This week I was challenged by the university lecturer Martin Robb to stop “touting” myself as a non-feminist and give my backing to feminist campaigns for gender equality instead, writes Glen Poole.
Martin’s challenge was a response to my article in the Daily Telegraph asserting that boys should have a right to choose whether to be feminist or not. So for the benefit of Martin and anyone else who is interested, I thought I’d outline the main three reasons I don’t support feminist campaigns for gender equality. Here they are:
- I’m not a feminist
- My definition of “gender equality” is different from most feminists
- Many feminist initiatives designed to “engage men in gender equality” actively exclude non-feminists
That being the case, then why would I support feminist campaigns for gender equality when they don’t align with my own principles?
I’ll expand on these three points in this article but before I do I’d like to address some of Martin’s comments about me. Firstly, Martin describes me as someone who is “simply playing games with labels” by “touting (myself) as a ‘non’ feminist.”
“Tout” is an interesting word to use. To me it means to sell things, often illicitly, for personal gain and a great cost to others! Wikipedia describes a tout as “a person who solicits…in a persistent and annoying manner”! It is neither a neutral nor a complimentary word.
Why is this important?
This is important to note because there is a subtle game of “othering” people who think differently here which reflects the feminist movement’s discomfort with intellectual diversity. Martin presents “feminism” and “male pro-feminism” as the only legitimate gender political views for a man to hold and describes people, like me, who hold other views as “touts”.
What does it mean to “stand outside” feminism he asks as if those who are NOT feminist or pro-feminist belong to a mysterious “other” tribe with strange beliefs and superstitions. There is a clearly an intellectual hierarchy in gender politics as far as Martin is concerned and feminists/pro-feminists sit on top of it and the “others” like me, are the unwelcome outliers at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Martin then accuses me of “tarring all feminists as intolerant” on the basis of an article in which I described the feminist whose work I was critiquing as being intelligent, compassionate and self aware. I used these words because I look for the greatness in all human beings and in the case of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I didn’t have to look far—she is an extraordinary human being. Martin dismisses my acknowledgment as softening my criticsm, it was no such thing—it was a heartfelt, acknowledgement from one human being to another.
At the same time the title of her book—“we should all be feminists”—is a fundamentalist statement that has been embraced by feminists who hold that viewpoint. And my extensive lived experience of gender politics is that when feminists adopt a fundamentalist belief that everyone else should be feminist too, there is a very real risk that they will become intolerant of “others” who don’t share their worldview.
In describing the act of holding a non-feminist worldview as “touting”, Martin demonstrates both his intolerance of, and his difficulty having empathy for, men who don’t share his pro-feminist worldview. Martin says that “in many years of working as a man alongside feminists, I’ve never been made to apologise for anything”.
I don’t doubt that what Martin says about his lived experience of feminists is true, but why does he use his experience to invalidate my lived experience of feminism? Why does his lived experience have validity, but mine doesn’t?
This is a very common ploy used by pro-feminist men to dismiss the experiences of “other” non-feminist men.
When a non-feminist man points out that feminism has a problem with intellectual diversity, for example, and is intolerant of those with different worldviews, for a pro-feminist man to respond by saying “I’ve never had a problem” misses the point. Rather like a straight man saying to a gay man “well I’ve never experienced any homophobic bullying from straight guys”!
The point is, that the movement Martin is part of has a problem with the way it treats “others”—and for a movement that prides itself in promoting “equality AND diversity” that is a core issue.
So even though Martin says he agrees with my assertion that we should “teach our boys to become free-thinkers who can choose for themselves whether they want to be feminist or not”—he still concludes by saying that if you’re a man you should “get stuck in” and “lend your support” to feminist campaigns for gender equality, even if:
- You’re not a feminist
- Your definition of “gender equality” is different from most feminists
- Many feminist initiatives designed to “engage men in gender equality” actively exclude non-feminists
What does a non-feminist believe?
Martin provides three examples of campaigns that non-feminist men should support, which provides me with a useful opportunity to demonstrate how my view of gender equality is different from most feminists as the table below shows.
|What I believe as a non-feminist
|What feminist equality campaigns believe
To prove this point, here’s what the three organisations that Martin says “ensure equal chances for all”, have to say about gender equality.
This is a UN Women campaign that asks men to take the following pledge:
“I commit to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.”
