Be young and shut up

A blog about student activism.

How not to be a patriarchal arsehole

with 8 comments

I feel really sad writing this but I think it needs to be said.

I’ve been hearing about the frankly disturbing behaviour of some people involved in Occupy Glasgow, I felt compelled to write something that might be useful for people to read regarding appropriate ways in which men and generally those with privilege, power or physical dominance can engage in supporting people who don’t have those things.

I know that I’m not without fault or privilege, and if I say anything shit please tell me.

I’ve written about my experiences with men who use their privilege to be violent and coercive here.

The first thing that I want to say is something I’ve said repeatedly. Growing up as a girl is shit. Living as a woman – especially living your life in the way you want, and letting nothing stop you – is really hard. You get hassle on an almost-daily basis. Feminism is not only about equal pay, political representation and voting rights – it’s also about not having the right to not being violated and intruded upon all the time.

This is how to stop your privilege getting in the way – basically, how to not be an arsehole.

  1. If you’re aware that you don’t know what it’s like to be marginalised because of your gender, try observing how people act around those who are. People treat women fundamentally differently from the way they treat men. Once you start noticing it, you won’t be able to believe how you didn’t notice it before. It changes your life.
  2. Read up. It’s not feminists’ jobs to explain everything… bell hooks, Simone De Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, Judith Butler, Kate Millett, Germaine Greer, Betty Dodson, Alice Walker, Sojourner Truth … the list goes on. I’d recommend reading a variety of stuff as well. Liberal feminism can be very classist and boring, radical feminism can be gender essentialist and transphobic, queer feminism can be a bit vague and highly theoretical (I personally love it though). All very much worth reading though.
  3. The most important thing to do when someone has been raped or assaulted is to believe her/them. This is something that some people involved in Occupy Glasgow have struggled with – saying that it’s a conspiracy to bring down the left, that the rape is only ‘alleged’. This is NOT FUCKING OKAY. More than comforting someone, more even than being there for them, believing them is THE most important thing to do. 4% of reported rapes in Scotland result in convictions. If you don’t believe someone you’re adding to it. And being a massive arsehole. Obviously the odd person might lie about things, but think about it – why would the vast majority of people lie about it? What exactly do they get out of it? They could easily get victimised further, or have to go through so much bureaucracy and re-living of their experiences just to bring whichever bastard it is to court and get them put away so they’re not a danger to other women. For fuck’s sake believe us.
  4. Don’t assume how a woman/person is feeling or should be feeling. Rape has not ruined my entire life. Many people get on with their lives. Conversely, it can be difficult to function for days, weeks, months, years. There is not one acceptable reaction. Saying things like, ‘you must be feeling dreadful’ isn’t always helpful as it might make someone feel like they’re weird for not feeling dreadful. ‘I’m so sorry’ and/or a hug will do. We don’t have to feel dirty either. I find people telling me I’m fabulous more effective than anything else.
  5. If you’re a man, try to be aware of the fact that people might pay more attention to your ideas because of your gender. I’ve been in rooms where a woman has suggested an idea and it’s been ignored, and as soon as a man suggests it everyone takes notice. Also, just try to take notice of underprivileged people’s ideas.
  6. Don’t mansplain. Typical examples of this are things like, ‘I’m sorry you felt offended but what I was saying wasn’t offensive.’ ‘This hasn’t got anything to do with the thing I’m talking about.’ If someone tells you you’re doing this you probably are.
  7. Meetings concerning something terrible in a person’s life where that person isn’t leading the meeting, or isn’t even present are bullshit. Don’t do that. It’s a violation of a woman’s autonomy.
  8. On that subject, alongside rape, assault, street harassment and threatening behaviour, the following things can also be violating and triggering: denying a woman’s experience, denying her right to be the person to talk about it, making assumptions about her, calling women ‘girls’, talking over women, giving bullshit advice, making judgments on the decisions women take regarding whether to file a police report/make what happened public…. and last but not least, saying or implying that it could have been worse (and therefore she should just get over it).
  9. Sometimes you’ll need to take a back seat in meetings. It’s not your role to steer feminism. Obviously if you have an idea that’s useful, go for it, but fundamentally feminism exists for women, not men.
  10. Some people prefer it when men call themselves pro-feminists, rather than feminists.
  11. Don’t be leery, lecherous, dismissive, minimising, or trivialising. Instead, try reading, reflecting, considering, listening and then acting.
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Written by CakeCakeCakeCakeCake

