Monday, March 02, 2009

Why The 'What About The Men?' Question REALLY Bugs Me, Part I

A bit less navel gazing from me, more on Feminism As A Whole! Let's go.

There are lots of questions that feminists are asked all the time - what it is, if they hate men, if they hate certain clothes/cosmetics/activities/sexual practises, if they're all lesbians... but one that's been cropping up a lot for me lately has been the ever present, "Why don't you campaign for men's rights too?" Variations on this include 'I prefer the term 'humanist'', 'Men get abused too' and 'What about human rights?'. There's a really, terribly grating assumption underlying this, of course, and here'

Just because I'm a feminist does not mean I don't care about non-females.

The thing is, I also identify as a humanist, just like you, my dear detractor. I care a lot about the humanitarian crises all over the globe, the famines, the race issues, the legions of young men outnumbering the scores of young women who are sent out to fight in unnecessary wars every day.
However, I also identify as feminist, because I care about the rights of women as a specific group of humans who sometimes have different needs and problems to other members of the species - needs and problems, I may add, which are often trivialised and overlooked. When I say 'I'm a feminist' I'm not saying 'I only care about women', in much the same way as a maths student doesn't necessarily ignore everything that doesn't involve numbers and equations.

I was thinking of an analogy for this today as I walked to uni - how do I make people understand that feminism isn't thinly-veiled sexism when that's what they are told all the time? The it hit me - the answer lies in my own future career.

Think of the medical profession. As students begin their path, they study a broad, over-arching subject - Medicine. For five years, we look at a variety of ailments, common problems, societal issues relating to health, general first aid, communication skills, hygiene - things that we'll need to know about in just about any medical profession. When we graduate, we start to specialise a little, applying our knowledge to general surgery and medicine during our foundation years, transitioning from 'people who know' to 'people who practise'. Then we start to choose our precise area of specialisation. Some go into surgery, and from their focus on particular areas - neurosurgery, ears, nose + throat surgery, heart surgery. Others take a different route, becoming medical consultants or going into research, and others leave the hospitals to become community health workers and GPs.

These people all received the same basic training in university, with the same goal - 'I want to help people'. In the same way, people who care about human rights usually start off the same way, learning about all the injustices in the world, wanting to do something about it. They march, they write letters, they get angry, they read. They build up their basic knowledge of as many common issues as they can, to try and create a solid base from which to speak. Some then start to identify strongly enough to, say, become a member of a general group against injustice - think Amnesty International. They may become more than a lay member, working up to become a key figure in the group's administration, building up more in-depth knowledge and reading news from all over the world, writing about a wide variety of subjects, working hard to keep as up-to-date on as many things as possible. These are like the general practitioners of the humanist world - they're one of the first groups people go to to find out about campaigns, about the issues that affect everyone. They link a huge range of human rights groups together.
The 'specialists' - the surgeons, the consultants, the psychiatrists of this humanist hospital - are the more focussed groups. They may campaign for gay rights, or women's rights, or speak out against racism, or work to fight poverty. Among them you may then get the really specialised groups (neuro/heart surgeons, say) who have chosen to take a very specific path - imagine all the different feminist sub-groups!
At each level of specialisation, these people are learning more and speaking more about their chosen subject. What they are not doing, however, is divorcing themselves entirely from their roots. An ENT Consultant may be more focussed than a General Practitioner - but they are both doctors. The difference is that the GP has chosen to keep up with a variety of medical subjects and work on a primary care level, whereas the consultant knows a lot more about various head-region maladies and will be able to deliver specialist, advanced treatment to those patients whose earache the GP was unable to cure. They both work together though, as part of a huge medical network, and they will both know a fair amount about a number of overlapping medical issues that they both face. In the same way, I as a feminist am trying to understand the roles that women play in societies and the issues they face, but this will overlap with a number of other subjects that I'm less 'specialised' in and I'll encounter a fair few others in my day-to-day life, and so I learn about some of those as well as I go along. I know a little about gay men's rights, for example - but if I want the full story, I'll go to the experts in that area. And, if there's a campaign against gay hate crime, I'll be going with that too, but I can't say I'm a leading figure there - my role will be more of a supporting one.
There are many people out there who are 'specialists' in more than one area, too - someone may be a feminist AND a campaigner for African-American rights AND a trans activist. They could know a lot and do a lot about all these areas - so if you see someone speaking as a feminist, don't assume that that's they ONLY thing they do anything about.

What I'm trying to get at, in my usual convoluted way, is this - yes, I care about your rights too. I care about human rights passionately, but I don't know everything and I find it quite hard to keep up with it all, so I've chosen to focus on one area. I'm... a humanist specialist. I'm keeping up as much as I can with as many things as possible, but my most developed area lies with the subject of this blog.

So, why aren't I talking about men? For the same reason that you wouldn't ask a podiatrist to perform a hysterectomy. I know about general human rights and women's rights, but if you want some specialised analysis of the trials of the male human - well, why are you reading this?

No comments:

Post a Comment