Note there’s no commitment to take action against violence and discrimination faced by men and boys, even though around 80% of victims of violent death in the world every year are male.
MenEngage says: “We believe that men should be engaged in advancing the rights, health and well-being of women and girls. We are committed to working as allies with women and women’s rights organisations to achieve equality for women and girls.”
Note there’s no concern for the rights, health and well-being of men and boys and no commitment to work with men’s organisations to achieve equality for men and boys.
White Ribbon asks men to make the following pledge: “I promise never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence towards women”.
Not only does this pledge ignore violence against men, this is also a deeply misleading pledge. In reality, the White Ribbon campaign only wants men to say feminist-approved things about violence towards women, as the Psychiatrist Dr Tanveer Ahmed found out earlier this year when White Ribbon took action to silence him for daring to voice a “non-feminist” view.
Why would someone who is committed to promoting gender equality for all, support initiatives that are about promoting gender equality for women and girls, but not men and boys?
Why would I make the White Ribbon pledge to “never remain silent” about violence against women when I know that if I speak out about this issue, that White Ribbon will want to silence me because I don’t hold a feminist view on the subject?
- Tanveer Ahmed speaks out about his treatment by White Ribbon
- Why I won’t take the White Ribbon pledge
- Why I won’t be saying Eve Ensler’s man prayer
- How I went from being pro-feminist to non-feminist
- Why I am suspicious of the new messiahs of masculinity
- A non-feminist view on discrimination against men and women
Feminists who are fundamentalists don’t welcome the simple idea that a diversity of worldviews is needed if we are to tackle major world problems like violence. As such, fundamentalist feminists are actively (and at times abusively) intolerant of people who hold different worldviews. Here’s the feminist CEO of domestic violence charity, Karen Ingala Smith, responding to my article in The Telegraph on twitter :
“Hahaha, bollocks of the highest order”
This response is not, in my experience, untypical of the level of contempt that high profile feminists in positions of power have for non-feminist thinkers like me.
As a younger man I used to call myself a feminist because I was concerned with the issues that affected women and girls. As I became aware of the issues that men and boys also face, I consistently found feminists and feminism to be not only dismissive of these concerns, but also actively hostile towards men and women who were working to address these issues.
I’ve been experiencing this feminist hostility for nearly 20 years now. It comes in many forms and needs to be addressed if we are to make sustainable progress in the global drive for gender equality.
To highlight just one strand of my work, for the past six years I’ve been promoting and co-ordinating the celebration of International Men’s Day in the UK. It’s an inclusive platform that invites anyone and everyone to put on an event, no matter what their gender politics.
Supporters of the day included charities that help male victims of rape and sexual abuse and campaigners working to address the fact that in the UK, 13 men die from suicide every day. Over the years a small number of feminist groups have also got behind the day, but some high profile feminists like the founders of MenEngage and White Ribbon advise their global networks to “stay away from the day“.
The reason? My view is they stay away from International Men’s Day because it isn’t controlled by feminists—and fundamentalist feminists can’t cope with inclusive approaches that require them to share a gender political platform with non-feminists.
“Fuck off and leave us the fuck alone!”
Then there’s Kate Smurthwaite, a feminist campaigner named by the BBC as one of their “100 women” who responded to an International Men’s Day press release in 2014, by sending me a foul-mouthed email saying:
“Would you please tell whoever wrote this utter shit to go fuck themselves? Feminism is the same thing as gender equality. Those who say it is not are lying assholes trying to divide and destroy the movement. Please let them know they are misogynist dickwads and that feminism doesn’t want their help. Feminism wants them to fuck off and leave us the fuck alone”.
Then there’s the Labour MP and former domestic violence charity worker, Jess Phillips, who tied herself in gender political knots over International Men’s Day this year, first sniggering at it; then offering an apology of sorts for her reaction to it; then saying she was for men’s issues; then deriding International Men’s Day’s track record; then comparing International Men’s Day (with it’s focus on helping male victims of rape and preventing male suicide, amongst other things) to “white history month or able body action day”.
More pertinently, she also publicly declared her hatred for people with a different gender political view to her saying: “I hate fools who think men don’t have equality”.
I’m one of those fools that Jess hates. My non-feminist view of gender equality is that there are clearly areas where women and girls experience inequality and there are areas when men and boys face inequality too. Both of these things are true and both need addressing—it’s not a zero sum game, helping men AND women does not require us to choose between men OR women.