October 30, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses

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  1. I agree with all points except 6 and 10. With regard to 6), social feedback on theories/statements from all sectors is important for strengthening arguments, communication, and inclusion. While making someone aware that they have said something is offensive is important, disregarding any grievances they may have with a situation, or feedback they might have, will not help them change their ways; it will alienate them, I feel. With regard to 10), excluding men from identifying directly as feminist seems to serve little utility; it is a fundamentally alienating proposition. In my opinion, every man that identifies as feminist is a victory. It does not detract from women-led feminism, but empowers leaders of the movement, as they can point to expanded support.

    In others words, in my situation, I don’t think 1) constraining the feedback I can give or voicing problems I might have, or 2) constraining how I personally identify with the movement, would make me less of an arse, but would rather make me less likely to participate (and hence more likely to fall into de-facto, patriarchal patterns, due to lack of awareness and contact and discussion with other feminists).

    But yes, I broadly agree with the vast majority of the post, and it in general outlines a good framework for all important behavioural change in men. I also apologise for the wordy reply; I’m writing essays, and my brain is taking every sentence and making it into a paragraph. Which, on the topic, I should get back to…

    Rob

    October 30, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    • Okay. Regarding 6, I think the examples I gave were really valid. It would depend on each incidence. Re 10, I was simply relaying information that is true. Some people prefer the term ‘ally’ or ‘pro-feminist’.

      If a man (or for that matter anyone) says he’s (they’re) a feminist and isn’t, it’s damaging to feminism for him (them) to do that. I’ve come across some proper grossos who describe themselves as feminists for some reason, while referring to women as bitches and condemning them for being ‘sluts’. I don’t count that as a victory. I don’t want knob-ends to identify as feminist because it’s really derailing, irritating and most importantly upsetting and takes ownership away from those whose oppression we are actually fighting against. It’s also a sort of ideological thing, I guess like identifying as an ‘ally’ of the LGBT+ movement or as a white anti-racist.

      And to expand on 6, I’m sure most of the time ideas are welcome from men, but sometimes it’s inappropriate to speak up, sometimes men should just shut up. And sometimes women-only spaces are necessary, just as sometimes trans-only, BME-only and disabled-only caucuses are important.

      And when we come across proper violent bastards, as I’m sure you’ll agree they are not going to be allowed anywhere near any of our spaces, and shouldn’t be. Fuck them. I don’t want their solidarity, I just want them to stop.

      Those are the sort of people we’re having to deal with at the moment and basically I wrote this because of all the victim-blaming, rape denying and stuff that’s going on at the moment, rather than minor differences. Feminists, esp feminist women (due to our increased vulnerability) in Glasgow and Edinburgh feel like we are under attack at the moment and we need proper, helpful support. I just wanted to encourage some of that.

      Sorry this is so long!

      Kate Harris

      October 31, 2011 at 2:17 am

      • I wouldn’t mind adding that one of the reasons I choose to identify as an “ally” rather than a “feminist” is simply because I have absolutely no idea what it’s like not to have privilege in any situation, being white, male and passing for middle class (whatever that is). I sympathise, and, as far as possible, try to empathise with feminists, anti-racists etc, and I would like to work with them. Even if I’d been discriminated against in another way, I don’t really experience sexism from a non-man’s point of view.

        Also, in support of Kate’s point, I had always learned from the feminists I know that feminism was also about giving women (and other non-men) a man-free space to breathe. As men it is OUR responsibility to take a step back and acknowledge that we must sometimes consciously remove ourselves.

        We get a headstart in everything else, after all, and while we continue to be men in a patriarchy we must do this. If this seems unfair, the best way to equalise everything is to smash patriarchy!

  2. Really great article, with helpful and most importantly practical advice. It’s very easy for men to assume that since they call themselves a feminist, it eliminates the problems.

    • Thanks Charlie.

