Tag Archives: patriarchy

On Autonomy and the Role of Men in Feminism, and Wom*n Only Spaces or Events

Paper doll graffiti in a public street - Rome

I’m going to attempt to preemptively answer some questions that come up time and time again. These are often the questions that come from men who encounter the wom*n’s edition of a journal, a feminist-themed talk, or anything that is discussing things that are branded as “wom*n’s issues”. In a university specific setting such questions include: Who is the Men’s Officer? Where is the Men’s Room? And sometimes ‘I’m a Feminist Guy, let me in Your Freakin’ Wom*n’s Room Already’.

Why do we have a Wom*n’s Room?

Wom*n’s Rooms are safe places for those who are female-identifying to escape the daily grind of living in a sexist society, a place to chill out and a place to access resources, and to talk to and connect with other wom*n on campus. For wom*n students, there are lots of subtle (and often not so subtle) reminders that the university (and uhh the world) can be a bit of a boys club. Female students experience sexism and in their daily lives and this impacts on their work and study. Wom*n still make up the vast majority of violence, sexual assault, and domestic violence victims. On average, wom*n earn less than men. We also still don’t have full reproductive freedoms or accessible abortion.

Dale Spencer did an experiment on what happens when men enter what is designated as a wom*n’s feminist space as research for her PhD thesis.[1] She writes:

Present at the discussion, which was a workshop on sexism and education in London, were thirty-two women and five men. Apart from the fact that the tape revealed that the men talked for over 50 per cent of the time, it also revealed that what the men wanted to talk about – and the way in which they wanted to talk – was given precedence.

[…]

There is no doubt in my mind that in this context at least (and I do not think it was an atypical one) it was the five males and not the thirty-two females who were defining the parameters of the talk. I suspect that neither the women nor the men were conscious of this. There was no overt hostility displayed towards the females who ‘strayed from the point’, but considerable pressure was applied by the males – and accepted without comment from the females – to confine the discussion to the male definition of the topic.”

Wom*n’s Rooms aren’t perfect. I’m not here to tell you that. They aren’t a solution to the problem — but they’re a start to redressing those problems by giving wom*n a forum where men do not verbally and intellectually dominate conversational space.

When wom*n call a space or event ‘autonomous’ what does that mean?

 The word autonomy has been dissected and re-evaluated numerous times in academic literature. In terms of feminist and oppression politics, the term autonomy has a fairly unique meaning. Autonomy is by no means a simple concept and it means different things to different wom*n in the feminist movement. But, simply put it’s about reclamation of personhood and agency by being free to organise and collaborate exclusively with other wom*n, without the immediate influence of men. It also means decisions affecting wom*n should be made exclusively by wom*n.

c9437d68fc89b04f4616fa461349481eAnd I can hear you now with ‘men are important, too!’ and ‘the patriarchy hurts men as well!’ or ‘you’re being a “feminist elitist”. I agree with most of those statements, actually. But here’s why autonomy, wom*n’s only spaces and wom*n’s only protests and events are still totally fucking necessary.

Here’s the thing: feminists don’t necessarily want your help. Sometimes we would prefer to be only in the company of other wom*n. Sometimes we want to feel that our voices are truly our own. The truth is those male feminists are often seen as being way more brave, and way more valuable than female feminists. I’m kind of tired of that. Because the truth is that as a woman, being a feminist is much more difficult. You’re accused of being crazy. People might even stop being friends with you if you speak out too much. You’re told you should be an “equalist” instead. Because ‘liberation’ is a dirty word (like feminism); it has to about ‘equality’ rather, because men feel threatened by the word ‘liberation’. For many wom*n their feminism aligns with their subjective lived experiences, such as sexual assault and the different ways that their race, sexuality, (dis)ability, gender identity and class intersect with their status as a woman. For most men (and especially those whose gender aligns with their sex assigned at birth) their ‘feminist’ beliefs don’t have the lived experiences like these, which directly inform their feminism. However there are ways you can be constructive (and I’m getting to that, I promise).

This is why it may be requested that you do not attend certain events. Most wom*n who seek out wom*n’s only spaces might get a small amount of enjoyment out of feeling safe for half an hour or so. I’m not suggesting that all wom*n who desire this have had horrific experiences with men, but it might be helpful to think about what might cause someone to do that if you’re considering getting into to a heated argument with them. Topics discussed in what are designated as autonomous, wom*n-only spaces are often highly sensitive, and many wom*n who have experiences with these issues don’t feel comfortable discussing them in front of men.

