Thursday, 14 March 2013


Women and feminists have to deal with incredible amounts of terrible misogyny and trolling in both the real world and online. Any negative feelings I have reading the hashtag #ThingsFeministMenSay are insignificant in comparison to that.

And this hashtag comes from that place. From frustration and anger that is created by the constant pushback radical women face when trying to push for rights, equality, respect and ultimately a change to the patriarchal structure of society. I sympathise very strongly with the emotions at the root of this.

I also think that a similar hashtag with different wording could be a powerful satirical and cathartic twitter thread. There are plenty of patronising men out there who think they can come in and lead the feminist movement, who don't see their own privilege, who attempt to tell women what their feminism should be. Hugo Schwyzer for example who was the straw that broke the camels hashtag.

Is that what I'm doing in this post? I don't think so but some may. And I get that.

Cards on the table I am a white, middle class, cisgendered, heterosexual man. I am, by virtue of my skin colour, appearance etc... highly privileged. But that doesn't mean I don't have gender based shame, that doesn't mean I haven't experienced abuse, that doesn't mean the patriarchy has treated me well, and it doesn't mean I'm not a feminist. I believe there are plenty more intersections than the clearest ones and that their are categories within categories.

It took me years and years to call myself a feminist; partly because I was brought up by feminists and had read a lot of feminist theory and that had led me to consider it problematic to do so. But after a lot of time thinking about it, and many after many conversations with female and male feminists I was persuaded to the argument that men could be feminists and began to define myself as one a year or so ago.

When I say I was brought up by feminists I mean that my mum is a feminist and my dad would define himself as an ally or sympathiser or something like that. He was born in the 1920's and has come pretty far in his thinking on gender and at 89 he's come about as far as he's going to go. My older sisters were feminists in the 70's when the movement was coalescing and their influence on me as a child was similar to the influence of aunts. My dad stayed at home in my early years and looked after me. My mum went out to work. Things changed when I was 8.

I don't know how's stepdad defines himself in terms of feminism but his effect on our household was as patriarchal as fuck. My mum was both main breadwinner and the person who did all the housework, where he hit me but not my sister, at one point my mum even tried to change her personality to a less "nagging" one. And all of this only began when they married. That flicked a weird switch in him and he changed. He fell into a milder version of his own childhood's pattern of working class Irish Protestantism where the sons were beaten by their father and the daughter was a Madonna who could do no wrong. I don't know much about the life of his mother but I think it's reasonable to expect the worst. The worst of patriarchy. The worst of humans.

After they split my mum had a breakdown. I was 12. During that time I spent long nights trying to comfort her as she raged and cried. She repeated the (pretty fair) mantra that men had ruined her life (she me in this assessment) as well as making other less gendered statements like wishing she had never had me. During that time (and the time before it when at the same time as becoming aware of my sexuality I listened through thin walls to their marriage falling apart) I internalised a lot of shame and guilt about being a man.

I didn't fit in to my new school. Partly because I was an English boy in Wales, partly because I was seen as a "swot" partly because I had non-conventional attitudes like opining capitalism and supporting feminism) and stood up for them. But mostly, I think now, because I was so raw and damaged from what was going on at home. Whatever the reasons it would be years before I would form close friendships with contemporaries. I was isolated and alone. I was given a new name by bullies. They called me Melvin. This name seems trivial and innocuous but its effect was not. It became what everyone in the school new me as.

I was scapegoated for the frustrations of the other children. The name would be jeered at me wherever I went. I would be kicked and punched walking down the corridors. I was spat on from above on the stairs or sometimes from the top deck of passing busses. Things were thrown at me. Occasionally worse things happened.

My "othering" was a constant thing that didn't end till I left school. A lot of the bullying was homophobic (despite the fact that I am straight.) The worst of it was done by boys but girls certainly joined in too. Once a girl held me down whilst two boys kicked me repeatedly in the face smashing my glasses.