      Kate Harris

      October 31, 2011 at 2:18 am

      • I totally second everything Charlie said. I’m glad he spoke up before I did, because I probably would have ended up saying everything he said in a less clear, concise manner. So thanks, Charlie!

        As someone who identifies as a feminist, but feels a little presumptuous doing so, I might start doing the “ally” thing as well. I feel like calling myself a feminist maybe makes me look like I’m naively denying the fact that, as a privileged white man, I have some conscious and subconscious prejudices and I definitely don’t want to give off that impression.

        I also definitely need to work on rule number 9, maybe not so much as a man, but as a loud person in general. Charlie is definitely correct (again) when he says men need to consciously remove themselves from some situations and give women and non-men “a man-free space to breath”. However, I definitely wouldn’t be offended if I was reminded/told by someone else to remove myself as well. It really annoys me when some progressives get pissed off by ethnic minority-only groups, women-only groups, etc. Obviously we’re all aiming for a society that is blind to these differences but to say stuff like, “We’re all one race, so let’s move on!” when there is still so much inequality based on these differences is naive and just ends up supporting the status quo. So, for the record, it’s totally cool with me if women and non-men want to exclude me from a particular group. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often, frankly.

        Jacob Bloomfield

        October 31, 2011 at 2:45 pm

  3. This is great, some interesting points.

    I must confess that on the day of the tragic event I woke at 2pm and saw the news about what had happened on camp and then I used the word ‘alleged’ when I spoke about. By the end of the day I realised how unacceptable this was and I changed my language. I’m trying to remember now the headspace that led me to do this. In part it was that I knew nothing about what had happened, beyond a few articles online, and the camp had just been falsely accused of ‘vowing to destroy remembrance day’, but I think there must have been a level where I just didn’t want it to be true. It was like a linguistic self-defence. And this was confused with the practice of calling perpetrators ‘alleged’ ahead of a court case, and that the first camp statement – co-written by a woman – used the phrase. The statement issued that night after general assembly isn’t quoted in Mhairi’s article but quite explicitly said a horrible crime had been committed with no ambiguity. It was unacceptable of me to have got it wrong but it feels more from ignorance than anything else – I’d never considered how to refer to a rape case in the media so a bunch of hidden prejudices took hold.

    And that’s why dialogue like this is important.

    Which makes me think about point 10, that men shouldn’t be able to call themselves feminists. Perhaps my own behavior justifies that. On the other hand, it’s not a club or religion but a way of thinking (is it not?) and that involves ongoing education and reflection. The women feminist’s I’ve known have a range of often conflicting ideas : Is Madonna a post-feminist icon or someone who has objectified and commodified herself and her sexuality for a male audience? What of the ‘feminists’ who supported ‘slut walk’? At the Occupy Glasgow meeting Mhairi refers to, some feminists were furious at the idea of bowing down in the face of male violence and closing the camp, giving a rapist even more power – there was certainly no agreement between women on whether the camp should stay or go, and I think these women swung the debate that night (Mhairi was the only woman I heard speaking up for closing, tho a number of men did)

    Which I guess is my way of saying not all bad feminists are men, just as not all men are bad feminists – and that I’m not even sure what a bad feminist is like. Maybe it just sits funny with me that one gender would not be allowed to identify with an ideology – a bit like saying that a rich person cannot be a marxist. At the same time I recognise that as a man I’ll always be removed from the women’s issues at the heart of feminism (other than to try and explain why we mess up!)

    Would it be enough to say ‘men, just because you say you are a feminist, doesn’t mean you are’?

    pmartins

    October 31, 2011 at 5:59 am

    • I don’t necessarily disagree with you about point 10 by the way, I have mixed feelings about it since there are plenty of women who are also misogynists about. On the other hand, I don’t really see the problem with men identifying as ‘allies’ or ‘pro-feminist’. It shows their feminist views without encroaching on women’s agency. I personally hate it whenever anyone says they’re a feminist but doesn’t act like it, but the ‘pro-feminist/ally’ thing is slightly different – it acknowledges privilege and shows that you’re trying not to let privilege get in the way. Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you’re thinking about this stuff openly, that’s so MASSIVELY important! As the last point says.

      Kate Harris

      November 10, 2011 at 8:52 pm


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