Mainstream discourse around consent is leaving women and girls vulnerable

More men are agreeing that there’s a need for consent education and have shared success stories about how it’s improved their own understanding of male-female interactions and relationships. Which is good. It’s a start. But it’s not the solution, as mainstream discussion would have us believe, to male sexual violence against women and girls.

Forgive me if I’m more horrified than encouraged by the fact that men are just starting to have awareness of the issue now, and only because the problem has been dragged kicking and screaming into the daylight. How wonderful it must be to never have to think about a problem unless it affects you directly or someone forces you to pay attention. I have to wonder: these men who finally get it now and are so appreciative of women for enlightening them after repeating themselves over and over and over again – were they going around raping women before? Are we to understand that they were so ill-equipped to understand when they shouldn’t lay hands on someone that they needed guidance? Or is it that they were too callous to accept that responsibility for themselves and were waiting for women (those mystical nurturing creatures) to save them from a life of depravity? Or perhaps women have simply been so beaten down that their pain and indignation is too great to ignore.

Are we seriously supposed to give men the benefit of the doubt? Like, they didn’t have the capacity until right now to distinguish between right and wrong? Poor pets, they were victims, you see, unable to recognize when they were gratifying themselves at the expense of women and girls and exploiting their position. Patriarchal culture simultaneously makes gods of men while infantilizing them for the purpose of rationalizing their violence. We need to give them far more credit. Abusive men don’t lack agency; they’ve always been in a position to know what they’re doing and the fact that they need to be told that they don’t have a right to harm us is indicative of a much deeper problem.

When people supposedly start ‘caring’ because you’ve asked them to, that means they didn’t care before and they still don’t care now. People who truly value the dignity of others don’t have to be convinced to show it. All we’re doing is giving men a new script around which to model their language and behaviour in public. The appropriate time to begin cultivating self-awareness and empathy is in childhood, when human beings are forming their most basic ideas about themselves and their relationship to the world around them. Instead, we’re rearing boys into masculinity and teaching them that females are inferior.

Men haven’t been violating the boundaries and bodily integrity of women and girls because society wasn’t telling them that they needed to get permission first. They do so because they implicitly believe they’re entitled to take what they want and do as they wish, particularly where females are concerned because they view us as objects rather than human beings of equal value.

Even when a woman says she doesn’t want to have sex, rapists insist she does. They privilege their own thoughts and desires above hers. What is she, after all, but an inert vessel with no purpose or will of its own? This is what it means to be objectified. The porn men and boys consume is littered with degrading, dehumanizing language and acts, many of which identify that a specific place in the social hierarchy is reserved for racialized women. The problem isn’t a lack of consent; it’s a desire to possess and defile that which is beneath you. Sexual assault is about domination and power. Men who do these things are sadists: violation is the point. They don’t want us to consent. They want to break us.

When we talk about consent, what we’re really talking about is male violence against women and girls. Females as a group don’t need to be reminded not to violate the boundaries of their male peers who are generally physically stronger than them and dominate the social order. Most importantly, telling women and girls that they’ll be protected from sexual assault if men are simply better educated places them in danger because it ignores the fact that a core group of men hate women so much, they’ll hurt us anyway. Meanwhile, a critical mass of men who don’t themselves physically attack women aid them by downplaying and decontextualizing misogyny, letting rape jokes pass, or allowing sexist comments and behaviour to continue unchallenged.

Overt or violent misogynists lower the bar, making men who are chauvinists in their own right, but better at hiding it, look like decent men. They exploit this situation by demanding accolades from women, enjoying the space they can take up as women and girls curtail their behaviour to avoid the threat of male violence, and gaslighting women who dare to call them out. For every man who’s willing to take responsibility, there are more who either vocally protest any suggestion that they’re part of a social class that terrorizes women, or they disguise their resentment and disdain for women behind a mask of anti-feminism and libertarian free speech rhetoric.

If we want to address the root of the problem, we also have to recognize that consent can hardly be described as entirely self-determined and intact in a culture that grooms girls into submissive heterosexual relationships. It’s inaccurate, naive, and ultimately oppressive to say that girls are free to make their own choices when those choices are constrained by an intense pressure to behave within the strictures of femininity so that they’re deemed attractive to boys and acceptable to society at large. Girls need to know unequivocally that they have a right not only to consent, but to refuse.

And finally, when we talk about male violence and misogyny, that conversation should be devoted to supporting and healing women and girls, and ultimately abolishing gender. Not celebrating men, thanking them for not raping us, or spending a fraction of a second worrying about how the topic makes them feel. Are there good men? Honestly, it’s just not a feminist obligation to prove that men aren’t sexist. Given how pervasive sexism is spanning from mild/subtle misogyny to the extreme of violence, it’s implausible that all men don’t contribute to it in some form. I truly marvel at the arrogance of men who fancy themselves special enough to have avoided soaking up masculinity and misogyny. It doesn’t take much creativity to imagine what a man who’s internalized the idea that he’s superior might think of women.