This simple viewpoint is one that feminists and feminism struggles to contend with and this is deeply problematic for a movement that too often claims to be synonymous with “gender equality”. How can any movement claim to be all about gender equality and struggle so profoundly to respond to the many gender inequalities that men and boys face?
Take the case of the University of York, where the Equality and Diversity Committee decided to support International Men’s Day. The response by feminists within the institution was not “Great how can we help?” but “Shit, how can we close this down?”
In total, 200 academics, students and alumni signed an open letter opposing the day and the institution responded by abandoning its plans. This episode was covered in several places including The Telegraph, insideMAN and The Independent. The silver lining on this story was provided by a wonderful York student, Ruth Morris, starting a petition FOR International Men’s Day that garnered over 4,000 signatures.
Contrary to what Martin claims, I am not in the business “tarring all feminists as intolerant”. When I see tolerant and inclusive feminism, I celebrate it and so here’s Ruth demonstrating what tolerant, inclusive feminism looks like:
“True feminists should be fighting for gender equality for both men and women. To cancel men’s day is simply hypocritical. Equality is not just for women and should concern all genders. All feminists are being wrongly portrayed here which is simply unfair. We are not man-haters and the university should go ahead with plans to celebrate all diversity, not just one gender.”
These incidents demonstrate the vital importance of creating non-feminist and non-feminist-inclusive spaces to discuss gender issues—particularly those affecting men and boys. One reason is simply that such initiatives bring to light the fundamentalist opposition to intellectual diversity that seems to be endemic in the feminist movement.
Another reason is that if feminism really is about gender equality and yet struggles to address the gender equality issues that men and boys face (which it clearly does), then embracing and supporting “others” who are committed to and focused on addressing the equality issues facing men and boys is surely something to be welcomed?
If feminism is really about gender equality for all, then why is it so hostile to those who are concerned with highlighting and addressing the equality issues that men and boys face?
These fundamentalist tendencies within feminism go to the very top. In 2014 I was privileged to be invited by UN Women to attend a workshop about the #HeForShe campaign with Emma Watson and a select gathering of experts. There was a magical moment before the event started when I asked one of the organisers why they’d invited me to speak. He told me there were lots of female academics talking about men and gender but not many men and they wanted a male academic to contribute—albeit a pro-feminist one.
Then I dropped the bombshell “but I’m not an academic and I’m not a feminist”!
The look of absolute horror on the guy’s face was priceless, like a caterer at a Bar Mitzvah suddenly discovering the chef has put ham in the soup that has just been served to all the guests.
You see, had they realised I was a non-feminist in advance, they would never have invited me, because #HeForShe and UN Women are feminist campaigns for gender equality for women—-not non-feminist-inclusive campaigns for gender equality for all.
Then there’s the European Union.
In the 2012 the EU agency EIGE (European Institute for Gender Equality) created a network of approved NGOs that work with men on gender equality issues. The feminist team behind the project went through an extensive process of defining how men should (or shouldn’t) be allowed to engage in gender equality work across Europe (including the UK).
The report promotes pro-feminist work involving men and gender equality policies across Europe and rejects non-feminist approaches and theories that highlight discrimination against men—which includes anti-feminist, men’s rights and fathers’ rights approaches.
At the same time, the European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE) compiled a database of approved men’s organisations across Europe who were considered to be suitable for inclusion in gender equality work.
Any organisation or individual considered “to have rejected the study’s understanding of gender equality” was excluded. And therein lies the fundamentalism of feminism writ large across publicly funded gender political thinking in Europe.
The team behind this project identified five types of gender politics that men engage in:
- Men’s liberation
- Anti-sexist or pro-feminist
- Spiritual and mythopoetic
- Men’s rights and fathers’ rights.
The hierarchy of gender politics
What this list represents is a hierarchy of approved gender political viewpoints. The top groups are considered to be superior and are included in an approved list of stakeholders working for gender equality. The bottom three groups are considered to be inferior and excluded from the list (though may be let in if vetted and approved).
I don’t fit neatly into any of those boxes and there are groups that are completely overlooked—for example charities and campaigns working to end male circumcision don’t fit into any of those categories (though men from each category may support their aims).
