The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

It’s a fucking conundrum

I’ve seen this image floating around a lot in the past week, Facebooked, Tweeted, Tumbled and Pinned over and over again. In fact, I’ve seen it more than almost any other feminist image I can think of.

And you know, it’s a great message. It’s even one I’ve written about before. Cos, you know, I like men, and I think they are better than all the messages they (and we) get sent.

HOWEVER. I am a little uncomfortable with this message. Because, why do we have to make feminism about men? Let me insert a disclaimer here before anyone chooses to jump in and tell me that I am an angry-man hating dyke who just needs to get laid: I think men absolutely need to be part of The Movement (ironic title case) and that men’s voices need to be heard and valued.

But doesn’t this smack a little of pandering to men to make the very idea of feminism more palatable? Of saying “hey, guys, this is about you too” to get them on board? Yes, we need men to be involved, to be allies, to understand, but do we actually have to spell out that actually, Feminism Is For Men?

And even more insidiously, doesn’t it suggest that men are ‘helpless’ victims of the patriarchy? That they don’t benefit from it all the time? That the other dreaded P word isn’t something that (white, cis, straight) men have in bucketloads, and sometimes actively choose to use?

Because, you just know there are dudes out there who are thinking “well, I’m a good guy, I’m not part of the Old Boys Club, I’m not sexist, OH! I’m a victim of the Patriarchy too!” who are getting off scot free. Who are ignoring the myriad ways that unthinking privilege has helped them.

I spend a lot, a seemingly inordinate amount of time, actually, explaining that feminism isn’t about hating men. It’s about seeking equality for women against this great, amorphous, giant thing that’s unfightable: The Fucking Patriarchy (dot tumblr dot com). And the thing is, we can’t fight it without men. We need agents on the inside. And we really can’t fight it when we’re giving them Get Out of Jail free cards for the ways in which they continue to uphold it.

Right? Or am I massively overthinking what will be a 5-minute meme that no one has thought particularly deeply about before re-tweeting?

[Update: As has been pointed out in the comments, this quote from a piece of the wonderful Chally’s. It was appropriated out of context, and as is the way with these things, has spread far and wide. For my part, I should absolutely have googled harder to find out where the original comment came from, so I apologise unreservedly to her.

For what it’s worth, the post that it comes from, I absolutely agree with. My post is about the recent ubiquity of this particular image, which I have seen re-tweeted by feminists I respect, and people who absolutely fit the image of the person I’ve described in this post. Context, as always, is Queen.

So…abject lesson in thinking before you blog/retweet/repost? Yes.]

15 responses to “It’s a fucking conundrum

  1. Chally August 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Perhaps knowledge of the context from which that quote was stolen would be useful. http://zeroatthebone.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-reason-im-not-writing-at-the-moment/

    • tallulahspankhead August 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      Ah, darling thank you. I googled a couple of the phrases but just found noise. And yes, context have been a great help in the picture.

      That’s…Ugh. Yeah. I’m sorry. (and will email you.)

      • Ben August 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm

        That this particular quote-out-of-context has acheived meme status is interesting, thanks Chally and tallulahspankhead for writing it and about it.

        I don’t think any of this process was deliberate at any stage – it’s an example of the subtle ways power shapes discourse. After all, patriarchy is not a person or physical location, it’s more abstract than that.
        By taking the quote out of its context it becomes practically meaningless, the original message is lost and therefore more open to interpretation. i.e. it’s a meme. As a man (not a stupid one! I think I’m a rather good man and will own that, thanks) it gives me the option to bask in some warm fuzzy feelings of mutual love and respect with the feminists.
        Or, I can actually reflect at a deeper level as you did tallulah. Who wrote this? In what context? What did they mean? And by asking myself those questions I think I can be a better ally in The Movement.

        So yeah, thanks for that

  2. Max Rose August 6, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    “Yes, we need men to be involved, to be allies, to understand, but do we actually have to spell out that actually, Feminism Is For Men?”

