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Are You A Feminist Or A Masculinist?

An Opinion Piece
Dayna Berghan
New Zealand University Students Association

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 so would start up conversations. He has had some interesting reactions when he told people that he was doing Women's Studies. The best of them when 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 gate keeping tactics 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 last two 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 did he consider himself a feminist? He likened the term feminist to the reclaimed word 'nigger'.

His answer was: "Only black people can use the term Nigger. If I walked up to someone black and said, 'Yo yo my nigger!' as a greeting I would get the bash. It's the same with calling myself a feminist. I'm not a woman and I admit that I don't have to fight to get noticed. But I realise 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."

So, if he's not invited to the feminist party he is not going to stop it from happening. Interesting. I am a member to quite a few feminist Egroups. I enjoy the conversations and broad range of topics covered. I also enjoy the fact that some are women only and some are open to men as well. The same topics often come up in multiple lists but reactions differ. I must admit I don't participate as often as what I would like to but, you get that when you are busy. I am of the opinion that men should be allowed to participate in feminist discussions and debates as they are as 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 is 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 out. 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.

The group that I work with in NZUSA is called the Tertiary Women's Focus Group (TWFG). We are a women only group that advises NZUSA on its policies and practices and their effect on women. An interesting aspect to TWFG is that we allow men to attend our conferences in a support role only. They have no speaking rights or voting rights. The reason for this inclusion (and it is not without restrictions) is that TWFG recognise Mana Tangata. NZUSA has a parallel body, Te Mana Akonga (TMA), the Maori University Students Association. A recommendation by TMA to let women take support people (whether they are men or women) to TWFG conferences was debated for some time. In fact it split the group down the middle. Two students associations left. One cited that women's only space was important, the other cited that TWFG was not consistent with the Tiriti O Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi. A compromise was struck, support people (including men) were allowed to certain parts of TWFG Conferences with restrictions.

I wish my friend the best of luck with his exams. I also wish that people would stop seeing feminism as cut and dried, instead 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.

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