THE FEMININE CRITIQUE: MALE ALLIES25 April 2016
This edition of Farrago, Adriane Reardon considers male feminists with New Matilda contributor Jack Kilbride and University of Melbourne gender studies lecturer, Joshua Pocius.
A man’s role in feminism is not black and white. Justifying his role in the feminist movement is questionable and arguably ironic. Can men be feminists? And if so, should they be?
Last December, Farrago contributor Jack Kilbride wrote an opinion editorial for New Matilda. He wrote about Clementine Ford calling out a hotel manager’s sexist Facebook rants that resulted in this employee’s dismissal. The event inspired Kilbride to share his comments on gender equality, exploring Clementine Ford’s advocacy of feminism.
“What happened with Clementine Ford and the guy that got fired from his job, the stuff he was saying was out of line. In this day and age no one wants that,” says Kilbride.
Although Kilbride has expressed his support for Ford following the Facebook controversy, he suggested in his piece that, in order to convince men to support gender inequality, feminists should advocate passively.
An extract from Kilbride’s article reads:
The problem with writers like Clementine Ford is although their sentiment is justified, their vitriolic writing style means that people will always get offended.
The article inspired a variety of female responses that varied from championing male feminists to downright rejecting them. One response from New Matilda author Xiaoran Shi described Kilbride’s criticisms as a form of victim blaming. Another, writer Ellena Savage, credited his writing as mansplaining the work of an elitist patriarchy.
Kilbride reflected on the criticism.
“I felt pretty shit about a lot of it but I think the discussion created was good. Responses showed that you can’t look at feminism in a bubble, which I may have done, but rather look deeper into the history of the movement.”
Criticisms of Kilbride’s article have undoubtedly generated discussion surrounding the definition of feminism and who it intends to serve.
During her 2012 TED Talk, author Chimananda Ngozi Adichie defined feminism as the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Her speech later published as a book titled We Should All Be Feminists. This definition reinforced gender equality as accessible to individuals who previously stigmatised feminism as a bra-burning, man-hating philosophy and eventually became popularised with the help of Beyoncé. More importantly, the speech encouraged men, as well as women, to be feminists.
It’s easy enough for a man to say he is a feminist, but as Kilbride’s experience showed, a male feminist requires more than good intent.
“There was genuine criticism to my opinion editorial. Mansplaining came up a lot. I know I’m not an expert, but I could offer a different perspective as someone who really wants men to treat, and see, feminism in a different way.”
The irony that gender equality depends on the support of men that created the inequities in the first place, for women, is frustrating at best.
According to PhD candidate and gender studies lecturer, Joshua Pocius, male feminists must recognise their privilege as a first step in engaging and supporting feminism.
“It is important in any movement or discussion about oppression that those who benefit from those systems and generally have greater access to having their voices heard must listen to the experiences of those who do not. In our cultural context, women, queers, trans folk and people of colour have been historically silenced and excluded from the public sphere.”
Pocius explains that men and women possess different power in the public sphere. Men who assume privilege must be conscious of their hierarchy and use their platform to support women and gender equality.
“The public sphere has been fundamentally, overwhelmingly dominated by male voices, and considering the ways in which women are negatively impacted by sexist systems and structures, it is crucial that womens’ voices are heard, especially in feminist discourse.”
According to Pocius, social media and technology have encouraged men to contribute to feminism.
“I think in a lot of ways, internet culture has resulted in a greater awareness of sexism and this has resulted in an increasing level of public visibility of male-identified folks engaging in feminism.”
Hashtag activism and online petitions have allowed men to engage in a movement previously stigmatised as anti-men. However, has the ease of the online sphere oversimplified feminism and its purpose?
Global UN feminist campaign, He For She, has allowed men to support feminism in the sphere of mainstream media. The likability and accessibility of the He For She campaign is credited to social media, as well as their use of popular actress Emma Watson as their spokesperson.
In his article, Kilbride referenced this campaign as the pedestal for an appropriate feminist protest because of its solidarity to include male support to achieve gender equality, something he reflects on with criticism.
“He For She hasn’t reached the heights everyone expected. The lack of success and action from the campaign to get all the credit was a bit disheartening.”
The He For She campaign, as appealing as it seemed, failed to meet not only its own expectations to reach a large number of supporters, but failed to represent the diversity of feminism on a whole. It was criticised as a liberal movement that misrepresented feminism by oversimplifying its philosophy.
The campaign title itself is problematic. Its use of gender binaries reinforce the idea that feminism doesn’t represent intersex or trans communities, but supports white, able-bodied, middle class, cisgender women and men. The explicit use of ‘He’ in a feminist campaign that hasn’t appropriately represented women in the first place is highly problematic as the face of mainstream feminism.
The underlying problem is that feminist campaigns must enter the mainstream to be embraced by wider society. Radical, Intersectional and Black feminist leaders and texts are arguably less marketable in their more defined values of feminism, even though their values and approach are equally as valid to consider.
Mainstream liberal campaigns have oversimplified gender equality. It’s easy to become a feminist without recognising privilege and making an effort to understand the diversity of the movement.
As Kilbride’s experience shows, there will always be feminists who oppose men identifying as feminists.
If, as a man, you choose to identify as a feminist, prepare for the criticisms, but ensure you are engaging with the movement beyond face value and harness your privileged platform to support those who need it most.