Men telling women how to be feminists



In the global game of one-downmanship that is Men Complaining About Feminism, I would rank “feminists only write about depressing stuff” a close second after “all feminists have hairy armpits”.

That tired complaint was the chief argument of self-styled renaissance man Sam De Brito this week just past, as he decided to unload upon “women’s sites” (his scare quotes) in order to prove just how much of a cool feminist dude he is. De Brito is, apparently, being kept awake because nobody - except him - has bothered to note that Dr Janet Yellen has been confirmed as the chair of the US Federal Reserve. 

“I searched several "women's sites" such as 'Mamamia', 'The Hoopla' and Fairfax's 'Daily Life',” he wrote, “but couldn't find a mention of this momentous occasion, which made me wonder if sometimes the champions of women's rights are looking in the wrong places for progress?”


In the sage words of Dr Peter Venkman, oh Johnny, did you back the wrong horse.

I could offer a flood of links to the contrary (Yellen’s historic appointment was, in fact, covered here, and here) or remind De Brito that two of Daily Life’s writers, myself and Clementine Ford, have won EVA Awards (oops just did), or cherry pick from his long history of questionable gender politics by way of his books and blog. But instead I think it’s pertinent to point out why that nit-picking approach to discussing gender equality is, mostly, bunkum. 

For one thing, the argument that more women operating within the upper echelons of Big Business will Make A Difference - could be ripped straight from the pages of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Look, I’ve read it (I even interviewed her), and there are some compelling moments scattered through its chapters, but the reality is that a handful of female CEOs won’t change an awful lot.

As Eva Cox told me in an interview at the time of Lean In’s debut, “Individualism leads to trying to succeed in a macho workplace model and market economic models. This creates no change and can’t work for those who don’t want to mimic macho practices. We need to revisit the ideas of serious gender change in what we value and how, e.g. shorter working hours and validity for care.”

Perhaps if critics like De Brito were more committed to actual feminist cultural criticism, and less concerned with slating “women’s sites” in an effort to make himself look like a feminist superhero, he would have read bell hooks’ call to step out of (rather than lean in to) capitalist power structures.

In a piece for The Feminist Wire, hooks dismantles Lean In and similar models of ‘faux feminism’ as one that “begins and ends with the notion that it’s all about gender equality within the existing social system. From this perspective, the structures of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy need not be challenged”. In De Brito’s case, this is the idea that Yellen’s appointment “has the potential to send enormously powerful cultural messages to young girls and women”.

But why question whether or not women in big business will, in fact, help bring about gender equality when you can instead just have a crack at the women who aren’t being good enough feminists because they don’t read the Financial Review?

Indeed, such ‘pro-women’ male think-pieces tend to focus on things like how women are just dummies who suckle at the teat of celebrity news, too hypnotised by Kim Kardashian’s belfies to bother paying attention to the Real News of gender equality: “The average woman (and man) would know more about Lara Bingle's love life than the thoughts of women like [Harvey Norman’s Katie] Page and [Westpac chief Gail] Kelly on any number of important topics.”

This isn’t the first time a male writer has put down women’s sites to bolster their own ‘personal brand’, nor – I’m sure, will it be the last. But hey, why highlight the extensive work of female writers in championing progress when you can sensationally dismiss them as whingers -- simply because they did not, in your eyes, adequately trumpet one specific woman’s career achievements?

Here’s what it comes down to: I am all for men who want to be feminist allies. I am especially here for men who realise they’ve been living life in thrall to patriarchal power structures and unhealthy gender expectations and who decide it’s time to make a chance.

A man who wants to throw the extensive and tireless feminist work of women under the bus to prove that he is better at feminism, on the other hand, can take a seat. Hell, Sam, take the whole stadium - maybe you can discuss feminism with Gail Kelly while you’re there.