“I’m a man interested in learning about feminism – now what?”

After the fallout from the #YesAllWomen hashtag, I had a number of men come up to me wanting to talk about feminism. Specifically, they wanted to know how to get involved, or what they could do day-to-day.

After having a good, long think about it – and doing a tonne of Google searching – I’ve come up with a list of things. As a side note, it’s worth pointing out that anyone is capable of a good Google search, but I’ve selected the material that I’ve posted here because I feel that it comes from reasonably reputable feminist sources (and not, say, WikiAsk.com).

It’s also worth pointing out to all men that the term “male feminist” can be reasonably controversial. Some women will not accept you as a feminist. Some women will say you are an “ally”. Some women will welcome you with open arms. You’re going to get mixed reactions – and that’s okay! The point is not to argue, but to listen. If a woman doesn’t accept you as a feminist, it’s your job to understand why (and not necessarily by asking her, because heck, she might’ve just had 27 other guys ask her the same thing. Do some research for yourself).

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get on with my list of Things To Know:

Articles on the #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen hashtags (and why the ‘Not All Men’ claim needs to stop):

A woman’s perspective on #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen:

While there is no conspiracy, no organised mission to shut down the feminist front, there is still unchecked sexism at play. A knee-jerk defense mechanism to shut down discussion before anyone has to face the fact every single person lives with the dreadful impact that is sexual and physical violence against women.

Via Amy Gray

A man’s perspective on #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen (with a women’s input):

Why is it not helpful to say “not all men are like that”? For lots of reasons. For one, women know this. They already know not every man is a rapist, or a murderer, or violent. They don’t need you to tell them.

Via Phil Plait

A guide to mansplaining (and why women don’t need to be told that it’s “not all men”):

Women are tired of having subjects that they are highly educated in explained to them like they’re children, and they sometimes react in emotional ways. If you’re having a reasoned, intelligent debate with a woman and all of a sudden she throws her hands up and says “OK! Stop talking to me like I’m an idiot,” you’re likely a mansplainer.

Via Amy McCarthy

On male privilege:

Male privilege is a set of privileges that are given to men as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class. While every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual position in the social hierarchy, every man, by virtue of being read as male by society, benefits from male privilege.

Via Finally Feminism 101

Now that you’ve learnt a little bit about male privilege and mansplaining, let’s talk about men’s roles within feminism. There’s an excellent page over here called “Can men be feminists” that provides links to further views (both for and against). Head over there and follow some of the links.

The place of men in feminism:

Where we try to jump into women’s groups and work with women we often have problems. Most men have a lot to work out within ourselves related to our masculinity and how we relate to women as well as other men. When we try to work out our issues within women’s groups we repeat the pattern of women needing to educate men about our feelings and many other related issues.

Via Feminist Allies

And another takes on men’s roles in feminism and how men can ‘help’:

For a lot of people just starting to come to a feminist identification, listening may be a lot more productive and clarifying. “Listening” might mean attending talks or lectures, or it might mean reading blog comment sections or Twitter hashtags without feeling like you have to contribute. Everyone, no matter where they are in their feminist life, can benefit from listening, so I heartily encourage this activity. It’s not only a great way to learn the shorthand and memes and key phrases and all that, but it’s a good way to find people—especially other men—whom you might want to reach out to in your own future conversations.

Via Bitch Magazine

In terms of what you, as man interested in feminism, can actually do (and this is by far one the best articles I’ve found):

You probably have a lot of insights that you want to share. You want to tell us why men act the way they do and how you think we can change that behavior. And there’s room for that in feminism… to an extent. But for the most part, what we need men to do is just to listen.

I want you to think about all the women who are denied a chance to speak by men around the world — women who are barred from obtaining an education, women who are subjected to genital mutilation, women who aren’t allowed to work, women who are survivors of sexual abuse, women of color, trans and queer women, sex workers. Don’t they deserve a chance to be heard? Wouldn’t you like to be the person to give them that chance?

