Men Know Your Place

(Originally published at Feminist Times)

Mumsnet is sexist. At least, that seems to be the rationale behind the founding of Mumsanddadsnet, set up by Duncan Fisher and Jeszemma Garratt because parenting sites “exclude” dads – which conveniently ignores the fact that parenting sites already have male members and have done since the beginning.

The main problem with the idea that Mumsnet needs more men or that men are deliberately being excluded from parenting websites is that it fails to acknowledge the gendered reality of childrearing in the UK. It is women who do the majority of childcare, childrearing and family organisation, regardless of whether or not they work outside the home (a euphemistic phrase which implies that childcare and housework aren’t really work).

But marriage and childrearing is more than just a “second shift” for women. As Susan Maushart argues in her seminal text Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women, “becoming a wife will erode your mental health, reduce your leisure, decimate your libido, and increase the odds that you will be physically assaulted or murdered in your own home.”

Wifework isn’t just doing a couple of extra loads of laundry a week. Being a wife means taking on responsibility for the emotional and physical care of the needs of the husband at the expense of one’s own emotional and physical health.

Feminists have long since recognised the fact that marriage has a detrimental effect on women’s health and emotional wellbeing. Yet we are replicating the exact same structures within the feminist movement without recognising it. Feminism has stopped being about the liberation of women and has instead become about not alienating men.

We can’t simply talk about rape culture and strategize how to destroy it without every single statement requiring the caveat “we don’t mean all men”. We can’t hold conferences without including men. We can’t even hold Reclaim the Night marches without men demanding to be included, irrespective of the fact that the men who demand the right to attend rarely show up. Or that the inclusion of men means that many women don’t feel safe attending.

Excluding women from Reclaim the Night marches in order to include men is an anti-feminist position, but it is one that women are pushed into making because excluding men is somehow seen as unkind. Frankly, in the unkind sweepstakes, the reality of male sexual, physical and emotional violence against women and children is slightly worse than not being invited on a march. Liberating women from these structures should be the goal of feminism, not worrying about whether or nor men’s feelings are hurt.

We cannot fight for liberation if our physical and emotional time is spent placating men or worrying about their feelings. Our emotional health and our time are very precious resources that need to be allocated to other women. We need to allocate it to ourselves.

This is why I worry about feminist organisations like The Everyday Sexism Project praising men with their #everydayallies hashtag on twitter. We are praising them for behaving like human beings; not for doing anything to support women’s liberation or to end male violence, but for acting like human beings. This should be a basic requirement of humanity, not a cause for celebration.

This isn’t to say that men should not take responsibility for ending male violence against women and girls but that they need to take on this work themselves. More men need to become involved in the White Ribbon Campaign and supporting women’s liberation, rather than demanding to be included in work women are doing (and then trying to take credit just for rocking up).

Critiquing The Everyday Sexism Project for taking out a few hours from the brilliant work they do for women to thank men may seem churlish, but it is part of larger pattern of women caring for men’s feelings above their own. This is just another way women have to expand energy caring for men more than themselves.

Demanding inclusion of men, within the feminist movement and on parenting websites, also ignores the importance of women-only spaces. There is a tremendous amount of research, from Dale Spender to Margaret Atwood, into how men dominate public spaces and public communication. More recently, Ruth Lewis and Elizabeth Sharp’s research into the importance of women-only spaces, conducted following the North East Feminist Gathering in 2012 and published on Feminist Times, has documented numerous positive outcomes for women including a surge in confidence and reflexivity, as well as a safe place for debate and to challenge stereotypes.

The incursion of men into women-only spaces has a detrimental effect on women’s abilities to communicate and engage with one another safely. This should be something of concern to feminists rather than the feelings of men who feel excluded. Women-only spaces are important for women’s cognitive and emotional safety. We need to make sure that every single woman has this space.

This is why parenting sites like Mumsnet and Netmums are so popular. They are sites by women, for women, talking about every single issue that women are concerned about – from caring for a child to radical feminist politics to football. Men who demand to be part of these spaces aren’t engaging with the reality of women’s lives. They are demanding the right to speak over and for women. They are demanding the right to be the most important concern in the room. This is inherently anti-feminist.

Men who understand feminism don’t need our praise. They just get on with the work needed to undo the patriarchy. Feminism needs more men like this. We also need to reflect more on why feminism is starting to replicate the harmful gendered stereotypes on which the institution of marriage is based when it is feminism that recognised the harm in the first place.

Why has feminism become so concerned with ensuring men aren’t excluded rather than focusing on women’s exclusion from public life? Why are the feelings of a few men upset because a parenting website doesn’t include the word “dad”, when the reality is that women do the vast majority of parenting at the expense of our health?

Putting the needs of men, as a class, to feel included above the safety of women is an anti-feminist position. Feminism should be by women, for women, because women are important too – and our feelings of exclusion are grounded in reality.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/men-know-your-place/#sthash.ZArZxXyy.dpuf

Reclaim the Night must remain women-only

(originally published in the Morning Star)

The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist group organised the first Reclaim the Night march in Britain in response to victim-blaming and poor practice by police officers in Yorkshire following the serial murders committed by Peter Sutcliffe.

