Men need something, but not a movement

// 18 February 2016

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As part of The F-Word’s #feMANism month, Sarah Fletcher discussed the need for a ‘men’s movement’, one that distances itself from the MRA nonsense and creates a space where men can critically engage with their own issues without taking up airtime in feminist spaces and movements.

I agree that feminists need their own movement. But I’m not convinced that men need one too.

Feminists have work to do and spending time talking about how men also suffer under patriarchy can detract from that process. Particular movements have purpose, and while they may welcome allies, should not spend their time addressing the problems of those allies at the expense of their original purpose. Men should be very wary about participating in feminism, and when doing so should primarily stay very quiet and do as they are asked – including leaving if that is what is necessary. In order to dismantle privilege and patriarchy, men have to accept that their lives are going to have to change and that they will not be the leaders of this change.

But this doesn’t mean that men should have their ‘own’ movement.

Movements have power and legitimacy. The last thing we need is another male-dominated movement. We only have to look at the problems of whiteness in feminism, or patriarchy in POC movements, or class for LGBT equality to see how movements can reinforce marginalisation.

Men do face real challenges, but the formation of a ‘movement’ around them leaves too much risk of a re-entrenchment of already privileged voices. Especially given the current context of MRAs, gamergate, pick up artists and other ‘men’s movements’ that already exist. I’d welcome a mature, critically engaged space, but I’m not sure that it’s possible right now.

While I don’t want to downplay the problems men face and which should be addressed, the biggest challenge to men in dismantling patriarchy is their own role in it. What can men really add to a critical discourse on patriarchy that feminists, queers and critical race scholars have not already contributed?

We know that our personal behaviour reinforces social structures of domination and we know that those structures cause our own suffering along with the suffering and exclusion of others. We do not need a new movement to proclaim these facts that have been well established by generations of marginalised scholars and activists.

We accept that there are systemic exclusions which cause suffering. But making the step between that acceptance and taking proactive, every day, action in recognising how our personal behaviour contributes to those systems is hard. Privilege is invisible. Which is why a critical men’s movement is going to be challenging because individual men often can’t see the role they play in patriarchy without a lot of help. But we should not rely on this being explained to us by every woman, person of colour or LGBT that we meet at parties, protests or picnics.

I have a suggestion for how this work could be accomplished.

In the past I have organised privilege discussion workshops. They’re an open space where people can discuss in practical terms how they are personally implicated in inequality, and what they are doing to change it.

The workshop structure is simple, an hour of safe workshop time, some key worksheets or readings on inequality – the internet has many fantastic resources available or you can take a more academic piece depending on the group. The Invisible Knapsack is good for starting a discussion and has been adapted for other identities. Everyone then talks through their responses to the piece, trying to understand how it is relevant to their lives and how they might change their behaviour.

It is very hard. There will be resistance and arguments. Good facilitation is essential, as is a big dash of humility. The discussion is about privilege; it should not get side-tracked into discussion about inequality. Anybody who doesn’t accept that they have privilege and need to change their behaviour needs to find other spaces to do their own kind of work. People need to be willing to call each other out, and be called out.

I don’t think this should form the basis of a men’s movement, because we find it hard to see privilege in ourselves or people that are like ourselves and it often takes someone else to call us on it. But I do think that men need to take a more proactive and personal role in addressing patriarchy and privilege, and to do so in distinct spaces where it doesn’t detract from other work that is being done.

If, as a man, you cannot accept this, then you are not a feminist or an ally; you are actively part of the problem.

Glen Noble lives in Beijing where he works in research funding, science policy and diplomacy; he completed a PhD in geographies of inequality in 2012 and has 10 years’ experience in activism, theory and teaching on privilege and inequalities.

The image used depicts a row of people in suits and is used under the Creative Commons license.

Comments From You

DaNzigi // Posted 19 February 2016 at 12:41 pm

Interesting and enjoyable read, thank you! It called to mind a recent search I did about “men’s rights”, in which I discovered that actually there was a pro-feminist men’s rights movement that emerged alongside second wave feminism – but that, for many of the reasons you mention above, I suppose, and because their ideals and goals were so similar, this movement simply merged/integrated with the feminist movement. I have no particular point to try and make here, I guess, except to point out that parallel, as it seems like probably almost identical conversations were had at the time.

