Monday, 15 August 2011

"What About The Mens?"

Here’s a few of the many things that were amazing about UK Feminista last weekend:

1) Meeting up with the wonderful Twitter fems
2) The volume of support for our objections to the Bristol lapdance clubs
3) Hearing the mighty Finn Mackay on the opening afternoon

Here’s one thing that troubled me: the Sunday session led by Matt McCormack Evans called ‘Mobilising Men into Feminist Activism.’ As you probably know, Matt set up the Anti Porn Men website "for (mainly) men to write about and discuss anti-porn issues. The Project also provides and sign-posts anti-porn resources and news concerning pornography". As an eloquent young man, he is becoming the face of male feminism. He’s doing a great amount of positive work to challenge men who are resistant to feminist thinking and suggest an alternative view for them. Matt is a good thing.

My problem with the session has nothing to do with Matt personally, but everything to do with a man (any man) running a session for a mostly female audience, and urging them to think of ways to include men in the movement. Yes, I support men being feminists, and yes, obviously the more men who recognise the benefits of feminist thinking, then the closer we are to achieving equality. But why do we need to indulge the men in order to flatter them into allowing us, or helping us, achieve our demands?

To my mind (and many others, if Twitter is to be believed), it was troublesome to have a man stand up and tell women what to do (never mind clap his hands to silence us at one point). As women, when we finally achieve equality, we need to have achieved it on our own terms – not by running to men and asking them to help us. Surely, that’s not even an issue?

PROBLEM ONE:

One of the topics discussed was about whether feminist groups should be women only spaces or mixed gender.

“Feminism is becoming a mainstream mass movement. It’s not a club,” Matt pointed out. “It makes no sense to exclude almost half of the population. Men can be useful. How can we see an end to violence against women without engaging the people committing the violence? In a lot of ways, feminism needs men.”

I disagree. Strongly: FEMINISM DOES NOT NEED MEN!!! If feminism ‘needed’ men, it would not be feminism.

In simplistic terms, what Matt says in the above quote is true. Feminism IS becoming a burning issue again, and it was wonderful to see so many young women attending the UK Feminista conference, some of whom were just doing GCSEs. But I was worried that those who were new to feminism and who had flocked to Matt’s workshop (which was attended by three times as many people as there were seats allocated for them, such was his popularity) based on his media presence, were going to be sucked in by what he said just because of the individual man saying it. I don’t mean to disrespect Matt by saying that, as I have great admiration for what he does and genuinely think he seems like a nice bloke.

But as a 30-something feminist, I am concerned to see the next generation hearing “feminism needs men” and not questioning it. Afterwards, I talked with several groups of young women who had attended Matt’s session, 100% of whom were really pumped and totally convinced by what they had heard. They seemed shocked that I said the session had made me angry and that I was fuming with feminist rage about how patronised I felt. So we talked about it, and I explained that I was frustrated to see so many enthusiastic female feminists believing that they could only achieve gender equality by enlisting men to help them do it. They all told me they had never thought of it like that before. And this worried me enormously. What else were people being told and not questioning? I don’t want to sound patronising (and am aware that I may do, for which I apologise), but if people are not questioning what they are told – then patriarchy has already won. It’s as simple as that.

PROBLEM TWO:

Matt suggested we should be aware that men experience sexism, too. I mean, seriously, he actually said that. Before you say anything, I’ve had my share of self-righteous men asking me why I’m so strident campaigning against Hooters or lads’ mags, but why am I not worrying about the exploitation of the poor men at Butlers in the Buff, or on Heat’s Torso of the Week page. Seriously – some people actually think this is a valid question (and presume they are a great male mind for having dreamt up such a facetious poser).

So for a respected man like Matt – a man with influence among young feminists – to strand up and say (and seriously, he said this), that we needed to counter men who scorned us for having PMT by pointing out that men could be a bit moody too, sometimes, well, fuck me – the steam was coming out of my ears. (It was probably just my hormones, though.)

You see, poor old men, they’re on the receiving end of sexism, too. They’re expected to be uber macho, and to like only football and tits, when they might like something else. Oh, so what?! They should try being a woman in a male-dominated society! I know that men experience sexism… but by turning it into the tired old “what about the men?”, “think about the men” argument, it totally devalues all the good work of hardcore feminism.

The solution, says Matt, is to “frame feminist issues as men’s issues as well as women’s issues”. No, that’s really not the solution. Why the fuck should feminist women have to pander to men, or waste valuable time and energy solving male problems, when we have a hard enough time trying to get patriarchy to take our existing concerns seriously? In the 1970s, there were seven key demands made by the feminist movement. It is now 40 years later and we still have six and a half of those demands still waiting to be met. Feminists do not have time to indulge men – we are fighting a slow and uphill battle to achieve our own rights. Men can look after themselves. And stop holding us back while they do it.

It was around about this point in the session, that Matt’s Powerpoint display flashed up the overused image of Bill Bailey wearing Fawcett’s ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt. This is an image that most people agree has been publicised to death because it’s, like, a funny man, and he’s wearing a feminist t-shirt, titter titter. But shockingly the giggles in the room were fresh – many people seemed not to have seen this photo before. But how could they have missed it? It’s been all over Fawcett’s website for a verrrrrry long time, and it’s all over the internet. The only way they could have missed it was if (gulp) they had never been to the Fawcett website. But they’re feminists. How could they NOT have been to the Fawcett website? (The tailback of implications here is terrifying, considering all of the attendees at the conference were self-identifying feminists.)

