Flogging men for trying to learn more about feminism is like cutting your nose off to spite your face. Claire Connelly weighs in.
Ladies, we need to talk.
It has taken every ounce of my strength to resist writing this article. Let me caveat what I am about to say with this: I am a feminist but not a feminist writer. I write about economics and policy.
I try to avoid women’s issues at all costs for fear of being pigeon-holed. I don’t want to be a Woman In Anything. I’d rather have my work assessed on its own merits.
Ladies, what is going on? The minute we finally start to make some progress with the very allies we need to support us, we turn around and make enemies of them by telling them to check their privilege.
Over the last week I have seen a man and his family raked over the coals because his children had the audacity to interrupt a BBC interview on nuclear proliferation in North Korea.
Philadelphia based writer, Martin Schneider had the gall to share his experience swapping roles with his female colleague, Nicole Hallberg at the small employee services firm where they used to work. All the Feminist Left had to say was: check your privilege.
Tweets like this make me crazy:
Is it frustrating that men are only just beginning to understand what women have been telling them for years? Yes. Should we be holding it against them for trying to learn? Absolutely not.
Just last week Feminist writer Clementine Ford condemned a group of private school boys from Sydney Boys High School on Facebook for participating in International Women’s Day with a video on ‘why Feminism is important’.
“They are 100% correct when they highlight that men who speak about feminism are praised and platformed in mainstream places while women who discuss the same things from a place of experience are derided and, in many cases, subjected to vicious abuse – and often from the same circles these boys come from,” Ford wrote. “It’s great that schoolboys want to highlight how important feminism is, but they do not deserve to be celebrated for it or rewarded. When their female peers speak out on these issues, their male peers are just as likely to bombard them with retrosexism about getting back in the kitchen, asking for the man in charge, talking about how inequality is a myth and/or threatening them with violence.”
Like it has never occurred to Ford that increased gendered participation in women’s issues reduces the likelihood of gendered violence.
If diversity is indeed about equality of access and opportunity, if it is about not making assumptions based on people’s gender, race, religion or appearance, it would be better – if not a more consistent ideology – if we didn’t do the exact god damn thing to people who have the audacity to be born white, male and straight. Or simply male and straight. Or simply male.
My dad grew up in a working-class Roman Catholic household in which he and his 11 brothers and sisters in a tiny terrace house in Coventry. Most were out of home by the age of 15. Health care was minimal and there was little, if any, consideration given to more *complex* afflictions.
Did I mention his family home was bombed by Hitler in the Blitz?
The lack of employment opportunities in England led him to leave on a ship bound for South Africa at the age of 19 with 100 pounds in his pocket. Today he is a business owner who proudly, together with his former wife of 32 years, put his two children through private school. Are you telling me he should check his privilege?
This is the same father – and mother – who taught me that the price I pay for having a roof over my head, an education and three square meals a day is to be informed about the world and how it works. Are you telling me I should tell this man to check his privilege?
My mother, also a business owner, was raised in an activist anti-apartheid household in South Africa. My grandmother was possibly on government blacklists by the apartheid regime for attending banned protests and funerals of activists who died in questionable circumstances, paying fines for people jailed for not carrying their identification documents and resisting apartheid in ways she felt she could.
Do my mother and grandmother’s stories matter more than my father or grandfathers’? They are all a part of a bigger – more important – whole. Each story is indivisible by the other. Context, as they say, is everything.
Are you telling me that I should dismiss my partner’s hard work because he was born male? Does the appendage between his legs diminish his personal experience? That being turned down for a job, or the workplace challenges he comes up against are any less important than my own?
Arguably the social and structural problems in workplaces we have seen consistently covered over the last 18 months effect men just as much as women. Really anyone who doesn’t fit into weird office-cultures dominated by the alpha/beta polarity tends to suffer.
Look what occurred in the Department of Finance just this month in which senior (male) public servant, David Fredericks, deputy secretary of the department, threw junior public servant, known only as Claire, under the bus for allegedly requesting a line about ‘paleo pear and banana bread’ be added to an already awkward internal recruitment video for the department.