Via Aaminah Khan

And finally, my own set of suggestions:

  • Get to reading! There’s a tonne of amazing feminist books out there – read some of them! The Bitch magazine article I linked to above provided a pretty substantial list.
  • Show up at pro choice rallies (just make sure that men are welcome first)
  • Show up at events like Slut Walk (again, just make sure that it’s male inclusive first)
  • Speak up when you hear someone misusing the term “rape”, or spot other forms of sexism in action (and be prepared to get shot down for it)
  • Get involved in your local femmo scene. Here in Melbourne we have a pretty awesome set of events – things like Cher Chez La FemmeWomen’s Melbourne Network, and Melbourne Feminist Action. These groups aren’t going to invite you along – you have to hunt them down yourself.
  • Do some further research yourself. It took me about an hour to put this post together – imagine what you could find out yourself in that time. Women don’t always have the time or inclination to do your research. So, do some for yourself (and be prepared for a very wide variety of views! Feminism is not unanimous on a lot of issues).

Thoughts on unpaid overtime

Unpaid overtime is a problem that faces a growing number of workers – and it’s something that Australians in particular struggle with. However, it was only recently that I realised why the notion of unpaid overtime really bothered me, particularly when it came to industries that have a “culture” of overtime (for example, most STEM fields).

Typically, what this “culture” equates to is an entire industry working “until the job is done” – regardless of whether they are being paid or not. Whether it be fixing a virus or marking exam papers out of hours, people within these roles will stay at work until the problem is fixed. It could be that they feel pressured to stay because everyone else is doing so, or it could be because they want to create a good impression within the company.

Technically, these hours are seen as voluntary. I say “technically”, because you can usually bet that if one of these workers kicked up a stink about working unpaid overtime, they would be out on their butts come the next hiring period. At the very least, they would be viewed as not chipping in to the same extent as their overtime-working colleagues. So, overtime may not be mandatory – but it can definitely be expected of workers.

The problem I have with this expectation lies within the individual worker’s ability to then meet these expectations. If you want to take a feminist’s viewpoint on the issue, then you can consider the following example:

A young, unattached, white, straight, single male works within a STEM-style field – let’s call him Alex. Alex has been at the company for a few years, and is slowly working his way up the corporate ladder. He occasionally does overtime, and says that he doesn’t mind because it’s “his choice”, and it’s “expected of him” (which, by the way, are two separate things. If Alex had a “choice” to go home at 5:00pm without any consequences, you can bet he’d do so). Alex has no one else dependent upon him, and so has the luxury of working overtime and picking up take out on his way back to his apartment.

Alex, although he may not realise it (and would probably disagree with you if you pointed it out to him) is drenched in privilege. He’s white (tick), straight (tick), young (tick), man (tick, tick, tick) in a traditionally male-dominated field. He puts in the extra hours and surprise, surprise, sooner or later he’s given a promotion.

Now, our next example: a single woman who has three children, working within the same STEM-style field – let’s call her Juliet. She’s been at the company for the same amount of time , except, of course, she has three children (cross), and is single (not necessarily a cross, but definitely difficult). Now, it’s 5:00pm, and Alex and Juliet are both asked to work overtime. Alex turn around and say “sure thing, boss!” – because he has no one dependent on him. Juliet, on the other hand, needs to be home to cook dinner and help her kids with their homework. so, what can she do? Well, she can either go home (which then creates the impression that she’s not working hard enough), or she stays (which then potentially creates the impression that she’s a “bad mother”). Either way, she loses out. Juliet’s already working in a traditionally male-dominated field – so how to you think it looks when she doesn’t put in the extra hours?

Do you see how this “culture of overtime” really only benefits a select few – and those select few are those with the fewest number of “consequences” for not staying behind? There are people who we work side by side with – mothers, carers, people of different abilities – who cannot work overtime. They simply can’t afford to do so. And the rest of us who do work overtime for free? We simply reinforce this culture. By not standing up to it, we say that it’s okay to judge us on the amount of “extra effort” we put in outside of work hours – when it’s not.

Three days in Australia, or, “Sexism. Sexism everywhere”.

Ever since Julia Gillard was elected, Australia has been forced to shine a light on its attitudes towards women – and more specifically, women in power. At times the ride has been exhilarating and empowering, and at times it has drifted towards the ugly and downright rude.

But the last 48 hours have really demonstrated to me just how far we have to go. So, without further ado, I present to you the last two days in the life of an Average Australian Woman:

Tuesday morning: Wake up, make a cup of tea, and read the front page of the paper. Try to keep your toast down as you realise that the murderer of Jill Meagher was on parole, and had been convicted of 16 other counts of rape. Your mind immediately jumps to how many others serial rapists are currently “rehabilitated”, and are now out in public.