PROBLEM THREE:


Apparently, NOT ALL OF THE ATTENDEES AT THE CONFERENCE WERE SELF-IDENTIFYING FEMINISTS. This came about after various women in the audience started trying to re-name feminism.

Let’s just pause and digest that horrific fact.

Yep, there are some women at a feminist conference who want to lose the word ‘feminist’ because it has “negative connotations”. What did they have in mind as an alternative? Someone suggested ‘The Anti Sexism Society’. Someone else suggested ‘Gender Egalitarians’. Another woman suggested ‘Pro-Feminists’ (which doesn’t even mean anything, by the way).

Matt pondered what would happen if we did as some suggested and re-brand ‘feminism’ as simply ‘equality’. Fortunately, he immediately explained why he recognised this was a terrible idea: in short, “This would ignore the problems of patriarchy.” Damn right, it would.

He followed this with the most sensible thing he’d said in the whole session (and there were plenty of other sensible things he said, I hasten to add): “Men’s problems don’t come from the same place as feminist issues.” No, they don’t. And that is precisely why feminists should not be expected to tackle men’s problems in order to somehow earn the right to be able to continue fighting for their own demands. Matt said: “Just because feminism has the answers to men’s problems, should we change it’s name? No.” (I’m ignoring the contradiction between his two quotes, as essentially he’s talking sense here.)

IN CONCLUSION:

While I admit I went to Matt’s session as a sceptic, I wanted to be proved wrong. I wanted to see how a session led by a man at a feminist conference could be a positive experience. I’m sorry to say the session left me insulted, angry and patronised (not necessarily by Matt, and in many cases more so by some in the audience).

Much of what I have written here is a general problem I have with finding a satisfactory way of including men in feminism, and is not a personal attack on Matt. Like I said earlier: he seems like a nice bloke, and I’m respectful of all he has achieved, and hope he goes on to achieve. However, his session inspired me to write this blog post and address my concerns about a) men in feminism per se, and b) a male-led session at a feminist conference.

30 comments:

  1. Thanks for saying these things so clearly, Madam J-Mo. I identify as profeminist, i.e. trying to be accountable to feminists, not "teaching" them how to struggle against us, and I am always awestruck at what allegedly "feminist men" get away with saying and doing, knowing they won't be called on such b-s because allegedly supportive men are so rare and experienced feminists are concerned about alienating younger women who are looking for a way to have BOTH equality and male approval/love... well, non-agression, at least. Yet, such male behavior is at the exact crux of patriarchal power... what Dworkin termed the "power to name" in her opening chapter of "Pornography: Men Possessing Women".

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  2. I was fascinated to read this discussion. I agree that Matt's framing of these issues was pretty troubling. If people want to see further, diverse discussion of men's relations to feminism and the roles men can play in building progress towards gender equality/justice, see e.g. http://www.xyonline.net/category/article-content/activism-politics.
    Best wishes,
    Michael Flood.

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  3. Renaming "feminism" is an interesting topic. The times I've arrived at this argument is from the incredibly vague statements like "feminism is about equality" that ARE said by self-identified feminists.

    Maybe they are not saying what you want them to say. They might even change their minds in another few minutes and qualify it as "women's equality", as if that can exist in a vacuum away from everyone else's equality.

    Your reply that "This would ignore the problems of patriarchy.” seems to beg the question. Surely if you are interested in equality, and the patriarchy (whatever your exact definition of that is) is a problem for equality, then your newly-named political movement would address the patriarchy. Simple :)

    Saying you want to use a word like 'feminism' for all your variegated studies and ideas, reinforces the perception that you want a better deal for women, in a way that will mean a less good (possibly unequal) deal for men. That's one view from the outside.

    Warren Farrell was once a feminist, read him.

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  4. Thanks for your comment, Muggins. Just to be clear, I am not interested in re-naming feminism. I think that would be a self-defeating action.

    I agree that comments like “feminism about equality” are also fairly vague, and know I’ve been guilty on occasion of trying to simplify things in this way. It’s very hard to succinctly say what feminists want in language that doesn’t alienate those who are already put off by the word ‘feminism’ – which the patriarchal media has successfully built into a scary word meaning angry women.

    I strongly disagree with your point that achieving feminism would mean that men get a worse deal. To me, feminism is about striving for a world where women (52% of the population) are as equal as men (48% of the population). I have no wish to see men get a bad deal as a result of this. Despite the common misconception of feminism, not all feminists hate men! Many of us are friend with men, in relationships with men, or mothers of men.

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  5. I'm surprised at your horror that not all attendees were self-identifying feminists. This was not a feminist conference, it was a feminist summer school. It was open to men and women and they didn't explicitly have to be feminists to attend.

    As you noted, many of the attendees were young, GCSE students, A level students etc. They're just discovering feminism and learning what it means. Why is that so horrific? Shouldn't we be welcoming them, sharing our knowledge and showing them some solidarity, not scorning them for not having read the right books or visited the right sites yet?

