This time, it’s Marie Claire leading the charge with the #MCInHerShoes campaign.
My three concerns are with the idea behind the campaign itself; the men they chose to participate; and their Twitter fundraising efforts. Let’s address these in reverse order.
If you tweet “I stand for women” with the campaign hashtag, the magazine will donate R5 to a shelter for abused women with every tweet. If the funds are available, why not just donate the money? Why make the amount given to help abused women dependent on the number of tweets you get? This is a PR exercise, an attempt to boost their brand on Twitter, and it is contemptible.
This approach also encourages armchair activism or slacktivism, which, according to a study from the University of British Columbia, does not help the causes people wish to support. Slacktivism is a “willingness to perform a relatively costless, token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanying lack of willingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change”.
Your tweet is going to make little difference to the lives of abused women, but it allows you to feel that you’ve done something, so you don’t need to put in additional effort.
Eighteen men participate in this campaign, and I’m sure most of them are decent people and at least some of them have an awareness of the structural nature of sexism and violence against women (I hope). But as activist Sian Ferguson has pointed out on Twitter, “[The] campaign uses serial misogynists Siv Ngesi and Gareth Cliff. They expand their profile without changing their behaviour.”
Cliff does not have the best track record regarding casual sexism (see the chapter in his book regarding “tarts”, i.e. women). In 2013, he tweeted a horrible comment about singer Adele’s physical appearance. In 2011, a complaint was laid at the BCCSA when he praised young philanthropist Angela Larkan, saying that most 22-year-olds “do nothing but lie on their backs with their legs open”. Cliff called the complaint “spurious” and it was subsequently dismissed, but activist Jennifer Thorpe explains here why it was deeply misogynist.
Last year, Siv Ngesi made a rape joke on Twitter, and defended it when called out. In the recent backlash, he tweeted to “feminists” “hating” on thecampaign, which says something about his view on feminists as well as his willingness to engage with valid concerns.
In 2011, DJ Euphonik had charges of domestic violence laid against him by then-girlfriend Bonang Matheba. In the campaign, he says, “Violence against women is probably the greatest injustice in the world.” He then addressed Matheba in a comment on an Instagram post about the campaign, saying, “maybe next month they’ll discuss the crying wolfs” (sic).
Reacting to questions about Euphonik’s inclusion, MC editor Aspasia Karras tweeted that they “view his participation in the spirit it was intended as an important declaration”, which means what, exactly?
These men pay lip service to an issue that impacts on the lives of women everywhere, while in no way interrogating how their own behaviour has contributed to a culture where women are treated as lesser than men.
The introductory paragraph in the magazine spread begins: “It takes a real man to stand up against gender-based violence and experience life in a woman’s shoes...”
The use of tired “real men” rhetoric aside, Marie Claire reduces the female experience to... shoes. Thank you for reinforcing that stereotype.
Maybe it’s because I don’t spend time in the women’s magazine environment, but I know very few women who wear heels – let alone stilettos, which are pretty torture devices – on a regular basis. The whole idea is simplistic and gender essentialist and hinges on a fetishised symbol of what it means to be a woman. Below one of MC’s Instagram posts, which featured Cliff in heels, was the comment “Gareth Jenner”.
Wearing heels will tell a man absolutely nothing about what it is like to be female. It is a cheap gimmick. Sit down with a woman and listen to her, listen to people who call you out even when you don’t want to hear it.
In another tweet, Karras said that the “vital debate #MCInHerShoes has generated is crucial and important”. As a friend commented on Facebook, “Create debate? These are our lives!”
The campaign has been defended according to the “at least it’s something” school of activism, which means bugger all. Debate is not enough. Vague “raising awareness” is not enough. We need the men who participated in the campaign to say, “This is how I will support women through meaningful action.”
Marie Claire, this is not enough. Do better.