Men Cannot Be Feminists, So Let’s Talk About Diversity Instead


Diversity is a commitment from those with privilege to divest themselves and give those same advantages to others, writes Aicha Marhfour.

Is there anything more tedious than a Hot Take? One is thrown down on the grill and others follow – linking, sniping and footnoting each other ad nausesam.

Until you start to think that you have something to say. It’s like the itch of a mosquito bite. You ignore it, so it intensifies. Each throb promises relief, right after a little scratch.

And then you’re sucked in. The more you scratch, the more you resent yourself and all prior life choices.

This was my feeling after reading Jack Kilbride’s comment piece about Clementine Ford. The subsequent responses improved upon his silly, undergraduate logic, but I could hear the voice on the other end of the Batphone: ‘Something isn’t being said!’

And so, mask on, suit with rubber nipples affixed, I’m flying in.

The crux is this: Jack Kilbride’s piece is redundant. We don’t need a magnifying glass to spot the inconsistencies and grammatical errors. But hear me out.

First things first: men cannot be feminists.

Or, with apologies to Margaret Atwood: “Male [feminists], male feminists, is everything run by male feminists?”

We should have all (me included), clicked away immediately.

Men cannot be feminists, much in the same way that “reverse racism” isn’t real.

They do not experience the oppression and inequalities that women do, and so they are not allowed into the movement working to address them. It’s simple.

Mia Freedman or Emma Watson might have you believe that the Feminism Club is open to all-comers, but it’s not.

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.

Men cannot be feminists, and at best they can be allies. That he can so easily breeze in and pretend to be One of Us just proves how necessary feminism is, and how stringent we must be with our standards.

Any man claiming to be a feminist is wanting one, or all of the following things:

  1. To nudge women over and take things over For Himself
  2. Praise and admiration for being such a good guy
  3. To impress a woman so that she will sleep with him, provide emotional labour, date him, or do something without expecting reciprocation
  4. To talk over a woman and invalidate her opinions

So, unfortunately, Jack will not be riding into the feminist sunset with a picnic lunch and Emma Watson in the passenger seat.

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.

Another problem with focusing on the original piece is that it makes it harder for real feminist theory based criticism to be taken seriously.

I don’t have a hit piece on Clementine Ford scheduled, but I would rather discuss her and her place in the Australian media constructively.

I agree with Clem Ford a lot of the time, and I appreciate her rejection of equality as the goal of feminism. I admire how fearlessly she squares up to the people against her, be they Twitter Neanderthals or newspaper columnists.

But I also have reservations about her as an unofficial spokesperson: not a role she has chased but one which some have slotted her into.

Clem is a white, middle-class, able-bodied woman in the media industry – therefore, someone with a lot more privilege than most women.

Her experiences and opinions are therefore unrelatable. I read her writing and hope for glimmers of intersectionality – or at least some exploration of how privilege, race and sexism intersect.

I don’t usually find it. And that’s okay, because I accept her work as subjective.

The media works to build Clementine Ford up as feminism’s Chosen One, which is lazy and shows just how far it emphasises palatable images of whiteness.

I have no doubt that she works hard, and hope that she recognises her own privilege.

I’ll cross my fingers and send up a prayer that she uses her position to help women who don’t have her advantages.

And this is a challenge to everyone: from Clem Ford to a New Matilda mostly staffed by men.

Diversity is not a box to tick or in a one-off commission: it’s a commitment from those with privilege to divest themselves and give those same advantages to others.

And to (actual) feminists everywhere: forget the click-bait. We have real work to do, and systems to dismantle. Let’s get to it.

Aicha Marhfour is a Melbourne-based writer. Twitter: @aichamarhfour