    Many women struggle with the term 'feminist' when they first discover it, having been affected by the way the media, and society in general, has tainted it. I'm sure being treated with derision by those who's own feminism if more developed will not encourage those young women (and older ones!) making their first tentative steps out of what I like to think of as 'The Matrix' - the mindset that most of society seems to have about a women's role.

    Best,
    Vicky :)
    (I'm a Trustee of UK Feminista and thus felt obliged to comment!)

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  6. Hi Vicky, thanks for commenting, and I’m genuinely sorry if you felt I was too hostile of what I perceived as some naïve comments at Matt’s session. I’m as pleased as anyone to see young women embracing the ideas of feminism, but was concerned that some of the younger people there (or the ones I chatted with or heard speaking in workshops) were lapping up everything that was said and taking it as fact, rather than stopping to question whether they individually agreed or disagreed with it. (For instance, there was plenty said by the many speakers across the weekend that I agreed with, but also a few things I disagreed with – that’s always going to be the case for anyone).

    As I hope was evident from my opening paragraph, I had a great time at the summer school (I’ve been calling it a conference only as I had slight concerns over the word ‘school’ but maybe – based on what you said here – the word ‘school’ was deliberately chosen over ‘conference’ for these reasons), met many inspiring people, and heard a great deal of empowering speeches.

    I had no problem with men attending the weekend, I only struggled with the concept of a man leading a session and effectively ‘telling’ women what to do to mobilise men. Clearly, the session was more complex than that in reality.

    My presumption (and I shouldn’t presume anything) was that anyone who would give up their weekend to travel across the country to an event by an organisation called UK Feminista would be a feminist. With Fawcett being such a prominent feminist group, I’m surprised that anyone with even a hint of interest in feminism hasn’t visited their site. (I don’t make any reference in this post to books that I think people should or should not have read.)

    Again, thanks for commenting, and again, apologies if you felt I was too critical. My criticism is not of UK Feminista (who I think are ace), or even of Matt. But rather, the session he led spurred me on to write this blog post, about an area of feminism that has been troubling me (and many others) for some time. There’s no easy solution to how to successfully incorporate men into feminism in a way that doesn’t offend/annoy/insult someone else, but I certainly think this is a topic feminists need to keep talking about.

    In sisterhood, Jane

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  7. These ideas are the frontier of feminism and I believe that nothing bad comes from brainstorming and communicating about them. I've got some ideas and I'd like to share them - they are far from being fully hatched so please call me out and/or offer your own ideas.
    Feminism is perhaps at a sort of plateau where the next jump is going to be UNIONIZING women and men. Feminism doesn't need men. Yes. But it sure could benefit from some - lots, even. Note that this is not men telling women what to do, but actually women offering ways in which men can contribute, and men working very hard at it. Inevitably this will include some men in leadership roles - and they will decidedly blunder and stumble - like many leaders. Do you truly believe that equality will be acheived by the feminist-identified women of the world simply sitting men down and telling them how it is and how it's going to be? I don't see that as sustainable progress.
    However controversial it sounds, i believe that a big part of this frontier WILL be women listening to men - not pandering, not because they must, or in the "poor us, who are moody, too, and have problems". It's more about listening to men's experiences in grappling with socialization and the very real barriers to dissolving their own sexism. If men could snap their fingers and do away with their own oppressiveness, many of them would - as would white, wealthy, straight, able-bodied, etc folk might do with theirs. It ain't that easy.
    I am uncomfortable with maintaining that others should ascribe to your feminism, or are irresponsibly not up to speed on the latest theories or scholarly thoughts (haven't seen a certain website, really??). Where were your feminist ideals ten years ago? Fully developed and ready to tour the debate circuit? Every feminist at any given stage in their personal evolution can define their identity within the movement very differently, and to show disgust for those that don't seem to "get it" (your definition) is already a few steps down the path to busting up the union.
    Some of my interpretation was that your feminism doesn't have a lot of room for even all women, let alone men. My beliefs maintain that we're all in this together. Reframing feminism to include men's issues is about, as i'm guessing Matt meant, mobilizing MEN into feminist activism.
    Perhaps "feminism" doesn't need men... but I believe "equality" absolutely does.

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  8. I had discussions with people who felt there should have been men on a panel at femschool which I organised (everyday activism). I felt so-so about this, because none of us knew a prominent male feminist activist who would be appropriate, and despite this one of our activists was prepared to step down from the panel just for unknown male representation!

    I feel that sometimes people go out of their way to accommodate or praise men for getting involved in feminism, and this is somehow seen as more important than the need to involve all WOMEN in the movement, many of whom have less privilege than the middle-class voices which dominate it.

    (We did add a point to the panel about supporting men in challenging sexism but it didn't turn out particularly well.)

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  9. Good post. I think men should be involved in and supportive of feminism, but I worry that it is somehow becoming our responsibility to bring men to feminism, to make it palatable to men, to encourage men to want to get involved. men should want to be part of feminism because it is a social movement to create a better world. As you say, feminists have a lot on our plate!

    And boo to rebranding feminism! I'm not ashamed of being part of a movement that won women in the UK the vote, that set up rape crisis centres, that demands for control over our reproductive rights, that campaigns for education, that campaigns for a better world for all. Rebranding feminism means disavowing the wonderful, vital achievements of the movement.

