There are discussions that are too hard to have with MRA’s and Anti-feminists in the room. That is not because they don’t have anything to add, or anything of merit to say. It is because their movement can only exist in the problem space. Why? When Tom Tilley asked MRA Adrian “thatsnotmyrealname” Johnson: why aren’t you focusing more just on improving the lives of men rather than attacking feminists? His reply was “We are trying to do both.” And that says it all.
I’m not going to make a blanket assessment and suggest that feminists aren’t spending their time attacking MRAs, but the quantity and quality of research and initiativesproduced by the feminist movement strongly suggest they are busy doing other things.
MRAs have decided that feminists are responsible for the harms they have experienced. They have attached their suffering to female advancement and empowerment, and as a result it is impossible for a middle ground to be reached. Following the MRA narrative, the end of feminism is necessary for the end of male suffering. They work backwards - from the answer; feminism, to the problem; harm to men. Whereas feminists work forward - from the problem; female oppression, in search of an answer.*In stark contrast, feminists attach their oppression to structural forces, not MRAs. Whenthese structures are dismantled all human beings will be freefrom deleterious gender roles.
It’s not surprising that so many feminists were concerned (and in many cases offended) by the premise of the show. It is frustrating and exhausting to consistently be dragged back into the problem zone. Distracted from progress and genuinely important work to act as anaudience forMRAs nonsensically ranting. And yet, I still think it was important to have the show.
The fact of the matter is; feminism is not the majority worldview. When talking to young university students about feminism there is an overwhelming discomfortwith a movement that should inspire enthusiasm. Both boys and girls** do not want to be associated with it, do not want to hear about it, and do not have any legitimate understanding of what feminism is or does. Their opinions about the topic are baseless, and they are really just waiting for accessible information to persuade them. Hack does this. Young boys in particular lavish in the concept thatthey – men who reject feminism – representa minority or silent majority. Those young boys won’t be tuning in to an all female panel, no matter how brilliant they may be.
Unfortunately the modern world is more fastidious in its indiscriminate requirement of seeming objectivity. In the case of feminism, seeming is as good as it gets. Even the most articulate opponents of feminism do not have the empirical research with which to substantiate their claims – particularly the claim that feminism has any correlation with other issues they purport to discuss (i.e. workplace fatalities, military deaths). It is an unpleasant truth that women suffer a credibility deficit, and despite the overwhelming evidence, society is generally looking for a reason to discount the feminist voice. A fully feminist panel may have assisted in that.
Let’s be real, Hack:live is a televised debate targeted at a young audience, and it sells itself on talking about the taboo. For many people, feminism and issues affecting men are topics that are hard to talk about publicly. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have a cemented opinion on this topic. I think a lot of people tuned in to the show because there is a legitimate thirst for information in this space. It’s just a shame that the amount of new information that could be presented was so limited by the MRA narrative.
In order to stay in the problem space, MRAs cannot contextualise statistics or experience. They can only understand things on a micro level, or they will inevitably start to see some of the structural causes for their problems, which will undermine their current narrative. It’s so very limiting, and unfortunately you can’t frame your way around it. That is not to say that members of the panel did not try. Being cordoned to the micro-level of analysis lead to fruitless back and forth. Clementine Ford’s remarkable ability to rationalise and contextualise, paired with theformidable intellectual weight of Associate Professor Michael Flood and Associate Professor Rae Cooper left the audience wanting more. The articulation of these long lines of logic, incapable of exploration within the restrictive MRA discourse conditions, could have expanded and challenged the understandings of the audience. It is a certainly a shame that those conversations were not able to take place.
As someone who uses the academic concept of privilege a lot in my work, the most perplexing element of the show was the lack of discussion about what privilege actually is. That discussion is crucial. Like the wage gap, male privilege is much more complex than people make it out to be. That is completely unavoidable. Research is conducted so that it can be filtered back out into the real world, the complex architecture of a concept in the academic world requires simplification so that it can be understood by someone who doesn’t have any prior knowledge of the field. Things inevitably get lost in translation. This problem is compounded by something I refer to as ‘language borrowing’***.
When positing theoretical concepts, academics often use words or phrases from other fields which describe relative concepts as a starting point for their work. This happens a lot in feminist scholarship; critical mass was borrowed from nuclear science. Obviously, there are stark differences in the meaning of critical mass when talking about nuclear science and when talking about gender politics.
