Before I begin, let me include a small disclaimer: my views will not reflect all those held by people involved with the Women's Campaign and I wouldn’t want them to. There is something great about feeling solidarity with a huge group of people who have so many differing opinions and attitudes. There is no one size fits all answer here, and why should there be? There will likely always be the more easily overlooked ‘Suffragists’ to counterpart the slightly more ‘militant’ Suffragettes. People perpetually highlight the extreme, and this is exactly what Helen Charman has done.
Last week, she accused Gender Agenda of portraying men as ‘a homogenous mass of sexual urges’, and stated that the publication made it obvious that we feel ‘men don’t have the right to contribute to debate about feminist issues’. I don’t really understand how an editorial team so hell bent on man-hating, who are so ‘divisive, regressive and petty’, would let that sneaky little article by a man get in there? Something terribly wrong must have happened. They must have got distracted while they were feasting on the castrated members of all those pesky sex-fiends.
As a fellow feminist, I feel disappointed that Helen didn’t enjoy the last edition of Gender Agenda. I agree with her on some counts – propagating the notion that all decent feminists should distance themselves from the other sex is an unrealistic waste of time. In the same way I would feel uncomfortable arguing on behalf of women who wear a hijab, my level of involvement with their situation mirrors the manner in which I feel men should get involved; to offer support and to inspire change in the men they surround themselves with. To choose an example Helen picked up on: I don’t believe that, as a man, Jeremy Hunt has a right to comment on my limits of procreation. Feminism is a woman’s issue – there’s not a lot you can to do change that. The fact is that almost all shades of feminism will ring someone’s misandry bell. The problem with a cause that centers around gender differences, which most people view as being entirely binary (even though they are not) is that it forces people to assume that two groups cannot occupy the same space. Feminist success is not at the expense of men, but it will require some men to change their attitudes – and this is where things get gritty.
‘Because it is easier for everybody, male and female, to demand saintly purity of the oppressed than to tee off on the oppressor […] it’s also time to scotch that perennial silliness about avoiding Change because Change will provoke a Backlash. Change always provokes a backlash.’ This statement was made by Joanna Russ, in ‘The New Misandry: Man-Hating in 1972’, in a perfect summary of why some people will always have a problem with feminism. I have a lot of things to be angry about, many of which Helen mentioned at the end of her article. She argues that feminism is ‘common sense’ and I wish I could agree with her. Both Helen and I occupy a fantastically privileged position on the sexism scale as white educated women. We’re allowed to socialize with people that, largely, respect our right to gain an education and do what we want; and yet I can definitely vouch for the fact that I experience some level of basic misogyny on a regular basis.
To me, the right to an abortion is common sense. The eradication of female mutilation is common sense. The right to equal pay is common sense. But sexism is deeply ingrained in the social consciousness – so, no, feminism is not yet common sense. I am really angry about a whole load of things, like rape victim blaming and women's standards of beauty and domestic violence, but I don’t want to scream about it to every man that I meet. I don’t inherently hate all members of the other sex for their passive involvement in the patriarchy. I do, however, value a women only space where women can go and vent and feel solidarity with like-minded people without feeling guilty about spewing aggression. Sometimes one woman’s plan of action will make me feel uncomfortable, but I’m under no pressure to agree. Gender Agenda provides a vehicle for all of those differing shades of feminism to find a voice – it’s not imperative you subscribe to all of them.
Helen Charman's original article: http://www.varsity.co.uk/comment/4959
Disagree with the article above? Continue the debate by sending propositions for responses to Aliya and Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by attending the Comment section meetings at 4pm on Mondays in the Senior Parlour at Caius.