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  10. I was shocked when Matt started with saying all the things that men are oppressed with, but I think that it is a good way to learn how to tell skeptical men; look feminism challenges our expected gender identities, don't you feel as a man it's unfair that you're expected to be X,Y&Z.

    What annoyed me the most is 2 things:
    1. There was so much time spent discussing if the word 'Feminism' is offensive, and not a lot of time actually discussing including & engaging men in Feminism - of which I had a lot to say about.

    2. Matt continually advised that we put on our publicity "Women and Men welcome" but it should be "All genders welcome"... it annoys me how even at a feminist workshop about engaging different genders, it failed to recognise that there are more gender identities in our world than women and men. To me the phrase "Women and Men welcome" suggests it actually means "Cis-Women and Cis-Men welcome".

    But overall I do think that Matt is a really great activist and I really appreciate the work he does.

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  11. (I wrote this reply last night, but for some reason my laptop wouldn't let me post it, so am trying again.)

    @cpinkhouse. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
    I know you are tongue-in-cheek when you talk about unionising people, but I agree that we don’t want feminism to become a card-carrying movement, where there are good feminists and bad feminists. That said, I DO take issue with ‘fun feminists’ (ie, those who think the fun stuff – ie a slut walk, a book group – is all they need to do, rather than the real hard graft of lobbying councils, petitioning, doorstepping etc), although I don’t make reference to this in my post, so I won’t spend time discussing it here. Let’s save that for another blog post ;-)

    No, of course I don’t think feminism will be achieved by “the feminist-identified women of the world simply sitting men down and telling them how it is and how it's going to be?” My post does not say that I think this.

    My post also doesn’t say that men cannot be feminists or that they should not be part of the movement. I am not sure I agree that women need to listen to men in terms of how women construct their feminism – and I certainly do not believe that feminist women should be led by men.

    You take issue with what you call “my feminism”, but I respectfully say that you don’t know me at all or that you know what “my feminism” is. As for where were my feminist ideals 10 years ago, no, at the age of 23, I did not have the same confidence in my views that I do now. But I also recognise that even now, my thoughts are open to change and that opinions I had on some aspects of feminism a few months ago have been developed after discussions with other feminists who put a different point of view across. I am always willing to say when I am wrong, and to have my views challenged.

    You pull me up on expressing horror that some people had not seen the Fawcett website. I don’t think this is a particularly shocking thing for me to be horrified about. The Fawcett Society is one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) feminist societies. I struggle to believe that anyone with even a modicum of interest in feminism has not heard of them. And considering how internet savvy we all are these days (especially the younger generation, of whom I’m talking), it’s really not hard for someone to sit in their living room and Google ‘Fawcett’. My point is that if people aren’t even looking the mighty Fawcett up online, what else are they not looking up?

    In sisterhood, MJM.

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  12. I don't want to be rude about this, but if someone doesn't know much about feminism, why would they know that they should Google 'Fawcett' ? Perhaps some people out there don't see the Fawcett Society as being quite as relevant or influential as you do?

    I'm a feminist, and yes I've heard of the Fawcett Society, but I've never had anything to do with them directly and have never come across them in an online context. But then, I don't know much about the 'world' of online feminism, so I wouldn't really know where to start, to be honest.

    Perhaps something which seems very obvious to you isn't as obvious to other people, who know less about the subject.
    Perhaps it would be useful to list what else you feel that people with a modicum of interest in feminism should know about or read? Not being sarcastic, I'd genuinely be interested to read such a list. It might help me, for starters!! ;-)

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  13. I love this post at the same time as feeling tired and angry that it even needs to be written.

    It does not follow that because the aims of feminism are good for men (and it would be nice, though not necessary, if they recognised that) that feminism needs to involve or campaign on behalf of men. Men who want to come on board are welcome. Men who want to steer the ship are rightly looked at with suspicion.

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  14. Hi there. I was sadly not at the summer school as I have assignments to catch up on before I go into my fourth year of university.

    However, I have noticed this worrying trend of men thinking that, if they identify as feminist (I don't think it's up to men to identify as feminist anyway), they have just as much right to comment on feminist issues as women. They don't. Women's experiences should be put first. And that is just normal to say that, it shouldn't be controversial to say that women should be put first in feminism!

    I'm not saying Matt was doing this, I wasn't at the session. Recently though, I've noticed men who identify as feminist (but never come to any feminist events and barely ever talk about it, read about it or even think about it), commenting on my Facebook statuses and blogposts as if they have every right to assess how I'm feeling and the effect patriarchy has on women like me.

    I have had to give several men a dressing-down about this. Some of them didn't even realise that there was anything wrong with telling me how they thought I wasn't right about something.

    Men, you are only welcome if you listen to women, ask us our opinions - earnestly, not antagonistically - and put our experience above your own in explaining patriarchy. Otherwise you are part of the problem.

    I can't express how angry this makes me feel. I know it happens, but the same people might be disgusted by a white person telling a BME person what constitutes racism, or why they're being 'oversensitive' about something. Similarly, I'm the convener of an LGBTQIA+ group. I'm a queer, pansexual woman in a straight relationship. Therefore I have to remember that being with a man brings me a certain amount of privilege, and that I am not any sort of authority about any issue that isn't about queer stuff of pansexuality. I don't always get the balance right, but I try to listen to trans* members, for example, and ask them what *they* want the group to do, rather than barging in and laying down what I think.

