Saturday, 26 February 2011

How I Wanted To Be a Femminist: In reply to Suzanne Moore

It was not Suzanne Moore's piece in the Saturday's Guardian that made me ask myself if I am a feminist, but she certainly helped me find the answer. To begin with, I am male; have been brought up by a working mother (with university education); have been surrounded by girls - and women - who surpass me intellectually (and created a family with one); and have been raised in a culture where equality of men and women was unquestionably part of the official state ideology (you guessed it right, Eastern Europe). Oh, and I was fascinated by the late period of John Lennon with Yoko Ono (why is he not on your team list, Suzanne?). Put these together, and you may understand how I came to getting quite disturbed by any display of disrespect or abuse against women, and trying to confront it where possible.

Not an easy thing to be in a time when a new ideology, promoted by then England's female prime minister among others, was making its way across the world. Making money suddenly became a most noble vocation; individualism and free market took the place of solidarity and social care ideals. It grew increasingly difficult to justify my reservations against the fashion industry, for example, where femininity is exposed, exploited and measured like a market commodity. Or against the pop-, celeb-, entertainment media, which sell female sex appeal as a cheap daily consumable. It is all about the money, after all, was the usual answer.

This was the time when I came across the concept of feminism - and felt intuitively attracted to it. For a start, its title suggests support for femininity - and that is something I certainly felt I could subscribe to. But it wasn't long after I had met 'real' feminists - both by belief and profession - that I realized how difficult this might be for a man.

First, because I was not wanted. Behind the initial wave of smiles and acclaim, I encountered anything between quiet resentment and open hostility to my equal participation in the feminist streamline. No men allowed in the room, I read: because many women had been through painful experiences with men and would not feel comfortable in my presence. Respect to the victims, I thought. But then - no men allowed to speak up, I learned from experience. If a man disagrees, or criticises, he is... a bigot, was it? If, by any chance, he is right - well, this is because for ages women have been discouraged to speak up and formulate brave ideas. Indeed, it is.

Mind you, these were experiences in an international organisation where feminism and women's rights were not central, they were just part of the ethos we all shared, among things like equality, freedom of speech, human rights, nature protection and so on. I asked a wise woman in charge what was going on. "Men have it their ways everywhere else, let's give women their fair share around here," she explained half jokingly. Half serious. Other men in the organisation advised: "Shut up and let them have their ways!" I did.

This experiences made me weary. Of generalisation, to begin with. And of what I really care for and struggle against. Are feminism and anti-sexism one and the same really? There are people, who are oppressed, abused, disadvantaged, impoverished. I care about them. I know most of them are women. But I care about the men too. There are men who exploit, manipulate, violate or simply beat up other people. And there are women who do these things too. They may be fewer in number, but I do not hate them less just because they are female. A penis is not a crime, and a vagina is not an alibi, really.

It is inequality that we should be against, not men or women. Sexism is very wrong for sure. If feminism is about giving women their fair share of doing things the same old ways, it simply makes no sense. Write me off. I could not care less if there are more women on corporate boards, in government seats or in the military, should they continue exploiting other people - and nature - in the same ways. Feminism makes sense as part of a systematic change, and as factor for it. A change, that should bring true gender equality, among other things. In one sense I wish Pat Robertson, was right: feminists should get capitalism in check, particularly if no alternative social order is in view. If not, they become part of the problem.