TW: This article addresses harassment.
By Ananya Kundu for Ungender.
Since the 2012 Delhi rape and murder case, and a series of gruesome crimes against women and children that followed since then, there has been an active call for the inclusion of men in the feminist movement against sexual violence.
It is a question we encounter repeatedly in the popular discourse — “Can men be feminists?” There is no simple answer to this, firstly because accepting the category of ‘men’ as it is, will be an act of giving into the idea of gender binaries that feminists have opposed for so long.
‘Men’ are not a homogeneous category and comes with its set of intersectional identities that exist within it in terms of sexuality, gender, and caste identity.
Men who carry these intersectional identities are also vulnerable to discrimination, bullying, assault and are victims of patriarchy themselves. So, the focus should be more on ‘cis-gendered men’ in trying to determine their role in the feminist movement.
The anxiety around men’s involvement in the feminist movement comes from the fear of domination and appropriation of marginalised narratives.
Men enjoy many privileges because of their position in the gender hierarchy. Their inclusion in the movement, thus, threatens to invisibilise the marginalised voices.
They themselves do not, as the norm, experience the systematic violence that is perpetrated on everyone who does not identify as cis-men in every sphere. They have historically benefited from a system that has exploited others.
The anxiety around men’s involvement in the feminist movement comes from the fear of domination and appropriation of marginalised narratives. Men enjoy many privileges because of their position in the gender hierarchy.
Workplaces have been a site of discrimination, harassment, and assault for many individuals. While some of these processes are explicit, like not promoting a woman, or not hiring a queer individual or a Dalit individual, other ways in which patriarchal forces are reinforced are through sexist jokes, inappropriate comments, toxic work cultures that have become ingrained in workplaces. While men and women both are often seen to be complicit in this process, men are complicit and also privileged when it comes to sexism at workplaces.
Women are seen to be intellectually ‘inferior’ and ‘irrational’, as a result of which, men are often given greater leverage. Stereotypes and false sexist narratives are propagated, that uphold the idea that women get jobs and promotions on the basis of their gender. Charges of harassment and sexism in the office are not treated with care and efficiency.
Even when they realise the problem with the system, they do not protest, out of fear of being ostracised and left out from work-groups. Many people argue that cis-heterosexual men cannot be feminists due to their privilege, but can only be allies. I am yet undecided on this issue. But, I do know that the presence of men is important in the movement, as allies or as feminists.
Men have started coming out recently to protest against sexist, patriarchal cultures, realising patriarchy affects them too. To dispel the sexist workplace culture, it is very important for men to break free from their role of compliance and call out the toxicity that stays embedded in these spheres.
Stereotypes and false sexist narratives are propagated that uphold the idea that women get jobs and promotions on the basis of their gender. Charges of harassment and sexism in the office are not treated with care and efficiency.
The first step to this should include being aware of their own privilege and then making a conscious decision to break away from it. Many men shy away from doing that because it requires them to investigate and change parts of their lifestyles that have become so ingrained and habitual. Giving up one’s privilege thus becomes a difficult option.
Men need to be made a part of the conversation while ensuring that they don’t speak over the voices of others. And men know that a change in these workplace cultures will help them too.
For example, parental leave for fathers, to make sure they play an active role in childcare, dispelling the notion that men have to be sole breadwinners in the family, the option of taking up work that has been traditionally considered ’emasculating.’
To dispel the sexist workplace culture, it is very important for men to break free from their role of compliance and call out the toxicity that stays embedded in these spheres.
In order for workplace feminism to succeed in challenging and replacing the existence of patriarchal structures and culture, the movement has to be inclusive and everyone has to be brought into the conversation without letting any sort of behalf-ism and appropriation take place. The mic needs to be passed to everyone than letting one person speak for the others.
About the author: Ananya recognises herself as an intersectional feminist and is pursuing her M.A in Women’s Studies from TISS, Hyderabad. In her free time, she enjoys reading, dancing, watching movies, smashing the patriarchy and breaking stereotypes.
This article was first published on Ungender Insights.