The Problem is Male Violence:

We need to start naming this problem. Until we have the courage to talk about the cult of masculinity and their glorification of male violence, we will continue to grieve for innocent lives lost and families destroyed. We can attempt to obfuscate the issue by diagnosing perpetrators as “mentally ill” all we want but we all know it isn’t true. The men who commit these crimes aren’t “mentally ill”, unless you want to define our entire culture as ill. It is a convenient lie designed to ignore the real issue: male violence.


Because that is the only thing the perpetrators of these types of crimes have in common: they are male and, in the case of mass shootings, are exclusively white men. The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men. 

Until we name the problem, we won’t be able to address it. Gun control is only part of the solution. But, guns only make it easier for violent men to kill. Violent men kill women and children in a myriad of ways on a daily basis without guns. So, whilst gun control legislation is essential, male violence will not stop until we start holding men accountable for their violence.

We need to hold individual men accountable for domestic violence.

We need to hold individual men accountable for sexualised violence.

We need to hold individual men accountable for violence.

Then, we need to hold all men accountable for helping to perpetuate the myths that men are inherently violent or that there is always a cause for male violence.

We need to stop blaming victims for being victims of male violence.

We need to stop making excuses for male violence.

If you haven’t already read it, Crates & Ribbons has written an important piece on the issue of gender in the mass murder of 27 women and children in Newtown, Connecticut. Mother Jones has written a survey on mass shootings in the US. Aviva Shen’s Timeline of Mass Shootings since Columbine is a list of male perpetrators. William Hamby’s Connecticut shooting, white males and Mass Murder is based on Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel’s  Suicide by Mass Murder: Masculinity, Aggrieved Entitlement and Rampage School Shootings. All should be required reading today. Kathleen Barry’s Unmaking War and Remaking Men and Susan Faludi’s Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man and The Terror Dream are all searing indictments of the cult of hyper-masculinity.

We owe it to those who have lost their lives or whose families have been destroyed by male violence to name it.

We owe it to those who have lost their lives or whose families have been destroyed by male violence to hold individual men accountable for their crimes.

These are the innocent victims of the Newtown mass shooting. Lest we forget:

Children:
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Aviele Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6

Adults:
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Rachel Davino, 29
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27

Circus Freak Shows: Bullying Culture, Mass Media and Personal Responsibility

This past Halloween, I watched the film Monster House with my children. It is one of the unnecessary DVDs that we own but one that I had not actively watched before. It is a childrens film about a haunted house. I expected puerile jokes and unnecessary references to films that no one cares about anymore. I was wrong.

The basic plot of Monster House is that a house is possessed by the spirit of a dead woman, Constance, who steals children’s toys, which land on the grass around it. Before being rescued by the man she marries, Constance had spent her life as an unwilling freak show act in a circus where children paid money to laugh, belittle and humiliate her. Constance dies falling into the foundations of the house she was building with her rescuer-husband, after, once again, being belittled by a group of small children, and the house thus becomes both Constances grave and her avenger.

Possessed by the spirit of the abused Constance, the house is portrayed as insane, evil and violent. There is no discussion of whether or not she was justified in her paranoia following years of intense bullying. The house is angry and frightened because Constance was angry and frightened. But, no one listened when Constance was alive and no one listened when she died. Instead, the climax of the film is the complete destruction of Constance.

It is easy to dismiss Monster House as just another poorly executed childrens movie but this film is simply a reflection of our culture. We may no longer have circus freak shows designed to bully and humiliate those who do not fit our gendered dichotomy of human bodies, but our bullying culture still exists in the form of reality television, shock-jock radio programs, the ubiquity of  lifestyle and celebrity magazines, and mass media coverage of news. Much of our entertainmentnow rests on the same constructions as the circus freak show, we are simply unwilling to acknowledge our own personal responsibility in consuming these forms of entertainment and the harm that they cause.

Just as we now blame Mel Greig and Michael Christian for the death of Jacintha Saldanha, we blame Constance for her actions without looking at the context. I do not want to minimize what Greig and Christian did, since anyone who is no longer 15 should know the potential consequences of pranks, but they are not the only ones who are guilty in the death of Saldanha. Focusing our blame on Greig and Christian is a convenient way to minimize our collective guilt as a society that actively encourages the same bullying experienced by Constance.

