A Pox on the Patriarchy
I hadn’t been intending to wade in on the Matt Haig twitterstorm. Often when I offer my opinion on an issue over which feminists disagree there is this perception that I think I am Queen Feminist and offer my droplets of wisdom like sermons from the mount. But, actually, I think this is an important issue and one I feel strongly about. So here is my opinion — please take it in the spirit in which it is intended. I do not claim to represent the One True Feminism. I only claim to have the right to express what my personal interpretation is. You are free to agree or to disagree with it.
So. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a thing that happened this week. A man, an author, Matt Haig, tweeted that he would like to write a book about masculinity. Masculinity in its current formation harms men, he said. He wanted to explore that. He wanted to write a book that, unlike the rants of men’s rights activists, which also identify how masculinity damages men, would not blame feminism. Rather, Haig’s book would suggest feminism might be good for men as well as women.
This was not looked on kindly by some people on twitter. Haig was accused of mansplaining feminism, of being another man telling feminists where they are going wrong, of suggesting that he was the man for the job of putting us right.
If Haig had said this, while I would still support him in wanting to write a book about how patriarchy hurts men without thinking feminists are responsible for patriarchy, I would understand the anger. Feminists are told on a daily basis by men who haven’t bothered to put the first bit of effort into finding out what feminists are actually campaigning on, that we are focusing on the wrong things. I personally am castigated on a daily basis for not tweeting, writing or marching about things I have tweeted, written and marched on. It’s pretty annoying.
BUT: I can’t find any tweets where Haig seemed to be saying that. What he seemed to be saying was that he wanted to do something that I think is absolutely and fundamentally necessary: to talk to other men about how the current social order is doing them no favours. That feminism is not the enemy. That feminism wants to free both men and women from the constraints of the gender prison we have constructed around ourselves. Yes, women come out bottom of the gender class, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bed of roses for men. I don’t see the harm in pointing this out.
If feminism is to revolutionise society in the way we want, men have to change too. Currently, men are still expected to be dominant, to be natural leaders, to be physically and emotionally impermeable. This is not healthy for men, and it’s not healthy for women either, given we experience the fall-out in the form of male violence — men commit the vast majority of violent crimes.
Feminists have long spoken about the need to tackle masculinity. But, so far, we have had far greater success in expanding what we conceive of as acceptable female behaviour (although obviously we still have a long way to go). We have still barely scratched the surface when it comes to changing what it means to be a man in this society. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that so few man have, thus far, been part of that conversation.
I don’t want men to lead feminism. I don’t want feminism to be about men. But there is little point denying that part of sexism means men currently listen to men more than they do to women. So when it comes to trying to change the way men view masculinity, when it comes to trying to change male behaviour, when it comes to freeing men from the shackles of gender, can it hurt to have the message coming from another man? Another man who has himself experienced the downsides of patriarchy for men? I don’t think it can.