Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Challenges of Social Justice

I have a tumblr, which is not very exciting since I mostly use it as a reader with a minimum of posting, but it does provide me with a lot of great opinion and thought, interspersed with some really wonderful art.  One of the people I follow is a guy named Michael Wood, whose tumblr is called "Capitalism Kills," and he posted a thoughtful article about being a male feminist recently, and I think he raises some essential points.  You can read the article here.  His closing paragraph reads thus:
"The battles haven’t been picked wisely by feminists. It still astonishes me that I have been attacked the way I have in previous discussions. You shouldn’t berate, belittle, label and slander one of your own just because they occasionally have a mild disagreement with something you have said. It’s not positive, it takes focus off of the real issues at hand, and it doesn’t promote the cause. I hope this will one day change. I am still and always will be all about equality for women and I hope that one day there is no judgment passed or oppression dealt based on gender. But now I have no choice but to take a step back from the feminist movement. This has to be done solely by women, because men—especially if they are white or appear to be a “white male” as I do—aren’t allowed to have opinions because they are, in fact, men."
There are a couple problematic things here, not least the impulse to tell people how to conduct their fight for rights, but I think it's understandable here and highlights one of the great challenges of social justice movements.  I try very hard - and am sure that many other people do as well - to not let people who don't represent the core of a movement or group dissuade me from the movement's principles.  However, there is a real question of how often one can encounter the same viewpoints before assuming that the fringe represents the whole.  The fringe is often louder than the center, because the center attempts to quietly incorporate their concerns for social justice into their lives, whereas the fringe's efforts tend to take more active and extroverted approach.  This should be a call to the center, to voice our feelings about the issues we hold dear, and not to assume that the rightness of our position will speak for itself and somehow drown out those who contort the centrist message to something we do not support and cannot be sold to the general public.

However, at the same time we must understand that if we are to fight for freedom, we must accept that freedom may mean that people do things we don't like.  In feminism's case, it may mean accepting that some people want to cook dinner for their husbands in pearls and heels, that some women want to stay home with their children, that some women want to swaddle their lives in pink.  Feminism is about the ability to make that choice, and to suggest otherwise is to do violence to the most essential part of the movement.  It is a reluctance to understand this that leads to the loss of men like Michael Wood, who otherwise would serve as articulate, active, and enthusiastic allies in the progress towards feminism's goal of equality for women.  Feminism fights the patriarchal social structure all day, every day, and this means that men's voices are privileged above women's all day, every day.  Would that it be otherwise, but that's what we're dealing with right now.  With that in mind, what better weapon in the fight for female equality could there be than a loud, male voice unafraid to declare "I am a feminist, and the patriarchy is wrong"?

No comments:

Post a Comment