Tuesday afternoon: You read that Julia Gillard has attempted to start a “gender war” – and remain somewhat confused, because you were under the impression that this particular war was started centuries ago. You realise that Julia Gillard is concerned about Tony Abbott’s views on abortion, which is, in all honestly fair enough. The man does have a track record.

Wednesday morning: You read the victim impact statements from the Jill Meagher case, and wonder if it will stretch on years. The answer, of course, is yes. You will think about it next time you’re walking down the street, or next time a strange man approaches you when you’re alone.

You jump to the next news section, only to read that the Australian Socceroos coach has told a press conference that women should “shut up in public”. You wonder what his mother, wife, and other female friends and family members think about this, before realising that it doesn’t matter – their voices probably won’t be heard in the media, anyway.

Wednesday lunch time: Your social media feeds spring to life, with the words “menu” and “Mal Brough” cropping up. It only takes you a minute to work out that yet another LNP member has had a serious lapse of judgement – this time, in relation to a menu, of all things. You scan through the articles until you finally reach the image of the menu in question – and find the phrase “small breasts, huge thighs and a big red box”. Your thoughts sway between immediate, explosive outrage for the PM and a sense of disgust that the menu ever reached the public eye. You also take a moment to note that although Simon Crean, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd are also mentioned, none of their menu ‘items’ feature a reference to their appearance (or, indeed, their genitalia). 

Wednesday afternoon: You hear your two male colleagues laughing at something on a computer screen. You glance over, only to see an enlarged version of Brough’s menu appear. Your colleagues then ask you if you think it was funny – and when you reply that you don’t, are told that this sense of humour is “just the Australian way”. You point out that none of the male politicians that appeared on that menu were sexualised, or had attention drawn to their physical appearance. You then exit the room to get a coffee and bang your head against a wall.

Wednesday evening: You avoid watching the news or hopping on Facebook, because you don’t wish to buy into everyone’s outrage about a menu. You’re just as outraged as your friends and family members – but you’re also tired of nothing ever changing, and would prefer to spend an evening pretending that offensive menus never existed.

Thursday morning: You wake up to the news that a restaurant owner has taken responsibility for the ‘offensive menu’, and that the LNP party has “condemned the menu in the strongest terms”. You wonder if the LNP keeps a document on its shared hard drive entitled “Apologies for Sexism”. What would it read like? Perhaps, as this: “We apologise for [sexist comment] made by [sexist politician] here. We will try harder next time. Plz vote 4 us, c u in September, kthanxbai.”

Thursday lunchtime: You venture back to the wide world of the mass media, only to read the news that 17 Australian Defence Force personnel are under investigation over “offensive emails“. You don’t need to read any further to guess that the emails were related to women. Instead, you wonder how common these “offensive emails” in workplaces are, and recall the incident with the menu in your workplace yesterday.

Thursday evening: The media wrap-ups for the entire menu-related affair start coming through, and you brace yourself for a mention of the term ‘menu-gate’. You then reward yourself with a coffee when News.com.au and the ABC (yes, the ABC) follow through on your expectations for the most unoriginal journalism.

….. And these are just the local examples. I thought about including some of the international examples of sexism within this run down, but then I realise I would be typing this until midnight.

What does it say, when this is almost an “average” day in Australia? Firstly, it says that gender is still an issue, and will continue to be for quite some time (indeed, until the election results are counted). I’m grateful for the focus on the topic of gender – but some intelligent debate wouldn’t go astray. I’m tired of the petty name-calling, the exaggeration and simplification of all “news” content to suit the biggest audience. I’m sick of attention-screaming headlines, and “gender wars”. What I would like is an honest, forthright discussion about the current treatment of women within Australia. One that carries on up until the election, and spans across the issues of rape, domestic violence and sexual assault, attitudes of victim blaming, the representation of women in the media, the issue of female CEOs and politicians, paternity leave, equal pay, single parent (and mother) payments, and everything else I have simply missed. Of course, this is a vast discussion – but it is one that every single problem raised earlier shows we need to have. What we don’t need are any more infantile “menus”, or sports coaches with jacked-up opinions on whether women have the right to a “voice”.

