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.
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 Victoria’s 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.