The fallout from the hilariously terrible ad is so typical of everything that is wrong with the public service: Find the nearest person to blame. Hope like hell you’ll get away with it. Never mind that Fredericks’ comments were also probably slightly defamatory and possibly a breach of contract.
What’s worse is I fear that this kind of aggressive rhetoric alienates people who have only just begun to engage in issues like feminism and diversity.
Headlines like ‘The BBC’s pundit’s children video is NOT funny it’s patriarchy in a nutshell’ may as well read ‘Why not subscribe to Breitbart, there’s a good chap’?
Headlines like that do not represent feminism, at least not my kind of feminism, but first timers won’t be able to make that distinction because they’re basically being told to go f*** themselves before they’ve even made it through the first par.
With this kind of decisive rhetoric, it’s no wonder so many progressives have turned to movements like One Nation and the alt-right. Columns like that alienate people who might otherwise engage and encourage men to movements that hate us.
The only way we can fix workplaces like this is if people work together to identify and address structural and long-term behavioural problems that are affecting everything from turnover, to profit, to morale.
Here’s a reality check: Women have, by and large, experienced significant employment growth since the ‘60s. Women’s participation in the labour force in August 1961 was at 34%. By August 2011 that figure had almost doubled to 59%, according to the ABS.
Men, have experienced the greater decrease in labour force participation over roughly the same timeframe, from 82% in August 1961 to 72% in August 2011, again, according to the ABS.
The male employment to population ratio fell from 75% in 1978 to 66% in January 2017. The female employment to population ratio went from 40% to 56% over the same period. The male participation rate, (seasonally adjusted) is now 70% (Jan 2017). Female employment has essentially plateaued at 59.3%.”
Let’s also remember that the move away from blue-collar jobs towards white collar jobs has increased competition between both genders and creeds. In 1966 around 65% of employed people worked in blue-collar jobs, according to the ABS. Today that figure sits roughly around 32%.
The number of people employed in white-collar jobs increased from 45% in 1966 to around 70% in 2011. It’s no wonder genders are turning against each other, rhetorically clawing each other’s faces for a chance of obtaining a slice of the pie.
Contrary to what the alt-right, MRA’s and other special interest groups may tell you, women and diverse cultures are not to blame for increasing male-middle-class unemployment. The massive deregulation of the economy is, so much so that many companies are not even required to comply with a basic minimum wage (if you can’t afford to pay your workers a salary or wage that meets the basic standard of living, let alone the legal minimum wage, you should not be allowed to remain in business, but that is a topic for another story).
I hate to burst your bubble but no progress was ever achieved as a result of morality. Men granted women the right to vote. Whites by and large legalised mixed marriage. If you think you’re going to get anywhere with economic equality by diminishing the personal and learned experience of people not of your gender, well I think you’re about to be in for a rude shock.
Has it never occurred to anyone that part of the reason why diversity has become such a hot topic issue is that women and migrants and children of migrants cost less than white men to employ?
If we really want equality of opportunity and access to the markets and the economy then the Feminist Left needs to take a good hard look at itself and stop making enemies of potential allies (and don’t even get me started about feminist in-fighting).
We need to work with men, and women and those who identify as neither to ensure we can all work in and benefit from an economy that supports a basic standard of living. Feminism seems prepared to give the long-term game away for the sake of a snarky tweet, never mind the hundreds of men who have been alienated in the process. If we want more men to join the Breitbart brigade, the Feminist Left need only keep doing what it is doing.
Soon we will have no allies left and there will be think-pieces galore deconstructing why, but I doubt any of them would be prepared to admit their own culpability.
So, here is my promise: If you are interested in fixing this god damned system, if you are curious about feminism, or civil rights, or, you know, the economy, come and ask me about it. I promise I won’t tell you to check your privilege.
All aboard, allies. Have a cookie.