I’m tired of trying to get men on side with feminism, tip toeing around and sugar-coating things, which might alienate male allies. I’m tired of self-professed feminist men thinking they are entitled to criticise wom*n’s approaches to feminism. I’m even getting tired of the numerous hours spent on articles rallying men to the cause with ‘The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too’ thing because yes, of course it does but, overall it is actually overwhelming good for men. That’s why it exists in the first place. Because the majority of men are invested in its continuation. The more time spent on men’s issues as feminist issues, the less space and time exists for issues, which directly affect wom*n in feminism and go to heart of how we can restructure our oppressive environments. Men who can appreciate the importance of feminism, because they understand decent human behaviour don’t deserve more room in feminism than currently exists.

Men who call themselves feminists are often looking to be part of your circle, in my view. They’re looking for a feminist card that gives them an equal voice in feminist circles, they’re looking for a feminist card when they screw up and get called out on being sexist. They have no role in feminism in my view aside from being pro-feminist or a feminist ally and getting the spaces they dominate and making them feminist. Ask how you can help out instead. Can you put up some posters for a feminist group on campus when they’re campaigning? I’m sure there’s not going to be a problem with that. Offer to help set up the Wom*n’s Collective’s stall. Have meaningful conversations with the other men around you about gender roles. Speak up when you hear something sexist happening or being said. Listen if someone is telling you about an experience they’ve had that they said was sexist. Listen and act if someone is telling you that something they think you said was sexist.

And after all this if you still feel threatened (albeit even slightly) by the idea of wom*n exclusively meeting in public for some purpose, feminist or not, then ask yourself why. You might be part of the problem.

 

By anonymous

 

 

 


[1] Results were published in Man Made Language, 1981.

 

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Hey Slut! On loathing slut walk and the rest of it.

There are a few things that I really, really loathe about what’s happening in the feminist movement at the moment. Katy Perry as a feminist icon, thinking that ‘cos you’re a feminist you can totally put other women down without it being problematic and the ‘reclamation’ of the word ‘slut’. 

I would literally give all of the money in the world (which I’m relatively sure sits at around negative $2,000 plus HECS debt) if someone could just make it go away.

I loathe it for so many reasons, but the most recent comes from an unnamed source which broke my heart, I won’t say much except to say that outside of our contained world, where political correctness reigns and the tiniest misstep can lead to ostracisation from the ‘sisterhood’ slut hasn’t been reclaimed at all. ‘Slut’ is hurled at the feet of young women and it makes them feel dirty, ashamed and worthless.

There is no male equivalent, there is no way to make a supposed promiscuous nature into a reduction of worth for men. ‘Man Slut’ applied to men holds none of the same hatred, none of the same connotations, it can be held up as a badge of honour.

While we were marching chanting ‘I’m a slut, slut, slut’ young women in schools and their late teens/early 20’s were getting the same thing told to them, but they didn’t have the same luxury of chanting it proudly. For them they know what it means, it means being used, being abused, being worthless.

I understand that the point of slut walk is to try and make those connotations go away, but that’s not really how it works. We should be challenging the use of the word at all, not try and reclaim it. ‘Reclaiming’ the N word in the United States hasn’t make it feel any better when people hurl it at the feet of people. Relaiming the word ‘Wog’ in Australia hasn’t meant that racists using the term no longer feel free to use it.

More importantly, it keeps meaning the same thing regardless, should we really be willing to accept there being a word for women who have ‘a lot’ of sex when there isn’t one for men? Not to mention, that ‘slut’ isn’t really about sex anyway. It’s about the fact that men think they have the right and the ability to make you dirty with one word alone. “Don’t be like that, everyone knows you’re a slut”.

Slut Walk got a big crowd, I didn’t go. I got called a slut in high school. I know what it feels like, how they use it to make you into something less. There’s been studies done which show that for young women, particularly young low SES women, the label of ‘slut’ has similar symptoms as those exhibited by people with post-traumatic stress disorder. You didn’t feel that way? Good for you, other people do, and reclamation doesn’t work, it just makes it more acceptable for other to use to word.

