Post 268.

Comandantas from Mexico’s Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) recently called for a global gathering of rebellious women. Their language reflected centuries of radical leadership of Indigenous women in the Caribbean.

“With regard to the Zapatista men”, they wrote, “we are going to put them to work on all the necessary tasks so that we can play, talk, sing, dance, recite poetry, and engage in any other forms of art and culture that we want to share without embarrassment. The men will be in charge of all necessary kitchen and cleaning duties”.

Here at home, I had just had one of those conversations about how feminists should make our work more about men and more relevant to men, but no words were said about them manning the kitchens.

This pressure is ironic. In all its diversity, feminism is the only social movement in history to put women’s rights and their challenge to patriarchal power first, and it emerged specifically because other movements, from unions to political parties, aimed for merely halfway liberation, and still do.

The millions of women who are the majority labouring in feminism’s trenches must unapologetically prioritize women’s freedom from sexual violence and equity in political and economic power, both still to be won.

Yet, this movement has also been active on issues of peace, nuclear disarmament, trade agreements, gang violence, literacy, conservation, and other areas which impact both women and men’s lives. Additionally, feminists have long been active on ‘men’s issues’ whether they are arguing for greater paternity leave, for greater care for boys’ emotions, prison reform, and much more.

And, it’s worth noting that men’s violence against women and women’s under-representation in global and national decision-making are not ‘women’s issues’. They are issues of men’s occupation and exercise of unequal power, and they should be solved by men with an iota of commitment to justice because that’s what manhood, in all its diversity, love and strengths, brings.

Do we appeal to a majority of men by leaving traditional notions of manhood and womanhood unchallenged or by prioritizing men’s needs, cleaving feminism’s radical vision and analytic challenge to precisely these from its mobilization and power?

We know that’s not necessary because men all over the world are involved and doing great work in feminist movements without us even trying to “put men and boys more to the centre of our policy solutions”, or pretend there is anything equal in experiences of domestic violence, or that one woman President is enough when women have never been 50% of our parliament.

These are brothers-in-struggle who don’t need women to exercise power behind the scenes, in the home, while rocking the cradle, or nicely because they know that commitment is about justice, not comfort, not a battle of the sexes, nor a decentering of women from feminism, even as we also care about our children, brothers, nation and planet.

In a final irony, marking feminist success by men’s visibility risks becoming vulnerable to those demanding newspaper space for gender – meaning only men – while failing to get definitions, facts or analysis right. Because of word space, I won’t dust out those SFATT soundboys tonight*.  

We don’t get men on our side by softening, repackaging or marginalising accurate analyses of power, but because collective transformation of patriarchal ideals of manhood and womanhood, which ultimately harm both women and men, is necessary.  

To quote these Zapatista Comandantas, “We greet you with respect and affection as the women that we are—women who struggle, resist, and rebel against the chauvinist and patriarchal state. We know well that the bad system not only exploits, represses, robs, and disrespects us as human beings, but that it exploits, represses, robs, and disrespects us all over again as women…Yet we are not fearful, or if we are, we control our fear, and we do not give in, we don’t give up, and we don’t sell out.”

 

*An earlier critique of comments in the article highlighted: 1. Murders of women do not occur when fathers are alienated from their children and respond in a wrong manner. Fathers may become alienated from their children when women end abusive relationships. Intimate partner violence, without accountability, which includes threats to women’s lives and their families created that alienation, at least in this case. 2. Withholding sex from a spouse is NOT abuse. It may mean the relationship should end but nowhere in any UN position or national law is choosing not to have sex with a violent partner an example of sexual abuse. 3. “In most cases, the perpetrator would not have murdered before or had a criminal record”. This is vastly missing the point. Anyone who is going to murder their ex/partner needed help long before that relationship or its ending, anger doesn’t turn to murder without pre-existing controlling and abusive behaviour, which may indeed be recognised and reported on…in this case, police and family were aware of reports. 4. The argument that women’s abusive behaviour to men is the “true offense”, much worse that physical violence (for which is harm is unequally borne by women), more widespread, more harmful and more at fault when cases of woman-murder happen absolves men of responsibility for femicide. 5. Men and women can be abusive. Both need access to counseling and life without violence, but when women are run down and murdered, they are not responsible. Wrapping valid arguments in equally irresponsible victim-blame does more harm than good.

 

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Post 179.

You don’t go there thinking that you will learn about how to live, but so it was last week at the funeral of Marcia Henville. How humbling to sit among her children and best friends, those she helped or who helped her, and some who never met her at all, everyone reflecting on what difference one life could make.

I was moved by invocations of forgiveness, knowing that this choice is not about excusing a wrong, but preventing it from devouring you from inside, particularly when your family is already torn asunder. I heard people say it was too soon, Marcia wasn’t even buried yet, but I couldn’t imagine what else her children could be expected to do.

We all live in families where we have had to learn to forgive hurts large and small. That hasn’t meant forgetting, and it does not displace necessary expectations for accountability, care and justice. But, as you walk with your wounds, you need to travel light. Fear, anger and hate are too heavy burdens when grief, regret and disappointment may be all you can bear.

Forgiveness is never about the other person and his or her lesson, it is only always about your ability to heal. When you forgive, you fit something that happened into your past, freeing your present, knowing there is no other exit from a darkening maze.

I admired that Marcia’s family and community understood this immediately. In my heart, I asked myself if I could be that good, that strong, that insightful about how to survive such a painful path ahead.

I also listened closely to what people remembered. She taught her children to be themselves, and she was their friend. Her friends said that she would go wherever she heard someone cry. She roamed the country helping families. She connected shotters with their desire to live differently, rather than by the gun. She had her own vision for the marginalised.  It felt like not letting such commitment die could be so simple, but her coffin was a reminder that it is not.

We still ask the wrong questions about violence against women. Why ask why women don’t leave? There are many reasons, from commitment to children and abiding love to terror and low self-confidence to lack of support and economic insecurity. While women must be empowered to secure their own safety, our questions should instead be: Why doesn’t every societal message tell boys and men who resort to violence that seeking help is their responsibility? Why don’t more men’s groups take action against men’s violence and for men’s healing? When will powerful men visibly lead transformations of masculinity beyond its associations with power, recognising the point of women’s struggle for peace and equality?

My own male Guardian Media bosses can begin to set examples that may save women’s lives. Stag’s totally sexist, ‘It’s a man’s world. Rule responsibly’, campaign should be the first to fund national anti-violence messaging everywhere that Stag sells, throughout and beyond Carnival. Profiting from dangerous ideals of men’s right to rule, despite statistics showing what that means for women in reality, means on every billboard and bottle you should be the first to market men’s responsibility to stop violence against women.

Reflecting on what difference one life, one effort, one campaign could make, I left Marcia Henville’s funeral with lessons resonating in my head like a conversation between tenor pan and bass. Remembering that love is a practice of forgiveness as much as of justice, I walked away under noon sun, grateful for an example of the kind of person I still could become.

(An interesting note: when this column was published, the Guardian editors removed the reference to the company, Guardian Media. Just reminder that what we read is, ultimately, corporate controlled.)