Man-hating women are trying to destroy men’s lives when everyone knows that there are biological differences between men and women that are so genetically coded that the very idea of some form of simple equity completely ignores evolution, history, culture and every good movie I’ve ever watched. Or something.
I finally had the chance to read Clementine Ford’s second book: “Boys Will Be Boys” this week while in Yogyakarta. I bought the book on pre-order but have been so dedicated to working on my PhD and my role at my boy’s school (and another chance to dance) that I didn’t try to read it until I had some time. This is not a book review – more a comment on some of the things that the book raised for me, particularly if I can call myself a feminist. In the name of full disclosure, I thoroughly enjoyed Clementine’s first book, “Fight Like a Girl” – despite how uncomfortable it made me feel. I am quite a big fan of Clementine in general and had the chance to meet her (and get her to sign my book) when I presented at SexRurality in 2017. For a man-hating Femi-nazi that wants to fire all men in to the sun with a giant cannon, she really is nice.
I enjoy reading texts and engaging with content that forces me to interrogate my way of thinking and examine the way I go about things. Challenging yourself is a fantastic thing. Accepting that challenge and using that challenge as a lens to explore your own character and behaviour is an even greater and more powerful thing. I have always been taught critical analysis – from my high school days through university through life – I have always wanted to know the why. Why do I react in certain ways? Why does society? Why can’t I change my behaviour? What motivates me to change it? Is it intrinsic or extrinsic motivation? And as a man, particularly a white cisgender heteronormative identifying one (sorry if you rolled your eyes, but GTFU if you did) – why am I allowed to do things, say things, behave in certain ways or even change them – especially when others can not? What privileges do I have at my disposal that others do not? Do I need to check myself? Do I need to speak? More importantly, do I need to shut up and listen?
“Boys Will Be Boys” was at times depressing – particularly for being so accurate and at times familiar. How much people conform to gender-norms based on their child’s biological sex is one explored well in the book. This section really resonated with me – especially discussions around the clothing, toys, play and roles boys in particular are expected to have because our society is so rigid and confused. It resonated with me because we have TRIED as a family to avoid these stereotypes. You cannot control outside influences, but from giving our boys dolls and dollhouses to play with; to supplying dresses for the dress-up box; to letting them wear pink (gasp); to role modelling diversity in our household domestic roles; we have tried to challenge what is normal. The chapter reminded me of the time a friend was shocked we allowed our son to play with a doll and pram – he told us he would buy his a lawnmower. I asked him was he worried all that playing with a pretend baby would make him a good dad. There wasn’t a strong answer.
There are some other great sections on the book – the stark raving madness of the Men’s Rights Advocacy Movement is not something new to me – but a great read all the same. Those groups sit somewhere better misguided fanaticism and terrorism (literally calling for men to suicide outside their local MP’s office to show them your pain) and Ford does a great job of looking at the history. There are more comprehensive books on the topic (“Angry White Men” by Michael Kimmel) but this is a great take with some hilarious points. The sections on rape, the way our culture shields men from their crimes and victim blames are incredible uncomfortable reading – but again, not new. Anyone that has listened to a news report after a rape-murder, when the police call for women to “make smart choices” rather than asking men to have a break from raping them knows this.
Clementine does a great job of breaking down many aspects of our own society and the fucked up, yet incredibly privileged place men occupy within. Ford looks at how many men are broken, oblivious and hurting ourselves and others as they go along. Is it all men? Surely it is #notallmen. I know from my own lived experience, its not all men – but its plenty of them and not enough men are doing enough in terms of real action to change things for the better. This book, as well as Ford’s last one is really uncomfortable reading as a man. They are both not written for us. In a world that the majority of the content I have access to is written or created for straight white men – it nice to have to listen for once, rather than have things provided and pitched right at me. I’m not the expert here. Or the target audience. Or the champion. Its not the way things normally are.
Reflecting on this, “Boys Will Be Boys” and a few other texts I’ve read relatively recently has made me interrogate myself on where I sit as a feminist – and namely if I am one. I mentioned at a party the other day that I could not consider myself a feminist; much to some surprise at the time – but this relates more to feeling comfortable beholding the label rather than my ideological standing on the issue. Just to be very clear on my perspectives, feminism is not a cancer. It is not scary. It is not evil. It is not targeting men or enslaving men. Men are already enslaved.
I long for a world:
- in which men can have more of an engaged and equal role in the raising of their own children without scorn from society for failing to be the major bread-winner.
- where men actually do their meaningful and fair share of domestic labour – especially carrying the mental load of their families domestic lives instead of “helping around the home”.
- where men take actual responsibility and play a fundamental role in the reproductive labour in their relationships – like being active in contraceptive choices, not relying on women to “take care of it” and considering a vasectomy when you’ve bred sufficiently.
- where empathy and compassion are considered important male characteristics.
- where it is ok to cry and hug and be physically touched by another man without being called a poof.
- where we can shed this bullshit Ocker-AF attitude of what “men are” and stop being slaves.
Equality is needed in our world and men are often too dumb to realise that fighting for it will actually benefit them. Men are drunk on the power we withhold from others, rather than enticed by the possibilities of sharing the burden.
So why not label myself a “feminist”? Despite my belief in the ideology and the goals that the movement is fighting for – I don’t do enough advocacy in that space to call myself a feminist. It must be more than a few words and basically doing the right bloody thing. Sure, we can have a discussion about intersectionality or the role that the patriarchy has in the enslavement of men and the oppression of women – but words are cheap. I don’t deserve a cookie for that.
I also don’t get to choose that I am “one of the good men” (if you haven’t watched Hannah Gadsby’s speech – or her incredible work Nannette: go do it now) for doing what I basically should. I don’t get to call myself a feminist for wanting social justice and equality – I get to call myself a human.
There are far better people (particularly women) out there doing far more work that deserve recognition, praise and all the cookies that men get for doing something that is “vaguely feminist. Until I can do more to earn my stripes – which is doing more then interrogating myself, exploring how to be a better human, and doing what I already should be – I’ll have to wait for my cookie. I’m a definite ally. I’m definitely a believer. I’m just not convinced I’m doing enough to earn the label.