Feminists are not responsible for educating men

As a vocal feminist with many intelligent, lovely male friends, I’m often met with indignance when I choose not to engage with them about feminism. Surely if I really cared about changing our culture of discrimination and inequality, I should be trying to educate men? Isn’t that an activist’s job? Shouldn’t feminists be grateful when men want to bounce questions off us, because it shows that they are at least trying to understand?

It’s both exhausting and diversionary being expected to hash out the basics with men who haven’t bothered to think about their own privilege before. Men are not entitled to expect feminists to educate them. Real change will only happen when men accept that the burden of education is on them, not on women.

Recently, I politely declined to debate with one such baffled male friend, who followed up by sending me some well-intentioned advice on how I could be a more effective feminist. Having never thought much about feminism before, he said, he just didn’t find my social media posts appealing. Too shouty and academic. What I needed was to explain things in a way that appealed to men.

Considering himself as the sort of bloke who “could be part of the solution”, he helpfully sent me a link to a twelve-minute TED talk which contained, in his words, “a basic yes/no test” for misogyny together with proposed steps to solve the problem. In an impressive gesture of hubris, he suggested the next time I was asked to educate a man who was genuinely trying to learn about feminism, I forward this snappy sound-byte resource he had just found for me.

It’s astonishing that 50% of the population are so regularly asked to make a sales pitch for liberation from structural disadvantage and systemic violence.

Here’s the thing about being expected to hold the hand of each individual man as he grapples with the possibility that despite his self-perceived good nature and honest intentions, he is a beneficiary of the structural oppression of women. It actually hurts. Patriarchy hurts women on a daily basis. But even though it can be traumatic to discuss rape culture, for example, we live in hope that by showing men how it hurts us they will begin to understand and become our allies. When men appear to take an interest in feminist discourse it tugs at this yearning. While they can play devil’s advocate and toss around hypotheticals that are utterly disconnected from their reality and then opt out at the end, for women these discussions require revelation and vulnerablility; they are a sharing of our actual lived experience.

The most common argument is: If You Won’t Educate Me How Can I Learn. This is how it usually plays out. Self-described Nice Guy interjects discussion with earnest appeals for feminists to engage with his personal opinions. Having pushed past his bristling discomfort at feminists being bitter, resentful and combative (but not before pointing out this sacrifice), Nice Guy is bewildered not to have his theories discussed immediately and in a reasonable, non-angry way. Despite the hundreds of resources on the subject which he could, like the rest of us, go off and read, Nice Guy expects women to stop what they are doing, and instead share their experiences of oppression and answer his questions. In an ironic twist, Nice Guy is unaware that by demanding women divert their energies to immediately gratifying his whims, he reinforces the power dynamics he is supposedly seeking to understand.

https://cwinterfox.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/being-attacked-and-laughed-at.png

It goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with having basic questions about feminism. Unpacking something as complex and insidious as patriarchy, particularly when it requires an examination of your own privilege, isn’t easy. Where it becomes problematic is when you are so confident that your questions are SUPER! IMPORTANT! that you try and co-opt feminist discussions to have them heard.

To borrow the analogy of another woman:

It’s as if you have walked into a postgraduate mathematics seminar, yelling
“Hey, how can you even use imaginary numbers anyway if they’re not real?”
When someone rather distractedly points you to a first-year text-book in the corner, you leaf through the first couple of pages half-heartedly for a few seconds and say
“I don’t agree with some of the definitions in here – and anyway you haven’t answered my question. Doesn’t anyone want to have a discussion with me?!!”

This incredulity is usually delivered with a sound telling-off for being sarcastic, unreasonable, illogical, ungrateful and bitter. Now, as a woman raised under patriarchy I am socialised to respond to men’s praise and approval. Having suffered the consequences of men’s disapproval, conflict is counter-intuitive to me. It’s tempting to give in to the desire to be recognised as a “good” feminist who takes the time to explain things in a polite, fun, sassy way. But here’s the kicker: polite feminism not only doesn’t work, it is actually self-defeating.

Spending time and energy nurturing men through their journey of self-discovery is not only incredibly dull, it actually serves to reinforce existing power dynamics and keeps us from collectivising as women and enacting real change.