What this incomplete list confirms is that there are many forms of “non-feminism”. My own personal version of non-feminism includes aspects of all five groups and more besides (though I am neither Christian nor pro-feminist). More broadly, beyond my own specific viewpoints, I believe that approaches to addressing gender equality should include ALL of those groups and more besides.
And this is where I find myself at odds with the fundamentalist approach to gender equality that feminists and pro-feminists promote.
Essentially, what feminism does is to create a closed club that excludes people with particular worldviews—like myself—and then when we criticise feminism for attempting to exclude us from the world of gender equality, we are attacked for not supporting feminism.
It’s like not inviting people to a party, putting bouncers on the door to prevent us from getting in and then when we complain, attacking us for being rude and not showing up at to the party.
We need diversity in gender politics
The fact is that gender politics is a diverse field and I happen to believe that we should work to embrace that diversity, rather than seek to create hierarchies of gender political thought that actively exclude particular worldviews.
In this respect I tend to find myself at odds with both feminists AND anti-feminists because while anti-feminism is one form of non-feminism (and while I agree that many of the issues highlighted by anti-feminists are not being addressed by feminism), my experience of anti-feminists is that they also find inclusivity and diversity in gender politics confronting.
However as anti-feminists tend to have very little (if any) power in the world of gender equality, this is mere trivia when compared to the damage that feminists and feminism is doing with its fundamentalist resistance to intellectual diversity in gender politics.
Nor do I think that the report’s analysis of anti-feminists “seeking to undermine gender equality” is a fair or reasonable analysis. Most (though not all) anti-feminists that I have encountered simply see themselves as having a different view of what gender equality is to most feminists.
From my own perspective, the reason I am a non-feminist is that I care deeply and passionately about every girl and boy on this planet being given every opportunity to flourish and thrive and fulfil their potential.
I believe that deepening our understanding of men, masculinity and manhood is central to that. But unlike the feminists and pro-feminists I don’t view “men and masculinities as socially constructed and produced, rather than ‘natural’“.
As an integral non-feminist thinker, I believe that gender is a product of both nature (i.e. biology and evolved psychology) and nurture (social and cultural conditioning).
There are lots of different ways to define people’s gender politics (and we all have gender politics) and one way is to consider if you think being a man is a product of nature; a product of nurture; or a combination of nature and nurture.
As the majority of feminist thinking emanates from the social sciences, other valuable perspectives from disciplines such as biology, psychology and neuro-science are often excluded from our approach to gender equality. This is another manifestation of the fundamentalist tendency within feminism to exclude worldviews that are not readily aligned to feminist thinking.
When feminists are absolutely brilliant
But if we want to live in a world that works for everyone—and I do—we can’t do this by trying to force everyone to think the same, we can only do it by learning to integrate the very best of the many different worldviews that are found around the globe.
The feminist approach to gender equality does not do this. It excludes people like me—and many wonderful men and women around the world who don’t tick the “feminist” or “pro-feminist” box. The reason I don’t support feminism is that I support equality and diversity and I support the inclusion of worldviews that I don’t agree with, in the world of gender politics.
Feminists are absolutely brilliant at trying to promote all manner of sexual diversity and gender diversity in the world and while I don’t always agree with the methods, I do 100% support the intention—-and all I ask of feminists and feminism is that you extend that brilliant thinking to embrace intellectual diversity, which means welcoming and including those who hold views that are non-feminist into the worlds of gender politics, gender issues and gender equality.
I know that this is a big ask. It’s difficult for people in power to let go.
But while as an individual it is perfectly acceptable to think “we should all be feminists”, once you become a collective force that holds power, authority and influence, you have a responsibility to be inclusive of a diverse range of gender political viewpoints—and feminism is shirking that responsibility big time.
And that for now is why I don’t support feminist campaigns for gender equality, because:
- I’m not a feminist
- My definition of “gender equality” is different from most feminists
- Too many feminist initiatives designed to “engage men in gender equality” actively exclude non-feminists
And most importantly of all I believe the way to resolve the world’s problems is not to enforce a singular worldview on any issue, but to develop our ability to integrate and include a diversity of ways of thinking about problems, rather than excluding people who dare to think differently.
As the freethinker Claire Lehmann argues: “almost every advance in human history first came from a person willing to look at the world, or the status quo, from a different angle”.
—Photo courtesy of Flickr