I am really torn with this HeForShe campaign. It’s great that a young woman such as Emma Watson has spoken up, identified herself as a feminist and, in doing so, will introduce a whole generation of other young women to the feminist movement. It’s also good news that sexism, misogyny and inequality is being discussed at UN level. There are many issues that blight women’s lives every single day and we are long overdue for a sea change in male attitudes. It’s exhausting battling this shit every day and our voices are hoarse from shouting about it.
My problem is that I don’t believe that the involvement of the United Nations will do anything to change societal attitudes towards women. The problems are far too entrenched for men to willingly surrender their power. When you have as much privilege as men do, the process of unpacking and examining that privilege is far too much like hard work. Retweeting Everyday Sexism is easy. Adding your name to a petition against domestic abuse takes about five minutes. Adding your voice to a campaign such as HeForShe takes approximately five seconds. Anyone can do that, and proudly pat themselves on the back for being a ‘good’ man.
The real work is in challenging sexism and misogyny. When your mates tell a rape joke, when your work colleagues tell a domestic violence joke, when you witness street harassment, when your women friends are sexually assaulted in pubs and clubs. That’s the real work; challenging other men.
And men don’t see what we see. They understand the, “get your tits out” sexism because it’s blatant and they can hear and see it. What they don’t see is the implicit sexism. The comments that can be dismissed as “just a joke”, the man who talks to your chest, the man who speaks over you, the man who runs the University Feminist society because he wants to ‘help’ women become empowered. They don’t notice when they switch on the radio and it’s predominantly male voices. They don’t notice that the majority of newspaper editors, managers, CEO’s and politicians are men. They don’t think anything when they watch Question Time and see a panel of white, male faces. They don’t understand why you get frustrated when the head of your STEM panel is male, or when you disengage from politics because the ‘greater good’ argument has yet again made women invisible and silenced.
For HeForShe to actually work, we need men to shut up and listen. We need them to WANT to change and I don’t see any evidence that they do.
The sexism in society is not just about the obvious objectification of reducing women to body parts. It’s implicit, it’s quiet, and it’s subtle.
When we have to beg men to imagine that the women experiencing abuse is their daughter, mother or sister then we have a problem. If men can’t support women because, y’know, we’re women then frankly, I don’t want your support.
Read below the line of any article written by a woman and you will see what we experience. You will see what men really think of us. You will see the hatred, the abuse and the dismissive sneering that accompanies any one of us that dares to speak. Go on Facebook and join a discussion about feminism and women’s rights, see the men falling over themselves to explain how we’re getting it wrong, we are campaigning on the wrong issue, there are more important things to worry about. Join Twitter and tweet about feminism. Sit back and wait for the replies.
Essentially, there are a lot of men who can just about manage feminism if it’s done ‘right.’ If the campaigning women are young, white, pretty and slim then you have a chance of men supporting your issue. If you’re old, a woman of colour and fat then forget it.
You have pretty much zero chance of any man wanting to be involved in your campaign. The comments come thick and fast;
“who’d rape her?”
“why are feminists so fucking ugly?”
“she deserves a smack in the mouth, fat ugly bitch.”
And we get angry. We get really fucking angry and this means that we are irrational, emotional, and erratic.
“You need to calm down”
“Why are you so angry all the time? It doesn’t solve anything”
“You won’t get anyone to listen if you’re angry”
So we quieten down. We lower our voices, we ask nicely instead of demanding angrily. Does anything change? No.
So, forgive me if I’m not thrilling with excitement about yet another campaign. Forgive me if I sound negative and weary. It’s because I’ve been here so many times before and we are in a worse situation than we ever were.
All power to Emma Watson. Truly. But don’t be surprised when this campaign fades away into obscurity.
Men aren’t giving up their power any time soon.
Opinionated Planet: a radical feminist blog by women for women on male violence, women-only spaces and sports