Feminism is a vastly interesting sport for those so inclined. That is to say, beyond why #INeedFeminism is the question of #WhoNeedsFeminism. Currently, and well before Jack Kilbride’s ill-advised New Matilda article, I was knee deep in it, more than usual, with thanks to one of my beloved online family who challenged me in a more practical space than I usually find my feminism inhabiting. Thankfully, my experience as a single white female has meant that my personal gripes with the Patriarchy tend to be minor and my feminism occupies a more mental than physical space.
That’s really important for me to say. Because though I have, like every woman alive, been subject to real time real life physical sexism, misogyny and abuse I am aware that on a scale of 1 to 10 I’m pretty lucky. “Out there” are women tracking at 100 on that scale, and the opportunity to voice their experience has been taken away, so instead we count dead women, here on DtJ Facebook page, and @CountingDeadWomen. More importantly, as my reading has taken a turn towards considerations and effects of (and recourse for) online, texted-base sexism, misogyny and abuse, I realise how well crafted my online space is, I’m not Clementine Ford, I’m not writing generally to a mass readership. So even in that online space, my personal experience tracks at the low end of the scale.
But that’s not the point of feminism. One is not “more feminist” for having a greater set of scars and anecdotal personal evidence. The point is, as my mother would say, there but for the grace of God go I. I really appreciate Clementine Ford because I find she occupies a very similar space to me. Even her voice (manner or turn of phrase, etc.) is one I identify with, probably because culture, age, education etc. I understand that if tomorrow I started to write feminist critique for a mass readership, with my foul mouth and short temper, very quickly there would be men telling me I too needed to be raped to death. And I’d identify with Ford in all new ways.
I can stretch this logic out to other sections and experiences of female society. I’m a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, pagan, educated woman. But I appreciate black, Indigenous, transgendered, LGBTQI, disabled, Muslim (or any other religious or ethnicity) and uneducated (yes, because I’m also a Marxist, and class considerations are as valid as any) female voices. The premise of feminism (or indeed any “ism”) is one of validity, in this case that female voices/experiences are valid and equal to male, and further, intersectionality suggests that because I am not black, Indigenous, trans etc., those voices are not invalidated.
The majority of the feminist thought I share, I have come to understand, is that of white, able-bodied, educated cis-gendered women. But black, Indigenous, disabled, etc etc are not outside my sphere, and I do share these voices as well. What I find is how I engage in these discussions or not, in contrast to, say the recent brouhaha (and the New Matilda page is swimming in it). I’m quieter and less talky in terms of the first, and more ranty in terms of the second. And I’m prone to qualify myself more in discussions of black, Indigenous, disabled, etc etc. Because I have nothing I can add, and these voices needs must have their time as valid as well. I can’t talk over them, because then I invalidate their voice, and that’s not what allyship is about.
That’s a great word. Allyship. And also “allied”. I like to use it. And I like to use it like this: I am a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, pagan, educated, feminist woman, who is a black, Indigenous, LGBTQI, disabled, Muslim (or any other religious or ethnic minority oppressed by the dominant White Western Christian society I live in) and lower-socio-economic groups ALLIED. It’s an adjective heavy sentence, but for purposes of online discussion it’s a pretty clear one, the first half identifies what I am, which allows the reader to identify my bias, and the second half describes what I am not BUT PERSONALLY THINK IS VITAL AND VALID. You could also look at the sentence, augmented by “I am a heterosexual Australian….” as being in the first part the identification of MY PRIVILEGE, and the second part, my understanding of the groups who are impacted negatively by that same privilege. In fact, privilege and bias are linked, I simply chose to make them explicit. And there is a good reason why. Here’s a nifty definition from The Anti-Oppression Network in Canada:
an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people
- allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people
- allyship is not self-defined—our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with
- it is important to be intentional in how we frame the work we do,
i.e. we are showing support for…, we are showing our commitment to ending [a system of oppression] by…, we are using our privilege to help by…
And that’s exactly when things get interesting. As early as last week in a comment thread on a friend’s Facebook post I wrote “… and I believe men can be feminists…” That’s how Jack Kilbride opened his Tuesday New Matilda article ‘Why Courageous Clementine Ford Is Not The Answer‘:
I am a man and I am a feminist.
I wholeheartedly condemn the actions of the men who have threatened and abused feminist writer Clementine Ford. I also commend the decision of one particular boss who opted to terminate the contract of Mathew Nolan after his embarrassing and disgusting remarks.
Then without a breath, and beginning immediately following the above with “[h]owever, while Clementine Ford is a great advocate of the feminist movement in this country, her strategy may be doing more harm than good”, he wrote an entire article about how Ford was doing feminism wrong.
In the plethora of online pieces that critiqued the article from a myriad of angles, I found myself questioning my hitherto held belief; “can men be feminists?”