Greig and Christian would not have made the prank call if there was not an audience for it. We cannot simply blame the two, although their culpability is without doubt, we also need to examine our own behaviour. We need to take personal responsibility for perpetuating and perpetrating bullying culture. Without an audience of consumers buying magazines like Heat and Grazia or newspapers like the Sun and the Daily Mail or watching/listening to shock jocks like Howard Stern and Matthew Wright, there would be no financial incentive for these people to behave in a crass and offensive manner. Before we start blaming others, we need to check our own behaviour, examine our own privilege, and stop financially supporting an industry based on the abject humiliation of others. The harm caused to vulnerable people who participate in reality television is obvious, yet millions of people watch shows like Big Brother and X-Factor and laugh at the judges’ vile comments. Millions of people take to Twitter to insult the physical appearance of contestants.
We shouldn’t need the Leveson Inquiry to regulate the media. We should be holding the media accountable through our financial power. We can change print media simply by refusing to consume misogynistic, racist, disablist and homophobic stories. We can change talk radio by switching off Greig, Christian and Stern. We can change the culture of bullying traumatised families by refusing to purchase newspapers or watch television newscasts that show images of traumatised parents mourning the loss of their children. We can stop buying newspapers that doorstop grieving parents. We can stop consuming media that suggest that women and children are somehow responsible for their own deaths at the hands of violent men for just exisiting.

Monster House is a film, which uses the emotional and physical abuse experienced by a vulnerable woman and then blames the woman for her behavior, whilst excusing the children, and their parents, who bullied her during her life. In fact, the film never makes the direct correlation between the long-term abuse experienced by Constance and her quite justified paranoia. The blame is entirely Constances despite the fact that society had conspired against her for cheap entertainment.

Contemporary mass media from reality television to celebrity culture, from talk shows to shock jocks, together form a 21st century freak show, only now the phenomenon is 24/7 and shows no respect for private boundaries or personal space. We are invited to laugh and jeer at vulnerable people, like Constance, and we pay to financially support their exploitation. We continue to exploit the most vulnerable members of our communities for our entertainment: in reality television, in traditional and online media, in the music industry and in pornography.

Life isn’t a circus freak show. Lets just stop acting like it is.

What Leveson Didn’t Address Properly: On Male Violence, Media Ethics and Personal Responsibility

Today, 27 families are grieving.  A community has been broken. They deserve a chance to grieve. There are numerous debates that we need to have tomorrow. Today, we need to let them grieve in peace; without an audience. 

Tomorrow, we need to restart the obvious debate on gun control. But, this debate will be meaningless unless we all start to discuss the issue of hyper-masculinity and male violence within the Patriarchy. We can’t simply talk in general terms about who owns guns. We need to talk about who owns guns and who uses them to hurt and kill other people. We need to talk about male violence because it is mostly men who use guns to kill other people. It is mostly men who kill other men and women and children. We need to stop talking in gender neutral terms and start talking properly about male violence.

We need to talk about the military-industrial complex’s financial interest in perpetrating our culture of hyper-masculinity.

We also need to restart the debate on media accountability and ethics. Because, today, instead of giving a community a chance to grieve, the media has swooped in and is, at least according to twitter, interviewing children from the school in Newton, Connecticut. They are printing images of terrified families looking for their children. They are printing images of terrified children being taken to safety by police officers. They are showing images of families being ripped apart. Now, we can blame the media for doing this. We can blame individual journalists and evil media empires for their intrusion. But, we won’t look at our own behaviour.

Without an audience of people consuming these images, the media would have no financial incentive to doorstop grieving families. We need to stop blaming others for the failures within our culture and start looking at our own behaviour. If you are complaining about journalists interviewing children, ask yourself why you are watching it. Don’t just complain. Turn it off. Stop being part of the problem.

Tomorrow, we need to have some serious debates about male violence and gun control. Today, we need to stop intruding in a grieving community.

There is no point in the Leveson Inquiry holding the media accountable for some truly despicable behaviour if we do not hold ourselves accountable too. After all, the media would not exist without an audience of consumers

Good Men Project: Their Misogyny isn’t really a Surprise.