My advice to men who genuinely wish to learn about feminism is this: read and listen to the voices of women when they explain what misogyny feels like and how it operates. Never ask women to find resources for you; seriously, get a library card. Or the internet. Don’t interrupt to disagree or derail by using individual examples of women in positions of power or instances of what you see as “reverse sexism” (here’s a hot tip: “misandry” isn’t a real thing.)

To paraphrase Audre Lorde:

When people of colour are expected to educate white people as to their humanity, when women are expected to educate men, lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world, the oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions.

If you are in a group that has the structural advantage of wages, safety, health and education – when you’ve basically already won the life lottery just by showing up – it is your responsibility to educate yourself. And really, don’t tell women to be nice. We’re angry. We have every reason to be. Frankly, you should be too.

Advertisements

24 thoughts on “Feminists are not responsible for educating men

  1. Excellent point Clementine. Relieving this burden in alcohol induced social situations might make for a more enjoyable night for me and less broken relationships with friends.

  2. “Men are not entitled to expect feminists to educate them.”

    No they’re not.
    Sometimes it can be useful to do so anyway. We shouldn’t have to. Sometimes it’s necessary though.

    Also necessary are articles like this, bringing this situation not just to their attention, but to ours. That if we do take the time and trouble to educate, it is our choice to do so, and not our obligation.

  3. Brilliant. Sharing on Facebook. It’s a common complaint amongst women and you have nailed this issue beautifully. Thank you. I will use this to explain myself when I’m in this situation. It will save a lot of angst and anger.

  4. This is one of the bests posts Ive ever read on this subject.

    It reminds me of something I read years ago about why it isn’t the responsibility of black people to educate white people about racism. To paraphrase: why is the onus ALWAYS on the under privileged group (ie. the group with fewer resources, less money, less power, and less access to educational platforms) to be responsible for education those who DO have privilege?

    As a white woman with white privilege this resonated deeply and I’ve never forgotten it.

    I agreed with everything in this post- especially these two points:

    1. When women pander to the needs of men by dropping everything to respond to their urgent whims, they actually reproduce the power dynamics which are the problem in the first place.

    2. When women do take the time to explain what living under patriarchy has done to them, it pains them to do so. In my experience, when men talk about things like rape culture, they do so in this removed sort of way, as though they are discussing some abstract concept in preparation for this weeks university tutorial on the topic. For them, it’s hypothetical. Its abstract. It’s academic. It’s just experimenting with an idea. And its all just temporary.

    In other words, it’s safe.

    When I talk about rape culture I do so as a survivor and as someone with raw wounds. It’s impossible for me to separate out that personal experience. So its not the same. It’s not temporary or abstract or novel or academic. Its not a clever little debate. And its certainly not safe.

    I guess my point is that safety in these discussions is a massive privilege and if someone doesnt get that – if they don’t understand that not all people have the luxury of feeling safe or feeling like they can just opt out at the end , and get back to their ‘real’ life- then you can almost guarantee that that person (a) has privilege and (b) is going to abuse their privilege either deliberately or accidentally.

    Anyway, dem my 2 cents.

    Thanks for a brilliant post

    Xx N

    • wow Nina, this response was amazing and I feel it really adds to the article. Thank you.

      I always feel so worn out and very stressed when I’m done explaining rape culture and other things that hit so close to home with my own experiences.

  5. Hi Winter fox.
    This was a compelling and interesting read.
    People interested in any subject should always pick up a book on it.

    However there are a lot of things i’m having trouble with.

    I could nearly write this whole article from the perspective of a conservative christian complaining about how heathens (white men) are not responsible for a deep theological explanation( explaining the patriarchy) to the average person trying to have an ‘open minded conversation’ why the average heathen needs salvation(freedom) because everyday we are suffering from our sins (rape culture/patriarchy).

    Or lets try discussion with an Israeli-Jew with explaining their treatment of the Palestinians.

    . Israeli-Jew: I as a Jew (female) who has been historically oppressed, and the victim of one of the worst genocides in human history( male dominance) do not have a requirement for a political explanation of do x y and z. As you as a person outside my ethnicity (non-Jewish) is unwary of the oppressive structures of anti- antisemitism(patriarchy/rape culture) that every day i live under.