You can’t expect or convince people to care when they have every reason not to. Women are going to have to fight for our humanity, like we always have.


Filed under Feminism & Gender, Politics & Society

Open letter to the National Post: resistance to gender identity laws is about much more than political correctness

Recent articles (here and here) in the National Post have exposed a dispute surrounding gender identity taking place at U of T, one of many universities trying to navigate this polarizing issue. It’s critical that the public be informed that there’s more at stake than just transgender rights and freedom of expression.

Gender identity is indeed, as Jordan Peterson says, philosophically incoherent and scientifically unfounded. It’s also true that forcing others to participate in affirming one’s self-perception is a violation of individual autonomy. The more pressing concern, however, is not political correctness but rather that gender identity has created a dangerous landscape of competing rights that adversely impacts females. As such, dissension shouldn’t be monopolized by people who aren’t invested or interested in women’s rights.

According to NatPo writer Chris Selley, resistance to recognizing people’s chosen identity (the list is huge and continually expanding) comes down to a straightforward matter of being a jerk. But consider this: when gender identity replaces biological sex in law, distinct sex categories and therefore sex-based protections for females disappear because any male-bodied individual is considered a woman, or even female, strictly and solely on his verbal declaration. Many Canadians are supportive of transgender protections against discrimination in areas such as employment and housing (as am I) but aren’t aware of this implication. Toby’s Law, passed in Ontario, granted serial sex offender Christopher “Jessica” Hambrook entry into two women’s shelters on the basis of his transgender identity as a woman, where he assaulted at least four women. Despite the exploitation of these laws being well-documented, women and girls are left to question what rights they have (examples include the case of Student X in Minnesota and Colleen Francis in Washington), and we’re supposed to think this is a bad thing because some people don’t want to use preferred pronouns.

Imagine being a female forced to share public showers, change rooms, prisons, shelters, and other protected spaces with males because they claim to have an indescribable internal female feeling, that they can’t be questioned when they say they’re women because they identify with the stereotypes forced on females, or they don’t think they’re men because they don’t identify with masculine stereotypes. Imagine being told that you’re only a woman because you choose to identify as one, hence choosing to be a target of discrimination and violence, even though men who harm women and girls are unaware of and uninterested in how they see themselves and wish to be addressed. If you’re a sexual assault survivor, you’re expected to get over your trauma.

Postmodern queer theory and gender politics have arbitrarily decreed that a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman – end of discussion – and even thinking about asking a question is transphobic and bigoted. Now imagine that this circular logic forms the basis of gender identity laws in many countries, starting from the UN and trickling down, and you’ll be describing a reality few know exists. Women and girls are ordered to be silent, nurturing, and to surrender their boundaries. This is not acceptable. Not ever, not for any reason, even when it’s presented as a remedy for the problems faced by another group of people coping with their own unique challenges.

There are a number of common strawman arguments in circulation. I’ll address three to illustrate the lack of understanding around the issue:

  1. Opponents of gender identity laws are saying that transgender people are inherently predatory.
  2. Opponents think that women and girls will be safe if we don’t let transgender people use the facilities of their choice.
  3. Predators have always been able to get into female spaces, so what’s the difference?

The problem is that a law whose criterion for entry is self-declaration as opposed to biological sex effectively removes all barriers faced by predators who realize that all they have to do is say they identify as female/girl/woman. This loophole is publicized every time an incident is reported in the news. You’d have to be something of a recluse not to have heard about the controversy surrounding transgender bathroom laws.

Sex-segregated spaces were never understood as impenetrable bubbles that deliver absolute protection. They’ve always been intended to provide, as much as is practically possible, privacy and safety for females. It’s irrelevant whether particular individuals who don’t appear to be transgender can pose as transgender to make a political point; sincerity can’t be assessed if it’s unlawful to question one’s stated gender identity. In such a situation, literally any man can obtain unfettered access, whereas before he could be questioned and ejected if necessary. The fact that most perpetrators of male violence are known to their victims and there’s no way to guarantee safety in some circumstances are not valid reasons to expose women and girls to further risk. This should be obvious to anyone who values and respects females. Trying to convince them of what they should be comfortable with is a manifestation of rape culture. If you’re trying to negotiate someone’s boundaries, regardless of why they exist, you’ve already violated them.

There was no question about the need for sex segregation before gender identity was popularized. Until recently, no one was equating it with white supremacist laws in the American south. So why now? Sex segregation isn’t an expression of social hierarchy; it reflects a need and a right for females to participate fully in public life. Shaming people for not wanting to expose themselves or be exposed to the opposite sex against their will is an affront to human dignity, irrespective of whether some people think it’s bizarre or wrong, or feel comfortable doing so themselves.

There are many other ways in which gender identity negatively impacts women and girls. For the feminists critiquing this ideology, resistance isn’t a matter of poor judgement, character flaws or a desire to say offensive things without being accountable. These issues warrant rigorous analysis and discussion in the media and by the Canadian government as they consider the ramifications of Bill C-16.


