think it’s really important to include men and bring them on board. I don’t have an issue with men being around and I haven’t observed the same hostility towards men at the feminist events I’ve attended.

    But it’s also super important that men respect women when we want to gather with other women and share our experience as women without men.

    Women SHOULD dominate feminist events. Just like Aboriginal people and people with disabilities etc should dominate their events. Would you ever expect that they have an equal number of non-Aboriginal or non-disabled people there too? I certainly wouldn’t. Quite imposing really! It’s up to them who attends, right? But it also shouldn’t mean we refuse to support their cause!!!

    It shows that men still don’t get it if they take offence and feel excluded or a sense of hostility simply because we want our own space. If they truly support feminism and equality then they support us having control over our own space without them.

  5. Hey Heidi, this was such a truthful and well written article.

    I have always been indentified by others as a ‘down to earth’ tomboyish kind of woman, and as much as I haven’t always advocated this interpretation, it led me to have a lot of male friends whom I have strongly connected with on an emotional, spiritual and intellectual level.

    A lot of them have expressed outrage at a lot of male dominance/patriarchal culture, and feel it needs to be changed. Yet equally, they are put off by the feminist aggression that has pervaded what was originally intended to be for suffrage. We have the vote now, but other issues arose which needed to be dealt with. We are still facing these challenges, but excluding a gender in pro gender equality seems irrational.

    We need a swift change to the face of feminism. We need to take back the stigma of that word. People shy away when you say ‘feminist’. But ERA (Equal Rights Advocate) just sounds wanky. I loved the line about getting the support from people in positions of power, as men still hold the influence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    As for our feminist meetings, I’ve never thought aggression should be included in our approach to issues. And more often than not, it’s stable and well planned. But I think we need to remove that stigma and introduce men to what feminism really is.

    Great read!

  6. I think there are two aspects to this debate.

    On the one hand, there’s the question of whether there should be women-only safe spaces, which I agree with, considering the historical context of gendered violence.

    The other part of the debate is about the tendency to conceptualise feminism as a conflict between women (who a few commenters refer to as “we”) and men (“men still don’t get it” “their cause”), which makes the Marxist error of assuming everyone in a group shares common goals or interests.

    The problem with saying “we” when referring to women, however, is that that “we” includes the Miranda Devines, Sophie Mirrabellas, Sarah Palins and Janet Albrechtsens of the world who utterly reject feminist principles, and “they” includes any man that accepts feminist principles. Evidently, having a vagina doesn’t automatically mean one will identify with women who promote the cause of feminism, and vice versa for men.

    Ultimately, if women judge and define individual men by the average properties of their gender then they are falling for the exact same fallacy that men did for most of civilisation.

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