Inviting Men to the Conversation
The news cycle for the past weeks have been dominated by the coverage of Emma Watson’s rousing speech at the UN to launch the UN Women Campaign, He For She. MEWC covered it last week here, and countless other articles have been written in response. In a sense, it is wonderful to see so many men and women of all ages posting the link on Facebook and Twitter. I understand that her speech is a landmark event both for it’s topic and location, and I support Watson wholeheartedly; there is no wrong way to be a feminist.
One of the best things about the online and real-time feminist movement is its the dialogue it creates and encourages, enabling people from around the world to join in and talk about how we can make this world better. I’d like to add to this conversation with a few more ideas.
Watson passionately said that she was formally inviting men to join the conversation, but I wonder to which conversation she is inviting them to. A quick visit to the He for She website will invite you to hit ‘I Agree’ to “…commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls”. At first glance this sounds fine however He for She does not actually define what they mean by “all forms of violence and discrimination”. Most men and women would have very different answers to this question. But by clicking ‘I Agree’ a man can feel that he has done his feminist duty for the day and can move on without giving anything much thought. In effect, this website acts as a signature collecting agent for a petition. I worry this campaign, however well-intentioned, promotes lazy online activism in the same vein as the Ice Bucket Challenge that was unfortunately floating around the web all summer.
Deep down, it worries me to see the turn the mainstream feminist movement has taken. I think As Anne Thériault, a Canadian blogger, has written on her blog The Belle Jar, “I am tired of talking to men about feminism”. This particular post, ‘Tired of Talking to Men’, Thériault writes eloquently of the frustration she feels she has to sell feminism as attractive to men in order for them to join in solidarity. Though this particular post was written in March of 2014, well before Watson’s speech made international headlines, after watching the speech I was compelled to go and re-read the post, just to make sure my reaction wasn’t unfounded. Like Thériault, I am exhausted of having to prove to men everyday that the sexism I face is real and they stand in solidarity because it is good for them.
I was perplexed that in 2014, I’m being told I still need to be nice and invite men politely to the conversation about feminism. I am perplexed by the fact that men still feel they need to be invited. As Mychal Denzel Smith at Feministing wrote in ‘Feminism Shouldn’t Make Men Comfortable‘: “It isn’t that men haven’t been invited to the conversation, but rather they’ve constantly rejected the invitation”. And he’s entirely right. If we plead a little more, men won’t suddenly feel compelled to be better feminists. They shouldn’t care about feminism because it’s good for them, but because it’s good for anyone at all.
To finish, a particularly poignant quote from ‘Tired of Talking to Men’:
“Is it really so hard to have compassion about something that might not directly affect you?”