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Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign just what we need

Emma Watson invited men into “the movement” and the feminist world is in uproar — split into the yay and naysayers. It’s even gone to the extent of fractures along racial (according to one blogger it’s white feminists who support her), regional or even socio-economic background.

But identity aside there is some good and bad to Watson’s UN speech. There’s the idea that “begging” men to join the movement is a problem because it reinforces patriarchy by opening more space for them to dominate. I’ve seen the way the male presence in a female space can overshadow everything.

Getty
Getty

What of the idea that patriarchy is actually hurting all of us? That men and women are bound and subjugated by gender stereotypes?

The question is: Can we really expect men to help further the feminist bandwagon because it’s a good cause or because it’s right? I understand that the cause of the polar bears, pandas and rhinos is a pretty good one but I’m not the biggest supporter in the world. You could say that I’m functioning from a place of human privilege.

Frankly I do not see what’s in it for me.

Watson’s formal invitation could be the answer to the problem men have with feminism. It’s not human nature to naturally want to give up what you see as “yours” for the greater good.

Before the feminist sphere begins to flip out I am not comparing women’s causes to animal causes, I’m just saying that humans look at the average situation and think “What I can get out of this?”.

Take whatever injustice you want: colonisation, slavery, apartheid. The oppressors had their backs against the wall and it was in their best interest to make things better for the oppressed as it made things better for everyone.

Even human rights as a concept was born because the world was reeling from the effects of World WarII. It wasn’t because babies looked cuter in a onesie. It was because everyone had seen that the current way of doing things was universally destructive and only through respecting humanity could we all move forward.

Many reading this article believe in women’s rights but won’t easily give the tablet/ smartphone/ laptop they’re reading it on to the poor. Technically giving to the poor is the right thing but to do that would threaten your privilege as a person of means.

It’s been my experience that those of privilege are not often accepted in certain spaces. White people are not very welcome in black movements, straight people into queer spaces and so on. Men are not really welcome in feminist spaces.

This is problematic because you must engage with the other side. Even though freedom does come from within there is no arguing that there is a very external element to it.

Those who oppress form a core part of the act of oppression. As a core part of the problem they cannot be excluded. It’s part of the school of thought that you do not teach women how not to get raped, teach men how not to rape.

What Watson tried to do, though problematic, is engage a strategy that’s often disregarded by supporters of women’s rights (despite many arguing it’s not a novel idea): Let men know that this is a general problem.

We must not forget that there a great number of men who purport to be “feminists” when really all they have is a saviour complex and the worst case of “the little ladies cannot do it by themselves”. These men are not helpful to engage with. It’s the everyday man who has internalised all the good (and bad) of being a man.

As bell hooks said “patriarchy is the single most life-threating disease threatening the male body”.

We can start thinking about it in this way: What is in it for everyone? This is not putting men at the centre of it, it’s making sure we all come off better for it.

Once everyone is involved it stops being “a movement” and starts becoming a reality.

Author

  • Kagure Mugo is the co-founder and full-time curator of HOLAAfrica! She is a part-time pseudo-academic and part-time wine-bar philosopher. A nomad (who has been everywhere and belongs nowhere) with a firm belief that no-one will love Africa till she loves herself.

7 Comments

  1. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 3 October 2014

    I was overjoyed at young Emma’s speech. Finally, the face of feminism isn’t seen as a man hating fruitcake. The very reason that I turned my back on feminism was because it had been hijacked by extremists.

    Maybe the time will come again when I am willing to call myself a feminist. Until then, I will continue to shun the swearword that ‘feminism’ has become and, simply keep calling myself an advocate of women’s rights and equality.

  2. philosoraptor philosoraptor 5 October 2014

    “Technically giving to the poor is the right thing” ? Not really, unless you mean giving a fair deal. We actively keep the poor poor and we actively enable the rich to get richer. Laws and loopholes are constantly enabling the rich to increase their advantages. That’s where the real divide lies, IMO. “Giving” wont fix that.
    As to feminism: People who believe there should be gender fairness need to target the areas where women are actively disadvantaged and where men are actively advantaged. Even thinking of excluding certain people from that movement because of something physical hidden by their clothing and only loosely attached to their brains means the whole movement is a non-starter, surely?

  3. Mark Mark 5 October 2014

    If one were to consider the term feminism in its most basic form, i.e. the striving for equal rights for women, then I as a man would consider myself one too.

    Recently I found myself on twitter and blog sites, on which I was confronted with by most appalling comments made my men towards women for daring to take that banner. I actually wasn’t able to hold out long.

    Perhaps the problem is mainly an American (and South African?) one? The level of ignorance from some quarters, not just from men, but women too, can be shameful. This can be most clearly seen when women who parade as feminists claim equal rights, yet ironically also the rights over their son’s genitalia. They can be very passionate about this “right” too. Either they shout a protesting man down as “militant”, or the moderators simply block him out. This has only inflamed the sort of male who is unable to articulate himself properly and calmly, yet – and rightly so – is hurt and intensely angered. This anger only gets relayed on to one or two guys who see me as the evil feminist on forums. Those from more well-read backgrounds should know this is simple-mindedness: the rotten apple as the standard bearer for all apples.

    Too little reflection and empathy. Equal rights for all!

  4. mark mark 6 October 2014

    her speech isn’t actually about men lending a helping hand to women, and feminists being accepting. This is about acceptance of change and would apply to both men and women.

    As a cursory example, the Tuskegee Airmen helped many bombers escape the clutches of German attack planes, and were probably regarded as heroes until they all landed and the wit okes realised that they had been saved by patriotic black guys. A redneck would’ve taken a while to get his head around that one.

    But in 2014, the American armed forces, whether you like them or not, is pretty transformed in terms of race and gender and racism isn’t a defining topic. It seems that there is a brotherhood that transcends race, culture and social standing.

    So I see positive change coming, but resistance is being met by men who don’t want to acknowledge women as being competent and independent, in the same vein that there are women who think it’s still the late 1960s and bra’s need to be burned for this insurmountable cause.

    This situation also gets complicated when you consider countries that are considered to be melting pots of many different groups. As example here, I worked for an engineering firm where the one Indian employee resigned because she wouldn’t work under the Indian man, who came from a lower caste than her…back in India. As if that would apply in South Africa in 2011.

    So what is the solution? Humility and compassion. But currently its easier to be greedy and focus on…

  5. TR TR 14 October 2014

    Reading your article, i was reminded of this: “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house” – A. Lorde. While there is need for constructive engagement with them, i do not think men belong in the feminist movement.

  6. Sindi Sindi 22 October 2014

    Mhhhh….its so easy for those spaces to become male frequented, i wonder if they will continue serving the purpose they were intended for once they become male dominated

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