Female only events


Now that we are four years into the fourth wave of feminism, I feel it’s an appropriate time to take stock, have a ‘work in progress’ meeting, and air any grievances we might have about the way the fight is going. Here’s mine: men.

I am tired of so much energy being given over to trying to get men on side with feminism. I am sick of self-appointed male feminists criticising women’s approach to feminism. I am tired of seeing feminists expending column inches talking about how the patriarchy hurts men, too.

Sure, patriarchal ideals of masculinity are problematic, as is war. But for the most part, the patriarchy is still spectacularly good for men (it’s why they earn more than us for the same work, to begin with). The more time we spend discussing men’s issues as feminist issues, the less space there is for the discussion of issues - many of them life-or-death - that plague women.

I see fellow feminists go blue in their virtual faces online, trying to convince male doubters that feminism is a good thing. If a man demonstrates feminist behaviour, he is praised from the rooftops.


And good on the man who can appreciate feminist ideals, though as they say on the internet, just because he knows the basics of decent human behaviour, he doesn’t deserve a cookie.

One of the most problematic aspects of the fourth wave has become the amount of time and energy devoted to blokes. Can they be feminists? Should we be nicer to them so that they will be feminists? Men: what can they teach us about feminism?

It’s this sort of rubbish that leads to people saying things like “I call myself a gender equalist”. It leads to thunderous inanities like Stephen Marche’s The contempt of women in September’s Esquire, which features this actual sentence: “One of the real triumphs of American men over the past thirty years is that they’ve never taken to gender-based activism”. Yes, bully for the American men, Stephen, with their reproductive rights intact and their 19% more earnings than their full-time female counterparts.

The perfect crystallisation of this problem is the continued debate over the perceived “gender inclusiveness” - lack thereof - of Reclaim The Night (Take Back The Night in some cities).

This approach has coloured much of the discussion of Reclaim The Night Sydney Road, an event planned in the wake of the alleged rape and murder of Jill Meagher. As their event description puts it, "The Sydney Rd march will be led by groups of women and any woman wishing to participate are welcome at the front. Women are welcome to bring their children to this leading group. Women-identifying members of our community are also most welcome in this first group. Following this first group, we invite men - along with any women who’d like to march with them - to join us in solidarity."

While I commend its organisers for mobilising a large part of the community to protest street violence, I don’t think that the Sydney Road event should use the title ‘Reclaim The Night’. It may seem like semantics to a casual observer but the notion of reclaiming the night and the actual movement with that name are very different.

Here is a succinct explanation of Reclaim The Night, from the Domestic Violence Resource Center Victorias previous events: “[RTN is] open to all women and their children. It is asked that people who are not female identified/bodied/socialised or trans or gender variant self-exclude from the event this year. This is to stand in solidarity with people who feel unsafe in the presence of male people, especially in the context of talking about violence. This however is not to undermine or invisibilise the experience of women who have experienced violence from female partners or family members.”

It’s pretty simple, and yet time and time again, debate turns to men and male-identified people who are up in arms: “But I’m not a rapist! I don’t support intimate partner violence! Why can’t I come?!”

Not all men are determined to muscle in on traditionally female-only spaces in order to demonstrate that they are “not like other men”. In the comments on the RTN Sydney Road page, a number of thoughtful comments were left by men who appreciate that their presence might be problematic. “Men standing back as women reclaim the night, to me this is a powerful symbol. I will happily show my support and involvement by standing aside,” commented Sean Spencer.

For the most part, however, comments such as Sean’s are in the minority. Men - who have enjoyed centuries of gender-based superiority - just can’t seem to believe that there is a need for an event (just one event!) that excludes them.

Once more with feeling: it is okay for an event to be a female-only space. Sometimes, it is damn well necessary. The fight against sexual violence is not like Highlander: there must not be only one. There should be countless protests, all under different banners, and more and more people must mobilise against violence in our community. The reductive notion that “too many cooks spoil the broth”, or that only having one protest somehow makes it more powerful, is unhelpful in the extreme.

So, Reclaim The Night is female-only: it is one event. People who can’t attend RTN can attend SlutWalk. People who don’t feel comfortable with aspects of the SlutWalk movement can join another movement, or begin their own. From little things, big things grow, as the tale goes. 

It’s the same with feminism. If men want to fight the good fight alongside us, good for them. But if we spend our precious time dismantling feminism so as to make it more comfortable for men, or more attractive to them, or just letting men march in and take the reins, then we just end up right back where we started from.


