I follow a feminist page on Facebook. Yep, it’s a minefield. It’s never not explosive. Never ever. Although I find the original posts thought-provoking for the main part, I rarely contribute, because I’m just not strong enough for the shit-storm that follows every time. Both feminists and anti-feminists – women and men in both camps – follow it, and all posts produce a Clash of the Titans thread of comments. My amateur psychologist’s brain is usually quite happy to mull over the possible reasons for off-beat and aberrant behaviour – but on this occasion those reasons elude me. I get that anti-feminists are angry at feminists, but following a feminist page just so they can get even more angry seems slightly masochistic to me. Perhaps the anti-feminists in the feminist groups feel it’s incumbent on them to show feminists the error of their ways via vitriol? Or, maybe it’s how they entertain themselves?
Curiosity has led me to look at pro-men’s online groups in the past, but after a brief foray into them, and not liking what I see there, I piss off, never to return. Even entertaining myself by stirring things up doesn’t appeal. Bringing down wrath and hate from a bunch of men (and sometimes women, too) is not my idea of spending my time well. Knowing what they’re getting up to isn’t a bad strategy – but bothering to engage with them? Uh-uh, don’t think so. For my part, I can’t remember any incident in my life when I told someone what a f*ckn idiot they were, and they then turned around and thanked me for that insight, and promised to change their ways.
I get that it’s uncomfortable when people agitate and disrupt the structure of our world, and want changes made that fit better with them and their needs. Due to the domination of patriarchy, the whole world is set up in a way that primarily suits men. It’s just a natural thing to do by a dominant group. It’s one of those things that we often don’t even realise is there, because it’s always been there. It’s carried on the air, in the language we use, how we educate boys and girls, in the design of machinery, the hierarchy of workplaces, public toilets, how we use public spaces – the list goes on, and is mostly an invisible list, because it’s based on our ephemeral cultural laws, rather than written law. Check out how Soraya Chemaly explains it very well in the link to her TED talk at the bottom.
My world opened up when I started exploring feminism more fully. I began to see the world through a wider lens, and I began rubbing shoulders with people who are not exactly like me. A get-together earlier this year where I, as a straight female, was in the minority, was a defining moment for me and made a lasting impression. Now, I didn’t exactly make a roaring success of this defining moment at the time, as I was out of my depth with no previous experience to call upon about how to behave. I have been in the minority before, but mostly amongst men, and also as a child-free woman amongst mums. I know how that works. This particular group was a mixture of predominantly gay and transgender people, with a smattering of straights, and I had no idea of how being in the minority amongst this group worked. They, of course, could have given me chapter and verse on what being a minority entails, if I had thought to ask.
Instead, I was a dick, and I got into a bit of a stoush on the subject of public toilets. The transgender people wanted toilets to be gender neutral, and just about everyone else there agreed. All I could think of was that I didn’t want to share a public toilet with men. I didn’t want to feel unsafe, and I didn’t want to share toilet space with those who take their willies out to pee, and do the deed into an urinal.
In fact, the real-life proposal wasn’t as horrendous as the mental conclusion I jumped to. The group just thought that individual public toilet rooms should be available for everyone to use. I saw where they were coming from, and didn’t totally disagree. However, I couldn’t quite get past the fact that it’s bad enough having to share toilet space with stand up pee-ers amongst family and friends, who may not have the whole ‘clean toilet practises’ thing under control, without going public with it, too. However, many modern public buildings are now incorporating gender neutral toilets, and they seem to work fine, as people are employed to keep them clean on a regular schedule. What would we do without migrants and those who need two jobs to survive, eh?
On the occasion when I was having a ‘robust discussion’ about it though, I was as narked as feck. I left that get-together feeling rattled by just about everything that was talked about, and not only the subject of dunnies. Because I had been exploring feminism more by that time, I had a few more tools in my kit to help me understand what had just happened. And what had just happened was that I had my status as an ‘entitled majority’ challenged, and it did not feel good. Here was this bunch of people, who were not the normal majority, wanting some things changed to suit their needs. I mean – wtf! Wasn’t it enough that some magnanimous socio-political concessions had been made to not discriminate against them too badly? Weren’t the crumbs thrown to them enough? It seemed not. It seemed that they wanted to matter as much as anyone else, and have the dignity of having their needs regarded as important as anyone else’s, in all spheres of life. And, you know, maybe even stand shoulder to shoulder in unity with the rest of the world.
It was extremely discomforting – both to be challenged, and to acknowledge that I was challenged by it. It kind of made me get why some guys push back against women when we want to share space up there with them on the (metaphorical) perch. Life’s not always easy, so for those who got a place on the perch by virtue of gender or being the normal majority, it’s discomforting to feel as though we might get nudged off if we make room for others. To add insult to the injury, once those annoying annoyers get on the perch, they then may want things to get changed around a bit so that they’re more comfortable there! And that feels scary, because we might lose the advantage and superiority we took for granted, which we might not even have known we had until then. After all, it’s not as though we advantaged ones always feel especially advantaged – we can still have tough lives.
Here’s the thing – the perch is imaginary. It’s made up from cultural beliefs based on a concept of having to fight over space and resources. Like any imaginary thing, though, the perch can be made to suit whatever our imagination desires. It can be stretched to infinity to accommodate everyone, with a single wave of the wand. People are resources, too, and it makes more sense to welcome diversity onto the perch, so the resources inherent in us all can be mined for our enrichment. Keeping the perch exclusive creates more loss than gain.
And really, the only way of actually falling off the perch, is when we actually fall off the perch.
Edit: since writing this I have looked more deeply into the subject of protecting women’s spaces and rights, and although I still believe that diversity is good, I’m not ceding women’s hard won rights to anything that tries to takes them away under the cloak of ‘diversity’. However, I still acknowledge how it felt to be a minority when I’m not used to feeling like that.