    I think that does need to be spelled out, yes. Men need to be allies and to understand, but most of all, men need to change. We need to realise the privileges that (by definition) we usually don’t see; we need to investigate our own behaviours; we need to stop ignoring it when our friends and colleagues exhibit casual misogyny.

    If this were the only message about feminism that were ever promulgated, then it would be be unbalanced. But I think that alongside other feminist messages, it might work to open a few people’s eyes to thinking about feminism in a deeper way. There are probably a lot of liberal men who generally treat women well and support a lot of feminist issues, but don’t have the theoretical background to think of feminism in an integrated way. Words such as “patriarchy” can be off-putting to guys like that, not so much because it sounds radical (I’m trying hard to avoid making a tone argument) but because it sounds academic and jargony. It might help to show such men that while they benefit materially from patriarchy, it also treats them in a, well, patronising way. And if that helps them understand and engage with feminism in a deeper way, then I think that this might be a useful, if incomplete, meme.

    • Hugh August 6, 2012 at 11:56 pm

      I think that even deprived of context the quote isn’t problematic. It is essentially addressed to people who have already off their own bat noticed the negative stereotypes about men out there, and points out that the remedy for these stereotypes is feminism, not MRAs or “equalism” or liberalism or whatever else might tempt them.

    • tallulahspankhead August 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      I just…I was thinking out loud, a lot, posting this. But here’s my question. Why should we _have_ to explain it? (And yeah, it’s a meme, they’re made every day, they’re out of the hands of the people who actually say/write the things, especially in this instance.)

      Chally’s point in the original post is that saying one is a “stupid man” is just a way of getting out of finding out more. And I agree. And isn’t boiling her point down to this image a really good example of that? If we can agree that being a feminist (and T, I completely agree that men can be feminists, not just allies), is about, you know, believing in equality and being a decent human being, isn’t it incumbent on men (or whoever) to then find out more, to examine their privilege, to figure out what we can do to do/be better?

      When it comes parcelled up like this, in easy tidbits, in nice arguments that, devoid of context, can mean anything, isn’t that all just a little too nice and easy?

      Feminism, for all that I wish it were, _isn’t_ easy. If it were, we would actually be living in a utopia right now. Words like patriarchy, kyriarchy, intersectionality, performativity, they’re all tough words. But that’s because these are tough concepts that need thought and explanation and care.

      Sure, there needs to be 101. There needs to be someone explaining these ideas. But I don’t think stealing someone’s words, and making a complicated thought seem simple is the way to do it. Those who care listen, and those who don’t are too apt to take it the wrong way.

  3. T August 6, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    I was just on my way here to link to Chally’s post!

    To address your points though, I don’t think this comment is making feminism about men, it’s just accurately representing how the patriarchy can negatively affect men. Does that mean that overall they don’t benefit? no. But it’s a reminder that we can’t dismiss this as just a ‘women’s issue’, because in one way or another it affects everyone.

    I agree that there are probably some guys out there who would see this as one more reason why they’re great and refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. But those guys are willfully ignorant. This quote could have said virtually anything and they’d still have that attitude. I also don’t think we necessarily need to relegate men to ‘allies’ to feminism. They can be feminists too, and can fight to stop the negative experiences they end up in, as well as the bad stuff thrown at women.

  4. Annanonymous August 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Although the quote has been taken out of context, that’s exactly how people have been reading it – so I think your argument holds in relation to the way people have probably been apprehending the message. And I agree with you. I’m quite fond of blokes too, but they’re not my first focus as a feminist. When Paid Parental Leave was debated for the first time round, I got annoyed at the campaigns which rushed to point out that men and babies benefit from PPL. I’m sure they do, and that’s nice (as well as pragmatic, from a campaign point of view) – but why do we need to be apologetic about claiming a right for wome?.

  5. gertalot August 6, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Hi, I’m a man – and I agree that feminism is about women. Not because women are more important, but because I believe in equality, and right now, our world is skewed towards making things easier for men and more difficult for women. A lot of our world already *is* about men, and too many experiences of women are ignored, negated, threatened, ridiculed or erased; that’s why feminism is about women.

