Day 103: Men Can’t be Feminists?

” Here is a quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hand in your pants.
A) Do you have a vagina? And
B) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said yes to both, then congratulations: you’re a feminist.”
And so, with this quotation from Caitlin Moran, the Sydney Opera House’s ‘All About Women” debate was opened. The topic was, ‘Men can’t be feminists?’ Arguing for the motion were: political commentator and author, Bob Ellis,; lecturer and author of orgasmology, Annamarie Jagoose and social commentator Eva Cox. Against the motion were author and columnist, Richard Glover; filmmaker and author, Gretel Killeen and former representative footballer turned SMH journalist, Peter Fitzsimons.
Annamarie opened the floor with her argument that for men to truly be feminists, the majority of men need to promote the everyday equality of women in their daily living. Unfortunately we don’t even need to quote the extreme examples outside of modern Western liberal democracy to see this isn’t the case. There are still major discrepancies between the sexes when it comes to pay, housework carried out in dual full time working households and childcare. Annamarie was articulate and humorous, in my opinion the best of the ‘For’ speakers.
Next up to the microphone was Richard Glover. Glover has frequently spoken about his childhood in 1970s Canberra, when he was constrained by gender differentiation, forced to play rugby and engage in ‘manly’ activities. His wife, he tells us, is a strong woman and he and many other men are attracted to such women. Glover’s main argument was that liberating women can liberate everybody.
Bob Ellis’ argument against men being feminists was that women choose a partner to have a baby with and configure themselves around that person, something men cannot understand. He went on to tell the audience that he hasn’t slept in the same bed as his wife since the 1960s, yet they maintain a healthy sex life. This point was taken up gleefully by Gretel Killeen as she delivered her speech against the motion, in what I felt was the best of the, ‘against’ talks. She says the argument shouldn’t be that they ‘can’t be’; are they, she asks, physically unable, not inclined, or forbidden from acting in the interests of women. Killeen reminds us of the plight of women throughout the world and that we need everybody to get on board to fight against rights violations, such as the woman in Tehran facing stoning because she posted a picture of her body, or the virgins in Africa raped because men believe it cures their own HIV.
Eva Cox believes that were men to become feminists, nobody would want to be on the same group as Bob Ellis and they would constantly expect thanks and praise for their efforts! Closing the debate, Peter Fitzsimons stated that for things to change, we need 100% of society on board.
The packed theatre in the Opera House voted with their hands, and the verdict was a resoundingly loud victory for the opposing team. This couldn’t even have been helped much by the men in the audience, who were few and far between. It was a deserved win, but Jagoose made a good point in her early speech when she noted it says a lot about society when men see a day of talks entitled, ‘All About Women’ and assume this has nothing to do with them.


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