I’ve been quite surprised at the response to the Good Men Project’s* current foray into rape apologism. I thought most people were aware that the Good Men Project was nothing more than a front for Misogynist Rights Activists with an extremely reductive construction of masculinity based on an incredibly harmful gendered binary of sexes. I didn’t realise anyone still took them seriously. I’ve had them on my list of arseholes for years. I had always assumed that their name was just another example of patriarchal hypocrisy. 

Personally, I’m not surprised that they ran an article written by Alyssa Royse which was nothing more than a handbook on how to be a rapist or that they’ve actually ran an article written by a man who is proud to be a rapist. They’ve been waltzing about the issue of rape apologism for a while now. They certainly have form for minimising male violence against women. And, they have form for all sorts of victim-blaming behaviour. The Good Men Project are nothing more than an attempt at mass gaslighting women into thinking that male violence is normative behaviour.

Frankly, I struggle to take anyone who who writes for the GMP seriously. I snorted with laugter at Ozy Frantz’s declaration that he was parting ways with GMP because of the pro-rape article whilst simultaneously calling the editor Noah Brand a feminist. I’m glad Ozy Frantz is leaving GMP. More of their writers need to remove their collective patriarchal blinkers and part ways with GMP, but, no one who publishes an article by a rapist bragging about being a rapist is a feminist. This isn’t a multiple POV issue, like GMP were claiming on twitter. 

There are only two stances on rape: either you support rape or you don’t. It is a dichotomy. There are no grey areas or women who encouraged their own rape. There are only rapists. You don’t get to call yourself a feminist if you make excuses for rape. Yes, we live in a patriarchal society in which rape myths are endemic but the true test of feminism is being called on your  behaviour and then reassessing your stance. Pretending that whatever issue raised isn’t relevant is just the normal reinforcement of the Patriarchy (Vagenda might want to take note of this issue too). And, we all make mistakes. No one is a perfect feminist but when you publish blogs written by people defending rape, you aren’t a feminist. 

I don’t care what brand of feminism you think you are, once you try to defend a rapist, you aren’t a feminist. That is our base line. You defend male violence against women in any form and you aren’t a feminist. So, Ozy Frantz you are just wrong in your defence of Noah Brand. He is not a feminist and he clearly never was. 

UPDATE: Feministe has written a very good rebuttal to the rape apologism at GMP. They are also calling for a boycott of all the writers who either blog for GMP or who cross-post on them. I will be joining them. 

*I’m not going to link to their blog because it will increase their advertising revenue.

Je Me Souviens

I was 13 years old when I became a feminist. 

I was 13 years old when a man walked into a Polytechnique in Montreal armed with a gun.

I was 13 years old when a man walked into a Polytechnique and murdered 14 women for being women.

I was 13 years old when a man walked into a Polytechnique and injured 10 more women and 4 men.

I was 13 years old when I realised the full extent of male violence against women.

I am not going to name him. He does not deserve our remembrance. 

The 14 women who died that day deserve our memory.

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

Je me Souviens.

Holly Baxter’s Guest Blog on Mumsnet: Some Unpleasant Victim-Blaming

This week’s guest blogger on Mumsnet is Holly Baxter from Vagenda as part of the 16 Days of Activism on VAW. I am genuinely at a loss as how to adequately express my rage and my disgust at the article Baxter wrote. Baxter has used the mass murder of 14 women in Montreal as a way of attempting to make a political point about the inclusion of men within the feminist movement. Now, I fundamentally disagree with Baxter on the issue of men’s involvement in feminism as I have explained here and here, but, even if I did, I can not begin to imagine how the inclusion of men in one feminist event is necessary because one violent man killed 14 women.

This is the image Mumsnet chose to run in conjunction with the blog. On a blog referencing the murder of 14 women.  I have no words for this.

Tonight, I am too angry to write a proper response to Baxters’ blog. Instead, I want to remember the 14 women who Baxter failed to name in her post; 14 women who were murdered by a man who hated feminists:

Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21;
Hélène Colgan, 23;
Nathalie Croteau, 23;
Barbara Daigneault, 22;
Anne-Marie Edward, 21;
Maud Haviernick, 29;
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31;
Maryse Leclair, 23;
Annie St.-Arneault, 23;
Michèle Richard, 21;
Maryse Laganière, 25;
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22;
Sonia Pelletier, 28; 
Annie Turcotte, aged 21.



