I was recently introduced to a super-awesome article written by a super-awesome Prof of mine, Steve D’Arcy. It is called “Politics of Self-Emancipation” and it has inspired a few inciting comments. I tried to reply to these comments but there was some sort of technical glitch (user error perhaps?) and instead of rewriting them and likely birthing an endless online banter about the nature of feminism, I have decided to utilize my very own blog to tell the internet gods how I feel about men’s participation in the women’s movement.
I have come to hold the concept of self-emancipation as it is described by D’Arcy as something essential to social change. However, as is noted in the article, this offers a certain affront to the concept of men participating in feminism. In this vein, in a comment by a one “Kim” it is suggested that by writing about how women require self-emancipation, my fav Prof has somehow violated his own rule of men taking a ‘step back’ in feminism and is instead prescribing something that women need and is thus somehow co-opting power from women. I disagree. Not only as a kneejerk to her sweeping and somewhat inflammatory generalizations about “leftist men” (though I do have issues of my own with my brothers in solidarity), but because I think that the article is about how self-emancipation is needed in all social movements and that the particular use of feminism in describing the practicality of the concept was a presription to men, not women. Having said this, I do think an important point can be drawn from this tension: the difference between a women’s movement and feminism.
As is so oft pushed by groups wanting to gain mass appeal, feminism is for everyone (!). I’ve long seen feminism as being just as much about men reconciling the patriarchal power structure as it is about women doing so. Surely, many will disagree with me. But I do not believe we can study, inform, or empower women in a gender vacuum. Men must be engaged and included in order for the feminist project (which I see as overthrowing the patriarchy in favour of egalitarian gender relations) to work. True, male feminists must respect the guidelines and framework of women-empowered space, but women must also recognize men’s legitimacy and necessity in the process. And while the feminist movement started out as solely woman-focused, in North America at least, where women have equality under the law, it is high time for us to realize that this is all about GENDER – not women; not men. Admittedly, ‘feminism’ does pose problems of etymology to a gender-holistic approach, but I still feel it to be the best descriptor I’ve come across; “genderist” sounds like Bowie in the 80s and “post-patriarchist” and its kin are just a disaster. More important than a name however, I believe that there must be admitted in this ideology/movement/lens that women have been and continue to be disadvantaged in the patriarchal gender equation. And thus I am now and will remain a feminist.
Women’s movements on the other hand are decidedly about women and for women; about women conjuring and taking power and these are truly best left to women. Like how only women should march on the street during Take Back the Night. Or women-only space. And how is this not sex-discrimination, a one “Michael McGhee” may ask? Well, let me tell you…
While women-only space is technically discrimination against men, it is not discrimination in the social-ill-to-be-extinguished sense. Unlike the men-only everything of western culture, women-only space is not about intentionally withholding power from men. Rather, it is about women having space wherein they can identify and develop their own power apart from the male gaze, used here in a sexual and non-sexual sense. So many women have confided to me that around men they can only feel evaluated as an object of desire and/or inferior to what she sees as his societal-given superiority. As such, for many women, empowerment and movement towards a feminist-identity requires development in women-only space, to be moved to the polygendered reality of her public life when she is ready to own her ability, contributions,and worth in the presence of testosterone.