    However, it’s not a zero-sum situation. Stressing the fact that PHMT makes feminism *also* about men, but not any less about women. And like Max said earlier, I think it does need to be spelled out, because for many, anything beyond feminism 101 is too difficult to follow. If those with more knowledge and more awareness help others to be more understanding and aware, everyone will be better off.

    For me personally, I am (trying to be) a feminist because it’s not right that some things are automatically easier in my life than my friends’ lives. I am a feminist because it’s not ok that it is so easy for me to have blind spots about my privileged position in the world; to never really have to be aware of things that are daily reality for my female friends. In that sense, feminism is not about me.

    At the same time, the quote, as well as Chally’s article, are important for me personally. I am sick of the gender role society expects me to play and the assumptions society has about me, just because I am a man. I don’t recognise myself in pretty much anything that gets called ”masculine” – but I am 100% man and refuse to live up to someone else’s definition of what that means. For me, that’s part of the fight against sexism and against the patriarchy – and therefore it is part of my feminism.

    That doesn’t mean feminism is just about me, but I don’t consider myself an ally in the ”just a supportive bystander” sense: this is not a fight women have to fight while I can just sit back and shout encouragingly from the sideline.
    I am a participant because I need to change my own perspective and increase my own awareness, as well as that of the people around me. I am a participant because the patriarchy hurts my friends and, to some extent, myself. Not in equal ways and not in equal measures – I’m not that presumptuous and want to steer well clear of MRA-style oppression olympics.

    I agree 100% with Chally’s article – playing the ”ignorant male” card is a cop-out and an excuse to evade responsibility and opportunities to learn. It also perpetuates the stereotype of men as knuckle-dragging neanderthals. I’m not a knuckle-dragging neanderthal, so bring it on!

  6. feministgamer August 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    I understand … Frankly, I’m tired of having to explain how I’m not a man-hater all the time. I’m tired of having to say how feminism can and does benefit men for some men to even *begin* caring about it – or to just stop yelling at me for saying the big bad “F” word. It’s gotten to a point that if I’m not already talking to self-labeled feminists that I’m primarily framing feminism in terms of men. I’m at a point where I never want to do it again, it’s gotten ridiculous. Feminism should be allowed to be primarily about women’s issues. I shouldn’t have to mention men’s issues every other breath just to be listened to.

    And I just caught myself from typing “but there’s nothing wrong with men’s issues blah blah” right now, because it’s so ingrained in me that if I don’t, I’m a nasty harpy radfem that everyone should ignore. Ugh.

  7. Matthew Proctor August 8, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    “But doesn’t this smack a little of pandering to men to make the very idea of feminism more palatable? Of saying “hey, guys, this is about you too” to get them on board? Yes, we need men to be involved, to be allies, to understand, but do we actually have to spell out that actually, Feminism Is For Men?”

    To answer your rhetorical question, I think the answer is yes! Because let’s be honest, there are billions of men out there that have never considered the way gender biases affect them. If Feminism for Men is

    • Matthew Proctor August 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      ugh.

      If Feminism for Men is how to get men involved, surely that’s still a good thing? Getting people to challenge their privilege is surely easier once they acknowledge it than when they’re still denying its existence and viewing feminists as manhaters.

      • tallulahspankhead August 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm

        Yeah, but I’m not sure a meme like this is going to get anyone involved. The sentiment, certainly. But is anyone already not fairly well-versed in feminist thought reading that and thinking “oh, hey, yeah? The patriarchy _is_ shit?”

  8. tallulahspankhead August 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Hi all, I’ve been unwell, hence not responding to your comments. I’m going to go ahead and blame some bad bourbon or something.

    So…I should maybe explain, and should have probably put this in the original post, that one of the things that annoyed me was seeing this posted by an acquaintance of mine who consistently posts – and is frequently called out on – sexist things. He’s not quite an MRA, but he is vehement in upholding his right to post pictures of women in bikinis with disparaging comments to his Facebook profile. It seemed to me that he was co-opting a statement like this as a way to get out of recognising and/or addressing his behaviour.

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