    I was recently accused of sexism because I said that men are not welcome to self-identify as feminists.

    I'll just let everyone digest that thought for a minute.

    *I* was accused of sexism, by a man who was being a sexist pig, because I told him he wasn't a feminist and that it wasn't up to men to decide who is and isn't a feminist.

    What a fucking joke.

    Some men, I think, are feminist, or whatever word you prefer to use for men who are properly 'allies'. Some, on the other hand, think they're right-on but actually just want to score points or correct women.

    I think they need to be told their place in the feminist movement and what they can and can't do. I know that sounds bossy but otherwise patriarchy infiltrates our own movement.

    In sisterhood etc,

    Kate Harris

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  15. I'm writing again in relation to my earlier comment. I've now heard more about Matt's presentation, from participants on a profeminist men's list I run called profem. To me, it sounds like Matt's comments were far more productive and positive than I'd first thought. I want to offer my support to Matt and others who are passionate advocates for mobilising men in support of feminism.
    Best wishes,
    Michael Flood.
    Writings / publications: http://www.xyonline.net/category/authors/michael-flood

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  16. I'm a bit disappointed to read this post but not surprised. As a man, I'm never certain if I'll be welcome at a feminist meeting and from what I gather it'd be ok for the author so long as I put on an apron and silently made the tea.

    I had my eyes opened to feminism when I got into human rights. I wasn't particularly sexist before (honest) but just hadn't seen the problem. This is common for men or white people or whoever is not on the receiving end of inequality. It is helpful to say that women's rights are human rights.

    But what you seem to be saying is that women's rights are women's rights and humanity is a patriarchal term.

    Where you say, "Feminists do not have time to indulge men", I get the feeling you mean, Feminists don't have time to engage with men. I'm sure that Matt did not mean men needed to be indulged - you just heard it that way.

    I now know that it is not worth attending feminist meetings or protests. If i were to turn up some women would be offended. If I was to speak then more women would be offended.

    You want to fight men rather than change their minds. Nevertheless, I will support feminist initiatives because I believe in equality. I will just do it from my armchair rather than going to protests or meetings. I wouldn't want to taint anyone with my inherent chromosome-attached patriarchy.

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  17. Thanks for your feedback Madam J-Mo. I appreciate that the issue of involving men in the feminist movement is a controversial one and should be open to discussion. However, I would like to clarify a few things in your description of the session.

    The Engaging Men workshop at the summer school was intended to be a practical, discussion based workshop for those who wanted to engage men in their groups and campaigns. It comprised of a 15 minute presentation, followed by 20 minutes of small-group discussion - for which I was absent, and a whole-group discussion for the remaining 30 minutes.

    Whether feminist groups should be women-only spaces or mixed gender was not one of the topics discussed. I explicitly said at the beginning of the workshop that we wouldn’t be discussing the need or choice to have women-only spaces, campaigns or groups – because these are clearly a fundamental part of feminist organising. This workshop was simply a practical discussion for those who do want to engage men in their groups and campaigns. All comments about the need to engage men were made about the movement as a whole, not in relation to whether individual feminist groups should be women only spaces or mixed gender.

    Within the context of the workshop my claim that ‘men need feminism and feminism needs men’, referred to the need for men to challenge masculinity, which was identified as a huge driver of violence against women, and how beneficial this would be for the goals of the feminist movement.

    I did not tell people that they should be aware that men experience sexism too. I made some side-line comments during the discussion session that within the context of the discussion stressed some of the sexism that women face while touching on the constraining nature of masculinity and how bad it is for everyone. The whole “You see, poor old men, they’re on the receiving end of sexism, too” is an attitude that I mocked during my short presentation at the beginning of the workshop. One of my slides was the Andrea Dworkin quote: “Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important to us that they stop the crimes of violence against us.” Also, with regard to the issue of women spending time and energy engaging men, my short presentation – meant largely as a discussion starter – only offered suggestions designed to take a minimal about of time and effort.

    I understand that there are issues about a man facilitating a workshop at a feminist summer school, but I intended to merely facilitate and provoke discussion, not to ‘tell women what to do’. A smaller group - as originally had been planned - would have been better as it may have been more conducive to a more free-flowing discussion than the workshop had.

    I think that some of the comments and questions made by participants in the workshop show that public perceptions of the word ‘feminism’ is something that is on the minds of the many new and young feminists who took part. I hope they left the discussion feeling more positive about the term.

    With regards to the introduction about the Anti Porn Men Project, neither the project nor I have ever expressed that porn is insulting to men, and furthermore, both the Project’s primary and my personal concern with pornography has always firmly been about its role within violence against women.

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  18. Wow, this has inspired some strong opinions either way. Thank you to people for commenting and discussing this, it’s very interesting to hear your thoughts – even if you don’t agree with me.

    @Kate (1) I’m not saying anyone ‘should’ Google Fawcett (or ‘should’ do anything else!), but personally I find it strange that someone interested in feminism hasn’t looked it up – since it’s such a well-known organisation. That’s just my opinion. I’m in no position to tell anyone what they should or should not do. This is just an individual’s blog to express my individual opinions. You’re right to point out that what seems obvious to me may not be obvious to someone else. I take that on board. Not sure if you really wanted me to suggest a book to you or not, but Kat Banyard’s ‘The Equality Illusion’ is a good place to start for contemporary UK feminism.

