Masculinities Mondays: 29th of September 2014

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.

Masculinities Mondays: 22nd of September 2014

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have heard about new UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson’s phenomenal speech at the UN this week for the launch of the He for She campaign (para ver el discurso en español, ver más abajo). Speaking about the need to stop the incorrect association of feminism with man-hating and, instead, recognize feminism for what it truly is – the belief in equality for all, Watson invites men to join the struggle for gender equality, not just for the women that they care about but also for themselves:

How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation? Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence…Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.

There are a million things to love about this speech but what I find most hopeful and inspiring is that Watson speaks about moving beyond a binary, ‘us vs. them’ view of gender to seeing gender as a diverse spectrum, which affects us all:

It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals…I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.

This call for moving beyond strict, binary ideas of gender is truly what this blog is all about and we applaud Watson for helping to push the discourse to a space where we can truly work on equality.

While this is not a new concept in queer theory, it’s hopeful to see this idea being promoted by high-profile spokespeople. It’s not the first time it’s been done, though. Martine Rothblatt, the highest-paid female executive in the U.S.A. and a transgender person, wrote way back in 1995,

There are five billion people in the world and five billion unique sexual identities…Genitals are as irrelevant to one’s role in society as skin tone. Hence, the legal division of people into males and females is as wrong as the legal division of people into black and white races.

But, as our current societies still encourage girls to aspire to be beautiful stars, rather than CEOs, perhaps Watson’s words will have a greater impact on the youth who will push forward this paradigm shift in the way the mainstream tackles gender inequality.

And, if you somehow missed Watson’s speech, check out the full speech below.

Y en español aquí:

Why Rape is Sincerely Hilarious/Por qué la violación es graciosísima

Trigger warning: this video contains information about sexual assault that may be triggering for people who have experienced abuse.

Male rape is something that’s rarely spoken about, and, when it is, it’s usually as a joke. In just two minutes, Canadian comedian Andrew Bailey pointedly addresses the harmful misconceptions that society has about male rape, going to the heart of the issue of harmful masculinities. Based on Bailey’s own experiences, this video is difficult to watch but carries an extremely important message.

As Kelsey Miller writes in her article on the video, 

We, as a culture, don’t give male sexual assault the attention or gravity it deserves, and for a truly insidious and ignorant reason: We don’t believe in it.


Advertencia de activación: Este video contiene información acerca de asalto sexual que puede estar desencadenando para las personas que han sufrido abusos.

La violación masculina es algo sobre el cual la sociedad raramente habla, y, cuando sí, por lo general es como una broma. En apenas dos minutos, el comediante canadiense Andrew Bailey aborda fuertemente las ideas falsas perjudiciales que la sociedad tiene sobre de la violación de hombres, va al corazón de la cuestión de las masculinidades dañinas. Basado en de las propias experiencias de Bailey, este video es difícil de ver, pero lleva un mensaje muy importante.

Como Kelsey Miller escribe en su artículo sobre el vídeo,

Como una cultura, no damos a acoso sexual masculino la atención o gravedad que merece, y por una razón verdaderamente insidiosa e ignorante: no creemos en ello.

Masculinities Mondays: 1st of September 2014

The theme this week in the news and on discussion forums has centered around the ideas of consent and respect. Here are some of the interesting articles on this topic we’ve come across this week:

  • First up, in “Beyond ‘no means no’: the future of campus rape prevention is ‘yes means yes,'” Jessica Valenti discusses a new California bill that may shift the discourse and law on consent to requiring the presence of a ‘yes’ instead of the absence of a ‘no’ before sex and which also requires that both people must be awake, conscious and not incapacitated from drugs or alcohol. This discussion comes in the wake of a federal complaint launched in April by students of Columbia University over the mishandling of sexual assault and misconduct cases. While I agree that an affirmative consent bill will encourage shared responsibility for consent, rather than the unwilling party having to say no, I’m not sure exactly how this would realistically play out. As the article points out, quoting writer Amanda Hess, sexual education needs to focus on consent but in a much more sophisticated nuanced way:

If we can admit that enthusiastic consent is often communicated in body language or knowing looks, then we must also accept that the lack of consent doesn’t always manifest itself in a shouted ‘no’ or ‘stop,’ either. It shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the uninterested party to speak up during a sexual encounter.

Meanwhile, as a brave and brilliant form of personal protest, Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz is starting the new college year with a project called Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight, in which she is carrying her mattress around campus to every class every day until the student who raped her in her bed moves off campus. Sulkowicz explains, “I want people to see how it weighs down a person to be ignored by the school administration and harassed by police.”

Sulkowicz

Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz’s protest performance art piece, which she will continue until the authorities take appropriate action against the man that raped her. Photo by: Kristina Budelis for Guardian US Opinion

 

  • In Malaga, a judge has also shelved the case against five young men who were accused of raping a young woman at a fairground. Although one of the youths even videoed the incident, the judge sided with the men’s argument that the sex was consensual and now the men are planning to take legal action against the young woman. Spain’s government has also come under attack this week for it’s anti-rape guidelines that include suggestions such as: closing your curtains at night, not writing your first name on your letter box, and not getting into an elevator with a stranger. 
  • In a comprehensive analysis for the Lowy Institute, Jo Chandler discusses the devastating situation of violence against women in PNG. The report calls on the Australian government, as PNG’s main aid donor, to do more about the issue and highlights the importance of engaging men and boys in violence prevention. For anyone working on gender-based violence in Australia, PNG, or elsewhere, this is an excellent read. 
  • In light of last week’s internet hacking scandal in which nude photos of celebrities were leaked online, James Fell has written this thought-provoking piece, “Why I Don’t Want to See Jennifer Lawrence Naked.” Looking at the scandal from the perspective of consent, Fell writes,

Were I to search them out and view these photos, I’d be participating in the violation. I’d be part of the problem. I’d be helping to perpetuate this kind of theft. But they’re already out there, you think. What harm can it do now for me to go look? Yes, you looking won’t make things any worse for Jennifer and the others. The damage is already done. To them. I want to prevent damage to you…If you have a peek and consider it no big deal, it normalizes the behavior for you. It makes violating people’s privacy, in a sexual way no less, something that you don’t worry about. It makes it feel like you have the right to do so. This is not a good mindset to have.

Lena Dunham, actress and creator of the TV series Girls, similarly spoke out against the release of the nude photos, tweeting, “The way in which you share your body must be a CHOICE…Remember, when you look at these pictures you are violating these women again and again.” But it’s the incredibly offensive responses to Dunham’s statements that really show us how much work we still need to do on promoting respect and gender equality. One commenter, who, no doubt with a massive ton of wishful thinking, calls himself The_King_Dirk_Diggler after the famous porn star, writes, “This ditch pig only wishes someone would leak pics but she too fat and ugly for anyone to care. Except for maybe black guys. They like fat white girls,” while another writes, “Lena Dunham is U-G-L-Y, with a capital Ugh! If she tried to share photos with me, I’d send them back,” and yet another commenter adds, “Not enough beer in the whole world to ever make her look hot!” Sure, these guys are just attention-seeking trolls but, offline, they are the colleague on the computer next to you at work, they are your best friend writing on his phone while he meets you for coffee, they are your husband, brother or son. It is misogyny like this that feeds rape culture and abuse – if you hear it, call it out. 

  • And, now for something completely different, to cheer everyone up after quite a heavy week, here’s a delightful project that gives voice to the women in art.