A Fate Worse Than Debt

By Heather Downs

The Coalition government offers nothing but more propaganda about ‘paying-off the national debt’, giving the perfect excuse to cut public spending and destroy the Welfare State. Around 70% of Coalition cuts so far have come from women. The cause of women’s equality is being pushed back 50 years.

Public sector cuts hit women the hardest.  The public sector has a better record on equality in pay and opportunities. Women make up most public sector workers, so cuts in jobs, pensions, and the pay-freeze, affect women more.  Services specifically for women, such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis, are being cut.  Refuges are turning away 230 women every day in Britain. Domestic Violence affects one-in-four women; 19 thousand women flee their homes every year.  Every week two women are killed by current or ex-partners in Britain.  That’s more deaths than soldiers killed in Afghanistan.   Women’s Aid estimate1 in 4 women are subjected to domestic violence in their lifetime and 1 in 4 are victims of sexual violence. If you know more than 4 women, you know someone who has experienced either sexual or domestic violence or will do so at some time in their lives.  Rape Crisis say only 1 in 10 rapes are reported.  Most victims know their attacker – less than 1% see them convicted.

Women of all classes and races are affected, but those who have least money of their own, are the least able to escape the violence.  They depend on refuges and free counselling to help them escape.  These services are under threat from government cuts.  Although Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid remain the most frequently used sources of support, funding is a constant challenge. Coalition cuts threaten the survival of these vital services.  The Condems pay hypocritical lip service to women’s equality but their cuts fall most heavily on women’s jobs, services and pensions. Cuts affect council housing and housing benefit making it more difficult to rebuild and heal disrupted, damaged lives. 



Women do the caring for free when services to the elderly, disabled, children and other vulnerable groups are cut and women’s jobs are lost. Sure Start children’s centres have been cut despite government promises.  Day centres for adults are under threat.  The childcare allowance of Tax Credits has been cut from 80% to 70%, making work unaffordable for many women if there is any paid employment available.  Child Benefit was a universal benefit paid to mothers as a way our whole society could support families with children. New means-testing only affects the middle class earning over £50,000 now – but an important principle has been broken.  Raising the tax threshold will not help low-paid people who don’t pay income-tax.  Raising the qualifying limit for Working Tax Credits will cost £1000’s to people unable to increase their hours.

Disabled women are at increased risk of domestic and sexual violence.  Given what we know about financial abuse and economic dependence being features of domestic violence, it is disturbing to learn that disabled people with partners earning over £7,500 will not receive any benefits once the one year time limit on ESA (Employment Support Allowance) is reached.  As Social Care becomes means tested, more people will depend on family members, including ‘Young Carers’ as the unpaid chidren of disabled parents ae euphemistically described.  All the worst aspects of the institution of the nuclear family, amplified.  If you don’t like that institution, they’ll put you in the other kind; cheaper, more efficient decimation of the rights and independence of disabled people
The original plan for Universal Credit would have closed all women’s refuges – that cut was defeated and women’s refuges are now exempt.  We achieved that by effective campaigning.  But now we face a new threat. Women’s Aid says the Welfare Reform Act and the introduction of Universal Credit is a huge step backwards for equality; it will deprive a woman of independent income including tax credits paid to her as a mother. As a result, women will have less control over household income.  Financial abuse is a common feature of domestic violence.  Women’s Aid has serious concerns about plans to pay Universal Credit to one member of the household.  It is estimated that in 80% of cases, it will be paid to the man of the house. Women will be left  dependent, with no money or support to escape violent men.

So what can we do?  Of course, we can get educated about what is actually happening.  We can use resources like False Economy, The Fawcett Society, Spartacus Report.   We can resist the propaganda war against benefits, public spending, the ‘all in this together’ lies of those who will never be ‘in’ anything with us.  Their real aim is to get back to the natural order of life before the Welfare State, the NHS, social security, equal pay,  the minimum wage. 

We can support others in their efforts to defend our living standards.  Public sector strikes are inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as the result of the race to the bottom in pension provision – led by non-unionised private sector employers whose own tax-free pensions are supplemented by obscene bonuses.  We can join with others in our community anti-cuts groups defending hospitals, libraries, day centres.  Coalition of Resistance, Keep our NHS Public and Campaign against Fees and Cuts have local branches.

