By Estia Ryan
Feminism. It’s become a dirty word to some, a beacon of hope to most. Claims against feminism come in two main forms – first, that it has gone ‘too far’ and is fighting for rights already won. Second, that it has gone nowhere near ‘far enough’ and must do more to foster inclusion and engagement across intersections. This latter is the view that I personally subscribe to. And this is the view which prompted Durham University Intersectional Feminist Society (IntFemSoc) to start a sister society ‘Yes All Men’ a few years ago.
Yes All Men aimed to open the Feminist discussion to men. The focus was on men from different intersections whether they be trans, non-binary, or any other identity. It’s long been understood that feminism needs to do more to include all genders in the discussion, and this is what Yes All Men precisely aimed to achieve.
After Yes All Men has been relatively inactive in the last two academic years, but IntFemSoc is keen to start up the group once again. We must explore why an intersectional project is necessary if we are to be Feminists.
Feminism. It’s become a dirty word to some, a beacon of hope to most
As the old saying goes, ‘if feminism isn’t for everyone then feminism isn’t for anyone’. This new third (coming onto fourth!) wave of feminism has learned so much from its predecessors. We now have universal suffrage for all genders, ethnicities, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds.
But we must remember that equality, freedom, and liberation are not transmitted evenly or justly across society.
Feminist rhetoric usually begins with ‘universal suffrage’. Most people now know, following the hit film ‘Suffragette’, that women gained the right to vote in 1918. But of course, men had to be 21 and women had to be 30. Only in 1928 were men and women allowed to vote at the same age, adding 15 million women to the register. We can track back inequalities even earlier, starting with male suffrage in 1832. Voting was conditional on the value of property – essentially only allowing rich men to vote. Having a working-class background legally robbed you of your democratic right.
This distaste of ‘lower working classes’ was echoed a century later with Emmeline Pankhurst. The suffrage movement pre-1918 was dominated by female nobles. This, of course, is not to say that the suffragettes were wrong to achieve what they achieved. I am personally allowed to vote because of their bravery and courage. It is, however, important to remember that this privilege should not be celebrated so sweetly, as once again, the movement was not ‘for everyone’.
Racism too was rife within suffragette groups. Virtually no POC women were involved with these early British suffragettes. The exception may be with British Indian women, with the weighty influence of Indian Princess Sophia (god-daughter of Queen Victoria) on the movement. This slight victory for inclusion is also a reinforcement in ‘rich female power’ over genuine liberation.
Intersectional injustices aren’t limited to suffrage. In the 18th Century, anal sex was punishable by hanging. In 1861 this changed so ‘mere imprisonment’. As late as 1954, there were 1,096 gay men in UK prisons. The Wolfenden Report of the same year concluded that homosexuality, provided consensual, could not, in any case, be seen as a criminal offence. Note interestingly that at no point in UK history have lesbian acts been illegal. Decriminalization came for ‘sodomy’ in 1967 – but once again, this was not equitable liberation. The age of consent for heterosexuals was 16, while homosexuals had to wait until 21. True consent age equality came with the Sexual Offences Act in 2003.
It was only in 2004, with the UK Gender Recognition Act, that people could apply to legally encode their gender identity. This means that if I were born with male genitalia and but was a woman, the law would disagree and inform me that my self-identity was invalid and illegal.
Only in 2010 was gender reassignment included in the Equality Act as a protective characteristic. Only in 2015 did the idea of allowing non-binary citizens to enshrine their identity through an ‘X marker’ on passports get heard at Parliament. As of now, they are still not allowed to have passports reflect identity. Finally, only in 2017 were previous convictions under ‘sodomy’ laws pardoned (nicknamed the Alan Turing law after the famous WW2 codebreaker).
Let’s finally make Feminism for everyone
Our society has come so far in the past century. Non-discrimination rights are becoming more and more inclusive. Suffrage extends to so many intersections. But just because we have come so far, does not mean we can give up the fight for full emancipation now. Our problems have changed, yes. Some of us are fighting for legal identity recognition, others for awareness and education, but all have a fundamental belief in equality, freedom, and liberation.
How do these tableaus from intersections affect Yes All Men? I hope that through these words you can see that a group which has at its heart an appreciation for the nuance in identity, relationships, and power-structures is vital for feminism to progress. This movement has been elitist and privileged for too long, and young people should by no means support something which doesn’t involve them. Let’s move into the 21st Century with open hearts and open arms. Let’s finally make Feminism for everyone.
If you are interested in helping organize or attending Yes All Men in future, please contact Durham’s IntFemSoc’s Facebook page.
Photograph: Durham Intersectional Feminist Society