In the case of privilege and oppression, this confusion is even worse because the words ‘borrowed’ for theoretical exploration come from our regular vernacular. We already know what the words ‘privilege’ and ‘oppression’mean. It is difficult not to conflate our understanding of oppression and privilege with the theoretical one. It is impossible when we are not presented with a theoretical understanding.
Oppression, in the theoretical sense, refers to a structural threat experienced by an individual based purely on their membership of a certain social group. It is vital that the distinction between oppression and harm is clear. Oppression is group based, harm is individual. All oppression is harmful, but not all harm is oppressive. Oppression is a structural phenomena which devalues the voices, experiences, and work of members of marginalised social groups. That is not to suggest social groups have rigid and clearly distinguishable boundaries. In fact, I would argue that an acceptance of the exact opposite is necessary to fully understand the power of the complex social system of domination. One of the features of privilege is the ability of dominant groups to construct, define, and control the construction of other social categories.
Privilege is hard to relearn because we are taught that it is something that we earn from a very young age. Privilege is what holds oppression in place. There is a difference between privilege and advantage. Privilege is granted, whereas advantage is earned. You have no control over privilege, whereas you do over advantage. Privilege is value neutral. It simply means that you do not have to worry about a structural threat or that you have unearned assets that you have been conferred systematically. That is not to say that a person who is privileged cannot be harmed. Being privileged is being standard, being oppressed is being the other.
It really was a shame that even a nominal attempt at defining privilege by Clementine Ford, was quickly dismissed by other panellists who were insistent that the real discussion was to be found in statistics and anecdotes(which were often incorrect and highly emotive).
THE WORST MISTAKE
There was a very weak attempt to enter the solution space by talking about individualism. It was suggested that if we all just assess and treat people as individuals, we wouldn’t have any of these problems. But the thing is, individuals don’t experience oppression. Their oppression is borne from their membership of a group. Most of the time, individuals have no choice as to which groups they belong to, and have no agency to leave. Social structures are not built on individual experiences, and the institutions that govern society do not have the capacity to assess, legislate, and regulate on an individual basis. Generalisation is natural and necessary. It doesn’t make it good. You are an individual who is part of many groups, and the societal and institutional rules which govern those groups apply to you. If you want to change the way you are treated, you must change the way your group is treated. But individualism is a concession feminists can make, because at the very least it affords members of their group the opportunity to be treated as a human being. For MRAs it’s an obvious win; they can continue denying the oppression of others if they do not have to view a person’s experience in context. Individualism is a trap disguised as a solution.
In the greenroom following the show, there were seeds of discussions surrounding male privilege just waiting to be had. I spoke with Joe Williams about the disturbing cross sections of the male experience and Indigenous oppression. We spoke specifically about Indigenous male suicide, and Joe highlighted to me that Indigenous men are six times more likely to take their own lives than non-Indigenous men. That is a conversation we need to have about male privilege.
Adding an Indigenous female voice to such a conversation would have further illustrated the complex and intertwined nature of oppression. It could have led to discussions about juggling identities, and whether or not it is sometimes necessary to prioritise one identity over another. That is a conversation we need to have about male privilege.
I spoke to Nevo about the empathy they have for women. We spoke about how women instantly guard themselves when they see Nevo as a man, and the empathy possible from Nevo’s history of presenting as a woman. What was more interesting was that Nevo spoke not only of gaining privilege through presenting as a man, but also the confusion and hurt that comes with being seen as a threat (even if you completely understand why). That is a conversation that we need to have about male privilege.
The issue isn’t that we are rude, hateful nemesis incapable of being polite or having a discussion. Although, at times frustration gets the better of us all, which is understandable because the topic is so important. The issue is that we operate in different spaces. MRAs are trying to prove that they suffer just as much as women, if not more. And despite what MRA’s would have you believe, feminists aren’t interested in suffering. Centuries worth of oppression and exclusion has left feminist battle brazen and forward facing,interested in quantifying and qualifying problems only in order assist with the conception of solutions.
This was touched on by panellists, but the conclusion that we all need to listen to each other more was the wrong one. And quite frankly, it was offensive. Throughout history women have been systematically silenced, discredited, intimidated, maligned, murdered. A reality we share or compound with those considered ‘the other’ because of their race, sexuality, gender, (dis)ability, class, and more. We don’t need to listen to each other; we need to listen to the “other”.
*communism, genderfluidity, incrementalism, plus thousands more – feminism is a democracy of voices and experiences. We are still trying to work out what will work best.
** binary intentionally used in this instances as people who have a gender identity outside of male or female tend to demonstrate a more developed understanding of feminism.