Our post about The Guardian’s censorship of male victims of genital mutilation has sparked some lively debate and brought the feminist campaigner Hilary Burrell to insideMAN. Hilary directed us to a quote by Dale Spender suggesting that people who aren’t feminists have a problem. Here our news editor, Glen Poole, responds to Hilary with an open letter outlining why male victims of various gendered crimes often find themselves at odds with feminism.
Thanks for your detailed comment on my article about The Guardian’s censorship of discussions on genital autonomy, which restricts the involvement of those who campaign for male genital autonomy in favour of those campaigning for female genital autonomy.
Let me be clear from the outset. We are seeing the world through a different lens. You are a feminist, I am not.
I am an integralist, which means I seek to integrate “what works” from many different word views and perspectives into my thinking. My theoretical framework for understanding gender issues is “integral gender theory”.
Not being a feminist, means I neither feel the need to attack it nor defend it. I can simply look at different feminist perspectives and ask myself—does this perspective work or not?
The Wisdom of Feminism
There are, as you say, some feminists who promote genital autonomy for everyone—male, female and intersex. One such campaigner is Travis L C Wisdom who is a feminist, an intactivist (ie a campaigner for genital autonomy) and a survivor of genital mutilation. I am a great admirer of his feminist approach to promoting genital autonomy—and I’m still not a feminist.
You say “feminism is about equality, people” which is a well meaning but ultimately meaningless statement which echoes (albeit more politely) the recent words of the feminist campaigner Kate Smurthwaite:
“Feminism is the same thing as gender equality, those who say it is not are lying assholes….please let them know they are misogynist dickwads.”
Kate’s tirade demonstrates why the fundamental belief that “feminism = equality” is problematic. Just as beliefs like “my religion=God” or “my religion=good” are also problematic.
More than one way to understand the world
There are many religions, many feminisms, many views of God, many views of equality and many views of what is good. People all over the world deny boys and girls the right to genital autonomy because they fundamentally believe the practice is good.
Some people campaign for genital autonomy for girls (but not boys) in the name of equality. Many of those people are feminists. They aren’t campaigning for equality for all, they are campaigning for better rights for women and girls, sometimes inspite of men and boys and sometimes in direct opposition to better rights for men and boys.
I pass no moral judgment on this. That it happens in an equal rights movements is not surprising.
It happened in the campaign for universal suffrage where some of those who campaigned for all adults to have the vote, realised they’d make progress a lot quicker if they campaigned separately for the male vote.
Not all equality campaigners are equal
People campaigning for the female vote were furious. They smashed things. They killed themselves. They planted bombs.
Today those people—the Suffragettes—are celebrated as heroic campaigners for equality. Many of those Suffragettes were wealthy, privileged women and in terms of voting rights they were under privileged.
Privilege literally means a “private law”, a law which applies only to one group or individual—like the right to vote or not. Like the right to genital autonomy or not.
It is true some feminists support genital autonomy for men and boys and yet campaigners against FGM worldwide have fought for laws that privilege women and girls and leave men and boys underprivileged. Just like some campaigners for voting reform favoured an approach that privileged men in the first instance.
Suffragettes weren’t against giving men the vote, they were against an approach that privileged men and under-privileged women. Intactivists aren’t against ending FGM, but they are often against an approach that privileges women and girls and under-privileges men and boys.
And all over the world, feminists are campaigning for laws, policies and strategies that privilege women over men—most notably when it comes to “Violence Against Women” initiatives which focus on issues like domestic violence, sexual violence and FGM.
How men are underprivileged
Feminists don’t, as a rule, set up campaigns to end domestic violence against everyone, to end sexual violence against everyone or to promote genital autonomy for all.
Feminism in practice is rarely about equality for all—there’s a reason it’s not called “equalism” or “genderism” or “humanism”. If anyone needs to know what feminism is predominantly about, the clue is in the name—it’s about female concerns and interests.
Feminism is rarely about equality for men and boys. Feminists can’t even agree whether men should have an equal right to be feminists, hence the ever recurring discussions about “can men be feminists” and the debates about how men should or shouldn’t be allowed to engage in gender equality work.
This is why male victims often have problems with feminism—and feminism has problems with male victims. Some male victims who were denied the right to genital autonomy, like Travis L C Wisdom, take on the struggle of work within feminism. Here’s what he has to say on the matter:
“I think that a current limitation of feminism is that it doesn’t incorporate male circumcision or the concept of a genital autonomy as an inalienable right across the gender continuum, it only focuses on Genital Autonomy as it relates to females and at times I will feel a bit betrayed.”
Feminism betrays male victims
How did the Suffragettes feel when campaigners for the universal vote focused on getting the male vote first? Betrayed!
How do male victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and genital mutilation often feel about feminism? Betrayed!
There are those who say that men can’t be feminists because they can never understand what it’s like to experience life as a woman. By the same token, it is rare to find a feminist who has experienced life as a male victim.
Too often feminism seeks to pull off the confidence trick of presenting itself as having the solution to all gender problems, while simultaneously ignoring and excluding those who seek to resolve the gender problems that men and boys experience—and excluding those who aren’t feminists.
I’m delighted that you consider the genital mutilation of females and males to be a human rights issue. However, you have never experienced life as a non-feminist campaigning for gender equality for men and boys Hilary.
Oppressive, controlling and dominating
You can have no living idea of how oppressive and controlling and dominating and dictatorial and fundamentalist and anti-male feminism can be until you’ve experienced feminism through the lived experience of a male victim of gender discrimination, campaigning for gender equality for everyone—men and boys included.
As some feminists say Hilary, you can be an ally, but you can never be one of us because you will never experience life through our eyes. And if you truly want to be an ally—rather than convert us to your belief that “feminism is about equality”—you will need to acknowledge and validate the fact that many male victims (including many intactivists) have the experience of being betrayed by feminism.
And when a group of people feel betrayed by a movement, unless that betrayal is acknowledged and addressed, there is no way forward. The only way for feminism to prove that it is really about equality and address the betrayal that many male victims of genital mutilation feel, is for feminists to campaign with equal urgency for all boys and girls all over the world to be granted the basic human right of genital autonomy.
If the pro-feminist Guardian was ready to do this, if it was ready to campaign for genital autonomy for all, with equal passion and commitment, there would be no need to censor passionate campaigners for men and boys’ right to genital autonomy.
Thanks for all you do campaigning to end FGM and for providing a page about male circumcisions on your website.
—Photo Credit: flickr/fibonacci blue
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men
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