Should men be allowed at women’s marches? Well obviously, they should.
But, if you’re like me, after the women’s march you committed an age-old atrocity: giving men more credit for doing the same (or even less) work as women.
Men who went to the Women’s March on Washington and elsewhere got a lot of credit, acclaim, and Facebook shares simply for being men at a women’s march. How hip, how cool, how modern ~male feminist~ of them to opt into something that supports women.
Eyeroll, eyeroll, eyeroll.
Just as in anything else, women do not get as much credit as men for doing the exact same thing.
But before we go any further, we need to establish that this is not an attack on men who are allies or consider themselves “male feminists”. Allying yourself with protests and advocacy groups is difficult for anyone, even those with the most social power. If you are one of the male march attendees, thank you for your participation, passion, and gumption. Now, let’s take a closer look at your role.
Feminist scholars and marchers have asked: should men even be allowed at women’s movement protests and marches? What impacts do men have in women’s spaces? How do they orient themselves within movements? These are easy questions to ask if you’ve ever wondered what men give to or get out of feminism.
According to Kelsey Kretschmer and Kristin Barber (2016), there are answers to all three of these questions. Their research analyzed newspaper coverage of Take Back the Night and Slutwalk events, two recurrent feminist marches that protest sexual assault and sexual violence against women as well as victim blaming.
At a basic level, their research revealed that keeping men out creates more media attention for these events.
First, movement boundaries—event boundaries (or declarations of the in and out crowd) are as old as feminism, and have been used along lines of race, gender, sexuality, age, and ability. Kinda like the VIP section at a club, or eating with the popular kids in middle school; declaring in and out crowds creates power where power did not exist before. And, those who are declared ‘in’ are given power they might not have had previously. In everyday life, women are not part of this in-crowd. Giving them this social power is key to healthy protest and sustained marches.
But declaring women in sometimes means declaring men out. Take Back the Night (TBTN), for instance, has historically flipped the script of public protest by distinctly asking men to not participate because it would shift the center of focus away from women’s issues. However, this sharp event boundary almost always garners media attention, and allows organizers to highlight their core issues and demands. TBTN events that did not specify participant gender typically had less media coverage, if any at all.
Uninviting men can be better for the march in terms of media coverage, but also allows men to re-assert themselves as a group who inherently deserve to be permitted in the space.
By not including men in order to keep focus on women’s issues, organizers gave men a platform to have their opposition voiced. The focus cannot be shifted away from men.
Second, Kretschmer and Barber conclude that (not including counter-protesters and non-participants) men orient themselves in three distinct ways in women’s marches:
Men as allies:
“I can’t believe this happens, and I am here because I want it to stop happening.”
Men as victims:
“I can’t believe this happens to you. It happens to me too. We can work together to stop it.”
Modern organizers of TBTN and Slutwalk have begun to shift focus away from violence against women, and toward male violence against all people because of these identities.
Men as co-opters:
“I can’t believe this happens! But it is important for me to be here to show that not all men…”
“I am here today because I think that men get a bad rap…”
“I’m not like other men…”
“Men also have it pretty tough…”
Co-opting is bad for the co-opter and the co-opted because it unnecessarily and ineffectively disqualifies what is being protested, without actually solving anybody’s problem.
If you’re a man with a feminist plan (and we hope you are!), it may be time for you to evaluate your role in the movement if you have ever fallen into the trap of co-opting. If you find yourself in a space created by and for women, use your voice not to speak over the voices of said women but to instead help amplify theirs. While men’s issues absolutely deserve to be heard, consider the context in which you want to deliver these messages; there’s no reason men’s voices need to compete with or broadcast over top of women’s in a space designed for women.