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The media’s brazen bias against women

It doesn’t matter whether the paper or website is officially or unofficially conservative or liberal. It doesn’t matter who writes the articles. It doesn’t matter what tragic horror was experienced by the victim(s) in domestic violence reports. The media’s bias against women is out in the open for everyone to see, if they care to notice it. So naturally, few do.

Repetition is a key tactic in social engineering. The more you repeat a message, the more it seems true and inevitable. Tell stories from the perspective of the perpetrator over and over again and the public will learn to sympathize with them rather than with the victims. Since the people who beat and murder their partners are almost invariably men whose victims are women and children, the language used by the media to cast these men in a particular light is chillingly consistent across media platforms. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see that the problem is systemic.

The Daily Mail published an article today regarding the murder of Irish teacher Clodagh Hawe by her husband Alan, who after stabbing her went on to murder their three sons and then turned the knife on himself. Jilly Beattie reports:

The Irish Mirror reports tormented Mr Hawe stabbed Clodagh in the throat in a downstairs room before strangling and stabbing his sleeping boys to death. [emphasis added]

Immediately after describing how Alan Hawe slaughtered his family, the barbarity of his actions are tempered by the author as they call our attention to his mental state. He was suffering, you understand. Tormented. None of the immediate members of the Hawe family are able to speak for themselves and the person who saw to that is the one we’re meant to sympathize with.

Clodagh Hawe [Irish Mirror]

Clodagh Hawe [Irish Mirror]

The fact that the first photo of Clodagh that was published was accompanied by praise for her murderer is not shocking, but it is outrageous and telling. Alan is described in the article, in the words of his friend (who didn’t want to be named), as:

– a kind and decent person who felt an overriding need to look after the people around him

– devoted

– good

– supportive

These are not appropriate words to describe a murderer. The friend went so far as to state, “Alan never put a step wrong”. NEVER PUT A STEP WRONG! I find it very hard to believe that a man who kills his entire family and then himself has never had prior abusive tendencies or violent outbursts.

He loved his family with all is heart, we’re told. The narrative that men who commit violence against their loved ones do so despite love or out of love rationalizes male violence by obscuring how these men really look at the people they “love”. I believe that people who decide to build families together believe sincerely that they love each other and will love their children, and that this is the case for most people. But the reality is that there are people who enter into and stay in relationships for reasons other than love. There are people who have children out of a sense of duty or perceived emotional need. Much of what binds people together in relationships and families is financial necessity, social factors, emotional attachment, and co-dependency. The ‘happy family’ trope is damaging to the vulnerable, in a society where teens self-harm and become homeless as a result of violent or toxic family dynamics. Families tend to hide and deny these things, leaving children on their own to discern between normal family strife and actual abuse and toxicity. They often then internalize these problems, believing that it’s their fault or that there’s something wrong with them. We can’t afford to keep validating the idea that it’s normal to hurt, really hurt, the people we love.

A woman, particularly if she has children with a violent man, will stay for a variety of reasons, not least of which because she believes that he loves her, and that love and abuse are compatible. “He loves you” is gaslighting. It’s just another way of saying that his feelings matter, that they justify his actions, and that her feelings don’t matter. It tells us that it’s more important to understand what he’s supposedly going through than to ensure her safety and support her needs. Too many women have learned that compassion and patience in the face of an abusive man will get you hurt or killed. Women have lost access to their children and ended up in jail because of violent men.

People often tell female victims of abuse that the perpetrator can’t be that bad because he seems like such a nice guy. They don’t know what he does behind closed doors when no one is looking – something abusers make sure of and exploit. Calculation and manipulation are not the behaviours of a victim. Abusers do this so that when their actions are exposed, people who know them will make excuses for them and doubt those they’ve hurt. Extended family, friends, and co-workers often don’t witness him pitching a fit, threatening, breaking or throwing things, being emotionally abusive, pushing or hitting. And when they do, they often stay silent or minimize it.

The messaging on this issue is strong. Women are expected to fix men who are “broken” and put their own well-being second. They’re instructed to be a good woman/wife/mother and stand by their man. That it was just one little blow up. A mistake. He’ll change. He won’t do it again. He’s just under a lot of pressure. This is how society colludes to guarantee male violence against women and children. Children see this dynamic, they hear the rhetoric, and they internalize it too.

A man who abuses a woman doesn’t love her. Abuse and love are mutually exclusive. A man who abuses a woman views her as his property, a mere extension of his thoughts and feelings, as lesser to him. He wants to control her, make her doubt her own worth and sanity, make her suffer, and ultimately submit to him. And the ultimate way of forcing submission is to snuff a person’s life out. There’s no coming back from that. It’s the most raw assertion of power one human being can inflict on another.