    The problem is this, you are already automatically complacent about the true-ism of your feminist ideology. You presume what you say is an education. The people you have a problem with are not wrong because of what they say, they are wrong because you believe feminism to say x y and z, and since feminism is true they are wrong

    Simply put, you’re failing to analytically engage in conversation. This show signs of being indoctrinated, which is” distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.”

    You do not need to justify why you believe what a white male says is wrong through reason, because

    – since you already presume that it is in his interest to defend the patriarchy and his privilege he must be wrong.

    – he is ‘man-speaking,’ that his critical engagement is just a ‘male thing’ – which really is an insult to great thinkers like Hannah Arendt

    – since your oppression is emotionally painful to talk about you have no requirement to.

    That is no liberty or freedom.

    These techniques will always be harmful because by severing attempts at communication you severe understanding. And it is only through understanding that any group can start to relate to each other.

    Even if we presume your whole feminist perspective is the new Torah, it is strategically does not make sense.

    lets look at these premises

    the patriarchy is concerned about holding the power of the white male
    the white male is in power
    It is in the nature of white males to defend their privilege

    Audre Lorde does not have a moral monopoly to decide who has responsibility to do what just because we would ‘like’ humans to be caring and liberal.

    then not only would any dialogue be impossible, but it would be impossible for there to be any examples of the white male giving up any power without through force

    • you seem to presume the immediate problem with “but men!” intrusion into an already on-going feminist dialogue is that their opinions are “wrong” or that they have valid criticisms of the dialogue.

      The problem described is that in the on-going feminist dialogue among women, the “but men!” intrusion is a problem because its
      1) intrusive and interrupting and attempts to derail and control the conversation
      2) it is based upon ADMITTED ignorance of the existing dialogue and thus creates a no-win situation for those already engaged – if you don’t teach me, I can say you can’t handle male perspective. If you try to teach me, you forfeit your current conversation in favor of one that *I* (male) choose, dictate and dominate

      Those are the problems. Not criticism, not opinions, not man-silencing. This would happen were a FEMALE rudely interrupt an on-going conversation about third wave vs Womanism etc etc by saying “Hey, I don’t know what you’re talking about! Stop and tell me or else I’ll tell everyone you’re hateful!” – she’d get about the same regard. However, IMHE this does not happen. Some more uptight women are not thrilled to be told “I don’t have time to help you, go find out” but they take the hint and STFU.

      Heaven forfend a woman EVER tell a man his opinion is not necessary. Lord help us all when a woman does not let a man wrest control of a conversation that he does not fit into immediately. (and yes I’ve had higher level feminist dialogue with many very polite and educated men)

      • or, you know, the tl:dr version is:

        if do not let you derail and dominate my existing conversation, there is no reason that matters other than, i don’t want you to derail and dominate my existing conversation. You can turn that into the massive butthurt cry of “you are shutting down communication!” but it won’t change the reality.
        The reality is we’re tired of having the conversation wrested away from us EVEN when we tell you not to.

        Not letting you control something already in progress doesn’t have any deeper meaning than just “I don’t want you to control something that was already in progress”

        I can explain this six more ways if that isn’t clear enough.

    • or let me ask you: so “dialogue” only exists when we let you come in whenever you want and run the conversation? We can’t have one that WE run? Ever?

  6. Thank you for this.

  7. Ms. Winterfox, I adored this! Would it be OK if I translated it into Hebrew and circulated it around? (Most people won’t bother reading it in English and I think, well, that they should). I will, of course, give you full credit and link to your site.

  8. Pingback: האחריות לחנך גברים אינה מוטלת על פמיניסטיות / ססיליה ווינטרפוקס | khaleeloo

  9. So let me see if I understand this:
    1. Patriarchy, according to feminists, is the domination of men over women.
    2. Patriarchy is the chief source of oppression, particularly of women.
    3. The world’s problems therefore originate in a large part from Patriarchy.
    4. So according to feminists generally it is necessary for men to change their behaviour in significant ways in order to bring about positive changes.
    5. However men are generally privileged over women within Patriarchy.

