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Making feminism more relevant to men
Comandantas from Mexico’s Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) recently called for a global gathering of rebellious women. Their language reflected centuries of radical leadership of Indigenous women in the Caribbean.
“With regard to the Zapatista men,” they wrote, “we are going to put them to work on all the necessary tasks so that we can play, talk, sing, dance, recite poetry and engage in any other forms of art and culture that we want to share without embarrassment. The men will be in charge of all necessary kitchen and cleaning duties.”
Here at home, I had just had one of those conversations about how feminists should make our work more about men and more relevant to men, but no words were said about them manning the kitchens.
This pressure is ironic. In all its diversity, feminism is the only social movement in history to put women’s rights and their challenge to patriarchal power first, and it emerged specifically because other movements, from unions to political parties, aimed for merely halfway liberation, and still do.
The millions of women who are the majority labouring in feminism’s trenches must unapologetically prioritise women’s freedom from sexual violence and equity in political and economic power, both still to be won.
Yet, this movement has also been active on issues of peace, nuclear disarmament, trade agreements, gang violence, literacy, conservation and other areas which impact both women and men’s lives.
Additionally, feminists have long been active on “men’s issues” whether they are arguing for greater paternity leave, for greater care for boys’ emotions, prison reform and much more.
And, it’s worth noting that men’s violence against women and women’s under-representation in global and national decision-making are not “women’s issues.”
They are issues of men’s occupation and exercise of unequal power, and they should be solved by men with an iota of commitment to justice because that’s what manhood, in all its diversity, love and strengths, brings. Do we appeal to a majority of men by leaving traditional notions of manhood and womanhood unchallenged or by prioritising men’s needs, cleaving feminism’s radical vision and analytic challenge to precisely these from its mobilisation and power?
We know that’s not necessary because men all over the world are involved and doing great work in feminist movements without us even trying to “put men and boys more to the centre of our policy solutions”, or pretend there is anything equal in experiences of domestic violence, or that one woman President is enough when women have never been 50 per cent of our parliament.
These are brothers-in-struggle who don’t need women to exercise power behind the scenes, in the home, while rocking the cradle, or nicely because they know that commitment is about justice, not comfort, not a battle of the sexes, nor a decentering of women from feminism, even as we also care about our children, brothers, nation and planet.
In a final irony, marking feminist success by men’s visibility risks becoming vulnerable to those demanding newspaper space for gender—meaning only men—while failing to get definitions, facts or analysis right.
Because of word space, I won’t dust out those SFATT soundboys tonight.
We don’t get men on our side by softening, repackaging or marginalising accurate analyses of power, but because collective transformation of patriarchal ideals of manhood and womanhood, which ultimately harm both women and men, is necessary.
To quote these Zapatista Comandantas: “We greet you with respect and affection as the women that we are—women who struggle, resist and rebel against the chauvinist and patriarchal state.
“We know well that the bad system not only exploits, represses, robs and disrespects us as human beings, but that it exploits, represses, robs and disrespects us all over again as women…Yet we are not fearful, or if we are we control our fear, and we do not give in, we don’t give up, and we don’t sell out.”
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