The narrative of mental illness frames the issue in a way that distracts us from the recognition of male violence and misogyny. Women suffer from higher rates of mental illness than men, and yet most cases of battery and homicide are committed by men. We don’t see women who suffer from PTSD following rape or other forms of violence, or their time in the military, carrying out massacres or later killing their spouses or families. Again and again we conflate one problem with another, and the cycle repeats itself.

Mental illness can’t be the chief factor when the violent actions of people who exhibit mental instability aren’t shared evenly throughout that population (and this only increases the stigma of those suffering from mental illness). It can’t be the chief factor when violent men are extended sympathy while women and children are reduced to a footnote.

Not a single article I’ve read on the matter makes mention of an attempt to speak to Clodagh’s family or friends.* There’s no indication that investigators or journalists are considering a possible history of domestic violence and what life might have been like for Clodagh and the boys. The focus is on the murderer. As Linnea Dunne writes, Clodagh is rendered invisible in one media article after another, which tell the story from Alan’s point of view, describing other people in relation to him. The bias can’t be any clearer.

The Daily Mail Male also provides links to support groups which in most cases won’t address the problem because the problem isn’t being correctly identified.

The links provided in this article suggest that the only problem here is depression and suicide. It’s good to share resources with young people who may need to speak to someone about how they’re feeling or what’s going on in the home. But we don’t know whether Alan Hawe was depressed, and regardless, people aren’t inherently violent by virtue of their depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. Many men commit murder-suicides because they don’t want to face the consequences of their actions. If Hawe simply didn’t want to live, he would have just killed himself, but he took his whole family with him, suggesting that he couldn’t accept the thought of them going on without him. That betrays a sense of entitlement and selfishness.

Not a single link to a support service for those suffering from domestic violence is provided in the article. Women are killed every day by their male partners and… silence. Unless one decides on one’s own to seek out further information, this skewed and incomplete treatment of the issue forms the basis of the public’s understanding. No wonder the problem keeps getting worse!

When these men snap, they externalize their problems onto women and children, who they know are attached to them, dependent on them, and not readily able to escape from or redress their violence. That’s the point. These men don’t pick on people who are equally matched in size, strength or social power. Their sense of ownership over the lives of women and children, coupled with their sense of superiority over them, means that no matter how much progress we make with respect to mental illness, men will continue to be violent as they have always been.

The media doesn’t try to hide it. Misogyny and male violence are staring us right in the face, and this problem won’t go away until we recognize it for what it is.

If you live in the UK, please take a moment to let people know about the resources Women’s Aid offers and/or donate if you can.

* A week after the incident was reported in the news, the Irish Mirror and Irish Sun finally published a response by a relative of Clodagh which paints a drastically different picture of Alan Hawe and urged the public sympathize with his victims instead.

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What Hillary Clinton means for feminism

Feminist Current has published a fantastic article by Marie Crosswell entitled Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of liberalism, not feminism. I urge you to read it. Everything from the title to the well-argued points are exactly what feminism needs right now. I wanted to add a few points of my own to bolster the great case that Crosswell has made and to put another much-needed article of dissent out there. Nothing I’m saying is original. This started out as a comment posted on the site in response to liberals but I decided it needed its own space.


“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” – Hillary Clinton [source]

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

It’s the job of feminists to critique and analyze every supposed representative of our movement. Women haven’t died and made incalculable sacrifices so that modern feminists could make excuses and settle for half-assed solutions to the domination of our species by males. We need to carry these women’s work on our shoulders and prove that it wasn’t all in vain. Feminists are having to learn this lesson over and over and over again because the movement coddles people who can’t think beyond their knee-jerk denial.

The question simmering beneath the debate is simply this: Who are you here to defend; one woman or all women?

Patriarchy runs down to the core of this rotten society. It requires a radical solution. At what point do we realize we’re decorating a tree that needs to be taken down? We know the system has many tentacles that women often only have the time or energy to focus on individually. Hillary Clinton is not one of those people. She’s white, rich, and powerful. She’s smart. She could be a formidable force but she has chosen to mold her politics to a template that does not work, and I doubt very much that she doesn’t know that. She could have decided to extricate herself from a party that recently decided, extending the DOJ well beyond its legal mandate, that sex-based protections under Title IX mean nothing because some men have confused the stereotype of femininity with the material reality of womanhood itself. Whoever can’t see how damaging this is – that it is the erasure of females as a distinct class of people whose needs should be protected – needs to call whatever it is they’re doing something other than feminism.

The question of just how feminist Hillary Clinton is has been articulately laid out by many feminists, but some people don’t think they need to internalize that info because Clinton supports abortion. How many feminist-identified politicians are against it? When you’re done counting to zero, ask yourself whether you want to keep running on this hamster wheel. Liberals are never willing to face the ugly truth and stand up for real change – and that’s dangerous.