    Let’s say we accept this idea of Patriarchy for a moment. Why in the world would men want to change? Clearly only if they are motivated to, as the price of change usually has to be less than the price of staying the same in order for the average person to be motivated to change.

    So given this as a factor, you find the idea of persuading change to be too tiresome to want to bother with? You don’t feel you ought to have to?

    This is like someone who is trying to sell a car hoping people will somehow just notice that it is a nice car, intuit that it is available for sale and figure out by waiting around that eventually someone might turn up who would be willing to sell it. Ideas exist within a mental and emotional marketplace. Without appealing to it, and without being willing to be challenged on the merits of those ideas, you’ll be passed by in favour of someone who knows how to sell.

    • Well it wouldn’t be an article about feminism/ rape culture without someone bringing up a car analogy, would it? (Paging Clem Ford here).

  10. Weird, unrelated analogy (feminism as a product men are interested in purchasing otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get to work? I wish). A closer to reality analogy that pops to mind is slavery: one group benefiting from the subjugation of another (despite being outnumbered by it). Why would the oppressors relinquish their power? To continue the analogy, they either come to their senses themselves, or are forced to. Ms. Winterfox eloquently introduced the former reason, personally I have no preference.

  11. Pingback: Recent reads. | perry street palace

  12. *Here’s my problem with this, I’m from a place with a small, largely rural population. Many of the people who cat-call, and exhibit other forms of misogynistic behavior are not educated in anything such as misogyny, feminism, or any of it. Also, the modern feminist movement is largely academic and caters to academics. Therefore, it needs to be implimented elsewhere, by feminists, in a non-aggressive way, such as public education class curriculums. I am a feminist, but I believe that what isn’t palatable to the masses isn’t useful, and frankly, it’s the job of the feminist to educate those who exhibit anti-feminist behavior casually, without knowledge. It might not be your job to sell the movement theoretically, but this is capitalism, you have to sell it whether you want to or not. If there was more focus on educating and less on shaming (because the majority of opposition to feminism consists of the undereducated who have been misled by the radical side of feminism, which often acts as the face of feminism) those who don’t understand how misogyny works or what feminism actuall entails, then your objective will probably be more successful. It is possible to be firm and polite, and get the message across, no one learns from hostility.

    All the same, this is a good post.

  13. A most useful piece, which I’ve bookmarked for future reference. It would be more useful still with a reading list.

  14. Pingback: 5 Questions Feminists Are Tired of Being Asked (And Some Alternative Approaches to Asking Them) — Everyday Feminism

  15. Fantastic article, really!
    All too often blokes put on a facade and feign interest, even though more often they’re looking for something else entirely. Patriarchy is a bloody brilliant thing, in’t it?
    However, one thing I can’t quite agree with (at all)
    Misandry isn’t real.
    I’m not going to dig up the man-hating feminist stereotype, because that’s direly (direly, direly, direly) inaccurate. But dismissing one set of hatred on the basis that others use it as an excuse is counterproductive. Misandry is often conflated to misogyny, which is a serious problem, as Misandry is not an instutionalised instrument used by those in power to further oppress those without. Misandry hasn’t been ingrained from birth in our outlook, as misogyny has. If that was your point, than yes, it isn’t. But within numerous blogs, it can be evidenced to at least be proliferated, often under Patriarchal assumptions. And within feminism, particularly (usually only) under “radical” (read: cis-White-Upper Middle Class) feminism, men are often belittled due to body type, virtue of sex (not referring to jokes, actual criticisms on basis on gender), and other assumptions supported by Patriarchal myths. And hatred/lack of intersectionality on basis of gender includes men of all types, be they poor, coloured, LGBTQIAA+, etc. So while it’s important to recognise when an excuse arises, dismissing another’s experiences because they’re used as an excuse isn’t that encompassing.
    Again, fantastic article. More people should be reading things such as this instead of hopping along to wherever and expect to be filled in.

  16. But let’s consider the viewpoint of the ignorant.
    Yes it’s exhausting
    Yes they should want to learn on their own but the truth is is that it is unfortunately an inherent predisposition.
    Genetically reinforced
    Based in fear

  17. Pingback: Feminists are not responsible for educating men - Feminist Current

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s