Where are the men in fe[menism]?

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Speech bubble: feminism is for everyone

By Briana Pegado

For many of us, the idea of men entering the sacred arena of women-only spaces defeats the purpose of feeling safe, secure and empowered.

Men already dominate so many other spaces in society: the boardroom, the changing room, even the living room. However, as I walked into a WoW session on ‘The Men Fighting for Gender Equality’, the topic of men had just come up in a teen panel discussion on feminism, so I was ready to listen.

From the beginning I was uncomfortable with an all-male panel moderated by a woman who, I felt, was talked over and dominated by the male panellists. Not a great start.

Man holding sign: 'Men of quality support gender equalityI forced myself to suspend judgment until after the panel finished, but I was still hyper aware that (at best) I was uncomfortable with or (at worst) I fundamentally disagreed with the premise and set up of this discussion.

The panellists were Shane Ryan (CEO, Working with Men), Nicholas Kirby (co-founder, The Good Lad Workshop), Richard Rieser (equalities consultant, World Inclusion), and Michael Kimmel (masculinity researcher and professor, Stony Brook University).

The realist in my head, the Briana that believes the ends justify the means as long as we reach our goal, was interested in hearing some of their insights. And there were a few useful points: Kimmel noted that ‘we cannot fully empower women and girls without engaging men’.

The panellists discussed the obstacles to engaging men, the first being the concept of ‘gender.’ Kirby suggested that gender is invisible to men because that is how privilege works, ‘it is invisible to those that have it,’ although I find this comment generalising to men.

Man holding sign: 'All men can understand that a dress is not a yes'
Kirby also said that ‘men don’t think of themselves as potential perpetrators, they think they are great,’ claiming that words like ‘gender equality’ and ‘activism’ do not speak to men. Instead, he advocated the need for an approach that engages with how men think about themselves in their day to day lives.

Though I understand the sentiment, I have a problem with it. First, I would assume no one thinks of themselves as perpetrators.

Second, men still need to step up and come to the table.

We can raise awareness about inequality, we can help them identify their privilege, but seeing as we live in a male-dominated patriarchial society, after getting them over the threshold into awareness, I feel it is not our job to speak to them on their level when they have been excluding us from the conversation and actively discriminating against us for most of history.

As even Kirby pointed out, ‘most men don’t know that gender is as important to us as it is to women.’ I agree: gender is itself gendered.

Historically the discussion of gender has come from women (the oppressed gender group) and as aresult has been associated with the oppressed.

Man holding whiteboard: I need (absolutely) feminism because I know the intersectionality of oppressionThis has allowed for the dominant gender group, men, to disengage from discussions about the topic entirely. However, I would not go so far as to say it is entirely invisible to men.

I should also point out that these are generalisations: the need for intersectionality when discussing ‘men’ is clear. Shane Ryan highlighted this need, describing race and class as important factors for engaging men.

Overall, the panel seemed to conclude that, to quote Reiser, ‘we need to disrupt the fake consensus that exists amongst men’. However, I think it is more than that.

We need to do more than to disrupt the fake consensus.

We need to challenge the assumptions and privileges that permeate our society, in societies that shift the gender balance out of whack, in societies that do not hear women’s or non-binary individuals’ voices.

Animated gif: Aziz Ansari saying 'I am a feminist'

Briana Pegado 1Briana Pegado is the founder of the Edinburgh Student Arts Festival. She sits on the Creative Edinburgh Advisory Group and is a member of the Melting Pot, Edinburgh largest social innovation co-working space, as a winner of their Social Innovation Ideation Awards (SIIA). She has an MA (Honours) Sustainable Development from the University of Edinburgh and was part of the first cohort of MA Sustainable Development students to graduate from the University of Edinburgh in 2014. Tweet her @briana_pegado

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