You might have good reasons for voting for Clinton and we can certainly appreciate the good things she’s said and done. I for one will be celebrating when (I hope) she kicks Trump’s ass and outshines her own philandering husband. But none of these things make her worthy of being the face of feminism. Can we finally admit Clinton’s limitations and instead set our focus on doing the work that we know only we are willing to do?

The world has seen a number of female leaders. Thatcher broke that glass ceiling a long time ago in the U.K. How much of a difference did that make for women? She wasn’t a feminist by any means, so it’s not an apt comparison on that level. But she was a neoliberal – a capitalist individualist – whose policies weren’t so different from those endorsed by Clinton all these years. A leader’s support for women shows not only in the comments they make explicitly about women but also in their policy, particularly as it concerns education and the economy, since these areas are key drivers of sex-based inequality under the current system. Being the most exposed and least valued, women are the first to suffer, forced into work that even the poorest men can avoid, along with the risk of unwanted pregnancy and their role (voluntary or not) as the primary carers of children and other family members.

Stopping at reproductive rights leaves a huge gap that fails to address the cause of sexual violence (masculinity) or the ways in which women who are further marginalized because of their ethnic backgrounds, disability, civic status, etc. are coerced into making impossible ‘choices’. As quoted above, she’s said that she doesn’t even understand why all of this is happening. I too want to believe her heart is in the right place but the depth of her ignorance is disappointing and her contradictions form a clear pattern.

An impressive list of countries including India, Guyana, Mali, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Argentina, Indonesia, Liberia, Philippines, Malawi, and Brazil have elected female heads of state. I think it’s important to ask how the lives of women and girls have changed as a result. For instance, what has Angela Merkel in Germany done for female victims of violence, not only at the hands of immigrant gangs but also at the hands of white German men who prey on poor women who are often trafficked from economically depressed regions, in mega brothels? One of the fascinating bits of history revealed in the Ascent of Woman BBC series is that women have taken power many times throughout human history, some of whom used that power to help their sisters while others didn’t or couldn’t. Worse yet, neither Canada nor the U.S. have managed to elect a woman as prime minister or president. So I absolutely want to see that happen.

Ultimately, it’s a trademark liberal strategy to fool the optimistic ranks into believing that a token woman in a powerful position is a sign of fundamental change. Does it make anything more than a little dent in patriarchy? It sure does enrage MRAs to think of a woman representing a state that they believe should be protecting their own privileges. And it gives many women and girls hope. Leaving aside the question of the degree to which a U.S. president is a true leader rather than a figurehead, having a woman in that role means something. The problem is that the liberal elite are very good at exploiting this something, blowing it out of proportion, and hoping that women will be content with it because they didn’t get stuck with an openly fascist president whose hatred of women is part of his appeal.

Women can’t afford to fall for the spectacle. The good news is that feminism is not one woman, and it remains up to all of us, as it always has, to overcome male power.

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The Controversial Discussion We’re Not Having

Fantastic article about the double-bind faced by black women. A must read for white feminists especially.

Feminist Valkyrie

There’s something wrong with men. Black men included.

It is been said that black women are the most marginalized people in the US. This may be true. They are expected to support “their” men no matter what the cause, as oppressed minorities, but must also deal with oppression from those oppressed men. It is particularly hard for white women to help out, because of white racism in some cases, and hesitation on the part of some black women who support their men over the cause of all women.

Facebook may not be the place a professor would send you to do PhD level research, but it is an irreplaceable source of information about what everyday people of all races and sexes and religions and ages think. Browsing through Facebook, I’ve seen every side of the Black Lives Matter issue, including the often silenced side of black radical feminists.

Black women…

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Male violence and the problem with masculinity

Increasingly, people are talking about reforming masculinity in an effort to share this world with more kind, caring, balanced males who are better capable of managing their emotions and responding civilly to difficult situations. Implicit in this is the recognition that male violence is real and that it’s at least partly socially constructed through the negative aspects of masculinity. But you wouldn’t get this idea from reading the daily news. The media still portrays instances of male violence as the sole cause of some other factor – passion, heartbreak or mental illness. It’s still not socially acceptable to name male violence and male violence against women and girls is rarely described as the hate crime that it is. Women who simply point out the phenomenon – without threatening any violence themselves – are quickly punished.



Even when we do discuss the blatant reality that almost all violence is committed by males, however, a few notable things typically happen:

  1. The source of male violence is not adequately explored
  2. Masculinity is usually only critiqued in terms of extreme expressions e.g. violence
  3. The proposed solution is to reform masculinity, thus effectively maintaining it

In this article, I’m going to explore male violence and its root in masculinity, and then I’m going to take it a step further. If masculinity as we know it is toxic, what about it is toxic exactly, how do we change it, and ultimately, why would we want to maintain it at all?

Why does male violence happen?

Naming the problem of male violence is one thing. Understanding why it happens is another. Growing up as children, we’re often told, “boys will be boys”. What would otherwise be interpreted as abusive and inappropriate when a boy harasses a girl is passed off as a simple crush. Time and again we see that girls must be ladylike while boys are allowed to exhibit all kinds of obnoxiousness. They can’t help it, apparently. They’re wired that way.

