The power of being nice

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As with all political movements, there are certain aspects of feminism that I find a little disconcerting, and the recent SCAN article Being nice gets feminism nowhere inspired me to put my unease into words. The central premise of the article seemed to be that feminism and women’s liberation should be led by women because women are more structurally subjugated in society than men. The article also tacitly suggested that this liberation should be orchestrated primarily in women-only spaces. As a cis-woman who has been involved in student politics and other activism for many years, I understand that some women feel safer, more comfortable, and more able to air their views in women-only spaces. Here I mean spaces which intentionally exclude men, rather than spaces which happen to consist of only women, such as my GCSE Textiles class (which would require a whole other article). I feel very strongly however, that feminism and women’s liberation as a whole should not be a women-only space.

As Emma Watson does in the #HeForShe campaign, as Owen Jones does in his Guardian articles, and as Eve Ensler herself did in her visit to Lancaster in 2013, I want to extend an invitation to all men and to everyone on the gender spectrum to work with women in this fight to end injustice and discrimination. I believe that feminism should not exclude or segregate, but should focus on education and solidarity. This approach might seem too nice, not confrontational enough, but being nice, educating and including is powerful.

The history of feminism has shown how powerful inclusivity can be. In the late 1980s a Professor of Law, Kimberlé Crenshaw noted that feminism and feminist activism represented a particular kind of white, heterosexual, middle-class feminism and excluded any woman who did not fit into these categories. Instead, Crenshaw advocated for an intersectional approach to inequality, one which took into account how gender, class and race intersected to create deeper inequalities. By discussing varying experiences of inequality, she suggested, we could better understand how the power structures of society produced such inequality and we would be more able to address this. I think that feminism needs to expand again to include men’s perspective on gender inequality, not because men are at a greater disadvantage, but because feminism can learn and progress by considering the different experiences of others.

What I mean to say here is that the subjugation of women is, for the most part, not the fault of individual men. Inequality is usually the fault of the system which tells men they must be aggressive and violent at the same time as it tells women they must be simpering and passive. It is because this system of inequality affects everyone on the gender spectrum that the fight against it must include everyone on that spectrum. We need to educate ourselves and each other on the multitude of guises sexism appears in. For a lot of men, this is simply a conversation they have never had. Girls and boys are usually segregated in Sex Ed in school; so boys don’t know about periods, they may never have asked how cat-calling makes someone feel, they may never have questioned why they were expected to pay the bill on a date. This is not to suggest that men aren’t capable of having these discussions, it is simply to suggest that no one has ever broached these topics with them in an educational environment.

By including and educating each other, feminism is able to break away from the man-hating, aggressive-tweeting, ‘feminazi’ stereotype that follows us around like a lost kitten looking for the infamous ‘crazy cat lady’. Feminism needs to do a little bit of damage control. Feminism needs to address every demographic under the sun, and explain why a world without injustice and sexism is a better world for everybody. Numerous quantitative studies have shown that people are much more likely to support a campaign labelled ‘gender inequality’ than one labelled ‘feminist’; the ambition for change is out there, we just need to break away from unhelpful, exclusionary stereotypes.

We cannot always include and educate by shouting from a rooftop. We must sit down together in a relaxed setting and talk, really talk about how gender inequality works and how we can stop these injustices. Men should not feel unwelcome in feminism; they should be encouraged to learn about how the systems of gender inequality works in society, and how they can change this. Being nice isn’t a bad thing, being nice educates and includes, and that’s what feminism needs right now.

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