PollyD // Posted 23 February 2016 at 12:07 pm

“Men should be very wary about participating in feminism, and when doing so should primarily stay very quiet and do as they are asked – including leaving if that is what is necessary.”

I was at a LaDIY gig in Bristol at the latter end of the last year and it was FANTASTIC. Women in bands, women shouting LOUD and a string of women forming a 70s style topless conga. One of the things I loved about this space when I first walked in was how many men were there – I’d guess around 40% of the crowd. Each man there had paid £3 – or what they could afford – to enter in support of LaDIY fest to listen to some cracking female fronted music and support the cause.
The hosts of this event were inviting women to the front; to get down and dirty with the skanking and sweating and I love that. GO WOMEN! But the hosts were also telling men to get back and this is when I started to feel uncomfortable.
We talk about inclusion and openness often and to me these things are essential. And then this article is talking of a feminism that is not inclusive of men?!
The thing is that men are affected by and affect women and feminism. Leaving men out of the conversation is akin to trying to sort out problems in a relationship – after all, this is what we are discussing, a social and political relationship between genders – where one party is asked to sit out of the conversation.
The emotional impact of ascribing privilege is another thing that I feel a little uncomfortable about. I understand that in terms of economics men are most likely better off. But can someone’s entire life experience be reduced to the attributes in someone we can see? White, middle-class, male = PRIVILEGE. But what about those things we can’t see that this individual might also exemplify – survivor, mental health issues, doesn’t ascribe to gender binary?
You see, getting a group of people together to talk about their privilege limits the complexity of human experience to one strand and maybe a strand that some individuals can’t relate to for a myriad of reasons. I can imagine this feeling silencing. What happens to feelings if we cannot express them? They get caught up, knot and come out in different places or exasperate or create mental health issues.

I’m not saying we don’t need to discuss privilege, I think we do, but I think it’s far more complex than this and I think the place to start is by listening to the experiences of the people around you, of any gender. Engage in compassionate, inclusive conversation and start learning!

“People need to be willing to call each other out, and be called out.” But perhaps more powerful than shutting someone up is allowing someone to open up.

sexierthanthou // Posted 24 February 2016 at 7:19 pm

As a humanist I cannot, in good conscience, endorse this kind of hurtful rhetoric.

“Men should be very wary about participating in feminism, and when doing so should primarily stay very quiet and do as they are asked – including leaving if that is what is necessary.”

Translation: ‘Know your place and do as I say.’

“If, as a man, you cannot accept this, then you are not a feminist or an ally; you are actively part of the problem.”

Translation: ‘If you disagree with me you are an asshole.’

Holly Combe // Posted 3 March 2016 at 12:30 pm

No, the translation is that those who do not experience a particular form of structural oppression should not behave in an obstructive way in the movement geared towards addressing that said oppression. This approach doesn’t only apply to ‘men’ and ‘feminism’. You could also apply it to ‘white people’ and ‘anti-racist activism’ (as one example of many).

Holly Combe // Posted 3 March 2016 at 1:13 pm

…Or to put it another way, there’s little point in organising to create change for an oppressed group if the effort to do so ends up being dominated by the dominant group. (Obviously, it’s always possible to have a disagreement about whether a particular system of oppression exists, but I’d suggest that’s a question you ask yourself before deciding whether you support the effort to address it. If a person is present and professes to want to be a part of a movement, that surely implies that they too see the power imbalance the movement is there to address!)

Yes, tackling oppression needs everyone’s input. Yes, we all share a common humanity. And, yes, the truth is inevitably complicated and interwoven with the fact that being oppressed in one area doesn’t mean you can’t oppress in another. But if a member of the dominant group whose power is being challenged is stomping about and demanding to be heard, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest they may not be much of an ally.

red100 // Posted 25 February 2016 at 8:15 pm

maybe a M Word website ???

Peter Clive // Posted 8 March 2016 at 10:28 am

I agree, men should not use feminism as a template. We don’t need another “ism”. However we do need something because “don’t be a dick” is not enough. More thoughts here:

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