When a man tells me how to do feminism

Dear Antony Loewenstein

I would like to congratulate you on being brave. So, so brave for writing a piece in the Guardian on why feminists are doing it all wrong. It’s especially brave given what an awful, entitled, sexist piece it is. Still don’t worry. I doubt very much that too many rape threats, accusations of bigotry and no-platformings will be coming your way.

It’s nice that you realise “men have a stake in gender equality”:

… from promoting fair pay and no-fault divorce laws, all the way to stopping honour killings and sexual violence. We are boyfriends, husbands, fathers or friends, and yet too many of us shy away from these sensitive matters, fearing opprobrium.

Do you know what would also have been nice? Also acknowledging that men like you have a stake – a pretty enormous one – in gender inequality, from benefiting from unfair pay, all the way to getting away with rape and murder. Still, never mind. It’s not like it’s your job to point these things out. That’s for the feminists, especially the “western ones,” who are currently too busy having “debates about celebrity red carpet dresses and celeb-feminism” (yeah, that’s totally how all the shelters and rape crisis centres are being maintained).

Thank you for informing us that “we need to focus on the issues that truly need our help the most urgently”:

benefits taken away from single mums; sexual violence which affects all women, but especially already vulnerable ones; endemic racism which leads to parents of colour scared to have their child shot by police forces; lack of unionising or legislation which leaves women without working rights worldwide; the right not subject to rape threats and abuse, online and offline; equal pay for equal work.

You think that what you have written is a list of things feminists are neglecting; what you’ve actually written is a list of examples of what racist capitalist patriarchy does. It trades in violence, greed and neglect. When writing this, did you think, even for one second, “hang on, this isn’t all a to-do list for feminists – it’s a to-not-do list for men like me”? Or do you think men’s exploitation of women’s labour and bodies is inevitable and it is the role of feminists to clean up after them as best they can? Do you see feminists as some kind of mummy figure, whose duty it is to stop the bad man from doing mean things and sort out the mess afterwards? Do you in fact think that part of men’s exploitation of women’s bodies and labour should include the labour that is constantly resisting male violence and exploitation, since men can’t possibly be expected to not be violent and exploitative themselves? What are we resisting, if not racist capitalist patriarchy? (Oh, that’s right: “inequality,” this vague, wibbly thing that women have been really shit at sorting out because we’ve been too busy chatting about the glass ceiling over caramel lattes.)

I realise research isn’t your forte, since you’ve only quoted one particularly unfortunate paragraph from one book by one feminist (a white western one, no less) to support your claims that western feminists are privileged career women looking out for number one. Nonetheless, I imagine that your inability to see the bigger picture – that we live in a gender hierarchy, in which men subjugate women – means that when you do hear feminists asking for change, you generally think “not good enough!” Because feminism is all about tackling individual issues, as recommended by you, with no broader context than “equality,” amirite? Why challenge the actual hierarchy when you could be fire-fighting under the direction of men instead?  (Note for future reference: “we” do not “need” to do anything at your behest.)

As an example of your supposed feminism lite, yesterday I wrote a piece for the New Statesman on raising boys. I bet you’d read it and think “huh, she just wants boys to be able to wear dresses! How trivial is that?” Go on, have a good laugh while you nobly promote Real Issues in the Real World. You wouldn’t see that my broader point is that we need to challenge masculinity – the thing that leads to all this violence you apparently deplore – from the word go (yeah, I know – how could I possibly mean that? Are mere women capable of deep thought? Don’t I just want to dress up my five-year-old son like a Disney princess for the sheer hell of it?). And yet I get a lot of crap for writing things like that and I’m not even an activist. I’m someone who works in an office, in a job unrelated to feminism, who cares for her children the rest of the time, and it pisses me off when even I’m facing, not only claims that I deserve to get cancer for the things I’ve written, but lectures on how I’m not seeing what “really” matters. And that’s on top of, you know, the everyday sexism that comes with being a woman, the violence of female socialisation, catcalls, groping, assault, workplace discrimination, being terrified to walk home alone etc. (sorry, being a “western feminist” isn’t the episode of Sex And The City you seem to think it is).

So anyhow, is this the new activism? Members of the oppressor class turn round to those they oppress and say “soz, can’t stop myself – YOU should be doing something about it!” Or perhaps a slightly better “hey, let’s work together to erase the material consequences of me continuing to do whatever the fuck I like!” And then you go on write down all the things the oppressed should be doing, in order of importance, but the one thing you won’t portray as a hierarchy is gender. This is why, of course, you wouldn’t get why someone like Caroline Criado-Perez’s most well-known campaign was about female representation, not sodding banknotes in and of themselves. It’s also why you don’t notice how feminists who address “proper” stuff – rape, refugee support and VAWG – can often be THE SAME ONES who are being castigated for not covering these topics. They see the physical abuse of women and their cultural invisibility as part and parcel of a system which positions women as less than human. When these women try to make you listen to the “serious“ stuff you don’t bother. Male violence is boring unless you’re using it to attack feminists themselves.

There is no real stigma attached to being a misogynist or, at the more casual end, being an entitled male who simply has no idea of his own privilege. There is huge stigma attached to being a feminist. You don’t get accused of imaginary phobias every single day. You don’t find out that, every time you speak, each of your words is worth a tenth of those spoken by someone male. You don’t face threats of violence and abuse just for trying to change things for the women around you. You don’t suffer oppression which, when named, is dismissed as being too exclusive. You don’t link every idea you express on male violence and sexual assault to real things that have happened to you – that have happened to pretty much every woman you know – over the course of your life. You don’t battle every day with the fact that men believe they own objectivity and reason, hence all of your campaigning exists for them to dissect disapprovingly. And yet you seek to lecture feminists and increase the stigma and misrepresentation they face already.

You are part of the problem. It doesn’t pain me to write this. I don’t feel terribly, terribly ashamed of myself for not dealing with all male supremacy, ever, so you don’t have to. You think you care about women? Then why not try to stop them needing feminism at all?