This House Believes Feminism Should Exclude Men: Defeated!

Yesterday, Thursday June 12th,  Cambridge Union held an evening debate on the Motion `THBT Feminism Should Exclude Men’.

The team for the Proposition included outgoing President of the Union Michael Dunn Goekjian, comedienne and political activist Kate Smurthwaite, and two debating champions, Grand Finalist World Universities Debating Kitty Parker-Brook and Clara Spera.

On the opposition – myself, feminist author Dr. Liberty Barnes, novelist and `No More Page Three’ Campaigner Lucy-Ann Holmes and the skilled Cambridge competitor Sristi Krishnamoorthy.

Despite the fact that these events are supposed to be as much social as they are serious, our team were still damn pleased to defeat the motion by 154 to 34.

As Leader of the Opposition, the following was my opposition statement, the major gist of which I delivered.

`I am very grateful to the proponent for setting out the motion of this debate and I applaud you for acknowledging the many difficulties women face today would not be helped by including men in feminism.

However, because of the authority and influence of this great institution, to vote for the motion, in my opinion, would not only be to put the feminism issue back several generations, but also a deliver disappointment to those who celebrated women’s full membership to study here at Cambridge University 66 years ago.

In addition, I would like to outline my reasons for why feminism should not exclude men.

Firstly, feminism has a bad image problem. It’s seen by many as an anti-male movement. And that’s not just resulting in loss of support but also breeding, in part, a nasty backlash against not just feminists but all women. And by excluding men you are just going to make that situation worse.

Where did this label come from anyway? Certainly not the era I grew up in.

I was one of two children, I had an elder brother. My parents could only afford private education for one. So, typical of the times, they focused on him.

But girls like me didn’t necessarily feel resentful as a result. In fact we felt great sympathy for boys, our brothers. They had more pressure on them. Not necessarily from loving parents, but from society. The expectations were huge.

The Opposition Team at the Femiism Debate

The Opposition Team at the Feminism Debate

They had to work from the moment they left education, like it or not. Often in very mundane jobs. They had to fight in wars, compete at rough sports, toughen up.

Also, they were expected to provide financially for women and families one hundred per cent.

Since that time I’ve travelled the world, met hundreds of different women from all walks, all levels of education, feminists and non feminists. Some had been very badly treated by men in one way or another. But either way, with a very few exceptions, I’ve not come across any who were `anti’ every man on this planet as a result.

So I don’t believe this `anti-men’  is representative of how most women feel. Quite the opposite.

My view is that it is a deliberate distortion. By either people, male or female,  who don’t want feminism to succeed, feel threatened by it, or who wish to go in a different direction to what was intended.

Or possibly just simply bad branding. If you `Google’ feminist symbols you’re first off met with the 1942 British war Recruitment poster. `Rosie the Riveter’. The woman in a tied headscarf flexing a muscle. It’s iconic. It sends a strong message, but not necessarily  the right one. Still used today, it’s aggressive, it’s antagonistic, plus it’s seventy years old. And absolutely nothing to do with equality.

`Google feminist quotes and you come up with the following:

Andrea Dworkin: `Feminism is hated because women are hated. Anti-feminism is a direct expression of misogyny.’

Or, Marilyn French’s, spoken by a character from one of her novels, `All men are rapists and that’s all they are.’

Then there’s the classic quote from Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. `Women fail to understand how much men hate them.’

Feminism has no reason to be on a man-hating mission.  That doesn’t achieve the results.  That doesn’t take us where we want to go.  By including men we’d be able eliminate these absurd assumptions. Be more effective in achieving our aims.

What are those aims? Well, for me, feminism is about equal rights, not equal liking.

Men and women have always had and will always have different imperatives.

It’s because we have those different imperatives we make the claim more women should be serving on public boards in the UK.

It’s because we have different imperatives we make the claim women should be taking up more positions in high profile politics.

It is because we have different imperatives we make the claim women should be involved in peace negotiations when they happen.

The problem is that people with different imperatives find it hard to get along, full stop, regardless of whether they are the same sex or not.

So people with different imperatives, trying to negotiate equality at the same time, there’s inevitably going to a certain conflict of interests.

