I am not a man hater but this is the very last time I will say it in public or in private.
Over the years I have lost count of the number of times I have worked with men to advance the appeal of feminism and to encourage more of them to support our war efforts. Despite this I have lost count of the number of times I have been accused of hating men. “She is a lesbian and a man hater,” wrote one lovely chap on a Blog earlier this year in response to an article I had written on the abuse within prostitution “which is very apparent to anyone who has seen her on television.”
Although feminism has never really gone away since the campaign for women’s suffrage it has had its quiet times. In the past five years however, feminism has enjoyed a revival with many young women becoming involved in campaigns ranging from a critique of sexual violence and objectification, to inequality in the workplace.
Although many of these younger activists are radical in their approach, (such as those who organise the annual Reclaim the Night marches across the UK), a number appear more concerned about the possibility of offending men, than they do in furthering the cause.
Feminist blogs are full of articles on how old dinosaurs like me are responsible for creating an image of feminism as being ‘against men’, although it is a movement addressing the global problems created for women by inequality, but these problems are somehow nobody’s fault.
During a panel discussion at a recent feminist conference populated by younger women, there was a massive kerfuffle when young feminist critic Bidisha dared to suggest that being a feminist is belonging to the ‘girl’s team’. Imagine white folk telling black anti-racist activists that their movement is ineffective or meaningless because white people are not involved.
I am becoming increasingly wild with rage and frustration at the mantra introduced into common feminist parlance, which goes: “We have to include men” and “we need men on board.” Let us look at what this current trend to involve men in feminism is really saying.
One: Feminism is without currency, or validity, if there are only women involved. Think about it. Every other liberation movement – such as those to end racism, class privilege, or disability discrimination – all involve men. So why not feminism?
Two: We women are terrified of alienating men and being thought of as lesbians. Let’s face it, it takes very little to be named a man-hater, and the intended slur of ‘lesbian’ is never that far behind. All we have to do is gently suggest that it might be men who benefit most from women’s subordination, and that they have no right to have special treatment simply because they were born male. And we haven’t even got to radical feminism yet.
Three: It is Not FAIR to exclude men. From anything. It would be like organising an office Christmas lunch, and not inviting the boss.
I remember my time as a mature student listening to younger women talk about how dreadful their women’s study classes were. Most men couldn’t give a hoot about issues that only concerned women, and so gave the course a wide berth, but there was always one (or two) men who would show up. Half of the class would feel silenced by his presence (especially when disclosing personal stories of sexual abuse as so often happens when women get together in a sympathetic arena), whilst the other half would spend most of the session feeling sorry for him, or defending him.
Four: Women are too stupid to do anything ‘on our own’ without men. We literally do not exist without them. I recall being at a fundraiser for the Women against Violence against Women (WAVAW) campaign in Leeds back in the 1980s. Five hundred of us feminists, concerned to end the rape, murder and domestic terror of women, were in a private conference room upstairs in a massive pub. We were boozing, dancing, snogging, arguing, and having a great old time. As I walked downstairs to go to the loo I heard one man say to his mate, “Have you seen? There are 500 women up there, on their own!”
Now is the time for the caveats.
It is not the case that I do not want men to be involved in feminism. I do. But I want them to start their own groups and not invade mine. Why? Because women have the right to have our own physical space to talk about what men do to us in our private and public lives. This movement only exists, because of men abusing and colonising us – in other words, you are the problem boys, not equal partners.
I am not alone in being dismissed as a man-hater, and indeed am in good company. The late Marilyn French who changed countless women’s lives for the better with the publication of her 1977 novel The Women’s Room once told a newspaper, “They said I was a man-hater, and I never defended myself against that, because I do believe that men are to blame for the condition of women.”
My old friend Andrea Dworkin, (who continues to be labeled a man-hater more than five years after her death) lived with and adored the pro-feminist writer John Stoltenberg. She believed that men can change, (as do I) and that none of us are born either bad or good.
The reason why so many of the new-wave feminists bleat on (and on) about including men in feminism is because so many of them are unthinkingly heterosexual. Women are the only oppressed group that is required to love their oppressor, sexually and every other way. Black civil rights campaigners of old were clear that the liberation they were demanding was liberation from from white racism, and it was to benefit them by dismantling white supremacy, not love them more.
It is not as though women have not tried to bring men on board before. In the early 1970s a number of men were left holding the baby when their partners discovered feminism, and were not too happy. “Men hate feminism,” says Linda O’Neill, who was married to a socialist party activist in the early days of the movement, “because if it were to succeed, they would be forced to give up every ounce of power over us. Even those men who try to not use it, like to keep it up their sleeve, just in case.”
Those men who claim to care about equality between men and women, but continually challenge the idea of female oppression by pointing to the substantially less common crimes or injustices against men (eg male victims of female-perpetrated violence, rape, or job discrimination) come across as just a way of saying, “Yes, yes, we know you’re oppressed, but you have been for ages and you’re used to it, but what about us?”
