Do you believe that all human beings are equal? Then you're a feminist!
Well, such was my naïve belief, until now. While disagreements between supporters of any movement or system of beliefs are unavoidable, I thought that at least human equality was one area in which feminists would unite. I saw the notion of a feminist as being anti-men as merely one of many unjustified stereotypes, such as being ugly, or unwomanly.
Recently, however, I realised that man-hating feminism was all too real. My first experience of this was on Twitter. An article in the Independent had revealed that many men experience lasting psychological trauma at the birth of their children. I was horrified by the experiences described. Unfortunately, certain feminists of twitter were not. One lamented: "They can't even let us have childbirth without fucking whining about what a hard time they have"; another declared that the traumatised men were "just squeamish", a reaction ominously similar to men in decades past who have labelled women as "hysterical". When I tried to explain that the article made the obviously correct assumption that childbirth is more traumatising for women, and simply reported undeniable trauma also experienced by certain men, I was accused of "trolling", and of not knowing "much about feminism". Finally, when I responded by saying that my words were due to a belief that "feminism at its heart should be about women being equal to men", I was met with the response, "it's a women's movement. Men do not get a say in it and they take opportunities to hijack and derail."
When some of the most commendable feminists I know are men, this is a pretty confusing statement to be making. If we isolate roughly half of the population from the movement, what can we hope to achieve?
Suppressing my concerns, I reassured myself that Twitter is a breeding ground for narrow-minded people, and that at least the feminist movement at my university had got it nailed. Oh, how wrong I was. Speaking to Harry Peto, a male, self-defining feminist, about the Twitter debacle, I learnt that before coming to Cambridge he had joined the Cambridge Men's Feminist Discussion Group on Facebook. The reaction to these online discussions by certain Cambridge female feminists was so extreme that they were deleted. Those responsible for censoring the discussions believed that men should not only be denied the right to call themselves a feminist or to discuss feminism, but actually to vocalise their agreement with women on certain issues. And so the group was forced to shut down as a platform for discussion before term had even begun.
One of the women accountable for this went on to publish an article titled 'Suffering under the Burden of Patriarchal Responsibility? Read this!', directed at male "feminists" who really needed to "know their place" (Sound familiar?). Comments made by Harry and other men, which had been kept privately on record, were quoted in isolation, out of the wider context of a discussion, and branded as "extreme mansplaining, normative sexist language, general bullshit". Examples of their comments, which in no way reflect that description, include: "Why exactly does an opinion (and clearly not on a leadership level) become worthless because of the gender of the speaker? Why isn't THAT gender discrimination?" and "Either we offer support and are sexist, or stay silent- and are sexist. Hmmm. This is a difficult one."
This was followed by a long list on what these men should be doing, rather than discussing feminism- such as cooking for women, so they have more time to discuss it themselves. One stated: "Seven. Don't talk over women or interrupt them or explain to them why they're wrong, particularly in discussions about oppression, politics, or academic subjects." Personally, I would find it deeply annoying, indeed sexist, if a man refused to engage in debate with me solely because I am female.
One of the original claims made on the group, by Gareth Erskine, perfectly illuminates the problem with this type of behaviour: "Types of feminist militancy such as not being able to agree with women I believe only damage the feminist cause rather than progress it. Men will be reluctant to call themselves feminists or associate with feminism if such alienation continues."
It is vital that the women guilty of such alienation swallow their pride and reflect that men should be permitted to have opinions, just like them. Feminism has a severe image problem, and if this is to change, it must present itself as an all-encompassing movement.
Follow Octavia Sheepshanks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/octaviarose