Friday, 17 July 2009

No Pretence

The London Profeminist Men's Group (LPMG) wishes to thank and support the Anarcha-Feminists who made the "We Make No Pretence" intervention at the Anarchist Conference 2009.

The members of the LPMG cannot in anyway claim that they are less sexist than any men or anyone out there, whether inside or outside the anarchist scene. But we wish more men were interested in getting involved in discussion and consciousness raising groups that are here for us to work on our internal sexism and gender role and how it affects our lives and our everyday interaction with other people.

Oppression systems are everywhere. As individuals, we are sometimes on the good side of the power balance, sometimes on the bad side... It is more than time for everyone, including inside the anarchist movement, to get ready to be challenged. To stop "pretending nothing was said" and start asking why we're getting challenged by oppressed people. In this respect, white heterosexual men have to make lots of efforts. This is not about guilt. This is about realising our position in oppressive systems and taking responsibility for it.

Thanks to the group of Anarcha-Feminists for such a powerful and meaningful intervention. We do believe the "movement" needs to be shaken up.
We welcome the "Make no pretence" statement as well as the second statement written in response to the big reaction that the intervention provoked.

Finally, we condemn all hostility, intimidation and sexist reaction that the intervention has provoked.

Artificial sperm and the end of men??

Publication of a research paper on creating sperm cells from embryonic stem cells has created the usual media furore, complete with mostly uncritical hype about what this technology can actually achieve and a failure to ask scientists the really hard questions. Not being a pro-lifer I have no problem with the use of embryonic stem cells in basic research. However, the idea that sperm cells produced from embryonic stem cells in a laboratory could be used in fertility treatment is a dangerous and unethical technological fantasy. Like the idea of “therapeutic cloning”, what seems simple in theory will in practice prove practically impossible, precisely because it is so unnatural.

Much of the media discussion has focused on the idea that this might lead to 'men becoming redundant'. As with cloning, and the fears of armies of cloned soldiers, the point is not to take such scenarios literally, but to look beneath the surface at what the fears are really about. The scientific drive to abstract the whole of the human reproductive life cycle from its context of actual human bodies is just an example of the deep dynamic of science in our society. Since the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, the function of science has been to control nature and to impose order upon its random messiness, eventually to improve upon it, and ultimately to replace the need for it. What reproductive and biotechnology are now bringing home to us is that nature includes us. Thus, for the last 25 years we have seen the emergence of transhumanist/posthumanist movements, which look forward to the evolution through technology (including bio-, nano- and information technology) of posthuman beings (entities?). Feminists have been arguing since the 1970s that reproductive technology is an attempt to control and appropriate women's fertility, which aims ultimately to end the reliance on the female body for production of children, through artificial wombs. Now, it seems it is men's turn to feel this anxiety.

Of course, the capitalist-scientific drive to dominate nature is very male, (nature is gendered as female in nearly all cultures), and is one of the key features of patriarchy in our societies. What is interesting is that, by its own logic, it must also move to dispense with men's bodies, testes, penises.

There are feminist theories that argue that a major part of men's tendency to try to dominate women comes from a psychological insecurity which arises from the fact that men do not carry and give birth to children, which is, after all, a central part of human life. In that process, men feel like lightweights, and I think this latest research presses exactly on that nerve. That may be why, although the idea that men will become redundant is very unlikely, there has been so much interest in this bit of research.

David King
A fuller version of this blog can be found at
Here is an earlier comment by Mike Hurford and my response:

I have read your blogger with interest, but I appear to view our society in a way that none of you do. There are some very sexist and offensive men in our society. I agree. You seem to treat these men as an enemy, challenging their behaviour, and if you find yourselves acting in this way, you attempt to change your behaviour. My problem with your comments is this. Don’t think that a lot of women are equally sexist and offensive to men? There are many sexist women around today. Why don’t you challenge their behaviour in the same way? Feminism would be acceptable to me if it wasn’t so sexist, and didn’t keep generalising about the entire male sex.( Something that they claim to be fighting against, only about women). It seems to me that they, like you, are hypocrites. I have met many sexist people, men and women, but it is only the men who are challenged. The women are supported in their behaviour, by groups such as yours, and society in general. This is my view on feminism, and I would like one of you to discuss with me in an adult way where I’m going wrong. I look forward to a chat with you re the above. Regards M Hurford

Dear Mike,

Thanks for your post, and for raising an issue which seems to confuse a lot of people.

