If there are three things I love in this world, it’s international relations, women and days.
It’s a shame then that my enjoyment of International Women’s Day each 8th March is consistently spoiled by the United Nations’ attempt to put men at the heart of feminism with their #HeForShe campaign.
Let me say this very clearly. Men-centric feminism is garbage. Feminism is not about men. We should not be putting men at the centre of a day for women.
I personally am very happy for men to describe themselves as feminists, but they should be the loyal, kit-wearing supporters in the stands, and women, the first XI. #HeForShe is a pitch invasion, where men nick the ball and start booting it around to show how much they want the match to go ahead as planned.
International Women’s Day is about women. It is about the issues and oppressions that affect women globally. Hearing the statistics and stories should be enough for men to support women without it being specifically branded for them. If a man can hear that 85,000 women are raped in the UK each year and only care when this fact is labelled FOR MEN like a horrifying statistical Yorkie, he probably isn’t that much use to the feminist cause in the first place.
Feminism is constantly expected to make itself pretty and palatable. We’ve created the straw feminist, all smouldering tits and desiccated ovaries, sticking pins into voodoo dolls’ little embroidered balls, just so we can say, “I’m a feminist, but I’m not one of those feminists. I love men!” Loving men and being a feminist are not mutually exclusive but nor is “loving men” in any way a mandatory part of feminism. We should not pander to make men who, whether they support it or not, are part of a system that benefits them.
In case it wasn’t clear enough by the co-opting of UN Women by the #HeForShe campaign that the main issue women face today is hurting men’s feelings, the actor Laverne Cox tweeted that she and Emma Watson had come up with the hashtag #ILoveMenButHatePatriarchy. No longer are we spending our time merely asking men to support women, we now have to spend it massaging their bruised egos, telling them that we still adore them and will have their pipes and slippers waiting.
There’s a phrase, beloved of Men’s Rights Activists, that it’s #NotAllMen who oppress or hurt women. Too many a valid discussion has been derailed by a man barrelling in to tell us that he, personally, has not done any of the 85,000 rapes this year. It must be one of those nebulous Bad Men out there. Here, I have finally found a use for this tedious phrase. #ILoveMenButHatePatriarchy? #NotAllMen.
The #BlackLivesMatter campaign is not a subsidiary company of #AllLivesMatter. They do not fret about their perception and appear under the banner #ILoveCaucasiansButHateWhiteSupremacy. Why?
Because while we need allies from within privileged sections of societies, these movements – for gender, for race, for where those intersect – are not about being palatable or pretty.
There is a point to which #HeForShe has its uses. When Emma Watson publicly takes a stand for feminism, it is an effective way of starting a conversation with people who may not have considered that gender inequality is a very real, global problem and that they might just have a responsibility in dismantling it. But we shouldn’t have to smuggle gender oppression into conversation like a stripper in a cake, leaping out at a bachelor party to surprise some bros with readings from Everyday Sexism.
When we pander to make feminism more palatable, we ignore the unpalatable truths of patriarchy. Feminism becomes only that women are on banknotes and not how our government spends them on women. Equal Pay Day asks how many women there are on boards and not why Equal Pay Day happened weeks ago for women who aren’t white. Feminism is not nice and neat because a patriarchy is not nice and neat. We should not expect feminists to make space for men: men need to make space for feminism.