Why women must be the voice of women’s issues

Emilia Andrews calls out the male feminist hero.

A key element of the feminist movement is striving to achieve equality of the genders; in order for this to be achieved, it is clear that all genders must work together to achieve a fairer society. It is important and encouraged for men to get involved in the fight for equal rights, especially as some men also suffer from issues of inequality between the sexes – for example, when it comes to custody rights.

However, while we’ve come a long way in achieving women’s rights, it is widely recognised that we still have far to go, especially regarding social attitudes towards women’s issues. Problems arise when men start to enter into the dialogue about women’s issues. Women’s issues are just that, women’s; they belong to us and as such, only women can offer an accurate perspective on what it means to be a woman in this society.

When men talk about certain issues that affect a lot of women, such as cat-calling, pregnancy and periods – whilst they may have good intentions – it can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help. Even if a man’s point of view runs in concordance with what women are also trying to say, it’s dangerous to hand over the microphone to men. At a recent ‘Raise the Bar’ spoken word event in Bristol, one poet performed a poem about the taboo surrounding periods; whilst I agreed with everything he was saying, it was uncomfortable to watch a man stand up and talk about an issue that women who menstruate have dealt with and attempted to combat for years.

As women, part of the issue is that we are not being listened to, and this is exemplified when a woman performs poetry, art, or comedy discussing women’s issues. All too often, these women are dismissed with an eye-roll as soon as they dare to mention the word ‘period’ or ‘feminism’. However, a man speaking of these same ‘taboo’ topics is perceived as a hero and people think about how good it is of him to get involved in something which does not directly affect him. In reality, what is happening is another example of a man taking voice away from a woman, a voice for which women have fought, and are still fighting, long and hard throughout years of oppression.

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There is a fine line between supporting a cause and becoming the voice of said cause. If a man becomes one of the ‘voices of feminism’ then we find ourselves losing an important aspect of the feminist movement. Equality cannot be achieved if we are handing all of the power over.

While Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, We Should All Be Feminists acts as an excellent introduction to the fight for equality and the importance of us all being involved in the feminist movement, it also has its limitations. Her claim that ‘the best feminist I know is my brother’ is somewhat detrimental to a key aspect of the feminist movement: giving women a voice. Without all genders being granted a voice, gender equality cannot be established; for men to be singled out as the heroes and popular voices of the feminist cause disregards all of the brilliant women who have been fighting tirelessly for equality for years.

We should not exclude men from the discussion about feminism and how we can achieve equality, but we must also be wary of handing the cause completely over to them. As a society, we need to try harder to rid ourselves of the prejudices surrounding women speaking about women’s issues. If we reach the point where we will not listen to the problems women suffer from unless these problems are voiced by a man, then we have already lost. For a man to stretch out his hand and say to us women, ‘I am here to support you as an ally’ holds much more significance than for him to speak about women’s issues as though they are his own.

Illustration by Maegan Farrow.

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