In my view, and I would guess most feminists would agree with me, the issue is not about making wrong generalisations. The feminist claim is there exists a system of oppression of women by men, called patriarchy. This system has existed in all societies we know about for the last few thousand years. In patriarchal societies women, women’s work, women’s values etc are systematically undervalued. Women are forced into a very narrow set of roles and possibilities for their lives. Women’s lives are ruled by men. Men abuse women sexually and with violence. There are too many examples to list, because patriarchy and sexism pervade everything in society. Although in Western liberal democracies some of the rough edges of this system have been knocked off in the last 40 years it is still very much in operation.

What this means is that contrary to what you seem to be assuming, there is no parity between men’s negative ideas about women, and women’s negative ideas about men. Men’s negative ideas about women are part of the system of oppression, and have a great deal of power associated with them. By contrast, women are comparatively much less powerful, and much of their hostility towards men is an understandable reaction to oppression. That does not excuse a general hostility to men, but we should be putting much more attention and energy into trying to deal with the oppression of women. Actually, I do not think that it is appropriate to use the term “sexism” to describe women’s hostility to men, because that word denotes not just a set of attitudes, but the fact that they occur within a system of massive inequality of power in favour of men. I don’t know what word we should use, there doesn’t seems to be one in English, but the key point is that sexism is not just about attitudes.

By the way, just in case you’re getting the wrong idea about where the group and I are coming from, the point of our group is not to beat ourselves up as bad guys. In agreeing with the feminist claim that women are oppressed under the system of patriarchy, we are also claiming that although men benefit from that, there are many aspects of the roles that men are forced into in that system that are harmful to men as well as women. Just one example would be the fact that men are supposed to be invulnerable and never seek support if they are feeling hurt or weak. So, in supporting feminism, we are working for the liberation of men as well.

Best Wishes
David King

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Can men be feminists?

Jon and I went to a discussion group at the Feminist Library today on the question of whether men can be feminists. Below is some of what was said and a couple of further thoughts by Jon and me on the topic.

Some ideas of today's talk:

  • Defining feminism as women-only means putting up gender barriers instead of destroying them
  • Feminism is a way of thinking - the gender of the person thinking it shouldn't matter
  • There should be another word than feminist to describe men who support feminism
  • Men shouldn't call themselves "pro-feminist" instead of "feminist" because it reinforces exclusive gender divisions
  • In some social situations, men have more to lose from standing up against sexism - because they can lose their position of privilege which women don't have in the first place. But is this an excuse for failing to do so?

Other issues and arguments

  • If feminism is women's liberation movement, then it must be women only. Men involved in women's liberation movement would be problematic because it would be very patronizing ("we'll liberate you").
  • Also, by calling what they are doing "feminist", men appropriate what belongs to women. It is argued that "feminist" is a term that ought to be reserved for those who have lived the embodied experience of growing up female and choose to resist the oppression that they experience as a result of this fact. Those who support that struggle should not colonise the term feminist but instead call themselves "pro-feminist" as their struggle is not the same as that of "feminists".
  • Alternatively, men can be feminists if feminism means being anti-patriarchy (bell hooks). Patriarchy is seen as the system of binary gender that oppresses everyone, albeit to very different extents, and anyone who resists this system of oppression can legitimately call themselves a feminist.
  • Seen more pragmatically, men need to be somehow involved in feminism for it to achieve its goals, because men are the ones who need to change the most.

Remaining open questions

Should we call ourselves pro-feminist or feminist men (or something else)?
And, to open another can of worms: If feminism is a way of thinking, and if it means destroying gender categories, isn't a "men's group" reinforcing those categories and thus sexist?

Comments welcome.