If males are programmed to destroy, wreak havoc, harm, rape and kill, what’s the rationale for having laws against these actions if we believe men aren’t responsible for their actions? What would be the point of telling boys to be considerate and respectful? Either they’re slaves to biology or they’re not. If we believe that they have an innate propensity for violence and selfishness, then we need to start having a very different conversation about what to do about the male sex. If they’re not, then we need to stop making excuses for unacceptable behaviour and critically examine why women don’t seem to be interested in doing these things while men do. And why despite that, do we talk about these two groups the way we do?



Is some degree of male violence influenced by biological factors? What would this mean? Is it true that testosterone really does predetermine aggression and violence and that males are born with a gene that makes it harder for them to respond calmly to stressful situations? If that’s the case, then we’re left to conclude once again that violence is inevitable and that men – but more so women and children – must accept that they’re the unfortunate sacrifices of male biology.

Biological determinism raises other unsettling questions: if male biology is so flawed, so prone to irrational, violent behaviour, why are men allowed to occupy positions of power? Why are they allowed to be police officers? Teachers? Spiritual leaders? Politicians? Judges? Doctors? Fathers? If we believe that men can be trusted with these roles, then we can’t logically claim that male violence is a defect of male biology. And if male violence is inevitable, then we’re certainly not doing much to mitigate it.

It’s impossible to observe male behaviour in a non-socialized environment, so there’s no way we can cleanly parse out dispositions as either biologically or socially-driven. But we do know that our current social environment ascribes particular roles and attributes to males which are labeled masculine. If males aren’t all born with the same personality template, is it so far fetched to attribute behavioural patterns to social programming? Could it be that the persistence of male entitlement that boys and men display towards females is learned and excused?

A man who expects his wife to cook for him and clean up after him shares an attitude of entitlement with a man who sexually assaults a woman as she’s jogging in a public park. Though such conduct may be expressed at different intensities and in different ways, it bears the hallmark of masculinity and coexists on the same spectrum: enough men feel they have the right to violate women’s boundaries that it creates a climate of fear among women and girls. It’s why females have separate spaces set aside for them for intimate purposes outside of the home, they’re wary of being in isolated or dark places alone, have their own crisis shelters, and make so many unconscious decisions every day in order to avoid male violence.

We’re supposed to accept this as normal? Even if brain scans showed a significant difference between the brains of females and males – and they don’t – that still wouldn’t explain the difference. In the feminist theory of gender (gender being masculinity and femininity), we have an explanatory model that demonstrates a clear link between male socialization and violence.

Some people will say that men who are violent and abusive toward women are outliers; they conjure the image a monster, a rogue archetype. When men do these things to women but don’t fit this profile, the media and courts feign ignorance about whether the guy can possibly have done it on purpose. Contrary to popular discourse, these activities aren’t being spearheaded by exceptionally idiotic, socially maladjusted men.

Many people who admit there’s a problem do this funny thing that makes you wonder if they really mean it when they say they care about women. They revert to biological determinism when particular aspects of male behaviour are inconveniently questioned – especially when it’s of a sexual nature. Male batterers and mass shooters are exhibiting some sort of extreme masculinity, something gone terribly wrong or taken too far, whereas men who engage in all manner of predatory and exploitative activities are just guys being guys. Some people will go so far as to say that men need a release valve; if you don’t allow them to get their aggression out or indulge in their sexual fantasies – no matter how depraved or harmful – they’ll become so frustrated they’ll have no choice but to take it out on those who are vulnerable or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We hear the tired old arguments that men are just naturally more visual and have greater sexual interest. Few people question whether this is actually true. The moment you evoke biology as a reason for a man’s choices, male violence and privilege are protected and reinforced.

Is it enough to just tweak masculinity?

Change is not necessarily improvement and not everyone who says they want to change masculinity for the better means the same thing. Pro-rape men’s rights activist Roosh V has coined the term neomasculinity in the hopes of ‘rescuing’ masculinity and ‘restoring’ men to their rightful place. His vision is a gendered version of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric: just the title of his Return of Kings website makes it clear who he thinks should rule in this new masculine landscape.

What about calls to reform ‘toxic masculinity’, then? Tom Hardy, for example, urges men to “be masculine, not macho”. In this article, The Red Bulletin anoints Hardy as a Real Man, which insofar as the piece is concerned appears to just mean being a good person while having a penis. Hardy says that men can and should be caring, considerate, patient, and respectful. This is encouraging. Here’s a male celebrity who’s a great actor and role model for young men saying that masculinity as it’s been practiced for a very long time isn’t so great after all. Maybe this does represent a shift in societal attitudes about gender. And why wouldn’t we want to encourage males to be more of these things we’ve traditionally associated with femininity?

Why do we need gender anyway?

