On Thursday 23rd, 2500 students gathered outside Owens’ Park for the annual Reclaim The Night march, a demonstration organised by the Students’ Union to protest the continuation of violence against women.
In my own show of support for a cause that I, as a man, have strong feelings about, I donned glitter, neon paint, and my golden bomber jacket to stand against the gendered injustices of our day. One student I spoke to said she was surprised at how many men had turned out for the march.
From Owens’ Park, we trooped up Wilmslow Road chanting a variety of rhyming slogans. In a lull between the chants, a friend turned to me and said I should lead one of the rousing calls to reclaim the night. I said I was happy joining in, but didn’t think it would be right to lead one myself. Amongst the various pun-laden placards (“My dress is not a yes” and “She just wants the D-estruction of the patriarchy”) and the kaleidoscopic lights of the Curry Mile, I found myself wondering if I should be there at all.
The place of men in feminism has long been debated. There are those who outright reject the participation of men (more specifically, ‘all-privileged’ straight, white, middle-class man) and maintain that feminist spaces must be the reserve of women and other marginalised groups. Conversely, I would argue that men should be considered an acceptable, even necessary, part of emancipation movements.
Throughout history, in areas such as politics, governance, education, finance and commerce, the vast majority of positions of power have been held by men. Feminism seeks to redress this balance and get women (and other minorities) into power. From this perspective, it doesn’t seem right that I, a straight, white male, should enter into a politics with a central tenet.
Being a male feminist merits a fairly wide range of responses. It tends to excite other feminists, get the lads riled up, or attract a kind of double take, not to mention my housemate’s jokes that, I “only do it because girls lap that bollocks up.” Indeed, I often get asked why I am a male feminist, since the movement, as the name suggests, offers more to women.
For one, I think that feminism has something to offer men in the same way it has something to offer all people. We operate in a world of categorisations, with ‘male’ and ‘female’ being two of the most salient. The ideals and stereotypes associated with these categories can be damaging to men as well as women, not to mention those who identify with neither. In this way, feminist theories of gender can offer men a liberating alternative to the muscular, aggressive, and in no way effeminate image we are so often presented with.
However, I do not consider myself a feminist primarily because of what it has to offer men. Feminism, to a man, hinges on whether we are willing to listen to what women are saying or ignore their experiences. In fact, we all have something to learn from accepting the subjectivities of others.
I happily walk down the Curry Mile any time, day or night, wearing whatever I please, feeling perfectly safe in a public space full of people. Many of my female friends, on the other hand, know that if they walk there, they are likely to be catcalled and made to feel uncomfortable. When someone tells me this, I could either not believe it, simply because I have never personally experienced it, or I can stop thinking of statistics as to why it is not true, pay attention, and accept that a woman’s experience is vastly different to my own.
I am a feminist and an ally because I have heard stories from women and girls I care for and do not discredit. That is the place of men in feminism and the role of all privileged people in their engagement with the marginalised: to listen, above all else. I do not think it is my place to speak on behalf of women; men have been doing that for long enough. But, it is my place to tell other men that they should pay attention to what women are saying.
In the throng of wailing megaphones, flags of swearing vaginas and signs telling Donald Trump where to go, I was part of reclaiming the night, but not for myself. It was not about demanding that feminism gives me something, but it was a show of support for the women of Manchester, my friends and the women I know. It was to say: “I am listening.”