But much of the kindness and solidarity that I eventually received came from girls. And the few boys who were also othered.

I may be in all of the privileged categories mentioned above but I have some experience of systematic abuse created by patriarchy and powerlessness.

That doesn't mean it's been as bad for me as it is for many others. In many other ways I have been lucky and privileged. For example despite stopping going into lessons in Year 11 to avoid the bullying but I still passed all my GCSE's with high grades because I was privileged to be able to pass exams easily. I am privileged so I don't get stopped and searched in the street. I am privileged because I have never experienced sexual harassment. The list goes on.

But grouping all men into one group and situating them asthe system rather than as a part of the system is problematic.

If I made a hashtag #ThingsFeministWomenSay and listed things Nadine Dorriessays that would justifiably outrage a great many feminists. Feminism itself holds many views within it. I hace been told I can't be a feminist or eceb an ally. But women also get told they can't be feminists if they are pro (or anti) sex work for example.

It saddens me that people I respect and want to stand with dismiss a whole group based on the actions if the worst of us. I understand that the burden is in men to prove to be better than that. The experiences of many women lead to this dismissal just as I once dismissed all the children in my school and over time cane to see that there were many exceptions. And that not all bullies were equally problematic. Some could be reached and persuaded round.

I don't mind if you consider me an ally or agree that I am a feminist. But please don't completely exclude me. I don't want to lead you. I don't want to make feminism about men.

It has taken me a long time to stop being ashamed of being a man. It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I feel I can call myself a feminist.

Feminism doesn't owe my gender anything. Despite all genders being hideously forced into roles it is clear that women and trans people have been the greater wronged by patriarchy.

But I do hope we can all find ways to empathise across these imposed boundaries. Because we aren't that different.

My thoughts on this are evolving. I'm very open to being corrected if I am being stupid. We can try and check our privilege but we can't always see it so its important to hear feedback from others.


  1. Your upsetting experiences don't really pertain to the #ThingsFeministMenSay conversation, nor do they really contest the validity of what the women on there are saying. Think of it as a "what not to do" guide for people who are particularly prone to doing it.

    "But grouping all men into one group and situating them as the system rather than as a part of the system is problematic. "

    I believe this has been covered several times on the hashtag with variations of "But not ALL men are like that". It misses the point, and your conception of patriarchy as some abstraction that is separate from male behaviour is not feminist. I think reading more radical feminist resources would help with this misconception.

    "I don't mind if you consider me an ally or agree that I am a feminist. But please don't completely exclude me. I don't want to lead you. I don't want to make feminism about men."

    A hashtag on twitter doesn't 'completely exclude' anyone from supporting feminism. Only they can do that, with their choice of action. Let feminists decide if you're an ally on the basis of what you do.

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  3. Thanks for your comment.

    I didn't mean to suggest patriachy was seperate from male (or female) behaviour. It is a system that has formed us all. Our behaviour is shaped by the system. I am certainly not meaning to excuse male behaviour.

    I do think the personal is the political and that my experience and the experience of everyone are relevant. Mine is less relevant than many I'm sure. But it's all I have.

    I agree I worded that strongly too strongly. The hashtag feels excluding and divisive. But I guess alienating men is fair enough. Men have been alienating women for long enough. I dream of a time when we stop alienating each other.

    Some feminists tell me I'm a feminist. Others tell me I'm an ally. Some tell me I'm neither. I'll define myself my own way and leave you to define me however you want. By my actions. By my words. Or by my gender if you wish.

    I am not a radical feminist however. Nor do I consider myself an ally of that way of thinking. Although we often have common cause. I am sex (and sex worker) positive and intersectional in the way I relate to feminism. I favour finding commonalities, empathy and finding how we are all formed by the complicated matrix we are locked within. But I may be wrong. I fully accept that. And I am open to being convinced. I have read quite a lot of radical feminist theory. I haven't of course experienced the world as a woman or someone who is transsexual.

    Thanks again for your comment.