The concepts of masculinity and femininity aren’t accidental or neutral. They define appropriate behaviour for males and females which orders them into a hierarchy, such that whatever characteristics make men dominant are deemed masculine and therefore encouraged in males, and whatever characteristics make females submissive are deemed feminine and therefore encouraged in females. To ensure this social hierarchy is well understood by all, supposedly masculine characteristics are valued as superior to supposedly feminine characteristics. Many people recognize the existence of sex-based inequality but are unable to explain its origin or dynamics. The sexual and reproductive exploitation of female bodies is enabled and sanctioned through this social engineering – an entrenched and seemingly natural and inevitable ideology of misogyny.

The problem isn’t that traits are bad in and of themselves. Aggression or violence might be required in survival situations or where personal safety is threatened, for example. But why aren’t particular behaviours expected from people on the basis of need or context rather than because they’re assumed to be inherent or natural to, or appropriate for, males or females only? Why would we associate the traits ‘caring, considerate, patient, and respectful’ with either masculinity or femininity if we want both sexes to exhibit them? If we believe everyone should do the things that good people do, then there’s no need for the categories of masculine and feminine where mannerisms are concerned.

It only makes sense to speak of masculinity and femininity in terms of the biological attributes specific to male and female sexed bodies, for instance, as they relate to the different healthcare needs of males and females. No matter what biological differences exist between the sexes, sex should not determine how people are expected to think, feel and act, and the only way to challenge these expectations is by doing away with gender – the social categories of masculinity and femininity – altogether.




Filed under Feminism & Gender, Politics & Society

Why men should stop calling themselves feminists

When Emma Watson posted a tribute to the late Alan Rickman by highlighting one of his quotes about feminism, she faced a swift backlash for what some people idiots claimed was a gratuitous promotion of feminism (because promoting feminism is a bad thing and famous people are never quoted in memoriam?).

It’s always good overall, I think, when men can say the word feminism without looking like they’ve just smelled something funky. Although it’s helpful that not all men (or women) think it’s a dirty word, not speaking derisively about the movement for women’s liberation is a basic minimum of decency. If the bar has been set so low that men are lavished with praise for verbally recognizing that women are human beings, this is a solid argument for sustaining the topic in public discourse, to be sure.

The question is: who should shape and own that discourse? Lately there have been numerous instances in which men – especially white men of means – take up the mantle of feminist and instruct other men to do the same. While some women don’t have a problem with this I think it’s worth exploring why some women do because talking about feminism, whether it’s being done by women or men, is not a gender-neutral practice.

The words, ideas, and actions of men carry more weight in society. Females and males aren’t just individuals but also members of social classes which are defined by specific criteria: who they’re perceived to be, how they’re expected to behave, and how they relate to each other. Men hold certain things in common, with some variation thrown in the mix such as nationality, ethnicity, economic class, and sexual orientation. The same goes for women. The result is a complex web of social groups, some of which are organized according to hierarchies i.e. structures of power. The internal commonalities that differentiate males and females from each other are one such example. Of all the topics imaginable, sexism is the subject for which sex-based inequality matters the most. When men and women talk about feminism they’re doing so from privileged and underprivileged positions respectively.

As well-meaning as all of this is, it presents some significant problems. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that men need to be a big part of the conversation, I cringe. Men should critique the system of gender (masculinity and femininity) and talk about what they can do to dismantle it. Most importantly, they should elevate the voices of women, especially marginalized women such as women of colour, indigenous women, immigrant women, poor and working class women, lesbians, disabled women, etc. – bearing in mind that many women belong to more than one of these groups. Organizations like A Call To Men UK do a great job of advocating for the well-being of women and the reason for this is that they take responsibility and they listen to us. Men acting as the face and voice of feminism and taking up space in the movement is actually the last thing that feminism needs. There are loads of intelligent, charismatic women who can (and do) discuss feminism more articulately, more accurately, and with more credibility than men ever can. Why should they have a platform to speak our truths?


I believe that men should never identify as feminists – and certainly not any time they feel like it as Trudeau suggests. A man, especially one who enjoys multiple levels of privilege, dictating who can or should adopt this title and when smacks of hubris and paternalism. The benefactors of an oppressive system have no business setting the language and parameters of the activism that seeks to destroy that system. The conflict of interest here is obvious to anyone willing to see it.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of a friend who, as soon as he found out I’m a feminist, was eager to tell me that he’s a feminist too. I thought, ‘Oh no. Here we go again’. I took a deep breath and told him that a lot of women aren’t comfortable with men adopting the label of feminist. Without a moment’s hesitation, he dismissed me. “That’s not my problem,” he said.


It’s always deeply disappointing when men who assume the good guy status ultimately prove themselves to be classic mansplainers. It’s become such a cliché.



Ilana and Abbi in Broad City

Isn’t it convenient that there are two tranches of feminism that men can pick and choose from as though they’re deciding which ice cream tastes better and the one that’s most desirable to them happens to be the one that least challenges their privilege? This serves the purpose of creating a subclass of feminists who are deemed deserving of abuse and allows men to avoid questioning themselves while appearing virtuous. They can rest easy because they’ve been accepted by the good feminists. The real feminists.