It’s quite clear that in the very first place, a man telling women how to do feminism is going to piss off most female feminists, which Kilbride definitely did. The fact is, Kilbride has failed to check his male privilege; women being told how to do and what to do and how to behave by men is precisely the thing feminists are fighting against. My own knee-jerk response to the article prior to reading the deluge that followed was simple “oh go fuck yourself, Kilbride!” You can’t be a feminist and then assert and maintain male privilege. It’s not how feminism works! That’s anti-feminism. And the problem is to be found in that very small word “allied” that Kilbride has completely failed to use to contextualise his (anti)feminism.
Aicha Marhfour summed it up today in her article ‘Men Cannot Be Feminists, So Let’s Talk About Diversity Instead‘. It’s all really there in the headline, but what she goes on to say in the article really hit the nail on the head for me:
At best, all anyone can expect of a man is ‘allyship’, which means that he is the equivalent of the work experience kid.
The ally/work experience kid is here to learn, so takes notes and does little tasks when asked to. He doesn’t speak up and take over the meeting. He does not set the agenda. He is not here forever.
“He” has been setting the agenda for women a really long time, and feminism is a movement expressly created to stop “him” setting that agenda, so woman can set their own, and Ford is a woman, so shut up Kilbride. It’s that simple.
I immediately applied the same logic, much as Marhfour did, I could self-identify as Indigenous, and then go on to write that Indigenous people really just need to face the fact that they are genetically predisposed to alcoholism, and culturally unable to contextualise money, and so they need white people to restrict alcohol and control their money for them, for their own benefit (which I DO NOT actually believe at all) and in very short order, I’d be right where Kilbride is two days after his unfortunate article. As Marhour wrote, “A man may self-identify as a feminist, but it’s the same as me self-identifying as a billionaire’s kidnapped daughter and heiress to my family’s South American mining fortune. They’re both fantasies.” Much like my hypothetical imagined Indigenousness. I don’t get to set the agenda, I’m the voice that Indigenous people would like to stop setting the agenda.
Allyship is not an identity; it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Allyship is not self-defined; our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with. Kilbride cannot be a feminist who seeks to impose his idea of how women should behave, and right now, he’s also a really shit ally. And if he had considered allyship thoroughly, instead of self-identifying as feminist, he would never have written that article.
In her response, ‘The New Feminism: Death By 1,000 Online Cuts‘ Tanya Levin put forward the view that the basis of the outpouring of criticism of Kilbride was that he is a man. I don’t agree. The problem with Kilbride’s article, and as pointed out by the vast majority of comments and responses (save the stupid, seriously, yes it’s everywhere, stay focused people) is the fact that Kilbride is in no position to dictate responses to things which he has never experienced. He may never have experienced them because he is a man, but as I pointed out above, for the most part neither have I. Since I, and many others like me, have managed the point of view that since I am not Clementine Ford nor have her experience of online threats etc., as a public figure in a public forum, I have to allow Ford’s voice, experience, and responses to be entirely valid, what’s Kilbride’s excuse for saying it is not? One may posit that after this week, Kilbride is in a much better position to counter with experience, only women tend not to comment to men with “I hope someone rapes you till you die” style of physical and sexual threats of violence. So probably not so much. As one of the six responses New Matilda offered “to include a range of different perspectives on the issue” as Chris Graham wrote in his editorial on the issue ‘Still Not Sorry, But…‘ (srsly? Fuck me, Graham, I love NM but you are killing me right now!) included this thought bubble
when I commented on the New Matilda website that the nasty vicious response doesn’t help for debate, I was told that there were no death threats. No there weren’t. But there was sustained aggression, vitriol and violence. Physical violence? Not that I saw, but enough derision, cruelty and degradation against someone’s opinion to drive free speech and debate way underground.
If the crowd had their way, Kilbride would be hanging and a cross burned on his front lawn.
New Matilda is still failing to channel the debate into a space dominated by any real reason. And sadly, that above lack of coherence and logic jewel comes from a female feminist voice, and I fear for the movement where angry women commenting about privilege are equated to male threats of sexual and physical violence by other women, with a “won’t somebody think of the free speech” chaser! Women are allowed to think and express themselves aggressively, especially against opinion, which it was in the majority, and not, in fact, ad hominem, since Kilbride’s being a man is also his position in terms of feminism! Did she not get the memo?
And I’ve changed my view. Can men be feminists? No. Because inside that movement, male voices are not setting the agenda. The place in which male voices set the agenda is called patriarchy. Can men be feminist-allied? Yes, and if they are, they know that they should shut the fuck up and not tell Clementine Ford how to act and respond to threats of physical and sexual abuse because she has had an opinion, because they have no clue what that is actually like. A male feminist ally does not criticize, correct, determine, nor admonish the female voice, he instead holds it up as says “this is a woman’s voice, it is valid”. And that’s his entire job.
Because really, women got this.