    @MichaelFlood Thanks for your comments. I did not say Matt’s comments were NOT productive or positive. If you read the post again, you’ll see I stress at the beginning and end (and at points throughout) that I agreed with much of what he said, that I respect the work he does, and that I think he is “a good thing”. His session was the catalyst for a discussion on my blog about how I feel about men and feminism.

    @bobbledavidson Why on earth do you think I would only welcome a feminist man if he wears an apron and makes tea? That’s an extraordinary leap of logic to make and a tad defensive on your part, if I may say so.

    “What you seem to be saying is that women's rights are women's rights and humanity is a patriarchal term”: no, that’s not what I’m saying.

    “Where you say, ‘Feminists do not have time to indulge men’, I get the feeling you mean, ‘Feminists don't have time to engage with men’”. As you say, you “get the feeling” that’s what I’m saying, so that’s how you’ve chosen to interpret what I’m saying. Actually, it’s not what I’m saying.

    You’re taking this incredibly personally, and I’m not sure why. But that’s your choice.

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  19. bobbledavidson

    i really don't think that was what MdmJMO was saying. I run the Bristol Feminist Network, which is open to people of ALL genders. But our members who are men respectfully recognise (as does Matt i am sure!) that men need to listen to women, need to listen to how we experience patriarchy and not tell us how to do feminism. As kate in the comment above says (Kate - have also had that experience, ggrr!). We also need everyone to recognise where they have privilege, and we need everyone to challenge privilege. We need men to recognise why and when women only space is needed and this should always be respected.

    And, as i said above, it is not my responsibility to attract men to feminism, to make men feel involved. Men should be involved with feminism because it's the right thing to do, because ending inequality and overthrowing patriarchy is the right thing to do for the benefit of most the people in the world.

    And why shouldn't men make the tea? Everyone should make the tea!

    Also, jane - book groups aren't necessarily 'fun feminism'. To me, activism means many things, including reading and sharing and learning.

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  20. I discussed this with someone before the event when we heard there was going to be a talk dedicated to including men in the feminist movement, and we speculated about what it might include. It never for a moment occured to me that this talk would be delivered by a man. I think the issue of male feminism ought to be addressed, as fighting on behalf of an oppressed group you do not belong to (and to some degree must have some hand in the oppression of) is problematic and unintuitive. I have occassionally seen women (especially those new to feminist discussion) not confident enough to tell men to shut up and stop speaking for them. A female lead debate (in a female only space, if necessary) about what women want from male feminists and where the limits of male involvement in feminist should (or must) be drawn would be valuable. I've barely heard of Matt McCormack, but I don't see how him delivering a talk could even approach providing this.

    I think claiming that 'feminism needs men' is a clumsy and insulting wording. I think that feminism, in the broadest sense of the word, is something that all people should adhere to, including men. I wouldn't couch that thought in terms of feminism needing men, though, but in terms of men needing feminism.

    It's hard to piece together from this what Matt said about men experiencing sexism. Given that you concede that they do and yet are angry that he mentioned it, I can only assume he did so in an inapropriate or misguided way. Men do experience sexism. It is clearly not as frequent, and predominantly not as severe, as what women experience, and it is not reinforced by the same systems of privilege and oppression, but it happens and it can be serious and people kill themselves over it, so perhaps you shouldn't be so openly hostile towards the idea. (Again, I can't tell what he said or the prominence he gave it, but unless he made it a comparative competition I don't see the need for you to).

    I can conceive of a man giving a valuable talk to a feminist conference (less so, it must be said, to a 'school'), but it would need to be done with a great deal of wit and sophistication and would need to tackle its own problematic nature early on.

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  21. Thanks, Sian: My book groups thing was a bit flippant. I was just trying to think of a quick example to describe what I percieve as fun feminism (ie, people who think it's fashionable to call themselves a feminist, but are not willing to do the hard, boring graft that is tedious, upsetting and largely unthanked). I basically mean 'cupcake feminists' ;-)

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  22. Thanks for commenting, Matt. I hoped you would. Firstly, apologies for giving an inaccurate description of APM. As I’ve said to other posters here, and as I hope is clear from my original post – my comments are certainly not intended to be disrespectful to you, or the many things you do for feminism, but simply: your session on Sunday sparked a lot of discussion during and afterwards among women at the Summer School (surely a good thing) about the role of men in general in feminism, and it seemed logical to me to tackle this in a blog post.

    “Whether feminist groups should be women-only spaces or mixed gender was not one of the topics discussed” – am a little unclear about this, as this was an area referred to by both you and various people in the audience several times throughout the whole session, even if it wasn’t deliberately intended to be a topic for discussion.

    “I did not tell people that they should be aware that men experience sexism too.” Even if not intended, this was how it came across, when you were talking about (for instance) the uber masculinity men are expected to conform to, through pressure from media etc. And the (I realise) flippant comments about women’s PMT vs men’s moodiness, for instance.

