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Why Men Should Keep Out Of SlutWalk Tomorrow

Grab your fishnets and your megaphones, women of Melbourne, it’s SlutWalk time again!

The march started in Toronto in 2011 after a cop told women we should “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” (slow clap, Toronto’s finest), and has since become a bit of a global tradition, and one of the highlights in the feminist social calendar. Each year, all around the world, women march together in clothes that are generally perceived as “slutty”. The message is clear: no matter how a woman might dress or behave, nothing provokes or excuses rape. It’s a bold statement against a culture which puts the onus on women to avoid being assaulted, rather than building a world where men bear the responsibility for their crimes.

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Image by Ben Ponton

SlutWalk is well and truly part of inclusive feminism: a broad church where everyone is welcome. Men are invited to participate, waving the banner against rape culture and in support of gender equality, and many SlutWalks — including SlutWalk Melbourne — have men as organisers. But this, I think, is a problem.

Because while they may have the best of intentions, I don’t think the men walking side by side with women are thinking critically about the message it sends.

What point exactly, dude in fishnets, are you trying to make?

It’s Not Called ManSlutWalk

When I got into this argument on Twitter, the guy I was sparring with said he would be walking this Saturday because he wanted to set an example to other men (presumably by turning up and not assaulting/slut-shaming anybody?). This is a reasonable thing to want to do, but in the broader scope of things, I think making that point in this particular setting does more harm than good.

When men participate in SlutWalk, the message shifts from “we can dress how we like and not bring on rape”, to “hey girl, you can dress how you want, and not be blamed for being raped”.  I feel this is a distinction Ryan Gosling understands.

heygirl

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Feminism Needs Men Like Men Need Feminism

In a world where men dominate the media, there’s a risk that their voices will overshadow women — even in the domain of feminism. When Emily Maguire interviewed feminist academic Michael Flood, for instance, he told her that gender studies professors tend to be “evaluated by [both male and female] students as less biased and more competent than female professors”.

It’s true that patriarchy damages men as well as women, but let’s get real: it also benefits them. The advancement of women doesn’t mean that there is double the amount of privilege and power going around. Of course power has to be redistributed. Thanks to feminism, Parliament is no longer a boys’ club. Thanks to feminism, a man is no longer entitled to sex with his wife, even if she doesn’t consent to it. Forgive me if I’m a little wary of men getting an equal say in how the New Gender Order is worked out. There’s a role for men in feminism, but that doesn’t mean they should be equal participants.

By welcoming men into SlutWalk, the organisers may be hoping the event will earn some mainstream validity. It’s not enough for men to be observers of women’s advance towards equality – now they have to be participants and decision makers, or the event is labelled “anti-men”.

There’s a pretty obvious problem with that. If men are heavily involved in feminist activities, and go along with whatever the women think is best, then why be involved at all? And if they’re making decisions on an organisational level, what is their qualification? And why isn’t a woman better suited to the job?

Feminism Doesn’t Need Men To Organise It 

When a man steps up to organise a feminist event, I can’t help but think he’s completely missed the point.

In a controversial piece called Can Men Be Feminists?, Corinne Grant wrote:

My least favourite feminist dude is the one that genuinely believes his insight into the female experience is the same thing as actually being a woman. The argument goes something like this: “I know women, I have dated women, I have a mother, I have a sister, I know a woman who has been attacked or abused and, because of this, I understand completely the experience of being female. This means I have a right to call myself a feminist and if you want to question one of my essays, blogs or tweets, then that would sadden me greatly. I don’t want to sound patronising, but as you obviously don’t know as many women as I do, and even though you are a woman yourself, your point of view is not as valid as mine.

This becomes more of a problem when men are appointed to organise feminist events. The ability to empathise does not equate to actual qualification, and there’s a real chance that the event’s message will be diluted or co-opted by men who may not know when to step back. We’ve gotten to the point where men in their capacities as activists, writers and academics are helping to define feminism and its future.

Having male organisers has been problematic for the global SlutWalk movement, too. SlutWalk HQ had to apologise after one of the organisers of SlutWalk LA, gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer, was involved in a sex scandal and confessed to having no actual gender studies qualification. This, of course, was an extreme case. But it serves as a reminder for women to be sceptical about men who claim to be feminists.

What’s A Boy To Do (On Saturday)? 

Look dudes, it’s real nice that you want to do your bit for the team, but please know that it won’t get you any bonus points. You don’t get a cookie every time you subscribe to the rules of basic human decency (up to and including ‘women are equal, rape is bad’), and if you’re thinking that a SlutWalk Scouts badge looks good on your OkCupid profile, then feminism can do without your pandering, thanks.

Of course, there are also many men who have lived experience of the damage that patriarchy, sexism and violence against women can cause, and we need their voices. But SlutWalk is not the right platform for those men. SlutWalk is about women making themselves visible in a public space, rebelling against a culture that condones rape and polices women’s bodies. For every man that marches with them, women become a little less visible.

At Reclaim The Night marches, men walk behind the women. That’s a good way of showing your support, while acknowledging that to walk side-by-side with women completely contradicts the point.

Feminism doesn’t need the participation of men so much as it needs their cooperation. Sometimes the best way of setting an example and showing support is to shut up and listen to what women have been trying to tell you for centuries.

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SlutWalk Melbourne kicks off tomorrow at midday outside the State Library of Victoria.

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Eliza Cussen is an emerging creative writer, who earns a crust editing websites for Australian non-profits. Her columns have appeared in The Drum, Ramp Up, The Punch and Mamamia. She blogs sometimes at Fix It, Dear Henry.

Feature image by Chris John Beckett.