Women as public property

Three separate things have happened to me in the last few weeks that have basically lead me to believe that I’m operating as a form of public property – you know, something that anyone can feel free to comment on. And, quite frankly, it pisses me off. Above and beyond the fact that everyone reading can probably say things along the lines of ‘BOO HOO’, and ‘welcome to the real world’, I’ve reached a point of absolute frustration with this shit. A point at which I’ve start side-eyeing random strangers, suspicious of that the fact that they may be poised to make some stupid, crude or idiotic remark to me when I DIDN’T EVEN ASK THEM.

Case number one: About a week ago, I ventured out for one of my standard morning runs. I’d just hit the 7km mark, and was sweating up a storm. Earlier, I had run past an older man. He had waved his hand at me, and said something – but as I was running past him and had my earphones in, I didn’t catch. I didn’t really think anything of it, because people often nod and say ‘good morning’ to me.

Anyway, at the 7km mark, I ran back past this man (I had turned around at this point, and so was running towards him). He waved at me again, and so I slowed down (I thought he might have been lost or confused).

The man carried on to tell me that he has “often seen me out running” (which is correct, I have seen him before, and he has similarly waved at me then) and that I “frighten him” because I am “so sweaty”.

At this point in time, the expression on my face was rather like this cat’s:

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My response to this guy was something along the lines of, “well, yes, I’m running, of course I’m sweaty”. I then turned around and kept running. The thing is, this isn’t the first time someone has felt the need to tell me how my body/my clothes/the books I’m carrying are “funny”, “frightening”, or “dirty”.

Case number two: Three days prior to the running incident, I’d swung by my local university coffee shop after visiting the library. I was loaded up academic-type books with titles such as “Feminism Methodologies” and “Qualitative-Based Methodologies for Feminists” – you know, standard fare for anyone doing a PhD in feminism (which, coincidentally, I am). I proceeded to dump these books on the counter next to me as I fished my wallet out of my bag, only to hear the young guy in front of me start laughing. I asked him what was funny (I had suspected it was something to do with the barista, who tends to come up with ridiculous nicknames for his customers. My nickname is usually Jessica Simpson or Jessica Alba, for example…). He then proceeded to tell me that those books looked very “interesting”, whilst, well, sniggering.

ewLook, I’d like to think that this guy had a genuine interest in feminist methodologies, but somehow, I suspect that this wasn’t the case. This guy’s main interest appeared to be commenting on how much ‘feminism’ I was literally carrying.

Case number three: Two to three weeks prior to this happening, I was walking to university to have a meeting with my supervisors about my PhD. I’d put on a brand new, pale pink dress for the occasion. On the way in, I walk past a guy in his mid to late 20’s, who says to me, “you’re looking good today, Miss”. To which I said, “What?”, because he-half mumbled it. He then says, “You’re showing your pink bits, you dirty bitch!”. Because you know, GET IT, I was wearing a pink dress.

420-julia-gillard-420x0

 

(Even Julia Gillard is unimpressed by this one).

Street harassment isn’t exactly uncommon. It happens all the time, everywhere, to woman (and men!) all around the globe. And whenever it happens to me, I’m reminded of the fact that I’m not just a ‘citizen of the world’ (so to speak) but I’m also a woman. Which of course, means I’m up for objectification and harassment. I don’t have a solution to street harassment – and if I did, I’d bottle it and distribute it to every woman on the planet. What I hope and wish for is some form of witty comeback for each situation. As it stands, I tend to be struck dumb by common sense, and end up replying with the obvious: “I’m sweating because I’m running”, “I have feminist books because I’m studying feminism”, or “I AM wearing a pink dress…”.

What I would LIKE, what I wish I COULD do, is completely lose my shit. I’d like to go completely and utterly bat-shit crazy on these men. I’d like to screech, scream, and holler at them. I’d like to tell them that their behaviour is disgusting, and that they don’t have the goddamn right to comment on me, my body, or even the bloody books that I am carrying around university. But then, of course, I’d just be conforming to the stereotype of the “crazy paranoid women”, when of course these men were just trying to “be polite”, or “make conversation” – except that they weren’t. And then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m too polite to confront men in this manner in public (even though I shouldn’t be).

See the bind that women are in?