    With regard to my original blog post, I’d like to stress (as again, I hope is clear) – that this post isn’t a criticism of you as an individual (I say several times that I respect what you do, and that I agree with any things you said), and that many of my comments were triggered by responses from people in the audience – for which, obviously, you are not responsible. Even though I felt annoyed by some of the comments made in your session (and most of these comments were not made by you, but by some in the audience), I felt yours was one of the most interesting sessions I attended across the whole weekend. To put it another way, none of the others inspired me enough to blog about them!

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  23. As an aside and a response to Matt rather than the post itself -

    matt, you say:

    'Within the context of the workshop my claim that ‘men need feminism and feminism needs men’, referred to the need for men to challenge masculinity, which was identified as a huge driver of violence against women, and how beneficial this would be for the goals of the feminist movement.'

    Can i just say how much i massively agree with this.

    And this:

    'With regards to the introduction about the Anti Porn Men Project, neither the project nor I have ever expressed that porn is insulting to men, and furthermore, both the Project’s primary and my personal concern with pornography has always firmly been about its role within violence against women. '

    I totally agree.

    PS - prob should have made clear eerlier that i wasn't at summer school so am totally engaging with what happened by having heard people talking about this issue on and offline.

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  24. Am pleased to see how much discussion this post has incited. Am more than happy for people to challenge what I write as well as to agree (if they so wish!).

    I’d also like to point out that several people who also attended Matt’s session on Sunday have Tweeted me (if you can be bothered, check my @ feed on Twitter, if you want to see I’m not making this up) to say things such as:

    “Just reading your blog! Thank you for sharing my words!”

    and

    “I would not have been as nice as you if I had reviewed it.”

    Just wanted to put that out there to show this isn’t my blinkered take on the event. ALSO, I’d like to stress yet again, that while my post came about as a result of the session on Sunday, much of what I say is inspired by comments from the audience NOT from Matt. I respect Matt for what he does.

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  25. This is an interesting post, and I think it's important to discuss all the issues, definitely. I'm a little torn, as I do agree with you, however, I do also think it's important to engage men with certain feminist issues.

    For example, I'm starting a dialogue with an academic who is researching men/gender and feminism with a view to engaging men with the aims of Reclaim the Night this year. I really want to talk to men about what their opinions are of their own behaviour that may or may not make women feel safe/unsafe in public spaces.

    I'd like to invite you to come to BFN's next book group (which I run), which is 26 September, 7pm at Cafe Kino. We are reading "This Charming Man" by Marian Keyes. It's about domestic violence.

    Regards, Anna

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  26. Thanks, Anna. I've just written that in my diary (bear in mind, it's the day after my hen do - I may not be feeling my best!!). Am not dissing book groups at all (I'm a member of a book group elsewhere, albeit not a feminist one) - I'm just trying to say (clearly not very well) that I think there's a difference between the grind of council meetings, working with councillors to try and see change in SEV legislation, organising RTN marches even... and the more enjoyable aspects of feminism, such as a book group. I have no problem with feminism being enjoyable (heaven knows we need some relief!), and also realise that the BFN discussion groups are not necessarily attended by people who all neatly agree with each other, and am sure there is plenty of debate (even disagreement sometimes) at all the events you put on. Am off to Amazon to order the book ;-)

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  27. It sounds to me that you feel that activism to be "proper" activism has to involve some sort of "grind" or element of striving/hard work? Of course, some of it is really hard work, and I'm not too proud to say that I cried my eyes out the day before the Bidisha event due to an unforeseen problem which came down to me to handle. However, hand on heart, time consuming though it may be, a lot of what we do IS a lot of fun. I really enjoy putting together RTN, and I really enjoyed a council meeting last year when we all booed the chamber when they wouldn't let us speak. It was fun, standing up and having our say! I'm hoping to put together a consciousness raising event in the near future which I think will have a great impact on attendees, but I sincerely hope will not involve any grind on my part!

    Secondly, I think it would be useful to clarify that there are loads of amazing feminists who do not, or are not able to get involved with activism. I can think of three women, off the top of my head, who are such amazing feminists, who have taught me so much through conversation and writing but don't do "activism". The reasons are many and varied, but include being a full time parent, having a demanding job involving travel, and having disabilities that make leaving the house difficult and being part of a group. I know this isn't what you meant above, but it's so important in print to be clear about meaning as there is no nuance to prevent being miscontrued.

    Enjoy the book, it's a very quick read but extremely moving and powerful.

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  28. When I talk about unionizing its not so tongue-in-cheek. When there is a cause, people unite to attain the goals of that movement. Workers are joined by non-workers, people of color are joined by whites, and women are joined by men. Years ago the chant went "women unite! take back the night!" Now it's "everyone unite! take back the night!" Is this disempowering women? When we know that the overwhelming majority of relatinship and sexual violence is perpetrated by men, isn't this the evolution of a victim/survivor-focused movement?
    It seems that there are voices here that see feminism as somehow separate from human rights struggles in general. If campaigns for equality didn't somehow attract and purposefully involve the oppressor class, would they - or could they - ever find success?
    Like it or not, men have already contributed in powerful ways to feminism's goals. This is not to wave a flag "yay, men!" (much of this progress was through women overcoming men's obstacles/ignorance/defensiveness/bigotry) but to offer that we must do this together to acheive any kind of pervasive and lasting impact.
    I educate youth for a DV org. Where i keep running into walls is getting through to young men. Is this reason to say "it's better that the women just keep on fighting alone, 'cause it's lookin dire." No. I'm even more motivated to find ways to ENGAGE men. This involves speaking to males in ways that they can listen and truly hear. It involves saying and discussing things that, frankly, some of the feminists on this comment section wouldn't understand - at first. Just like some men have trouble understanding feminism - at first. The oppression goes one way, but the compassion and understanding actually has to go both. I know. That sounds insulting. But we can check ourselves for fundamentalist ideology that crowds open-mindedness.
    I'll say it again, "Everyone Unite!"

