Cisgender male activists: a blind spot for the women's movement

2014-09-17 05:10

Internationally there is an increased call for the involvement of men in combating gender-based violence and supporting women and girls rights. There is a growing number of organizations and movements that are led by men or targeting men as change agents for contributing to gender equality, improved health and educational outcomes for both men and women, and the role of men in peace and security.

I am a firm believer that men have a critical role to play in dismantling patriarchy and contributing to the promotion of women and girls rights in a fair and equitable society. However, I do not believe men can and should lead the women’s movement nor the struggle for women’s liberation. This is because men can never really understand the complexities of the role of patriarchy in the oppression of women. Men, particularly cisgender men, are direct beneficiaries of a system that is meant to ensure that they occupy privileged positions in society while gay men and women continue to come second on all landscapes.

The thing about patriarchy, power and privilege is that they are often invisible to the people who have them and only become apparent once their benefits are lost. Furthermore, the work required to dismantle oppressive systems needs the voices of the oppressed at the center of the solution. This is not to discredit men who have become really supportive allies and continually show up for women and girls, however, a systems approach to understanding of the problem is necessary in order to craft solutions. So what happens when male allies do not show up for women and girls? What happens when allies are actually NOT allies?

Well, over the last few years I’ve watched and noted how some men have preyed on women, particurlaly activist women,  either as an act of power to discredit or silent them. For illustration, I’ve group these types of cisgender male predators in the gender actvism space into four broad simplistic types.

Type 1:  a man, probably middle aged, maybe married to a vocal feminist and uses all the feminist rhetoric that al gender activists long to hear.  He comes across as truly present, he easily builds rapport and lets you know from the get-go that he is married to a feminist or gender activist and therefore is “safe”. He is overly affectionate, stealing opportunities to harass and make inappropriate sexual advances on vulnerable women. He will most likely make an unwelcome sexual advance and then be most apologetic while letting you know you enjoyed it.

Type 2: he's an older man and comes across as the caring father type who is very protective of his colleagues and women in his life, but preys on young girls and trolls women online. He has a penchant for young women who satisfy a deep rooted desire to be affirmed by youth. He’s aware of his mortality and often uses this to invoke sympathy or false wisdom.

Type 3: is a young male ‘feminist’ who spends all his time on social networks searching for women and girls right activists so he can persecute them for their chosen struggle and cause. He's an angry man who's probably been 'emasculated' by an angry mother, sister or wife  and therefore, feels the need to negate any gains made in the women's movement. He's sharp and uses sarcasm to discredit valid lived experiences of women, girls and LGBTQI communities.

Type 4: also a young man and actively in the men’s movement. He’s deep in the trenches with the women. He attends all the rallies, speaks at all the public events and is most probably associated with a men’s organization tackling gender based violence, health or crime prevention. He uses professional gatherings to prey on unsuspecting women and classifies his actions as ‘part of the game’. He’s easy to trust because of his public politics and many women do fall for him.

As the struggle for women and girls rights wages on, we value the authentic contribution of men as allies and part of movement building but need to proceed with caution and be weary of the blind spots in the movement.

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