In an article on XY, a website focused on men, masculinities, and gender politics entitled Man-friendly Feminism? A young feminist was quoted saying, “…this women-only stance sends out the wrong message: As women it is our responsibility to educate our brothers, lovers, fathers, friends and sons. Men need to be brought on board so they can understand that they have certain advantages and privileges purely on the basis of their biological sex. Groups that are women-only will never achieve this. Men’s involvement should be actively encouraged”.
Can someone explain to me please how women are ever going to achieve equality and equal representation, if we do not even have the guts to criticise men?
The cover of The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism, written by Ellie Levenson and published last year reads: “Feminism has come a long way since the days of bra-burning and man-bashing.” (We never actually burned our bras – it was a myth arising out of women throwing bras and other restrictive clothing items in a trash can in 1968 on the eve of the Miss World feminist protest).
And what does Levenson mean by ‘man-bashing’? Naming men as perpetrators? Perhaps we have been wrong all along. All violent men need is a big cuddle and an invitation to a feminist meeting.
Finn Mackay, a feminist activist and academic has organised the Reclaim the Night march in London for the past six years, believes that men do have a role to play within feminism, but — it is not coming along to meetings and taking part in the decision-making process. “They can stop rape by not raping, and bring the sex industry to its knees by not paying for
sex,” says MacKay, without a trace of irony. “Oppression doesn’t just happen to women like bad weather. Men as a group systematically oppress and exploit women, and feminism is the political movement to challenge and change that.”
I would genuinely like to see all men become non-abusive human beings. It would make me happy to know that they could enjoy equality with women rather than feel threatened, undermined and irrationally angry by it. I would be very happy if men were as appalled at male violence towards females, as women ourselves are. The problem is that this would require men to change, and it is not our responsibility to do it for them. We have long tried, but have been rewarded with a terrible backlash of misogyny and blame. It is time that men bit – instead of firing – the bullet and started to recognise that they are responsible for their own change, not us.
Men who cannot bear to look in the mirror often call radical feminists man-haters. It would make them feel profoundly uncomfortable if they had any male-privilege removed whatsoever, and many who use the insult hate themselves far more than I ever could. A taxi driver told me yesterday that rape was “Terrible, but I can understand men getting frustrated if their wives don’t let them get their rocks off.” Another told me, during an interview about why men pay for sex that, “Prostitution stops rape. If men can’t get it when they really need it, some innocent little girl might have to suffer.” Both men clearly believed that all men are potential rapists. I never said it. They did.
Rather than apologetic feminists spending time and energy changing the core aim of the women’s movement, in order to appease men, we need to face up to what it will take for the endemic sexual violence women to end.
Men will not change by being given a VIP ticket on a plate to come into our space, and allowing women to run around after them just like their mothers did. It will be to the detriment of feminism to send a message to women that the liberation movement concerned with women’s welfare can only function if we include those who caused and maintain our oppression for their own privilege in the first place. Men will only change if we give them an ultimatum:
Carry on behaving like white South Africans under apartheid, and we will consider it war.
Feminism was built on the blood of women and children. It was necessary because a large number of men abuse and dehumanise women by assuming superiority over us, curtailing our choices in life, and by committing the most appalling acts of sadistic violence upon our bodies and souls.
Note to apologetic feminists: not enough has changed yet to let them come to the party.
Note to men: if you are decent you will stop colluding in the actions of those feminists you consider the palatable ones, and will heed the words of those of us who still have your number. If and/or when you become the type of men who would point blank refuse to be given pride of place in our movement against your abusive behaviour; if you stop taking every statement about rape and violence as a personal vendetta against you, and when you know you would feel it was totally inappropriate if a woman thanked you for being a ‘good man’ just because you behave like a decent human being, I would be perfectly happy to count you as my ally.
Until then, to answer ‘what about the men?’ – don’t you have work to do?
Julie Bindel has been involved in campaigning to end violence against women and children for 30 years. She is the co-editor of The Map of My Life: The Story of Emma Humphreys, and papers on domestic violence and homicide, rape, stalking, harassment, trafficking and prostitution.
She has written extensively for numerous newspapers and magazines on the dangers of legalised prostitution in the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and Nevada, USA, and conducted the first ever journalistic investigation into female sex tourism in Jamaica.
Julie has also authored several reports into the international sex industry, including on the links between lap dance establishments and prostitution; a study into the effects of legalisation of the sex industry; a mapping of the indoor sex industry in the Scottish city of Glasgow, and a survey on brothel prostitution in London.
This year alone, Julie has been a key note speaker at several major conferences on the legalisation of prostitution, and has travelled to Boston, Croatia, Brussels and Denmark to give her expert evidence on the topic.
Julie currently divides her time between research and journalism.