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  29. I have kind of thought about this post a lot more and re-assessed a few things i said earlier in the debate, which has been interesting to follow.

    I stand by my comments that it is important for men to want to get involved in feminism, and that they should want to be involved in feminism because feminism is a social movement that makes the world a better place for all. As i said earlier i think it isn't the responsibility of women to encourage men to come 'over here!' and that men need to mobilise and work together and listen to women. I don't think men should tell women that they should be working to involve men but i think men and women must work together.

    But re-reading the OP, i realise that some of the issues being raised had passed me by, particularly the dismissal about men experiencing sexism too. Because men do experience sexism, and often the sexism they experience has a negative impact on women too.

    For example. Sexism and the patriarchy tells us that men are not nurterers, are not carers. The result, when a baby is born, men get 2 weeks paternity leave compared to women's 52 weeks. this negatively impacts on men, who are affectively excluded from raising the baby and spending lots of time with their young baby, and it is bad for women, who may suffer employment discrimination because they are mothers. Another example - sexism and patriarchy dictate that men are macho and aggro and associates masculinity with aggression. This is bad for men, as gender stereotyping is bad for everyone, but also it's bad for women, because as Matt says, this culture of aggressive masculinity contributes to the acceptance and normalisation of violence against women and girls.

    I wanted to add this comment because i was concerned that my earlier comment didn't make it clear that i absolutely want men involved in feminism. my concern was about how women are expected to make the first move, as it were!

    Secondly. i agree with a lot of comments here about how we judge other women and how they come to feminism. I have to admit i didn't go on the fawcett website when i was younger, although prob if someone had said they hadn't read the f word i would have reacted to them as MadamJMo has here! But every woman comes to feminism from a different angle, a different route, and gets there information from a different place. I imagine an anarchist feminist, for eg, might not have much use for Fawcett, which focuses so much on lobbying for govt change. Someone concerned about how to successfully lobby govt might not have much use for a blog about art in feminism.

    I agree with Vicky that young women may still be nervous about proclaiming the feminist label - they need time and space to work out how they understand feminism and how they feel about it, and this may involve those questions (that we even ask as we're older) about 'the brand'! Summer school provides this space and allows those who are confident about calling themselves feminists to explore these issues with those who aren't - as Matt did.

    Finally, i agree with annifrangipani re activism. Activism can be reading and talking about a book, doing a workshop, running a workshop, marching, flyering lad's mags, petitioning government, lobbying the council, marching on an RTN or a Slutwalk or a pro choice march, an anti cuts march, it can be a consciousness raising session or all sorts of things. It can be teaching gender studies, writing an academic paper - where we are gathering and raising awareness and talking and sharing and being active feminists then we are doing activism.

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  30. Oh for god's sake! Am totally exasperated by the tenor of many of these comments!

    What started out as a VERY qualified but legitimately critical blog post ends up by congratulating Matt on 'one of the most interesting sessions' of the weekend. Wow - that's a bit of a downer on all the WOMEN who led the other sessions: not an ideal outcome for a feminist event. Others seems to be falling over themselves to agree with Matt or fawn over his every utterance, or at the very least to point out that 'it's nothing personal'.

    Matt says that women-only groups and campaigns are clearly a fundamental part of feminist organising. If that is the case, why does UK Feminista appear not to support such organising? In fact, UKF seems to me to actively militate against and undermine women-only organising. Of course pro-feminist men need to challenge masculinity, and the behaviour of other men: this is not the same as men being involved in feminist groups and generally entering and commandeering women's space, taking up valuable energy and resources and reproducing patterns of male domination. It breaks my heart to hear that a session in the same timeslot led by a wonderful feminist was cancelled due to low numbers, as most of the attendees had signed up for Matt's workshop. I think it would behove Matt and the organisers to reflect on the implications of this.

    I also note that much of the discussion has had quite a divisive tone regarding other women - whilst many of the commentators have been eager to point out that they are not criticising Matt, there has been a noticeable tendency to criticise the views and comments of women who attended the workshop. This is, again, an unfortunate consequence of having a male-led workshop at a feminist event.

    I would have thought that WOMEN leading workshops at a feminist event was kind of a minimum requirement. Perhaps casting our minds back to a time when feminism was referred to as the Women's Liberation Movement will bring some clarity to the situation.

    I have totally held back in writing this comment - I am absolutely enraged by the whole insulting and regressive episode. I think it is a sign of the times that women are so oppressed that claiming a right to our own movement seems something few of us feel barely even able to assert. In the spirit of sharing, can i recommend Marilyn Frye's essay, 'On Separatism and Power'?

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