The Byford Report into the investigation, released in 2006, made clear the serious failings of West Yorkshire Police which had actually interviewed Sutcliffe nine times during the investigation.

Very little has changed since 1977.

Only this week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has released a damning report on serious failings by the police to report crimes appropriately.

This includes under recording 26 per cent of rapes and sexual assaults reported to them. Considering less than 10 per cent of sexualised violence is reported to the police, this figure is an utter disgrace.

The West Yorkshire Police response to the brutal murders committed by Sutcliffe was to tell women to remain inside at night. This same “safety” advice is repeated by police forces across Britain to this day. Curtailing women’s freedom is a tried and trusted method of blaming women for being victims of a crime.

After all, no safety campaign ever suggests that violent men — and the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by men — remain inside in case they are overcome by the urge to commit violence.

Instead, we tell women what to wear, where they can go, and what they are allowed to drink.

If only women stayed inside at night (and if you work shift work, well, that’s your fault too) or wore longer skirts or were more polite to men, then men wouldn’t feel obligated to harm them.

Reclaim the Night is about women standing together and reclaiming public spaces. It is about women supporting women and raising awareness of the reality of male violence and the consequences of it on the bodies of women and children.

They were a reaction to police failures but also about a community of women.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the new Reclaim the Night marches in London. It is the largest march in Britain but also one of the few that remains women-only.

The trend now is to allow men to attend. Supposedly this inclusion is to ensure that men feel involved in the campaign. In reality, the inclusion of men makes a mockery of the spirit of Reclaim the Night.

Reclaim the Night is meant to be a safe space for survivors of male violence. Many of the women marching will have experienced rape, 90 per cent by a man known to them, and then were blamed for that rape.

Focus on male inclusion is at the expense of survivors of sexual violence. The concerns of these women are dismissed by the prioritisation of men’s feelings — and it is very clear that male inclusion is about men’s feelings.

I have attended numerous Reclaim the Night marches over the years. So many have been forced into including men. These men show up at planning meetings demanding the right to attend and silence any woman who objects by insinuating they are hysterical or silly.

They replicate the same male entitlement that results in rape culture and this is without addressing the men who see Reclaim the Night as their own personal dating pool. Nothing quite says sexism like a man propositioning women on a march about sexual violence.

One concession has been the creation of women-only sections at the front of marches. Women are forced to ask permission to walk in public with other women which rather negates the point of women reclaiming the street.

These sections mark survivors out as “other.” If you walk in one, you are the problem — not the men insisting on their right to access all women’s spaces.

At one Edinburgh march, a man following the women’s block kept banging into the women in the “safe space” in the march. He couldn’t understand why women were so angry at being touched, repeatedly, by a man in a march about sexual violence. He clearly thought he was a “feminist ally.”

The women he was touching without permission saw him as the problem. Women had come to march to end male violence but even in this safe space they could not prevent a man from touching them without permission.

Reclaim the Night marches must remain women-only — anything else is the capitulation of the fight for the liberation of women and the continuing violation of women’s boundaries.

Coco Khan: Missing the Point of Slutwalk Entirely


I wasn’t going to write anymore about Slutwalk this week; especially after Slutwalk London came out on the side of rape apologists. Then, in the it never rains, but pours construction of life, I came across this piece of nincompoopery in the Huffington Post. Yes, Coco Khan claims to be aware of the criticisms surrounding Slutwalk and chose to attend in spite of her misgivings. But, I’m struggling to see how one can claim to be aware of the criticisms and support of Slutwalk and then write this: 

I didn’t stay long, I was too angry, hurt and disappointed – it’s the same feeling as watching your underdog football team (Feminism FC) get all the way to cup finals and then crash and burn because they still hadn’t ironed out that formation problem from Round 1. It was the liberal and constant use of the word ‘victim’ that infuriated me, it was the speeches that assumed Assange did it, like a speech the year before assumed DSK did too. 

It was the insipid use of facts such as ‘93% of rapists get away with it’ as though every single man accused was guilty. Feminism isn’t about assuming every accused man is a rapist. It’s about equality, and freedom, or specifically fair trials and fair treatment. I was equally upset to see a youthful crowd, a new generation of feminists whose interest had been piqued, being completely misdirected. It’s important to stand around and cheer, to raise our firsts in the air, to weep at the tales of the people we fight for and be inspired by them too. But it’s also important to get organised.

I mean, where do you even start? Yes, 93% [give or take a few percentage points] of men accused of rape are never convicted of rape but, that’s because we live in a rape culture where men are constructed as victims of lying whores. Thing is most men accused of rape are guilty of rape. They may not be found guilty in a court of law but that’s because the law’s an ass. Very few accusations of rape are false. Even the government and the FBI, neither of whom are hotbeds of radical feminism, agree with these statistics. So, why would any woman write anything so utterly ridiculous? Did Khan completely fail to see how offensive and arrogant that is to rape victims? Last time, I checked feminism was about the liberation of women from male violence and equality, fair trials and fair treatment for women [and children]  who were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted. It is they who get unfair treatment in the criminal justice system. Not rapists. I genuinely can not express how unbelievably angry I am at that.

