Are you a Feminist or a Masculinist?
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
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."
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org