Last weekend I was amusing myself looking through a little quote book called Keep Calm for Brides because my daughter is getting married in October. Inside there’s a lovely one from that great observer of human nature, Leo Tolstoy.  `What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.

As someone who has been married for 32 years I know that to be a wise piece of advice.

He was writing about marriage, but he could easily have been writing about feminism.

Feminism is after all a political marriage which involves men and women working and living side by side.

So surely, that’s must be work of the feminist movement? The raison d’etre. Dealing with that incompatibility, the difficult areas, the conflicts of opinion that arise in feminism.

Finding ways of working with men, not working against them. Co-operation, not confrontation.  And vice versa, of course.

However, that means their involvement, men’s inclusion, hearing the masculine  side of the story. In short it means involving men in the feminist issues, not excluding them as is the motion of the house.

Women are not just the comforters of girls but also boys. And I know many mothers who no longer worry about how their daughters will find a meaningful place in the world, earn enough money to live on, or achieve health and happiness as much as they do about their sons.

But mostly, more importantly possibly,  we must oppose this motion and not exclude men from feminism because above all we must be pragmatic.

Men are both the cause and the solution to many of the pressures today’s women face.

For example, if there’s one unspoken factor that stands in the way of women’s progress in the workplace, in politics, in society in general, it’s not necessarily lack of opportunity. Or drive.  Or talent. It’s this. Intimidation.

You don’t have to be a 25 year old radio producer returning home at 3 in the morning after a night shift at LBC, a twitter addict, or one of the 70 undergraduates in your survey who said they’d been sexually assaulted here at Cambridge to be aware of a new and disturbing trend in intimidation, verbal and physical.

Ladies, you came to Cambridge University to be mentally nourished. You did not come to Cambridge University to be mentally traumatised. And I am quite sure you did not come here to be sexually abused. That is certainly not what the early feminists campaigned for when they demanded equal education for girls and full entry into University.

Sexism, abuse, exploitation, misogyny is on the rise. It’s being reported everywhere.

What do we do about this? Legislation alone won’t solve it. There is already  in existence a legal penalty if a woman is assaulted, raped or murdered. But no longer it appears is there existing the desire there once was for men to protect a woman from this happening to her in the first place.

If I return once again to my earlier days. I can remember as a child sitting at the feet of my mother talking to a friend about some man they both knew  who was quite obviously, because of the conversation, giving his wife a bit of a hard time. I remember the sense of disapproval, and hearing `A man should never pick on a woman’. And it stuck with me. Because in those days, yes, that was how things were.  Women were patronised, and as we have heard in this debate today, patriarchy is difficult to deal with.  However,  the other side of this was that any whiff of misogyny was frowned upon.

There were less career opportunities, but maybe more social respect. There was a strict set of manners laid down between men and women. And society did not like men who mistreated women. Possibly because we were seen as the physically weaker sex, wrongly or rightly, the social norm was to condemn assaults on women, verbal or otherwise. More than that, it was considered yellow, cowardly.

Can we say the same of today?

So women today have gained equality in the boardroom, but lost it on the streets.

Today we’ve more town planners, female doctors, and even lawyers than men, but, then again, maybe we need them. Because CPS figures show at the same time as this workplace equality there are still 14 times more prosecutions of men using violence against women than the other way round.  I’m afraid, like days gone by, they, or we, are still the stalking victims, receive more internet abuse (72.5% according to Pew Research)  and, if that is not enough, we are still the soft touch for most of the car accident insurance scams!

Equality? I don’t think so.

So a change of attitude is required, and quickly too. Desperately, in fact. And that change starts today, this evening, at the Cambridge Union, in this debate, with opposing this motion, and agreeing that men  should be included in feminism.

So to sum up: Firstly, feminism has a severe image problem and if this is to change, it means we must work with men instead of against men and involve them fully in the cause for equality.

Secondly, to grow in support, feminism must now be more mindful of the problems boys and young men have to deal with, compounded, in part, because of the changes in society that feminism has wrought.

And finally, feminism must reflect how life is and not how we would like it to be.  By involving men we can work with the natural sexual synergy which has kept our species thriving and refining. And that  means opposing this motion tonight.’


About Louise Burfitt-Dons

Writer and social critic
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