Lots of Pictures, Not Many Words

By Sammy Allouba  Tell me if the following statements make any kind of sense to you; that is, if one relates to the other.

  1. I’m 6’2” and I’m a public relations officer.
  2. I have a beard and I’m an athlete.
  3. I drive a car and I’m a palaeontologist.
  4. I wear shoes and I’m an atheist.
  5. I’m skinny and I’m an MHRA.

What does being skinny have to do with being an MHRA? What does wearing shoes have to do with atheism? What about the rest of them? I honestly haven’t the slightest inkling. But apparently, disliking labels, being raised by a single father, being Muslim, smoking cigars, or being an engineering student are somehow tied to feminism.

McGill University’s Faculty of Law in Montreal, Quebec, has recently launched a new photo campaign designed to challenge stereotypical ideals of feminism and what it means.Second-year law student Aishah Nofal says the goal is to “…reclaim the term, deconstruct the misconceptions attached to the term feminist, and demonstrate that feminism is something that is inclusive and does represent different voices.”

I’ll start on an optimistic note. I applaud these folks because for once, truly, I think, these are moderate feminists who want to portray their movement in a more positive light and, hopefully, take it away from the psychos out there. I’m referring to the Big Reds, the Anita Sarkeesians, the Jessica Valentinis, and the Laci Greens of this world. Perhaps these folks will be able to bring some legitimacy to the women’s movement and give some depth to the classic expression “not all feminists are like that.” I truly wish them luck, with everything in me.

However, I can’t help but feel that a few things are being left out here. The first is that while what I described above may be the intention, I would be curious to know if the following scenario could ever occur. Let’s rewind for a moment to April 4, 2013. A lecture was hosted by CAFÉ, featuring Professors Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young, on the topic of cultural misandry. It was a day like any other until a rather, shall we say, vocal group of feminists came to the hosting campus (University of Toronto) and decided that this event was nothing more than hate speech filled with misogyny and male tears and needed to be shut down at once. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the event in question, here is footage of the protest captured by Steve Brule, a Toronto filmmaker.

My question to these McGill feminists would be, if we went back in time and placed any one of you in the centre of this protest, would you have the courage and strength to stand up to someone like Big Red and tell her she’s wrong? Would you put your feet to the fire and truly, once and for all, prove to the rest of us that “not all feminists are like that”? If so, awesome! That’s very good and extremely encouraging. If not, well then, I will question the legitimacy of your campaign. But of course, we won’t know until it happens.

The other point I want to raise is that of the stereotype of feminists as the butch, lesbian, raging man-hating types. Obviously not all feminists present themselves that way. However, I think at this point, that stereotypical image is of little consequence because feminists come in all flavours, as this campaign very clearly indicates. I’ve never doubted that. The problem lies in the notion that that’s all this campaign is likely going to change: the image of feminism, but the movement will remain the same at its core.

Anyone who has had even a passing glance at feminist literature will tell you what the central tenet of it is: female oppression by way of living in a male-dominated society, colloquially known as the “patriarchy.” Despite the change in image, assuming this campaign is successful, the message will remain the same. Women will still be painted as victims of male domination, women’s issues will still take central stage with little room for men’s issues despite the cries of feminism being about equality, and the usual facts and statistics that have been shown to be invalid time and again (1 in 4, the wage gap) will still be presented.

I would like hear what Ms. Nofal’s response to Aaminah Khan’s list, 10 Better Ways to Be a Better Male Feminist, would be. If her idea of feminism is that it is an inclusive movement, will she disagree with Ms. Khan’s ideas in rules two, four, and five especially? If feminism wants to give men an equal voice, then telling us essentially to keep our mouths shut while you guide the discussion isn’t the way to do it. If Ms. Nofal disagrees with this list, awesome! There may be hope after all. But if not, then again, only the image of feminism is changing and not the message.

For the time being, Ms. Nofal, you and your colleagues may smoke all the cigars you want, bring in as many engineering students as you want, come from single-parent families, but unless you change your message, I don’t really know how you plan on changing the way people perceive feminism. Once again, I wish you the best of luck.

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