Thank god for Antony Loewenstein. There’s not a lot all feminists can agree on but I’m pretty sure all of us white liberal feminists think he’s a hero. Personally I am just so grateful that there is a man who has finally – finally! – come out to instruct us on how we are doing feminism wrong.
On top of that, the bravery! He’s overcome his fear of criticism to stick it to us. This is precisely what we needed: a white knight on a charger to rescue us from ignominy.
So ladies the path is clear! Get it together! We are too obsessed with face lifts and red carpets! We need to focus on the real issues!
Yes, it’s true, we are doing feminism all wrong. We are, really, only interested in celebrity feminism. Face lifts. Marrying George Clooney. Western. Liberal. Feminism.
Not interested in violence against women. Or poverty. Or the battle for equal pay.
That’s the standard gambit for those who want to criticise what is always described as white liberal feminism or, as in yesterday’s critique by Antony Loewenstein, ‘Feminism Lite’.
Of course, men have often shied away from critiquing feminism and, in case you missed this, that’s also the fault of women.
“Men have a stake in gender equality, from promoting fair pay and no-fault divorce laws, all the way to stopping honour killings and sexual violence. We are boyfriends, husbands, fathers or friends, and yet too many of us shy away from these sensitive matters, fearing opprobrium. Too often, men worry they’ll be attacked by women for questioning a consensus position on feminist issues.”
There is, however, no consensus position on feminist issues. I wish there was. Just like the politics of patriarchy, there are a thousand different views in feminism but unlike the politics of patriarchy, there are not enough female leaders to reinforce those structures of power.
We can’t rely on old school ties or contact sports or standing at the urinal together. We can’t rely on unconscious bias to put us on the team.
Those are just some of the reasons why women embrace (almost) any women leader, those same female leaders Loewenstein maligns.
But I do wonder if he realises what it’s like to live in a society where your gender is so rarely in the top job. A society where someone like you never makes it to the Vice Chancellor position or editor (please forgive my white middle-class aspirations here but these are the institutions in which I have been working hard for the Man all these years).
Men have all the power and all the privilege – and having those makes it possible to reproduce that power and that privilege too.
Why did feminists embrace Gillard when there was so much about her that did not return that warm embrace? Because Gillard was a woman who became Prime Minister – and that’s one ceiling shattered, one goal now attained and so made attainable to others.
American women are all too familiar with Hillary Clinton’s flaws – but these are the flaws of a woman. No, neither of these leaders was or is the perfect feminist but then again, at least they both understand this: while sexism doesn’t explain everything, it explains some things.
As an individual feminist, I’ve personally written many many many critiques of the punitive measures against single mothers, of keeping children (or anyone) in detention, of the shocking way in which reproductive rights are abused in this country.
But the fact is that we get to choose from Julie Bishop or Julia Gillard. And only one of those women has publicly recognised that misogyny is an issue.
So, Antony, if I may call you that, please don’t broad-brush feminism in this way. Just as it is demeaning and degrading to imply that all men are violent, it is just as demeaning and degrading to say that all western feminism is the same. Women already suffer from stereotyping all the time. Every single day.
While I am thrilled you are engaged with the idea of feminism after holding back all this time, the real crunch is this. Now, instead of telling feminists what we are doing wrong, reveal instead what you plan to do. Instead of giving me advice, tell me you are happy to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
Here are some small ideas about how to operationalise equality, because it’s one thing to be a tireless commentator and quite another to be a tireless agent of change.
Go to your editors, Antony. Ask them what they pay their top female columnists per word. Measure the column centimetres, word count, placement of women’s stories about feminism. When I look to see the links on Comment is Free today, as I write this, I see Warwick Smith to your left, Mark Fletcher, First Dog and James Woodford to your right.
Offer to be an escort at an abortion clinic. Become active in campaigns against domestic violence. There is one going on right now to demand employers give paid domestic violence leave.
Come to rallies and meetings and online groups to oppose the closure of women’s only refuges. This is doing feminism. Lead men to understand how violence against women underpins the patriarchy.
In 2008, Rebecca Solnit wrote: “Yes, people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-pout confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.”
Knowing your thoughtful contribution to the question of Israel – and even knowing you socially – did not prepare me for you joining the ranks of men explaining things to me.
But Antony, really, when it comes down to it, you are right. As bell hooks teaches us, feminism is for everybody. And as she writes: “There is no feminist school, there is no feminist college.”
But Antony, you can do that. And you can start now leading by example. Instead of making a few bucks from The Guardian, pitch in.
Don’t join the serried ranks of men explaining why feminists should work against poverty and violence and work for equal pay and equal opportunity. Feminists know that we need to work on issues around class, culture, colour, gender. We know. But keeping all those things in our sights all at the one times is hard.
A lot harder than writing an oped column telling us to lift our feminist game.
Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tell me what to say. Tell men. They are the ones standing on the sidelines.