Monday, 1 July 2013

On the Menz - EWTS Conference Part 2

TW: Transmisogyny, MRAs
I want you to imagine something for me. Imagine you are attending a conference entitled ‘empowering people of colour’. For the entire weekend, the discussion is about people of colour and how they’re discriminated against, and how they might overcome this. At the feedback session at the end, people, both white people and POC wonder why white people weren’t thought about, that white people need empowerment, even that to empower POC, white people need to be empowered also. There would be outrage.
Now, back to reality, and you’re attending an empowering women conference and a similar thing happens. You hear ‘what about the men?’ and ‘to empower women, we also need to empower men’. There is no outrage, only agreement. The few people who are a bit pissed off (and rightly so) are effectively told they’re not ‘real’ feminists, and there’s a ‘omg you obviously hate men!!’ attitude.
Had the Empowering Women through Secularism conference ended 30 minutes earlier, I would have left the hotel delighted. I would be able to say no, despite popular belief, atheist/secular spaces are safe and comfortable places for women, it was great. Alas, the feedback session did happen, and it began with the older woman who berated me and the other girl (her name is Anna, she’s a ledge) on Saturday (see On the Menz Part 1), saying we need to consider the men. That the suicide rate for Irish men is 4 times higher than for Irish women (a hugely important and legit issue) and that 90% of US inmates are male (quite irrelevant and also, not sexism because men commit more crimes, and more violent crimes, than women, so obviously will be more represented than women in prison).
Men are most definitely harmed by the patriarchy. I’m well aware of this. I took a ‘Men in Contemporary Society’ sociology module last semester and got an A. One of the reasons more men commit suicide than women is because they’re not encouraged to have support systems or talk about their feelings, because that’s a ‘feminine’ trait, and ‘feminine’ is synonymous with ‘bad’ and ‘weak’. Men are, for the most part, not given paternity leave. Again, this is due to what the patriarchy views as ‘feminine’. Women take care of children; it’s what they do, so why would men even want to do it? These, and many other legitimate men’s issues, are serious things which feminism also seeks to make right. But they do not belong in an empowering women conference. In order to make things better for men, we need to empower women in order to make ‘feminine’ traits (like feelings *gasp*) not a ‘bad’ thing.
Things went from bad to worse as the second person to give feedback took the floor. I’m not sure if she was one of the organisers, but I am fairly certain she was a volunteer, as she was in charge of handing out microphones during the weekend’s questions from the floor bits. She said that she was angry at the “misandrist language” used on Saturday (by myself and Anna, presumably), and then said (quoting a flag seen at Pride the day before) that if trans* rights are human rights, we should all “become transgender”.
Let that sink in a moment.
At an EMPOWERING WOMEN conference, someone used ‘misandrist language’ as though misandry was a legitimate thing. I, for one, would love to be told about the power structures and institutions women have which allow us the ability to oppress men. I would hand my CV in tomorrow.
On the weekend of Pride, at a conference about empowering women which seemed to forget that trans* women are also women and completely ignored the trans* community, members of the trans* community were fetishised.  Members of the trans* community, who arguably have fewer human rights than any other group, were part of a joke, made to be something that’s totes cool and fun to be! This is not ok, in any sense of the word.
This idea, that ‘we’re all human, let’s ignore differences’ was reiterated by many members of the audience who lamented that men were not discussed enough during the weekend. Yeah, we are all human, but not all of us are treated human or allowed to fully participate in society. To use the ‘we’re all human’ phrase ignores these disproportional disadvantages. An excellent metaphor is a running track. Those on the outside lanes have starting points farther away than those on the inside lanes, to ensure that everyone runs the same length. By saying ‘we’re all human, let’s give everyone attention’, it effectively makes all the starting points at the same point. For the sake of ‘equality’. Some people and groups need extra attention and support in order for society to be even a tiny bit equal. This is portrayed very well in the picture below. While the short person gets more boxes than the tall person in the right frame, it creates a more equal situation than when all three get the same number of boxes in the left frame.
Overall, the conference was amazing. I met some utterly fantastic people and I learned so, so much. But I would not go to a similar conference again, unless it was organised by a feminist organisation. A friend turned down a ticket because she feels that secular/atheist conferences tend to not be overly friendly and comfortable spaces for women. This was my first and only conference of this sort, and from this alone, I feel that she is right.
My experience was not one shared by everyone in the room. Many people, both in the conference and on twitter using the conference tag afterwards, believe that it was acceptable to bring up men’s issues in this space, and that I was overreacting when I got upset. Beinga relatively new user of twitter I was shocked at the way in which I was attacked by people who weren’t even at the conference who sought to invalidate my experience. Having had to talk myself into coming at all on Sunday morning, I was already not in the best place mental health-wise. Perhaps my reaction, which was to nearly cry down the back of the hall in sheer disbelief, was not the most dignified reaction I could have mustered. But it’s what happened. It’s how my body tried to deal with everything. But my experience is still valid. My concerns are valid. I can only hope that the conference organisers agree.

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