This letter arose from a specific set of experiences within the activist community but has wider political implications. We are aware of the fact that many men will find it difficult to read. However, we publish it in the hope it will provoke some critical self-reflection among those who need it.
To so-called Male “Feminists”,
We are writing this as we can no longer refrain from commenting on the problematic views and behaviours you exhibit. We hope you will read, listen and respect these comments.
You claim to be “leftist,” “revolutionary”, “conscious” and “feminist.” You may even claim to study the subject of female oppression both academically and interpersonally. But the acts of oppression you have perpetrated on the women around you do not support these claims. Being the compassionate sistas we are, we made the effort (and it takes A LOT of emotional and psychological effort) to talk with you about your sexist behaviour. And time and time again, you’ve shocked us with the level of violence and force, verbal and physical, that you employ against us in a desperate attempt to silence our challenge to your male activist egos.
Whether drunk, stoned or sober, in responding to us with aggression, you were acting out your social conditioning. While masculinity is synonymous with aggression and strength, femininity is equated with submission, subservience and vulnerability. We are socialised into these roles of male and female, and they profoundly affect our sense of ourselves and how we interact with each other on a personal level. Therefore if men and women do not actively challenge their own sexist and oppressive or self-oppressive tendencies, over the course of our interactions a relationship of dominance will inevitably arise. But you fail to see that your masculine identity is formed on this social construct. This conditioning started the day you are born when the doctor declared “It’s a boy!” and continued, encouraged by parents, teachers, and the world around you, which told you that boys can run faster, jump higher and will eventually grow up to be smarter, bigger and better than girls. While baby boys are cherished the world over, mothers in some of the most densely populated places on the planet abort female foetuses and drown girl babies in milk. We point to the West’s hypocrisy in the face of its own insidious misogyny and reject imperialism’s attempt to hijack “female liberation” to justify illegal wars and military occupations. Femicide also survives in the “liberated” West where the majority of women who are murdered are killed by a current or former male partner, where one in three women will be beaten or raped by a man in her lifetime, where the Eurocentric white male perspective and the hierarchy of power that values men over women and light skin over dark are normalised with a system of reward and punishment. This is the all-important context to which we are continually referring, and which you continually choose to ignore.
We have watched you attempt to intimidate us with volume and tone, physicality and body language. Instead of listening respectfully to our experience of oppression, you consistently attempt to redefine yourself as the victim, when it is you who is in fact the perpetrator. You have tried to make us insecure and unconfident by patronising us and undermining our intelligence. But it is not that we have misunderstood you; it is that we do not agree. You should know your attempts to silence us will not be successful; rather, they will simply invite further critique, and further criticism will in turn infuriate you. Perhaps you are furious because you are unaccustomed to intelligent women who are not afraid to point out when you are wrong. Perhaps there are not many of us women who go out of our way, even sometimes risking personal safety, to be recognised as equals by men. Perhaps this is why you desperately draw upon unlikely examples and unbelievable hypothetical situations to support your badly structured arguments, why you insist what you believe about sexism is based on a book you read, or a class you took, why you claim to have reason, logic and science on your side. Yet although your employment of imaginary scenarios and patriarchal dichotomies peeves us, these arguments are easily destroyed. The most offensive and astounding line of argument appears when you routinely inform us that you are not sexist, that you “respect women”. Well, as the women you are claiming to respect, let us tell you this: it is not up to you to determine whether or not you or other men are sexist. If we are offended by a sexist comment, act, film, song or cultural product, you have absolutely no grounds to tell us why we should not be. As the victims of sexism, we define, describe and delineate it. In preventing us from doing so, you make a psychologically and politically difficult task almost impossible.
Simply asserting that you are a “feminist” does not make it true. In fact, by calling yourself a feminist in the face of criticism of your attitudes and those of other men, you not only fail to actively reject and challenge the sexism within yourself and society, you also deflect our critique of your behaviour and silence our already marginalised and seldom heard voices. If you truly wish to join the fight for female liberation then you must listen to us when we are detailing our experience of your and other males’ oppressive behaviour – denying its existence does not make it go away. You must engage with our perspective and embark on a long and arduous journey of self-criticism, analysis and reflection. In doing so, you will see what has been clear to us all along: that your denial and refusal to self-criticise is a direct product and reflection of the power structure to which you are opposed, in which (predominately male) heads of nations, bankers and CEOs also deny culpability for systematic violence and oppression, while (male-dominated) police and prison systems protect and maintain this system. While we will continue to challenge this macro-oppression, we will no longer remain silent in the face of your oppression of us, your fellow female activists.
In closing, we ask you to listen. Listen to us when we speak, listen to our criticisms, listen to our experiences. Stop defending sexism, stop defending men, stop defending yourself. Do not interrupt women when they speak and stop immediately disagreeing with us. When it comes to sexism, you are not under attack, women are. We are under attack from this patriarchal male power structure all day, every day, and we need activist spaces to be safe and respectful places in which women are treated as equals. You will not win without us, so it is in your interests to work with us as equals. You can create these spaces of equality by actively challenging sexist gender roles, by taking over the chores and actions typically still carried out by women: washing up, cooking, making tea, cleaning, tidying up, looking after children, doing the food shopping, providing emotional support, washing and drying clothes, emptying bins, sorting recycling, listening to people, caring for the sick, etc. Make sure the male to female ratio of speakers, facilitators, participants or chairs is always 50/50. Take the minutes at meetings, type up e-mail lists and take over the other menial administrative tasks still disproportionately done by women. Become aware of what the women around you are doing, feeling and experiencing and help and assist them however you can. Notice the male-female dynamics in meetings, on demonstrations and in conversations and actively address this imbalance. Do not attribute the hard work and ideas of the women in your organisation to men; stop taking the women in your organisation for granted. Incorporate an awareness of gender and feminism into your everyday life; for if you want to bring about revolutionary change, you must begin with yourself.
Sisters of Resistance