Once and for all - feminism does not equal gender equality!
Once and for all - feminism does not equal gender equality!
Working at a feminist organisation and being a Black feminist activist, I increasingly hear people, often but not exclusively white feminists, claiming we urgently need to include men into the feminist cause. And these voices are getting louder, I feel. Oh well, let me say, I am not here for it – here is why!
In my opinion, gender equality is a white, overrated, and capitalist concept that in the end only strives for equality between men and women (see e.g. Shahed Ezaydi, 2023) within an existing harmful system – yet, it leaves out the equality of all genders, despite being called gender equality; and above all, it often ignores the racialised oppression of Black, Indigenous, and Women of Colour (BIWoC) or the oppression of otherwise marginalised people, including youth, people with disabilities, migrants, low-income people, etc. Gender equality alone does not strive for the destruction of racist, patriarchal, and overall oppressive systems. Of course, the latter is more complicated, more complex, and more difficult to achieve. And most of all, it is uncomfortable (and radical).
Why care if we offend white elite men?
If you ask me, this is where the problem with this focus of wanting to include men (of all the crises we should be focusing on!) into the feminist struggle begins. Personally, I feel this argument is mainly raised by people who claim to be feminists and are committed to gender equality, but actually are concerned with not wanting to offend people or drive them away. Words and phrases used here are e.g. “harmony”, “working together”, being “in the same boat”, etc. That’s all nice and cute but will it get us feminist liberation? I’m afraid not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for working together in a harmonic way, having more people join the feminist cause. But not at the expense of being less radical and committed, not at the expense of thinking more about not offending people than standing in solidarity with my oppressed feminist siblings across the world. Some of them fight in very dangerous circumstances, even risking their own life, while others are concerned with not wanting to offend white elite men. Honestly, let them be offended.
Discomfort drives change
Once people feel offended and uncomfortable, that’s when we can talk about change. Who wants to talk about change when everything seems fine? Exactly. As societies, we must create spaces to feel uncomfortable together and work through that discomfort, use our anger, our ‘not knowing things’, our privileges to do better and drive change.
If I worked around not wanting to offend white men in powerful positions, I would (and could) not do the work I am doing. My existence and activism alone are offending (many) white men. So yeah, I really have no time or energy to think about not offending and instead including men into my feminist fight. Instead, I think we should be worried about the many feminists that have been knowingly excluded from the feminist cause, the many people we refuse to see and listen to, the many topics we do not manage to connect to the feminist struggle (like migration). This is where I want to put my energy and time. I want to see the feminist movement (if such a thing exists) united in its struggle for peace, justice, and feminist liberation.
We should also not forget that there are many men who are oppressed by patriarchal structures as well, and thus already often play a vital role in the feminist cause. Just like women, non-binary people, and other genders, men are obviously not the same. I think of my Black brothers who are subjected to racism, police violence, over-sexualisation, and degrading stereotypes. I think of my queer and trans brothers and siblings, about all the migrant, refugee, and disabled men who struggle in systems that were not designed for them to find peace. I think of all men who are not considered manly enough (whatever that means) because they don’t fulfill societal expectations (which are obviously shaped by patriarchal structures).
Stop wasting our time and energy
But I clearly draw the line at white cis men. Do not get me wrong – every man who commits to feminist values is welcome in the feminist fight and struggle, joining forces and supporting all the brave feminists around the world. But it is not my job, nor my duty, to recruit or educate them. It is not my job to excuse my voice as being too loud, too radical, not scientific enough. It is not my job to convince men of the necessity to smash the patriarchy, racist and colonial structures, or overall oppression and violence. Whoever cannot see that clearly does not want to. At CFFP, we receive a lot of questions like “why feminism and not humanism?”; “why not only women but BIPoC, diverse genders, and many more? Let’s focus on women and girls”; “why intersectionality? That’s too complicated to understand”. My team and I, we are so tired of these questions because let me be clear: they do not suggest genuine interest. This is about wasting our time and energy. It’s about having us explain feminism over and over again. It’s just really not something I have headspace for when too often the lives of my fellow human rights defenders are on the line worldwide – this is where my time and energy goes into.
Plus, as Ijeoma Oluo makes abundantly clear in her brilliant book “Mediocre; The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America”, and as my dear colleague Sarah Farhatiar reminded me just today: We should stop explaining to (white cis) men why feminism is beneficial for everyone. Because white cis men simply do not have to benefit from everything. They are blessed enough with walking this planet as white men and constantly benefitting from white supremacy, it is time for them to take a step back, listen, and learn. History has been their safe space.
However, once again, my issue is not with men but with oppression – and those men (and other people) who perpetuate the status quo of injustice because it benefits them. Research by Ipsos found that one out of three men thinks feminism is harmful, the same number thinks traditional masculinity is threatened (Ipsos, 2022). And many people, among all genders, think feminism is merely about women. Yes, I do think we can convince some of those by educating, explaining, and rephrasing. But do I have the time and energy to do that? Absolutely not. I call on my feminist brothers who have already joined the feminist cause to do so. I call on the privileged white feminists in positions of power to do so. I call on all parents to raise their sons – their children in general – in a feminist way, so we do not have to educate them as adults on basic rules of accepting other people’s boundaries, rights, and opinions.
You sincerely want to join the feminist cause? I will welcome you with open arms.
But do not expect me to beg you to be a part of it. As for my feminist siblings: I will have your back, always, and together, we will achieve transformation and eventually liberation.
Sheena Anderson is Project Manager at CFFP, leading our work on Climate Justice and Anti-Racism.