As for the references to Julian Assange and Domique Strauss-Khan, well, they were kind of obvious weren’t they? Imagine an anti-rape demonstration not mentioning the two most famous rape trials of the past two years? Two cases involving powerful, wealthy, white men where the men have been constructed as victims of some sort of evil feminist conspiracy because both self-define as liberals. It is the very rape myths surrounding these trials that Slutwalk is attempting to address. Yeah, I don’t agree with the way Slutwalk is addressing the issue by using the word slut, but, FFS, criticising an anti-rape demo for talking about rape cases is beyond stupid. 

And, yes, I’m sure the speakers at the rally used the word victim constantly. Just as I’m sure some of them will have used the word survivor constantly. Women who were raped are more than within their rights to define themselves as victims or survivors as they see fit. There is debate within the feminist and other anti-rape movements about which word is more applicable but Khan doesn’t seem to be addressing this debate. She seems to be dismissing the idea that many women are victims and/or survivors of sexualised violence. It’s a very odd statement to make.

And, the “it’s time to get organised” bit, is, well, weird. Isn’t that exactly what Slutwalk was doing: organising a feminist demonstration. Giving women a place to share their stories . It seems rather hypocritical to be criticising someone for not organising feminist activism at a piece of feminist activism. The conclusion to the article does nothing to negate the damage caused within it:

What Slutwalk has achieved can never be disregarded. It energized a growing and inexplicable discontent amongst women and directed it in a way that academia never could. It stopped preaching to the choir and took it the streets. For all its flaws in its punchy, explosive name, the reality is no one will come to a rally that sounds like an essay and Slutwalk should keep doing what they are doing. But this event is not enough to carry the bright flame of feminism single-handedly; two chapters in, the story has barely begun.

Yep, I’m a big supporter of the whole moving away from Slutwalk into more critical discussions of rape culture but I’d prefer to start by moving away from the premise that most women lie about rape and most men accused of rape are victims of an evil conspiracy. Could just be me though. Doing that whole over-thinking thing feminists are always being accused of. 

Slutwalk London


Saturday 22nd September 2012
12.30pm 
Top of Piccadilly (near Hyde Park Corner).


These are the details for this year’s London Slutwalk. As with the Edinburgh Slutwalk in July, I won’t be attending because I find the concept of Slutwalks deeply problematic. However, Slutwalk has ignited debate about victim-blaming and sexualised violence. It has also created a safe space for women to share their stories. There is no greater gift. So, whilst I stand by what I wrote in July about the Slutwalk Edinburgh, I also have to give props to the women attending. The Patriarchy must be destroyed. We’re just destroying it from different angles.

 This is what I wrote about Slutwalk Edinburgh

I would have marched in the original in Toronto because that had a specific purpose: to raise awareness of the misogynistic discourse normalised within the police as it manifested in that specific incident. The worldwide movement to reclaim the word “slut” bothers me. There seems to have been little real political analysis of the word and its specific connotations for different groups of women due to race, class, and ethnicity. Personally, I don’t believe it is possible to re-appropriate the words of your oppressors. I also think its incredibly odd to try to reclaim the word “slut” in order to demonstrate that rape isn’t about being a “slut”.  

Violence against women is endemic and systemic. It is everywhere and it is excused a thousand times a day in a million different ways. Slutwalk doesn’t address or even attempt to analyse VAW. It only attempts to address one facet of rape myths without questioning the rape culture in which those myths are perpetuated and perpetrated. Rape isn’t just about controlling women’s sexuality as Slutwalk seems to imply. The act of rape [and the fear of the act of rape] are about controlling every facet of women’s lives. Rape isn’t about how women dress [or don’t dress]. Rape is the practise of misogyny. It is misogyny that we need to eradicate but we need to do this by attacking every facet of VAW. Slutwalk privileges the lived experiences of middle class, white women. It merely reinforces the racist constructions about the sexuality of Black and Ethnic Minority women. It ignores the structural oppressions of poverty. It ignores how the structural oppressions of poverty specifically target Black and Ethnic Minority women. 

I want the eradication of the patriarchal-capitalist structures which oppress women. I don’t want to reclaim or re-appropriate the words of my oppressors. I want them gone. 

I wish my sisters luck [and sunshine] for Slutwalk Edinburgh. I won’t be on the march but, if Slutwalk becomes the catalyst which destroys the Patriarchy, I will be the first one to apologise.

Some interesting blogs and articles on Slutwalk:

Amplify Your Voice: In Context: Criticisms of the Slutwalk

People of Colour Organize: Four Brief Critiques of Slutwalk’s Whiteness, Privilege and Unexamined Power Dynamics

Black Women’s Blueprint: An Open Letter From Black Women to the Slutwalk

The Crunk Feminist Collective: I Saw the Sign but Did We Really Need the Sign? Slutwalk and Racism

The F Word: Feminist Critiques of Slutwalk Have Forgotten That Language is Not a Commodity

Gail Dines & Wendy J Murphy: Slutwalk is not Sexual Liberation 

Alternatives to Slutwalk:

Reclaim the Night

Million Women Rise