4 Apr 2012

Defending women, and feminism, has never been an easy job - just ask any woman who has ever tried it. But for the men who want to get on board and support the fight for equality that their girlfriends, wives, sisters, daughters, mothers and friends participate in daily, there are also obstacles - perhaps different to the ones women face, but equally ugly. The men I've dated have all been subject to 'consciousness-raising' as I insisted that they consider their privilege, how it made them blind to the sexism around them, and start speaking out against it. My first boyfriend, a gentle, laid-back guy with a great sense of humor, took this seriously and started confronting his (sadly often misogynistic and moronic) roommates about their sexism. He was unpleasantly surprised to find that they didn't immediately express contrition and agree to mend their misogynistic ways.

Instead, they mocked, jeered and attacked him, implying he was pussy-whipped, and asking him 'Have you tasted your period yet?' (I guess that shows they had at least heard of The Female Eunuch and Germaine Greer's famous words on menstrual fluid, but that was little consolation). He got little sympathy from me - it's a tough job which never stops, I told him, and you don't get a medal just because you got one day's worth of the crap when women endure a lifetime's worth of it. To his credit, he kept confronting his housemates. They remained unreceptive. When he and I underwent a brief separation, one of them asked "Does that mean it's OK to make rape jokes now?", implying that the only reason a man would take other men to task for misogyny was because his militant girlfriend was standing over him and forcing him to do so, otherwise he wouldn't have cared. It made me angry that he ever gave these guys the time of day, let alone became their friend and housemate, but I appreciate what he did in trying to re-educate himself and them.

I was reminded of this recently when watching the excellent 'Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit To Women', which is both a witty response to the trend of 'Shit [X Group] Says' on Twitter and Youtube, and more importantly, a male response to street harassment. It's a heartening reminder that there are men out there who not only object to sexism, but will confront other men about their sexist behaviour. Because Lord knows highlighting sexism is never going to be enough. Men need to be taken to task for street harassment (and many other crimes against women), and unfortunately because the perpertrators are already exhibiting contempt for women, the likelihood that they'll take notice of a woman objecting to their behaviour is not high. Whereas being judged by your peer group is something that can have a powerful impact. Men committing street harassment are doing so relying on their privilege as men to own street space, intimidate women, and not have their actions questioned by other men. So, the key to dismantling this assumed privilege starts with men doing exactly that - confronting their counterparts who indulge in shitty behaviour.

But, as I reminded that old boyfriend of mine, it's not going to be easy. Just read the comments below the video and amongst many energised, positive and encouraging comments, you'll see the men in the video referred to as 'gay', 'bunch of faggots', 'emasculated', and accused of 'begging like children'. And that's just the comments that weren't removed for being too offensive, so you can imagine what those contained. I'm glad to say these comments are far outweighed by plenty of sensible individuals, who highlight the haters' muddled thinking perfectly - "How is standing up for women, who straight men are attracted to, a "homosexual" thing?" ponders one. "So then standing up for the rights of others, (as well as what you your self believe in) is emasculating? Hm. That's new to me," says another, and I want to stand up and cheer to see people finally talking sense. What the critical commenters have revealed is their bizarre, confused conception of 'masculinity' and what it should look like. Being A Man, to these people, entails objectifying women, intimidating them, shouting them down and making them feel ashamed to be in a public space. This = strength, and strength = masculinity, to these charming folk. Take away men's strength, and oh shit! They become 'gay', 'effeminate', 'emasculated', all because those goddamn feminists brainwashed them.

The assumption these people are making is that a) no man could care about women's rights unless he has been 'brainwashed' and that b) true manliness is rooted in violence, aggression and constantly asserting yourself as opposite to and superior than any group who doesn't behave like you (women, gays, transgender folk, children, minorities). It's the basis that the YouTube commenters who seem so offended by a group of men criticising male behaviour, are proceeding upon, and it's sure as hell the basis my ex-boyfriend's housemates were proceeding on when they turned on him for daring to challenge their happily established, misogynistic status quo. And it paints a grotesque picture of the 'masculinity' that many men (and some women) still seem to be clinging to. It takes bravery on the part of men to make a video like the one above, knowing that the most angry response will be from other men. Not more courage than it takes women to stand up to sexism, but a different type. Challenging the dominant group from within means lowering your shield, putting your head above the parapet, and opening yourself up to attack.

So props to the men who made the video, all those who watch it and consider its message, those who support it, and those who answer back to the haters. Here's some more pro-feminist male activists who make us feel like we're not alone in the fight:

Ben Atherton-Zamen

Michael Kimmel

Jackson Katz

Men Can Stop Rape

Must Bol, Founders of GotStaredAt

Men who support feminism don't automatically deserve special treatment for doing what every man should be doing anyway, but they do deserve a special mention for doing what too many men are failing to do every day.

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