This is a fight between two visions of society – one ruled by the free market, where atomised individuals take sole responsibility for themselves alone, competing for scarce resources, where the Welfare State is reduced to a safety net for the desperate; and the other based on social cohesion, and shared provision for the vicissitudes of life.  Aneurin Bevan on his creation of the NHS said it would only last as long as people were prepared to fight for it.  That fight is here.

Feminism, Men and Women-Only Spaces

The demise of feminism is back in the news again. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Katy Perry have both made public statements about how unnecessary feminism is to their personal lives. Suzanne Venker has not only declared feminism dead but claims that there is now a war on men.   Ironically, this death of feminism has coincided with very public demonstrations of feminist activism, as well as increased public debate on the issue of the inclusion of men within the feminist movement. 


Yet, the debate over the inclusion of men within feminism movement has always been important. It has never stopped being important. It has only re-emerged in the mainstream British press due to the backlashto the women-only RadFem 2012 conference in London in June; as well as the no-platforming on the Manchester Women-Up North Conference who chose to have one session for FAAB-women survivors of sexual violence only.


I support women-only spaces. I think they remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Yet, no one ever seems to ask feminists why they believe women-only spaces are important or why the exclusion of men from *some* feminist events is necessary for revolution. No one asks why feminists are moving back to women-only organising or why feminists are increasingly identifying as political lesbians or lesbian separatists?  Why are women-only spaces, once again, becoming so important? No one asks why there is such a backlash to thought of women-only organising? When people do ask, they don’t appear to be hearing the answer.


Whilst the inclusion of men within the movement is necessary, they do not need to be involved at every meeting and conference. There are thousands of ways that men can be, and are, involved with feminist activism that doesn’t require them encroaching on women-only spaces. They can help financially support women’s organisations like Rape Crisis, Shakti Women’s AidWomen’s Aid, Nia, or Southall Black Sisters. Men can join activist groups like Object, UK Feminista, Fawcett Society, and Abortion Rights. Men can fundraise by holding car washes and bake sales. They can join the White Ribbon Campaign and help to raise awareness about male violence against women and children.


The most important thing men can do to help the feminist movement is to challenge sexism every time they witness it. They have to challenge every rape joke. They have to challenge every man who minimises domestic violence. They have to step up every time; not just once in a while but every time they witness sexism. Sometimes this means they have to challenge themselves and recognise that their own behaviour is sexist. Sometimes it means accepting that they won’t be allowed into every feminist space. As a white, heterosexual feminist it would be hypocritical of me to demand to be allowed into feminist spaces for Black, Ethnic and Minority Women. It would be equally hypocritical for me to demand entry into a feminist space for lesbians-only, just as it would be hypocritical for me to demand entry into a room of male survivors of sexual violence or testicular cancer. Campaigning for women’s liberation to bring about the destruction of the capitalist-patriarchy and the creation of true equality does not mean every person deserves equal access. It means hearing the specific needs of specific groups and taking those into account. Like kindergarten, it’s about learning fairness.


We need men in the feminist movement. We need men who understand the real long-term effects of male violence. We need men who listen. We need men who support without dominating. Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing of the Sex? in 1989. Andrea Dworkin wrote about male silencing tactics in her classic text Intercourse:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”

Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. The largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. This is what men need to recognise and understand.


The main reason why I believe women-only spaces are integral to the feminist movement is because the silencing of women’s voices never stops. Sometimes the only way to stop the silencing is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

Published in the Huffington Post here.

I Love Margaret Atwood

This was on my FB newsfeed. It remains one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite writers.

A Bunch of Men Were Asked to Leave A Movie.

UPDATE: There appears to have been some quite serious inaccurate representations in the Comment is Free article written by Marta Owczarek. I wrote this post based on the information in the article, as such, there are some inaccurate statements within my post concerning what actually happened after the premier of Myriam Fougere’s Lesbiana – A Parallel Revolution. I was going to take down the entire blog post but I’ve decided to leave it up because it provoked some interesting discussion about the inclusion of men in women-only spaces. As such, this should be treated as a theoretical piece and not a representation or summation of what occurred at the London Feminist Film Festival.

UPDATE TWO: What Julia Long Actually Said:“I just wonder if there are any men that would like to show their solidarity and leave at this point, out of respect for autonomous women’s space. It’s a polite invitation, but I just thought you might like to consider it, as political allies. Thank you.” 
[Cheers and applause.] 

