Quite honestly, though, there is one guy in every group of people who want to discuss feminism at more than a 101 level who just has to bring it back down to a 100 level.
That happened Thursday night.
As a volunteer for VIWF, I have the option to enter into a ticket lottery to win one comp ticket to an event I want to see. I managed to score a ticket for Women and Literature, which was my first choice.
I was super-stoked. This was definitely the one event I really wanted to see.
The event was a panel of four women authors and a woman moderator/interviewer/timekeeper who would ask questions. The authors were Kate Mosse from the United Kingdom, Gail Jones from Australia, Gillian Jerome from British Columbia, and Susan Swan from Ontario. Here is the summary of the event:
In response to the 1991 Booker Prize nominee list, which included not one female author, novelist Kate Mosse founded the Orange Prize to celebrate outstanding fiction by women throughout the world. Now, more than 20 years later, poet Gillian Jerome has founded Canadian Women in the Literary Arts in response to the critical reception of women’s creative writing. In this so-called post-feminist world, does the literary and critical environment reflect what’s really happening? Susan Swan, novelist and past chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada, has followed issues of gender equality in writing for decades. Australia’s Gail Jones, an award-winning author and professor of writing, brings an international perspective to this panel discussion.
When the “post-feminist world” was mentioned, I and several other audience members guffawed. Jokes were made about Gillian Jerome’s binder, because it was full of women.
The discussion was good, and pretty much completely unsurprising to me. Women authors get reviewed less often than male authors do. It’s assumed that boys and men cannot relate to books written by women, but can relate to books written by men. It’s assumed that boys and men must have a male protagonist in order to enjoy the story — and boys and men are socialized to believe this from an early age. Women don’t get shortlisted as often, or win as often, many prominent literary prizes. Women are more generous readers than men — they’re more likely to read books with male protagonists with whom they can’t fully relate than men are to read books with female protagonists — I mean, obviously, women have had to be more generous readers with regards to that, because it’s not as if their stories have been centered in literature for centuries.
And women and feminists say these things, say “This is what is going on, let’s talk about it,” and we get “Why are you so angry? Are you a lesbian? Do you hate men?” in response. Anytime more women authors become visible — anytime women become more visible in any field — it’s seen as a takeover. All male = neutral.
And this discussion was refreshing, because it seemed we were actually able to talk about these things, for once, without derail.
I was too happy, too soon.
There was time for only three questions at the end. I finally worked up the courage to raise my hand for the last question — I wanted to know what their perspective was on genderqueer authors who had lived as women and still were assumed to be women finding spaces within women’s literature, within the circles of women authors supporting each other, etc — but the question went to a dude down at the end of my row instead.
His question had nothing to do with the discussion. It had to do with feminism in general, and he prefaced it by saying “This is going to be a controversial question, and of course I believe in women’s equality.”
Pro-tip: if you have to preface your ‘controversial’ question with ‘of course I believe in _____’, it’s a pretty huge red flag that you actually don’t believe in ___. No matter how much you think you do.
He took about three minutes to ask a long, convoluted, incredibly cissexist question. Bless Susan Swan, she managed to answer it in a way that placated him without actually agreeing fully with him. In my head I was screaming GO HOME AND LEARN HOW TO USE GOOGLE ON THE INTERNET MACHINE; WE ARE NOT YOUR FUCKING EDUCATORS.
Dudes — when you do this shit, when you come into a space where women are talking about specific focuses in feminism, and you ask your questions because you’re just so damn confused, you tell us that you don’t really give a shit about our concerns. You tell us that your question is more important than what we want to discuss, because you’re a man.
If you cannot come into a space that’s discussing above-101 level feminism and hold your questions, if you cannot learn to listen to people who have been silenced for centuries, then you have not grown up. Go back to elementary and learn some fucking manners.
This incident was exemplary of the “BUT WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ” trope. It’s ridiculous to think that feminists are not concerned with liberating men; of course we are. It’s ridiculous to think that we are not concerned with men’s issues. If you think that all feminists are man-haters, then you have no critical reading or thinking skills. Period. There is more than enough evidence out there — feminist blogs, feminist books — that proves that feminists are very much concerned with how patriarchy hurts men.
It’s just not how we frame our discussions.
Men’s voices have been centered for…well, pretty much the whole of Western history. We are socialized to believe that everything must continue to center male voices, male experiences in order to be valid. We continue to disbelieve things until we hear a white man say it. Then suddenly it’s revolutionary. (See: Jay Asher’s piece of shit book.) Because male voices continue to be centered in our society, because male voices continue to be seen as default, neutral, truth.
Feminism seeks to center women’s voices. (And intersectional feminism seeks to center female, QUILTBAG, disabled, neuroatypical, and POC voices. Intersectionality = understanding where different privileges and oppressions intersect.) While it also seeks equality for all people, it does not behoove us to do this through the centering of male voices. Because male voices have been centered for centuries. It’s time for a new perspective. It’s time to work from margin to center — not from center to margin.
Real change occurs on the margins of things. Not in the mainstream. You think you can change the system from within — that if you just learn its ropes and follow its rules for a certain amount of time, then you can make it change. It ends up changing you.
So, fellas, next time you’re at an event or in a space where women are talking about feminism, oppression, privilege, kyriarchy, and all that jazz, and you have a 101-level question about feminism in general that could easily be researched at home?
Shut. the fuck. up.
Ps. I did get to speak to Kate Mosse after, when I got her book Citadel signed, and I asked her my question in short-form. She said that yes, she did feel there was room for genderqueer authors in women’s literature, which honestly made me feel better about being in women author’s spaces. She also said that she thought my novel sounded really interesting and she might check it out, which made me squee with happiness.