I haven’t been called a slut for a lot of years, but I remember what it felt like. I know what it feels like for young women who are still called it today. Slut Walk didn’t even appear on their radar, they were too busy knowing what it really meant to be called that.

One of my friends went to slut walk in Melbourne in 2011. I asked her how it was and she said, “Yeah, at first it was really fun, but after a while you’re just yelling slut over and over again” and crumpled her face.

I’ll bet you all the money in my pockets, against all the money in your pockets, that her feeling won’t change no matter how many times we march. Make it go away, some words shouldn’t be reclaimed because some feelings can’t be. Slut is absolutely an example of this. We need to make it stop.

 

 

On loving the body you have (as long as it isn’t fat, non white, small breasted, big hipped, not symmetrical, a bitch face, etc.)

I am so unbelievably sick of body image campaigns. Actually, if I see another one I think I might actually die.

No. Srsly. Fuck. Off. Why is it my responsibility to love myself and not the responsibility of society to love me for all of me, not just the way that I look?

My biggest problem is that none of these campaigns even remotely question why it is that women are valued entirely on the way that they look, they just remind us that we’re only really valuable for the way that a (male) gaze sees us.

Don’t get me wrong, body image issues are of a massive concern, particularly to young women. I read some article the other day about how many young girls go on diets, or hate their bodies, and it’s way too many, it’s really wrong. But, it seems like all the youth women’s movement does is talk about body image and – guess what- it’s not the skin you’re in, it’s the patriarchy stupid!

Lets think of an example – Dove ran their beautiful at every size campaign. Showing women that (so long as you’re still traditionally beautiful in the face and that) you can be beautiful at anything from a size 6 all the way up to, oh, size 12 (bigger than that isn’t beautiful see, cellulite sets in) same company that owns Dove owns lynx, who have been doing their part to fuck up young women (and young men’s attitudes to young women) since day one.

At the same time as Dove’s pretending it thinks you’re beautiful –EVEN if you are size 12- lynx is reminding you that you’re only worth objectifying (which to them means you’re only worth the oxygen you breathe) if you’re stick thin with massive fake breasts and covered in mud.

If you ever needed more proof that better body image campaigns are a part of the system that continues to oppress us you only need to look at who’s running them.

It’s not the campaign, it’s the patriarchy. In a lot of ways I feel as though campaigns that tell women to solve the problem of the way they view their bodies ignore the real problem, which is that we live in a patriarchal society which tells women to say not fuck you, but fuck me.

As a movement we need to stop giving into the idea that women are valuable because of how they look and start asking people to question why they care.

And that, is why I will never run a body image campaign.

What do you all think?

On Eating Ourselves Alive

I love having feminist friends. It’s one of the things I’ve most valued in coming to understand feminism as a core to the struggle. I’ve just come back from having coffee with one of the strongest feminist’s I know and she brought up the recent article written by actress Ashley Judd regarding discussions of her ‘puffy face’. The article, a scathing exploration of the way patriarchal power is enacted on, through and with women, is a powerful piece (read it here) which raises as many questions as it answers.

Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

The point Judd makes is one which I have been struggling with lately, we as women, even as feminists, continue to aid and exist within the patriarchy. Why do we do this? We as women are not working effectively together, we are eating each other alive. When we as women put each other down we don’t help women, we don’t help the movement, all we are doing is perpetrating the myths and stereotypes which have assisted the patriarchy to keep us down for so long.

My friend and I commented today that none of us are innocent of this bias, this double standard. I certainly know that for all of my talk, and my strong belief, that we as a feminist movement need to bind together and support each other if we are to achieve equality, I still find myself making snide comments about other women within the movement. On their politics or their clothing. I am, as Judd says, trying to identify myself as one of those who is my own denigrating abusers, and abusing other girls and women.

My friend raised her voice and said of her own internal comments, “Why am I even doing that?!” why are we even doing this? It doesn’t help us, it doesn’t help the cause and it certainly doesn’t move toward equality. Men don’t do this to each other, not in the same way. Why do we even do this? How can we even stop?

Judd says,

“I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women.”

The question is not an insignificant one. Even those of us who work hard to create strong networks of women are not always successful. How can we as a movement stop eating each other alive? What do you all think?