Julia Long’s response in the Guardian Cif.

I offer my sincere apologies to Julia Long for misrepresenting what happened in the blog post below. I am sorry.

The London Feminist Film Festival took place last weekend at the Hackney Picture House. By all accounts, it was incredibly successful event with the premier of Myriam Fougere’s Lesbiana – A Parallel Revolution selling out. Considering the amount of press the death of feminism has garnered recently, the success of the London Feminist Film Festival is something to celebrate. Not that feminism is actually dying; 10 minutes on google would be evidence enough of the strength and sisterhood within the feminist movement, but it is an accusation frequently thrown at feminists.

After the premier of Myriam Fougere’s Lesbiana – A Parallel Revolution, panel member and feminist activist Julia Long asked all the men in the audience to leave so that women could discuss the movie, a film about the lesbian separatist movement, without men. Now, I wasn’t there but I can imagine the uproar this caused. Excluding men from feminist events always causes an uproar. But, no one ever seems to ask why feminists are excluding men from *some* feminist events. No one asks why feminists are moving back to women-only organising or why feminists are increasingly identifying as political lesbians or lesbian separatists. Why are women-only spaces, once again, becoming so important? No one asks why there is such a backlash to the thought of women-only organising. When people do ask, they don’t appear to be hearing the answer.

Marta Owczarek, in her Comment is Free article, claims that Julia Long derailed feminist debate about the film by asking men to leave. I would argue the exact opposite. Julia Long used a public platform to make a specific political point. She raised the issue of women-only spaces for organising and debating feminism at the premier of a film which is specifically about lesbian women choosing to live amongst only women. I can’t think of a more appropriate place to push the debate back into the public sphere and, make no mistake, this debate has always been a part of feminism. It has never gone away. It has only reemerged in the press due to the backlash to the RadFem 2012 conference in London in June. It has never stopped being a contentious issue amongst feminists. It has never stopped being something for feminists are routinely ridiculed and belittled. 

I support women-only spaces. I think they remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Whilst the inclusion of men within the movement is necessary, they do not need to be involved at every meeting and conference. There are thousands of ways that men can be, and are, involved with feminist activism that doesn’t require them encroaching on women-only spaces. They can help financially support women’s organisations like Rape Crisis, Shakti Women’s AidWomen’s Aid, Nia, or Southall Black Sisters. Men can join activist groups like Object, UK Feminista, Fawcett Society, and Abortion Rights. Men can fundraise by holding car washes and bake sales. They can join the White Ribbon Campaign and help to raise awareness about male violence against women and children.

The most important thing men can do to help the feminist movement is to challenge sexism every time they witness it. They have to challenge every rape joke. They have to challenge every man who minimises domestic violence. They have to step up every time; not just once in a while but every time they witness sexism. Sometimes this means they have to challenge themselves and recognise that their own behaviour is sexist. Sometimes it means accepting that they won’t be allowed into every feminist space. As a white, heterosexual feminist it would be hypocritical of me to demand to be allowed into feminist spaces for Black, Ethnic and Minority Women. It would be equally hypocritical for me to demand entry into a feminist space for lesbians-only; just as it would be hypocritical for me to demand entry into a room of male survivors of sexual violence or testicular cancer. Campaigning for women’s liberation to bring about the destruction of the capitalist-patriarchy and the creation of true equality does not mean every person deserves equal access. It means hearing the specific needs of specific groups and taking those into account. Like kindergarten, it’s about learning fairness.

We need men in the feminist movement. We need men like the teenage boy I met at a UK Feminista conference in London two years ago who entered into a group on women’s poverty and listened; a young man who asked thoughtful questions and then heard the answers. He participated as an equal instead of dominating the discussion. Male domination of public speech has been well proven in research for thirty years now. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing of the Sex? in 1989. Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. The largest global study on violence against women found that it  was the feminist movement which had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. 

Would have I done what Julia Long did? No, but not because I disagree with her, rather because I would have been too afraid to speak up; too afraid of the inevitable backlash. And, that’s the main reason why I believe women-only spaces are integral to the feminist movement. The silencing of women’s voices never stops. Sometimes the only way to stop the silencing is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really  silencing?