  • Dave

    Ach… this just makes me sad, to be honest. As a straight white person, I try to lend my support as much as possible to gay rights, and anti-racism initiatives – not because being straight and white makes me more qualified to participate in these initiatives – of course it doesn’t – but because they’re things I’m passionate about and I want to help however I can. Same with initiatives about respecting women. I’m not sure why wanting to stand with women on an initiative like this ‘contradicts the point’. So… I don’t want to interfere, but it just makes me a bit sad. s’all.

  • illanm

    Whilst I definitely agree that men’s participation is problematic, I see Slutwalk as quite different from Reclaim. I *expect* men to be at Slutwalk. After all, they’re the ones who benefit from “sluts”. And yes, I know they’ve had men being total cockheads at the marches (one year we had a visit from Pedobear… thanks dickhead) but that can happen by any bystander. I would also point out that managing the event and speaking at the event is quite different from simply walking in it. Finally, many men who turn up are there with their partners, and are walking as a family group. I think it’s nice.

  • James

    This march surely isn’t for other feminists, rather aiming to affect change in those who are either inactive or themselves sexist.

    Either way, having the other half of society (who are there for other people’s right’s rather than their own) is a more powerful message, especially to those who might commit rape.

    So why exclude people, especially those willing to put up with those who treat them with suspicion and condescendingly assume they’re there for a ‘cookie’? If their moral disgust and desire for change is enough to overcome the pillorying many will get from their sexist mates, then why are you pushing them away?

  • Andy

    “Feminism doesn’t need the participation of men so much as it needs their cooperation. Sometimes the best way of setting an example and showing support is to shut up and listen to what women have been trying to tell you for centuries.”

    So you want men to shut up and listen to what you’re promoting, and then once they agree with your standpoint, you want them to continue to shut up and do nothing to aid the cause? This makes less than no sense. Surely labelling the movement as ‘just for women’ keeps it from becoming a mainstream movement and thus prevents any genuine social change from occurring.

  • Elmo Keep

    My feminism welcomes dudes and so does many other women’s.

  • Claire

    I think it’s difficult to be demanding society changes, while
    simultaneously excluding half of society. It’s also pretty insulting to
    assume that the men involved or supporting of SlutWalk are in it for a
    “cookie”. If people only care about things that directly affect them,
    well, we’re screwed aren’t we? The points of SlutWalk are ones that
    affect every single member of society. The opposite of the “women
    should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid being raped” coin is “men
    can’t control themselves around women who dress like sluts”. I think
    everyone has the right to be angry about that stance.

    • Hugh Robertson

      All the upvotes for you, Claire. I’m going to steal your last two sentences and use them in every argument I have on this topic for the rest of my life, if that’s ok.

  • nicola stein

    this kind of tiresome cliched rant which childishly tries to antagonise the very constituency the walk is supposed to persuade is exactly the reason why feminism has achieved so much less than it should have done over the last few decades. if this is “creative writing”, god help us all…

    • Eliza Cussen

      Hi Nicola, my piece wasn’t intended to antagonise. I was simply hoping to encourage men to think critically about how they engage with SlutWalk specifically and feminism generally. I think the more we use men as a medium through which we persuade other men, the longer and harder our struggle will be. It pains me that our voices aren’t loud enough without men in the choir.

      Men play a vital role in letting feminism takes its course, but that doesn’t give men the right to speak for women about what’s best for us. That’s more irony than I can comfortably live with.

      And I’m sorry you don’t like my writing. I know Junkee is seeking contributions right now and I’m sure they’d love to publish a less tiresome and cliched response.

      -Eliza

      • nicola stein

        well, eliza, every other comment here seems to pretty much disagree with you too. but perish the thought that you might question your approach. the reason it’s tiresome is that you seem to feel a need to posture aggressively to make your point, and it leads to painfully illogical leaps. why on earth do you think a man who simply wants to march is asserting “the right to speak for women about what’s best for us”? i’m sorry, but i would think pretty much every man who would consider walking is already “critically engaged”. but i am also pretty sure that men who are NOT critically engaged are not going to be persuaded by a march which pointedly excludes their entire gender.

      • Hugh Robertson

        “I think the more we use men as a medium through which we persuade other men, the longer and harder our struggle will be.”

        Surely the opposite is true? That there are many men who won’t engage with feminism at all because they see is as anti-men, and having male feminists explain that men don’t need to be threatened by feminism is crucial to spreading the message?

        • Eliza Cussen

          No, because it reinforces to those men that women don’t need to be listened to. I have faith that even the most sexist amongst us can adapt.

  • Mandy

    I love how passionate you are about the topic. We need passion.
    However, I’d like to share some real life experience that argues for something else than this article.
    I moved from the Netherlands to Australia and experienced vast differences in the status of equality between men and women. The biggest difference I observed, which I think is the main cause of this, is that men stand with women in the Netherlands, and women stand alone in Australia. For example, in the Netherlands, if a woman is assaulted by a man, other men will respond, without thinking, within seconds, by directly addressing the assaulter. A man who is violent towards women, even in the slightest, will be socially rejected. In Australia, a bit of wife bashing is considered quite a normal thing, people act like it doesn’t happen even when they hear the screams, and the blame lies more with the women than with their assaulters. In the Netherlands it’s commonly accepted for a woman to aspire for any job, in Australia gender stereotypes rule, and women encounter real difficulties if they want to enter and stay in a ‘masculine’ dominated area of work, like mining. Equality issues, feminism, domestic violence, etc. are all so much worse of in Australia. The only real difference I see, is the general attitude of men towards women: They don’t stand up for women.
    I applaud and embrace any man who stands up for women. It really shouldn’t be any other way. Equality involves both genders equally.