Last Thursday, 8 March, a date devoted to celebrating women, became for me a day for discovering feminism’s darkest side. Two close male friends, also university teachers, narrated to me the bullying to which they are being subjected by radical feminist girls students who have in fact managed to silence them in their own classrooms. Despite working in different areas and in different universities both had been challenged in the same way: they have been told by these so-called feminists that, as men, they have no access to women’s experiences and, so, they must not discuss them. They have been warned that, no matter how they offer to deal with feminism, any approach on their side will only be understood as patriarchal oppression, for only women are entitled to calling themselves feminists or teaching about feminism. I do call myself a feminist but this is an attitude that I find outrageous and disgusting because it is, plainly, patriarchal.
As happens, on 9 March, when everyone was still thinking of the feminist strike and the big demonstrations on the previous day, I found myself giving a lecture on how to apply Masculinities Studies to videogames before an undergrad class with 11 young men and 3 young women, all aspiring writers. None of these 11 men questioned my authority to discuss masculinity; actually, about half of them engaged in very productive dialogue with me. It was, I think, a very successful session of the kind I love best: a good conversation. Also, nothing exceptional within my career as a Gender Studies specialist.
Fortunately for me, I have never come across any male student (or colleague) who has been disrespectful of my feminist views or who has declared in a rude way to my face that since I am a woman lacking the experience of being a man I can’t discuss masculinity. Quite the opposite: men in my audience are often surprised–perhaps by the novelty of listening to a feminist who happens to be interested in men as allies–but on the whole welcoming. If anyone has ever disagreed with my position and my views I haven’t been told (or trolled), which I appreciate. In contrast, now and then, my feminist sisters try to persuade me that men have already been the centre of attention for too long and there is no need to pour more energy on masculinity. I am not that candid! My job consists of recruiting men to the egalitarian cause by explaining why they should change, not of endorsing uncritically masculinity, and much less patriarchy.
My two male friends had not met yet and it was over the coffee which I organized for them when, exploring common ground, they started sharing their pain over what is happening with their teaching. One of them had told me the day before about his problems and how it hurt to be labelled a male chauvinist, when he hates patriarchy. This, he feared (and so did I), might be a hard-to-solve, specific personal problem that threatens to undermine his high reputation as a teacher and also the quality programme he coordinates. Yet, when the other friend started narrating similar radical feminist bullying strategies, we agreed that this is bigger than just a personal situation, though hopefully just the work of a minority.
What galls me, and makes me simply loathe these obtuse girl bullies, is that these two men are not all the kind of recalcitrant patriarch that we need to out and condemn (think Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin). They’re actually the kind of good men that we need as allies in the anti-patriarchal struggle. It is because they are fundamentally decent men that I am their friend. One, who has been my friend for almost forty years, was absolutely instrumental in helping me to get the confidence I needed as a shy working-class girl to go on with my studies. I never, ever heard from him anything suggesting that I was not capable of reaching my goals as he was trying to reach his. I’m totally flabbergasted that he’s become a target of this androphobic hatred and not the real patriarchs you may find in so many university offices.
I have frequently expressed my position here but I’ll try again: patriarchy is NOT the same as masculinity. As a feminist, I’m NOT fighting men, I’m fighting patriarchy. This is a type of social organization that has traditionally privileged men but that, under pressure from feminism, is now paradoxically admitting in its ranks women (think Angela Merkel). This is because, at heart, patriarchy is an oligarchy based on power, which is the reason why minority empowerment is not eroding it but just altering the composition of its hegemonic core.
The way I see the future, at the pace we’re going, we’re not moving towards a pacifist Star-Trek-style world federation. We’ll see in the years to come the same brutal capitalism/militarism though in the hands of a variety of human beings, including women of all kinds (how soon we have forgotten Condoleezza Rice!). This dystopia might still take a long time to come but it seems to me far more likely that the utopian egalitarian socialist future that I would like to see replacing rampant patriarchy. I am now finishing an article on The Hunger Games, and let me remind you that in the end the biggest villain is not the classically patriarchal President Snow but a post-feminist, Orwellian leader: Alma Coin (that is some name!). She shows that women also ambition patriarchal power, and, please, remember this is a story written by a woman, Suzanne Collins. I am beginning to find the constant talk about empowerment really, really suspect, for, I insist, accruing power is at heart a patriarchal strategy of domination.
Now back to 8 March. Sorry but I find strikes very unproductive. I have seen students organize them again and again, with little success–meaning that their actions did not lead to actual change, no matter how many streets they filled. Last week many women occupied plenty of public spaces, though it is hard to say how many were actually on strike (or what happened in each individual home). When I declared my intention not to join the protests to a male taxi driver he shifted uncomfortably on his seat and told me that it was obvious to him that the call to strike had given feminism, and women generally, a huge media profile. I had to agree but, one week later, what is left of that colossal media presence? Has the right message been sent? Is the rhetoric convincing? And, above all, considering that we all saw Mariano Rajoy sport a purple bow on his lapel, as if he were not one of the patriarchs, who did the protest target?
It seemed to me, and this is what worries me, that all men were the target, as if these were the 1970s. Actually, the local Spanish feminist organizations took inspiration from the 1975 strike by women in Iceland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1975_Icelandic_women%27s_strike), without considering whether this was an appropriate model for 2018. The confusion about which role Spanish men should play in the strike is visible in an article published by El Diario (https://www.eldiario.es/sociedad/papel-hombres-huelga-feminista-marzo_0_738426885.html), by which I deduce that the strike organizers expected men to support but not contribute to the protest. Some men did in the end join in, but I wonder how their collaboration was received.
What puzzles me most is that in these supposedly gender-fluid times, some feminist women are actively marking gender barriers even against the men who do support our fight for equality. This shows a dangerous inability on the side of (radical) feminism to target with effective accuracy the patriarchal men oppressing us. Surely, they must have spent 8 March as usual, safely enjoying the occasion to fill Twitter with anonymous misogynistic trash and do nothing to change. For, in case you have not noticed, if gender issues change for the better this is because the good men, the pro-feminists, lend a helping hand (remember J.S. Mill?). Or did you really think that the feminist discourse is convincing any of the male chauvinists? I can tell you first-hand because my own father is one of them and he has not budged an inch from his archaic position in all the years I have known him. He’s actually getting worse. If, with all my training to produce feminist arguments I can’t convince one recalcitrant man, how are going to erode patriarchy collectively? By silencing our male allies?
A woman silencing a man is as patriarchal as a man silencing a woman. I don’t have the experience of being a man but I happen to have the experience of being a person, which should include a good share of empathy. We, women, cannot expect men to change unless we appeal to their empathy for us, and for our experience. The way forward is a common alliance against patriarchy, not this constant gendered division of the world between male oppressors and victimized women. Many of the women who joined the strike did so hypocritically, for they are part of the hard core of patriarchy, yet they were not silenced. It is then ironic in the most disgraceful way that many good men were told to stay silent. They may have felt in this way what it is like to be a woman silenced by patriarchy but this is not a strategy that feminism should apply. We are supposed to be the good ones in this war!
One of my two harassed friends told me that his female colleagues had volunteered to defend him but this is no good, either. I don’t want to find myself in a situation in which a male colleague defends my right to discuss masculinity in a classroom full of men, for this support would only stress the weakness of my position. Nothing has been achieved, then, with the silencing of my two friends. Even worse, they might decide never again to mention feminism, which only benefits patriarchy. I can only say that the women students denying them their freedom of speech perhaps do not really want to be educated. This is what defines a fanatic, NOT a feminist. At least, not in my book.
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