(Update: This seems to have travelled some little way on Twitter and someone (http://twitter.com/OrangeThoughts) asked me if I had any examples of the below. Well, how about Robin Thick informing us that Blurred Lines was in fact a feminist movement? Or former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer – another feminist? I culled both those examples from this rather excellent piece by Meghan Murphy on XO. It was the first piece on Google that came up when I searched on ‘men calling themselves feminists‘. I also (let’s face it, I live in my own little bubble where the only gender theory action I usually get is blowing the dust off my masters notes, feeling guilty about whether I’ve forgotten to stack the dishwasher and arguing with my five year old about Barbie) had no idea that there was an entire thing call ‘Pro-feminism‘. My core point, though remains. I’m a man I’m best off leaving being a feminist to people who identify as women. And the sterling examples of ‘feminists’ cited above do rather back me up.)
This post is addressed to men, not women.
The short explanation of “Why I am not a feminist” would be “Because I’m not a woman.” But, given the amount of unprompted, wounded whining I see drifting into my Twitter stream like so many tender, dead, little fledglings caught in a flood of feminist outrage, I suppose I should go into a little more detail.
‘Feminist’ is an interesting term. The Oxford English dictionary pronounces it as meaning a “person who supports feminism”. Feminism is pithily defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. On the face of it, you’d think people who defined themselves as being members of either sex could easily identify as feminists and no harm done. But then you look at the root of the problem – power, and where it’s situated – and the limitations of this definition immediately become apparent. A feminist may well be an ‘advocate of women’s rights’ but advocacy without an analysis of the power relations between the advocate and those that the advocate intercedes on behalf of risks becoming patronised at best and fatally compromised at worst.
Think of the relationship between Western nations providing aid to former colonies in the Third World and its unintended consequences. All too much of it is predicated on the basis of “We are going to save you”. The underside of this generous salvation is “We know what is best”. And the underside of that is “We are still in charge. And we still own your oil fields.”
Women earn less, work more and are subject to an ongoing torrent of sexual abuse from all sides. Do I really have to explain where the balance of power is in this particular relationship.
Rachel Bowlby, in an essay called ‘Domestication’ (Deconstruction, A Reader, ed. Martin McQuillan, 2000) notes that “what gets domesticated – in this case a form of feminist theory – is something defined as being subversive of what will thereby attempt to take it over , settle it down, suppress its difference.”
If Feminism is anything, it’s disruptive of the established order. Let the established order speak for feminism and it’s game over.
That’s why when someone who identifies as a man claims to be a feminist, many feminists, veterans of too many long meetings dominated by men speaking at great length, get annoyed. They think that the man, by claiming the mantle of feminist, is somehow attempting to speak for them. And whether the man means to or not he is.
This is the crux of it.
If you speak on behalf of the voiceless, you continue to deny them a voice.
If you speak on behalf of people who very much have a voice, you deny them that voice.
If you are a man and you call yourself a feminist, you’re colonising a place you have no right to. You can be lots of other things. You can be a supporter of women in the workplace. You can vote for parties who pass empowering laws. You can complain about other men who harass women. And so on. But what you can’t do is co-opt the feminist voice. Because that belongs to women.
In short, the best thing a man can do when a woman is speaking is shut up and listen.
And if you call yourself a feminist and a woman gives you a slap for it, button your lip and take it like a man.