  • I used to identify as a feminist, I would even tell my friends I was one. But then I realised that many in the feminist movement believe we can create equality between the genders by focusing on the issues of just one gender. What a flawed argument. As a young man recently graduated from highschool and into university I can tell you that there is no privilege enjoyed by me and my peers. Some of whom I've lost to depression and substance abuse.

    I believe that a major cause of problems in my friendship group is the lack of male role models growing up. None of us ever had a male teacher, and many friends lived in fatherless homes. Our school had a councilor which it sent troubled girls to, but there was no support for the boys who were hurting. Its very easy for women to dismiss issues like this but this is what creates violent and unstable men.

    In the end I feel a lot of feminists are incapable of thinking of gender equality as anything more than a spectrum (i.e. women are still more disadvantaged in general so we should only help women), but this is the completely wrong mindset to have and ultimately what has pushed me away from feminism.

    Date and time
    October 05, 2012, 9:41AM
    • Thank you, Sam. You are absolutely correct. The author seems to think that the patriarchy benefits ALL men at the expense of ALL women. As a youth worker, I can tell you this is absolutely, patently, unequivocally, and 100% untrue.
      The author and those of her ilk are gender separatists, championing women's issues, while belittling men's. CB is a repeat offender.
      More power to us who realise that society impacts on everyone, male and female, and that if we are going to address social inequality, then focussing on a single gender is not only foolish, but counter-productive.

      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 10:25AM
  • Brilliantly put.

    Years ago a male friend of mine was spouting off about how sexist Fernwood was, by being women-only. I told him how one of the girls at my gym couldn't go to a co-ed gym because the sight of a man holding a dumbbell brought back memories of her ex-partner who hospitalised her for three months after nearly beating her to death with his home gym set.

    Date and time
    October 08, 2012, 3:38PM
    • That's all well and good, but it works both ways. Men never seem to be allowed have their own space. A male-only place is "sexist", but a place like Fernwood "makes sense".

      It's the old "if a man is promoted over a woman is sexism. A woman promoted over a man is equal opportunity".

      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 8:56AM
    • This is all adressed in the article. It would probably eb beneficial to read it.

      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 9:31AM
    • Fernwood exists, like any money making enterprise, because people will pay for it. I have been a member of Fernwood and it is NOT a feminist organisation - just look at the posters on the walls of babies with the caption "my mummy's not perfect, but she's working on it". If there was money to be made out of a male only gym it would exist too, and no one would mind. Don't look for discrimination where it doesn't exist.

      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 9:42AM
  • Bravo - well put! I've been without internet for a couple of weeks while moving and have terribly missed reading your excellent columns in time to comment. Reading this one, I had a jolt of awareness that I too have spent way too much time trying to engage with MRAs, to the detriment of my cause, my argument and eventually my sanity.

    See you at RTN - my bloke will be at home with the PS3 ;)

    Red Pony
    Date and time
    October 09, 2012, 8:53AM
    • "(it’s why they earn more than us for the same work, to begin with)"

      This is patently untrue and if this is the sort of intellectually bankrupt dishonesty we can expect from 4th wave feminism then it's not going to be very successful.

      People are paid the same. You cannot discriminate on basis of gender. People are paid according to their skills, experience, market conditions for those skills and experience and how much profit they generate for an organisation. There is no gender bias in this. It's all about individual achievement. If all you've got to show is that over their life men will earn more then all it proves is that men spend more time in profitable paid employment. Essentially, men aren't paid more, men just earn more. This all comes down to individual choice. Nothing is stopping you from making that choice. Especially in Australia, the US, the UK, NZ and pretty much all free countries on this planet.

      Date and time
      October 09, 2012, 8:55AM
      • Wake up bender!! Here is an article from TODAY'S Herald on men being paid more than women. Get your head out of the sand and please stop repeating the same comments over and over. It's getting really dull.

        "Want to earn more in IT? Being a man helps" http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/-271na.html 

        Date and time
        October 09, 2012, 9:22AM
      • Bender is correct.

        That SMH story just says that MEDIAN salaries are different, but fails to explain that women are more likely than men to take 1-3 years off for family reasons. If a man takes 1-3 years off work, to raise kids or travel or whatever, he will also earn a lower salary than his counterpart who has 3 years' more experience.

        I have never been able to find an example of a man and woman in the same role, in the same company, with the same responsibilities, generating the same results, with the same years of experience, earning different salaries. Can anyone provide ONE example of this?

        If so, great - it'll be a substantive example of wage inequality. It'll be the first I've seen.

        There are plenty of examples of men and women earning different salaries - when you compare different companies; or different years of experience; or different industries; or different profit generated; etc. ie when you don't compare apples to apples, it's easy to find differences.

        Date and time
        October 09, 2012, 9:37AM

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