Tag Archives: People

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.

 

Advertisements

10 out of 40, ‘aint bad? Wait.

i need feminism because

I was talking with a friend of mine recently who spoke to me about how he thought that it really was bad how women were treated in the past but was super glad that they weren’t treated so bad anymore.

 

While I know he had the best of intentions and was not being malicious, he was merely ignorant and the discussion frustrated me. I spent a significant period of time explaining all the inequalities to him but the one that he could not get his head around was that we value men and their achievements significantly more than we celebrate those of women. I tried to come up with several examples that I thought he could relate to a really understand. I ran through a few examples and he couldn’t see what I meant, then as we got the bill for out coffees and we jostled over who would pay I realized the perfect example of sexism in our society.

 

Of the forty people who have been featured on Australian money only 10 have been women, while I acknowledge that it is better than I though it would be its still bullshit! Money which is one of the things that we value most in our society, and having your face brandished across it is one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed features thirty men and ten women. Thirty to ten. TEN.

 

So this is basically saying that of the forty most noteworthy people  printed on our money only ten were women. Yea because I am super sure that there have defiantly not been more cool, inspiring, hardworking or just generally boss women who could have been chosen.

 

This disregard of Womens achievement really bugged me, but at least I finally got my message across. Feminism win. It is little victories like this, explaining and recruitment to the cause that is what has kept our movement strong for so many years, and what we need to do to keep it strong and continue to progress. So I guess the moral of the story is don’t back away from these discussions and don’t give up if you can’t win someone over immediately keep pushing because we can never have to many feminists. And really- everyone who believes that women and men should be treated equally is a feminist.

Mikaela Wangmann

National Women’s Officer 2013

On the Offensive: A Case for Furious Feminism

its ok to be angry

Alison is just a really angry person who has been blessed with being UTS Wom*n’s Officer for 2013. Alison liked to write letters to the editor before the internet made it the bastion of time-rich conservatives. In leiu of this, Alison likes to be an advocate and, short of a serious criminal record or parking fine, will hopefully one day be of the silk or in a suit, yelling at people for a living.

 

Wom*n’s bodies have been the site of patriarchal conquest for aeons, and if you’re reading this blog, I’m sure I don’t have to delve much into that conquest. But how often do we think about the conquest of more abstract rights, bodies and expressions of wom*nhood and feminism? And how do we negotiate these when, as wom*n, we have internalised a great deal of social boundaries regarding what conduct is proper?

I’m talking about emotions, specifically, anger, and its expression in feminist circles.

Why is it that a man’s anger on wom*n’s issues (read: White Ribbon Day) is noble and righteous, but a wom*n’s (read: Every Other Frickin’ Day) is unreasonable, embarrassing and laughable? For a man to sway with rhetoric and quaver his voice with passion was the sign of a good speaker. A wom*n’s furious vibrato is nothing but hysteria.

For an embarrassingly long time, the man thinkers of the day treated a wom*n’s unruly emotions in the most patronising, pathological and bizarre way. It was considered that an angry, upset or noticeably emotional people with egg-producing reproductive organs had the condition hysteria, and for some time, it was thought that egg-producing reproductive organs were malfunctioning, spurting hormones everywhere or leaping about the body, inducing within the wom*n some unnatural and perverse state in which she expressed unpalatable feelings, often relating to grief.

The vibrator was invented as a more automated treatment after doctors subjected wom*n to manual stimulation (read: sexual assault) in order to ‘cure’ this grave condition and the scourge on society that an angry wom*n was.

In particular WOC and ATSI wom*n have suffered significantly under this construct, denied rights and believed to be racially inferior due to their non-complicity with colonialism (see: Sapphire caricature). It’s apparently funny, even meme-worthy, for a WOC or ATSI wom*n to express fury or upset. Some of my un-favourites include “Aboriginal Woman Yells at Man on Train Lolz” or, if you want to delve into history “African-American Woman Gets Angry When She’s Catcalled ROFLMAO”.

We have a long and grievous history in which we have been subjugated, bodily, ideologically and physically based on our anger for an infuriatingly long time.

Cut to today and one would guess that this would be an issue solved and lain in our past.

I wish it was so.

Feminism has this bizarre lateral trend which I have noticed where we call out people for calling out, we bring shame and scorn upon those wom*n who yell at the patriarchy. We are happy to make subversive bunting, but very unhappy to back a wom*n up in a confrontation against her cat-caller, a misogynist bro in caucus or in a fight with a microagressively sexist friend.

And I’ve tried this ‘Nice Wom*n: Please, Sir, I Can Haz Rights Nao’ thing, and it is soul-destroying. I grew sick of explaining things to people for whom patriarchy and feminism was a series of non-sequiturs and strawman arguments. When people would see a wom*n’s cheeks become flushed as they pick apart her experiences under a lexical microscope and laugh because she takes it too seriously. But a Daily Life, Mama Mia, Kochie’s Angels brand of feminism is riling against that, saying that we’re something more, that Angry Feminism is something that we should move beyond, that it’s a stereotype and that Feminist Killjoys and Misandrists are forcing everyone to shy away from the big F word.

I’m not for a second going to tell you what to feel or how to act, and I can tell you that acting on my feminist anger has won me exactly zero friends, zero jobs, and zero Mama Mia articles on my nifty range of cunt-cakes, yet has stirred within me a huge affirmation for my ideas, an understanding of my self-worth, a more complex contemplation of intersectionality and my role in the activist realm. My anger is a great enabler, it drives me to get things done, it drives me to examine privilege and it drives me to consider my feminism in forever changing lights and to temper my anger with pragmatic empathy, not to those who perpetuate ‘-isms’, but with those who are subject to them.

This is not a free-for-all pass to screaming. We must also consider the safety of others. But we must also consider substantive violence. A yell here or there may be nothing compared to years of lateral ideological subjugation and cruelty. A yell may be just and furious and fitting in all the right ways for a person who has been subject to this cruelty and, though it is not the focus, may bring a shameful call to action for the receiver. A yell, though, may also trigger a stander-by with significant history, and so we must be careful.

But these things haven’t really been mapped out yet, or set for negotiation, because respectability politics and the cringe of the modern feminist at the howling, unshaven, buzz-cut hulk of a feminism supposedly passed, have yet to really shift and make space for such a discussion. The answer has always been a resounding ‘No’, even from our own, an ejection from the feminist table.

It’s alright, if you want to, to be that rabid, furious, screaming, crying feminist, because it is nothing else but your prerogative, your right, and potentially, your joy.

And, in the face of things, there’s a lot to be furious about (here’s a sampler of some pretty standard run-of-the-mill bullshit).

  • With every student/pensioner/everything discount you can pull, the average cost (excluding transport, accommodation, time off work, recovery and pain medication) of a medical or surgical termination from a not-for-profit is $300;
  • Forced sterilisation of (dis)abled wom*n is still happening;
  • Revenge porn is a thing;
  • Sistagirls (trans* ATSI wom*n) are still dying in custody in men’s prisons and no-one’s saying a word;
  • Nice Guys ™ are everywhere right now, and they’re going undercover, without their fedoras and chain wallets;

And my un-favourite;

  • We’re encouraged to be polite in the face of all this.

 

By

Alison Wonderwound

UTS Womens Officer 2013