There’s something mildly relieving about the few times guys manage to say something about sexism or feminism that isn’t misguided, stupid, or arrogant. (Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the Ryan Gosling memes because you’ve probably seen a lifetime’s worth and then some.)

It’s not wrong for public figures to say that it’s important to demand a shift in attitudes as Trudeau has said, but I have a feeling he means something different when he says this than when I do. The point is, we should do even better. I know I’m not alone in feeling that we’re far from done and radical change can’t come soon enough. We’re expected to be satisfied with minor advancements and I’m sorry (not sorry) but women have only ever made progress when we’ve fought for it. It doesn’t make sense to low-ball in what is essentially treated as a negotiation of human rights.

It’s not as though women have been sitting around at Stitch ‘n Bitch waiting for politicians to give them the green light. Women have been practicing feminism since well before male sympathizers were born. Women are the ones with the most at stake and we also happen to be the experts. So shouldn’t the experts be educating the public on how to move forward? If gender parity really is a priority in his administration, the best way for Trudeau to demonstrate that is to step aside and let women speak, and not just about feminism but every other issue too because we are people, after all, and we have a lot of smart things to say about every topic under the sun. The only way for us to change the fact that men’s words carry more weight is to take some of it and place it on the other side of the scale.

The truth is, very few men know what they’re talking about. Time and time again we see men insisting that they’re feminists and that they know what feminism is and how we should go about it, only to end up stepping in it. Then they track that garbage all over the place without even realizing it. When do we say, enough?

We can pluck examples from a wide variety of men with the same predictable outcome. The most ridiculous case that comes to mind is when porn actor and serial abuser James Deen was lauded as a feminist and “feminist” publications had to backtrack when his misogyny became too embarassingly obvious to rationalize.

A lot of people laughed when Pope Francis said, “forgive me if I’m a bit feminist” and then went on to say, in the way that condescending men are wont to, that women are just so fantastic because they do the care work while men do all the talking. But are other spiritual leaders much different? For instance, what about the Dalai Lama, who proudly wears the feminist label?

It didn’t take long for him to screw up. Just one year later self-identified Buddhist feminists went into damage control after the leader made an unequivocally sexist comment. Oops! When asked whether he supported the idea that the next Lama could be a woman, he enthusiastically said yes (watch at 4:52) but he followed this up with two assertions. The first was that women are biologically wired to be more affectionate and compassionate than men – that familiar stereotype that’s been used for centuries to force support roles on women and deny them other forms of employment. The second was that this woman would have to be very attractive or else she wouldn’t be of much use. Visibly shocked by this, the interviewer asked him if he was joking and he confirmed that he wasn’t. He clearly wasn’t. But even if he had been joking, which many Buddhists insisted was the case regardless of appearances, sexist jokes aren’t funny (how many times do we have to say this??) and they definitely aren’t feminist.

The term ‘male feminist’ exists because females are the default feminists. We’re the default feminists because feminism is a political movement that organizes for the liberation of females from male supremacy. Feminists aren’t against men; we’re against the system that produces their dominance. While all men have male privilege and thus benefit from the system, some do actively work to dismantle it. If we didn’t think it was possible for men to change their behaviour, feminism would be moot; why bother trying to change something that can’t be changed? The biggest hindrance to progress, however, is the fact that any given man is far more likely to perpetuate sexism than to challenge it. Women participate in this system as well as a result of our own social conditioning, but with one key difference: relatively speaking, men have power and women do not. The potential for men to divide, derail, and sabotage feminism through their mere presence is enormous. From this angle, members of the oppressor class referring to themselves as the liberators of the people they oppress is itself an act of domination, whether intentional or not. It is not for men to decide who has the right to define feminism or who qualifies as liberators.

There are a lot of things men can do to help women, some more effective than others. Men are not entitled to feminist spaces, nor do feminists have any obligation to listen to what men have to say about the women’s liberation movement. It’s great when queer men reject masculinity but if they’re just hopping into another role and adopting the opposite gender, the roles themselves are left intact. When it comes to men and gender, true nonconformity means doing things that are designated as feminine and proving that they’re not inherent to females because men can do them and still be men – just as ‘real’ or ‘manly’ as any other man.


Being an ally to social causes isn’t about identity. It’s not an individualistic process. It’s about giving, sacrificing, and generally doing things that you feel uncomfortable about because you’re finally being accountable in ways that you weren’t before. As Helen Lewis explains, whereas men often want to be part of the feminist conversation – as many believe is their right – the most valuable contribution men can make to feminism is to take on the burdens that have for so long been the responsibility of women. It’s not glamorous or fun but that’s how real change happens. After all, isn’t that the point?



Filed under Canada, Feminism & Gender, Politics & Society