You are probably aware that last Saturday 8th March was International Women’s Day. This day began a week of celebrations at Southampton Uni and many other places worldwide, for the achievements of women and focusses on what more could be done for women. Cue the very predictable cries of ‘when’s International Men’s Day?’ by those who are able to get onto Twitter and Facebook but somehow the concept of Google just goes over their heads- (hint, you type ‘International Men’s Day’ into Google and up it pops: November the 19th, one to put in your diary for 2014, this will save you hours of complaining and shaking your fists at those silly feminists who just want to continue fighting for equal rights). These cries, and the general backlash against women who dare to express their disillusion with a society in which quite simply, every day is men’s day, generate exasperation for those who have heard ‘well men have it bad too,’ ‘men are just as objectified’, ‘what about male rape?’ one too many times.
On the flip side, my International Men’s Day (November 19th, remember?) was spent trying to explain to a couple of women, and one man, why it is completely inappropriate in a feminist discussion, to claim, as they were doing, that all men are awful. Such people shouldn’t be allowed into feminism as they only do so to assert control over women and further their male conquest.
This all threw up a few questions about the role of men in feminism: should they be involved? If yes, how? Should we just talk about women’s issues or widen the scope of our discussions to include areas in which men are affected as a direct result of their gender?
First things first, gender is not a competition. You don’t get points by being the most objectified and there is space to listen to everybody’s experiences. This is applied on both sides: men and women who just can’t seem to take feminist issues seriously unless there is an International Men’s Day (don’t worry Whataboutthemen-sers, I’ll remind you: it’s November 19th, hopefully you can wait that long to tell us all about all the ways in which men earn less money, are more highly targeted by traffickers and barely have any decent speaking parts in most films… oh did I forget to Google that correctly?) it is just absurd to believe that a week of focussing on women’s oppression and achievements is going to harm the status of men in any way. For those who don’t want men in feminism, are you really sure that you can just cut half the population out of the question when talking about equal rights? Is it your right to tell a man that somehow whatever he has experienced is just not on par with what you have, just because he happens to be a man? How can we define the boundaries about who can join this exclusive feminist club anyway? Do you have to clock a certain number of points on the ‘objecto-meter’ to have a valid voice in the discussion?
In defence of the more radical feminists, who don’t want men at all involved in their discussions, they do have a point – although it is taken to the extreme. We don’t just have IMD, we have been experiencing International Men’s Millennia, in which women have not been considered worthy of the status of fully grown adult and in which being born female is to be born into a life of passiveness, voicelessness and great danger. In fact this still occurs. Men have experienced issues and have not all been treated well but women in all levels of society have always been placed a step lower, for the crime of being born a woman. On an average day we will be surrounded by the presence of men. The morning coffee, made in a machine whose company is led by a man, whose fellow CEO buddies are mostly men. We turn on the news and see wars of men and a minority of women and their effects. We read the paper and see the sports section dominated by men. We commute to work and see women in advertisements directed towards men. We turn on our Ipods and listen to songs about objectifying women. We go to a Uni in which there is still a gender pay gap and see a huge divide between ‘male’ and ‘female’ subjects. The professors are mostly male. The heads of the Uni mostly male. We work for companies in which decisions are carried out by the men at the top. We want to see a film to relax after a hard day? It’s likely to be made by a man and the prominent characters are male or if they are female, they are there purely to support the men. Women, in some ways, need a space to fill.
However, the focus should not be on creating a space for women to hide away, protected from men but to occupy spaces which have for so long been male dominated. We can’t possibly get more representation and opportunities for women by refusing to engage with men, who, to be fair, do also experience a certain level of sexism from women’s magazines, from the prevalence of gender stereotypes which lead them to be considered deviant if they want to stay at home to look after their child, in custody battles and in the pressure to be ‘providers’. Being a woman is no guarantee of being a good feminist, or even a good person. Consider a feminist’s dream dinner party, you have one space left at your table, would you really rather have Margret Thatcher than this guy?
Men need to be involved in feminism because I firmly believe that the majority do want equal rights for women. Without being included in the conversation, without being able to listen to experience and share their stories, men cannot be aware of the small, everyday actions which can help progress and do wonders for people of all genders. They can call out the guy who wolf whistles, they can tell their friends that designating a number to women based on appearance is pure objectification, they can cease to use derogatory terms and to label women, they can stand up with, not for, women and partake in an open and respectful dialogue.
They can also realise that it is still very much a man’s world, in which we live, and that makes our experiences incomparable. When speaking about women’s issues this week, they can remember that no woman is trying to deny them anything but the chance to oppress and degrade them. If International Women’s Day ceased to exist, then our landscapes would continue to be dominated by images of, products of and decisions made by men, whereas women would still be fighting for a voice in a world that tells them to stop complaining. By speaking out, women are keeping their heads up out of the water, fighting for every last syllable to come out and to stay afloat while men are standing on the boat, getting splashed. We don’t need to be fished out and saved, we need men to dive in and shout with us to end the tidal wave of oppression.