So, quite a lot of discussion has gone on this week in terms of gender equality.
First there was the avalanche of responses to Emma Watson’s speech on the He for She campaign, ranging from apparent threats from trolls that turned out to be a bizarre hoax, admiration from a teenage boy and disappointment and rejection by a whole lot of feminists. Many feminists pointed to the lack, in Watson’s speech, of any kind of reflection on the intersectional power dynamics of oppression and absence of any recognition of men’s privilege. Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous, for example, lamented the utter lack of any analysis – or even recognition – of the relationship between race and inequality:
Where’s her analysis of racial justice and its necessity in ending gender inequality?…Does she understand that wealthy white women like her are often oppressors of women of color and/or poor women in the world? …Can she explain to the UN, or anyone else, why violence against trans women needs to be centered in our work against misogyny? Does she know and can she articulate that ableism is woven into not only gender inequality, but every form of oppression that exists? And, importantly, does she understand that as a white woman she is granted access and taken seriously by mainstream feminism in ways that a woman of color wouldn’t be and why, then, it’s necessary for her to step aside and make room for women of color to be heard if gender inequality is ever to be eradicated? Because any real “game-changing” feminist needs to.
Similarly disappointed by the ignorance of intersectional politics in the speech, Amy McCarthy writes:
To begin with, the name “He For She” is problematic, no matter how you slice it. Some may call these criticisms divisive and nitpicky, but there is nothing feminist about a campaign that reinforces a gender binary that is harmful to people whose gender identities don’t fit into such tidy boxes. When we reinforce the idea that only people who neatly fit the gender binary are worthy of being protected and supported, we erase and exclude the people who are at most risk of patriarchal violence and oppression…There was no discussion in this speech as to how He For She can improve the lives of women and nonbinary people who will experience intersectional oppressions, like racism, transphobia, and fatphobia…In reality, Emma Watson is the kind of woman that mainstream feminism — the feminism that gets a place on the United Nations’ stage — has worked the hardest for.
Both McKenzie and McCarthy are totally right to critique mainstream feminism and the UN for selecting women from a very specific cohort (white, upper class, cisgender, able-bodied) to be their spokeperson. And, while last week I applauded Watson’s inclusion in the speech of a call to move past gender binaries, I couldn’t agree more with the analysis that the framing of the campaign in binary terms seems to undermine its very aim. But then, comments such as this from McKenzie, seem to me to similarly undermine the need to move past binaries: “The ways that gender inequality is bad for men and boys are very, very different from the ways it’s bad for women and girls. Namely, it oppresses and abuses women and girls in nearly every facet of life.” Yes, gender inequality is different for EVERYONE, depending on their skin colour/gender/ability/financial standing/nationality/etc. – isn’t that exactly the point of breaking down binaries?
Then there were the all-out calls for radical feminist approaches. Natalie Gyte, from the Women’s Resource Center, for example, writes:
First, the terminology HeForShe – that men can be advocates for women – is protectionist; it plays into traditional gender roles that allow men to defend and look after women. Instead of men advocating for women, the campaign could have asked; “Why does gender inequality exist?”, “How does the construct of masculinity perpetuate gender inequality?”, and “How can men change their behaviour to make a difference?”…Instead of focusing on so-called “women’s issues” a radical campaign could refocus the premise of the issue to, “MEN – and how they oppress women”.
While I definitely agree with Gyte that a more nuanced analysis of gender inequality is what’s really needed, I fail to see how a campaign about ‘MEN – and how they oppress women’ could in any way be helpful in advancing this discourse. Marketing is just as important to campaigning for social change as it is to selling any product – okay, I’m not a marketing executive, but vilifying a large proportion of your target audience doesn’t seem like a very profitable business strategy to me.
Using the same bizarre logic, Iceland has announced at the UN that they will hold a conference on gender equality, to which only men and boys will be invited. It’s great that they want to get guys talking about gender equality but it kind of slightly seems to defeat the purpose if women are not even allowed in the door…just as all-female conferences on gender equality don’t really make sense to me. I’m having flashbacks to my first year of university when I stumbled into the Womyn’s Room (a space only for women…although I’m not exactly sure how they defined that, whether by sex organs or gender identity or what) and my male friend had to stay outside. I remember thinking “But, wait, we don’t live in bubbles like this in the real world…how are we meant to solve the real-world issues of gender inequality by pretending that another gender doesn’t exist??”
And, then, to bring everything back into realistic perspective, this week also saw the International Day of Action on the Decriminalisation of Abortion. If you are wondering why there’s a need for such a day, read about the situation in El Salvador, where women may be incarcerated for having a miscarriage, and check out the video below about ending unsafe abortion in Asia.
As the International Planned Parenthood Foundation states in the video, “According to global estimates, laws against abortion do not stop women from seeking abortion services. Restrictive laws merely drive abortion services underground, often leading to services being provided under unsafe and inhuman conditions.” Where abortion is illegal, women who want or need (for whatever reasons) to have abortions are not safely able to do so. On the flip side, decriminalizing abortion doesn’t mean that women who do not want to have abortions will be forced to have them – equal rights for every person to choose what to do with their own body…if it’s equality that we’re aiming for.