A women’s only breakfast caused a stir at Trinity last yearLouis Ashworth

Feminism is a political fight. This is not a controversial statement: nobody can deny the political nature of the feminist movement. Yet it is a very particular kind of movement in the mainstream, as it is a fight that necessarily needs to avoid the radical in order to be listened to. A goal pursued by many feminists in our society is to reach gender equality in the existent system. This doesn't mean that the system will not have to change, even change deeply, in order to fully reach parity; however, at the end of the day, it does mean that mainstream feminism is not radical and never will be, due to this as an ultimate aim, so long as it is functioning within this framework.

For example, let’s examine the polemics surrounding the women's only breakfast event at Trinity College earlier this year. Nobody said that the 40th anniversary of the first admission of women to the college is not an event that should be celebrated. The voices that criticised the event did so due to misunderstandings surrounding the organisation and the form of the celebration. It seems much of the criticism that feminists receive is similar: people are not consciously against gender equality (although subconscious bias is a whole other debate) and when disputes arise around feminist issues, they tend to take issue with specific actions rather than the underlying ideology. If this isn't proof of the lack of radicalism in the fight, I don't know what is. Radicalism in the mainstream movement ceases to exist because even basic steps forward, such as a female and non-binary celebratory breakfast, descend into an exhausting debate. People against communism, fascism or black separatism are often not only against the way in which these movements pursue their goals, but they also thoroughly disagree with the goals in the first place. They won't question the radical nature of the methods because they see the fight itself as problematic. This does not, for the most part, happen with feminism.

The problem of this lack of radicalism in the feminist fight is that rallying people around a common goal is more difficult than rallying people against a common enemy. As history has shown us, one of the first things that a radical leader needs to do upon reaching power is to identify a group that can be labelled as ‘the enemy’ and unite people by hate. This cannot be achieved in the feminist fight, and that is its beauty: the closest thing to a common enemy that can be found is patriarchy and this is not a real person, but an abstract concept. You can't go in the street and point out people who are the patriarchy, as it is the structure which has shaped our society. Although men constitute the group which has largely benefited from this structure, everyone that has grown up in our society has been heavily influenced by the patriarchy. If a woman goes to wash her husband’s dishes out of a sense of duty, she is influenced by the patriarchy that has conditioned her to feel this is her responsibility. This structure needs to change. However, unlike any other physical group that can be threatened and humiliated, this change can only occur when the entirety of society realises that there is a need to change it. And this is where allyship comes in.

The feminist fight must be carried out by women, as attempts to do so otherwise would be an overbearing mistake. As a man, I can identify some of my privileges; I can introspect, I can change my behaviour to become more sensitive and, more importantly, I can learn to give the space and listen to the people that have suffered the lack of parity. But ultimately I grew up surrounded by the privileges of being a white male in a society where white males are the dominant group, and this privilege has become an integral part of my personality. Thus, I will have to accept that in this fight my role has to be a secondary one. I have to take a step back and allow the people that are primarily affected by these issues to speak out loud and report their experiences.

The one thing that I can do is try to raise awareness among the people that surround me. Because no ideational change can occur if the entire society is not persuaded that the change is indeed needed. Allyship needs to be increasingly present in our society, and men have to become allies of the feminist fight. We, as men, have to understand how unfair our privileges are – or, to put it in another way, how unfair it is that those of another gender do not have the opportunities that we have simply because of who they are.

To achieve this, it is important to have as many discussions as possible; to engage with people who think that they are not concerned by this movement, and to explain to them why they actually are. Of course, this means having the same old conversations again and again about the same topics and addressing the same old statements that we all know: “they are being oversensitive”, “parity already exists”, “I'm not a feminist, I believe in equality between the sexes”, etc. It is tedious and, from time to time, it is infuriating. But it’s also what needs to be done to achieve equality. Even when the most ridiculous and offensive thoughts are spoken aloud, we must remain cold-blooded and calmly explain to them why they are mistaken.

Feminism is a global fight, a fight that encompasses every single member of society. Equality is something that we all have to stand for, independent of our gender. As I have said before, this is especially complicated because there is nobody to blame, no particular group to shame, and only one collective goal to reach. And this goal can only be reached if all men become allies, if we all acknowledge our privileges and actively work to create a fairer society. When I say, “we, men”, what I wish I could mean is “we, allies”.

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