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Are you a Feminist or a Masculinist?
by Dayna Berghan

A good friend of mine is studying Women's Studies at Victoria University; he is one of two males in his class. He's currently on study break and working hard for his exams. He contacted me to help with his study (I did the same paper a few years ago as part of my degree), and I asked him how it was going. He said he really enjoyed the study and the topics, but what he wasn't enjoying was the reactions that he was getting when he told others what he was studying.

The student bar is an institution within itself. Before the drinking age was lowered in New Zealand to 18 late last year, it was the first chance that most of us got to sample alcohol in a cool environment. The same student atmosphere is still there. But I digress. My friend didn't know many people when he came to Victoria, and so would start up conversations. He has had some interesting reactions when he's told people that he was doing Women's Studies. The best of them went something like this:

From women: "I'm not a feminist!" "Is it full of dykes?"
From men: "Why the hell do you want to study that, mate?" "You're not a chick!" "You should be a masculinist!" "You should study something that you can get a job with."

I found this absolutely fascinating. Why study Women's Studies? Why would you want to take Women's Studies if you're not one? The gate keeping of gender politics and the assumption that you will not get a job with Women's Studies?

It is my opinion that the comments from the women are a symptom of trying to fit into a patriarchal society. The rejection of feminist thinking as either exclusionary or queer is a gate-keeping tactic to keep women from learning and becoming empowered in their own right.

Traditional disciplines have not legitimated or inquired into women's experiences or herstory; women's studies courses are a means of achieving this and are essential in enabling women's values, contributions and experiences to be rediscovered, explored and built upon.

It is my opinion that everyone should take Women's Studies. If more women took Women's Studies, then the attacks on feminism as being separatist and damaging to women's lives from women themselves would not exist. It would also follow that if more men took women's studies, they would not perceive feminism to be exclusionist or unnecessary, but the struggle for women to gain equity with men.

The "male" comments are the epitome of patriarchy at work. My friend was chastised for trying to learn about the other gender. It made him feel uncomfortable and very self-conscious. It, in effect, silenced him into not talking about the Women's Studies course and validated that men have no place within feminism. The assumption that you cannot get a job with Women's Studies is an example of an economic utilitarian approach to education. Student loans were introduced in 1992 and total debt is now $4 billion and growing with interest. The assumption is that you will get a great job straight out of university and start paying off the student loan immediately. The effect is that students do their three-year minimum degrees in vocational-based studies (law, accountancy, marketing) and areas such as religious studies, philosophy, Maori studies and women's studies have suffered a loss in enrolments. User pays means that many students feel they have to study to get a job rather than to expand their minds.

I continued to question my friend's experience of Women's Studies. I asked him what he thought of feminism and whether he considered himself a feminist? His answer, in part, was: "I'm not a woman and I admit that I don't have to fight to get noticed. But I realize what's going on and I want to help and participate where I can. If I'm invited to the party, great, but I'm not going to sulk if the door gets shut in my face; there are plenty of other opportunities down the road."

"The Red Cliff"
by Sue Vesley

I am of the opinion that men should be allowed to participate in feminist discussions and debates, as they are as much a part of society as women are. However I believe that the feminist struggle and 'party' at the end (if any conceivable end is in sight) belongs to women only. I think this way because men have dominated positions of power and have therefore shut women out. It has been through the consciousness raising done by women that inequities have been exposed and dealt with and it is those conscious raising women that have kept feminism alive and well.

I don't agree with the opinion that the absolute and total exclusion of men is replicating a structure that dominated women in the first place. The ones that let men in balance the women-only space, events, Egroups and structures. Men are never totally excluded from feminism, they never were. In the first and second wave feminism and now in the third wave feminism, men and women share. When articles about feminism draw criticism from men, then that is participatory; when partners talk about their beliefs and politics and friends get together for coffee, men have always been there.

I wish my friend the best of luck with his exams. I also wish that people would stop seeing feminism as cut and dried. I wish that they would accept feminism as the fluid, diverse and dynamic ideology that it is. I also wish that people would stop belittling feminism as sexist; there are plenty of other "parties" for men to attend if they want. Feminism cannot exist without the participation of women and as women and men are part of a bigger society with diverse cultures, it should be something that we all learn about.


Dayna Berghan graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature and Social Policy from Victoria University, New Zealand in2000. In 2000 she was elected to the Victoria University Students Associationas the Women's Rights Officer, there she saw the light of feminism and pursued a Diploma in Arts majoring in Women's Studies. She graduated in 2001 and currently works as the National Women's Rights Officer for the New Zealand University Students Association. You may contact her via global communications at nwro@students.org.nz



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