In the wake of the Tara Brown tragedy, Polly Chester looks for her own identity as a feminist; and to the domestic violence crisis in this country.
Unless you have been hiding under a rock, or fall into one of the more unfortunate personality archetypes of militantly apathetic, sociopathic or psychopathic, it would have been impossible to avoid being affected by the horrific deaths resulting from men’s violence against women on the Gold Coast over the past couple of weeks.
As a result of the violence and deaths, I have felt deep and visceral grief. I carry it with me while I work, on trains, as I cook, as I read and particularly in my sleep, with the details of gruesome violence relentlessly infiltrating my dreams with crystal clarity.
During times when we are not experiencing a spike of domestic violence within the community, intrusive thoughts about it still constantly and involuntarily leak into everything I do. Having directly felt the effects of domestic violence, it’s always lurking in my consciousness, and when others are subjected to it, I feel profound empathy with them, and with others who are affected. Tara Brown was ferociously attacked very close to my brother’s family home, so I found this attack in particular impossible to escape.
Any person, regardless of gender, who has directly or indirectly experienced the deprivation of liberty caused by a domestic violence act can at least get a sense of the depths of fear that she would have felt during that attack. It’s awful to think about, but the only thing worse than thinking about it is ignoring it because it’s too awful to think about. As fellow members of the human race, we owe it to our fallen sisters to think about it.
Speaking to a friend the other night, he reflected on how he’d recently become more aware of the day to day things that women need to do in order to keep themselves safe. For example, his female staff members pay to park their cars in well-lit areas in Melbourne when they work in the city, rather than park a distance away in a side street and do a bit of extra walking to and fro, as he does.
A few weeks ago, I bailed out of going to a gig by myself in Brisbane City for the same reason when my friend could no longer come with me. Seeing as I knew that the area was generally unsafe, I decided not to go. I don’t tend to feel oppressed or particularly disadvantaged by these kinds of things; I value safety and am naturally risk averse, so I just accept them. And I am aware that in terms of gender-based oppression, my experience of mild inconvenience is small-fry compared to what others have to deal with, so I move on and try to save feminism for those who need it more than I do.
Yesterday I spoke to a colleague about this issue of women taking responsibility for their own safety. I said that although I want to live in a world where all women feel safe no matter what they are doing, where they are and what time of the day it is, I am cognisant that we currently do not live in that world, and that I adjust my activities accordingly to maximise safety.
To which he responded: “So are you saying that this kind of oppression is inevitable?”
Of course, I passionately disagreed; violence of any kind is anathema to the values of compassion, humanism and social justice that underpin my very being. And so, to give in to the idea that any kind of oppression is inevitable is tantamount to giving up on life. My own liberation is bound to that of others. It was only then that I realised the extent to which gender-based oppression subtly determines the ways in which I conduct my life, and how I am too hasty to accept that as the natural course of events.
And then, my sociological imagination erupted:
By accommodating this oppression, am I enabling it to continue not just for me, but for all women?
Am I a disappointment to my gender? Or to feminism and the eras of feminists who came before me?
By accepting that protecting myself against gendered violence is inevitable, am I devaluing the worth of the lives of women and children?
Why do I still feel default pangs of shame whenever I go to talk about the domestic violence that I have experienced?
Is it better not to have conversations about issues that we would prefer didn’t exist because they make us uncomfortable?
I feel like I/we can do something about this, but ideologically, we all need to be on the same page: the page of feminism. And despite the fact that the current third-wave feminist movement has become extraordinarily popular, I am unconvinced that all who use it are united by the philosophical goals and values that underpin it: the goals of freedom, justice, equality and self-actualisation.
Instead, it’s being used to blame men for the chaos that ensues when naked selfies (taken in the name of third-wave feminist sexual liberation) go viral on the Internet, when realistically the only way to avoid that kind of carnage (regardless of your gender) is to refrain from taking naked selfies. This conversation isn’t about feminism – it’s about learning how to safely use the Internet.
It’s in these instances that I feel the overwhelming impetus to distance myself from third-wave feminism. Not because of its philosophical tenets, but because of the people who misuse it. In a similar vein to the way I feel mortified by people who are intolerant of multiculturalism misusing Australian flags as capes or bikinis at Australia Day barbecues; and in a similar way that I feel disgusted about Klu Klux Klan members misusing white bed linen at their white supremacy gigs; I have become embarrassed by the ways in which third-wave feminism is used to support the exclusion of men from feminist debates.
However, I think that the saddest example of the misuse of the all-inclusive, stalwartly anti-oppressive third wave of feminism is to reject men’s voices from the feminist discourse.
Last year, I read a particularly inspired article by Anthony Lowenstein that discussed “feminism lite”. Lowenstein bravely (and fearfully) wrote of how men often feel excluded from discussions around gender equality. He wrote of the McDonaldisation of feminism in the West and how it currently does little to change the status quo for the underprivileged and marginalised women of the world. The reaction to this article was predictably OTT. Lowenstein’s article made a lot of people feel extremely anxious. People who were previously fans of his work were suddenly disgusted with him for saying something controversial; something that made them think outside of what they were comfortable with.
Men in my own peer group have experienced this kind of exclusion for speaking up on issues of gender equality. Men often feel like they will be attacked for voicing their views on any matter pertaining to feminism, and they often are. Furthermore, men who advocate for men’s behavioural change toward women are often told to pipe down; that the inclusion of a man’s voice only exacerbates the patriarchy. An example of this was evident earlier this year in the harsh criticism that the ABC’s Q&A programme received for putting more men than women on a panel of experts speaking to the issues of domestic and family violence.
Bickering over which gender should be orchestrating desperately needed changes in societal attitudes toward domestic violence, and over which gender is facilitating men’s behavioural change interventions, is absorbing time and oxygen that could be used for actually changing the destructive, patriarchal, sadistic behaviours that are currently claiming lives.
In personal and professional contexts, I am a raging, proud and die-hard feminist. Feminism is my jam because it asks us to address oppression by transforming concerns that historically have been private, such as domestic and family violence, into public concerns. Feminism also asks us to look at the unique ways in which women’s experiences are different from one another’s; points out that women are not united by the mere fact that they are of the same gender; looks at how women’s unique experiences are different from the experiences of men; and looks at the roles that men should play in discussions around the pervasive incidence of gendered, domestic and sexual violence in society.
It’s unreasonable and stupidly stubborn to think that feminist ideals can be achieved without the inclusion of male voices. To paraphrase Lowenstein: global social change cannot be achieved by excluding the voices of half of the population due to their gender. Instead, exclusion will only serve to augment division. Have we not yet learned by experience that using oppression to address oppression only continues cycles of violence?
I don’t pretend to have a hard and fast solution to all of this. What I am contending is that it is worthwhile to continue having uncomfortable conversations around feminist issues that include the voices, opinions and offerings of men who are also feminists and who also want to achieve equality.
It’s important to note one of the most recent campaigns from White Ribbon commands of men, “Hey mate, let the world know where you stand” on the issue of men’s violence against women. Men’s voices are not being privileged here. What they are is absolutely necessary in order to affect social and cultural change.
Men must be brought along and into conversations around the issues of gendered, domestic and family violence as they must with all other feminist issues, because equity, equality and unity cannot be achieved through exclusion and oppression that results in further division.
This article was originally published on The Big Smoke. Read the original article.
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