OPINION: On Gay Men and The Feminist Movement
By Callum Maddox
The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the USU or the Pulp editorial staff.
In the lead up to International Women’s Day, I thought about how I might contribute to the important discussions that need to be had. Although I undoubtedly identify as a feminist and as a staunch champion of gender equality, I personally felt I was unqualified to write about feminism. I felt I didn’t know enough and there was nothing meaningful I could contribute. This was my first crime against feminism.
I began to think about the ways I, as a gay man, relate to feminism and women in general. I identify as a feminist, I surround myself with an abundance of female friends and I’m also pretty sure I’ve liked a few feminist memes this week. Surely this was enough to excuse me from being accused of contributing to sexism and misogyny? The more I thought about it, I realised this was a trend I’d noticed amongst some of my other gay male friends as well. There’s seemingly a misconception that purely because you identify as a cis gay man, you’re somehow immune to or above sexism and misogyny. I know I’ve been guilty of this thought process and it is only recently that a close friend of mine pointed out that I, as a man, regardless of my sexual identity, am still implicit in sexism and misogyny.
She pointed out that I am still a product of the patriarchal structures in society and that I benefit from these daily. This was rather confronting, but in the few months since she made me aware of my own misogynistic tendencies, I’ve tried my best to be conscious of such things, and feel it's important to share this with other gay men.
Mansplaining is something I had never really given much thought to. I assumed it was exclusively the domain of high-flying male professionals who looked down upon female co-workers. I assumed these were inherently bad men, the type that were likely perpetrators of more significant ‘crimes against feminism’. Surely, I couldn’t ever be guilty of mansplaining? I love women. Again, I was wrong. I’m guilty of it ALL THE TIME. I’ve done it in tutorials, I’ve done it over coffee, and I’ve done it at work. What’s more, is since I’ve become conscious of when I do it, I’ve noticed other gay men do it as well. A lot. What’s interesting to me though, and I in no way hope to excuse myself by saying this, is I’ve only ever really been called out on it once. Just the other day, I proposed that some female friends and I take a picture on some stairs for an Instagram. One of my friends quickly pointed out that this wouldn’t work for her, because it would put her in a ‘compromising position’ given she was wearing a short skirt. And I, embarrassingly, immediately retorted: “just cross your legs then.” I immediately pulled myself up on this, and said, “Wow, I really just mansplained how not to flash in a skirt.” She laughed and she agreed with me.
The poetic irony about this situation was that it occurred whilst we were out celebrating Mardi Gras, a night dedicated to the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights. And here I was, surrounded by non-queer women, who were supporting this movement, championing queer visibility and advocating for equality. These women were allies. And this leads me to an interesting idea about the relationship gay men have with women. There is an abundance of female queer allies, but I wonder if the same can be said of gay men as female allies. And by allies, I mean, they actively contribute to the promotion of the cause and advocate for equality.
Gay men, and especially cis white gay men, have a tendency to overwhelmingly play their own ‘oppression card’ in order to escape criticism for their sexist behaviours. I have been guilty of this, and gay male friends of mine have agreed that this is indeed ‘a thing’. The most striking personal anecdote I could come up with is when a friend came to me after a law tutorial and said a phrase that I’d heard far too many times: “I really hate men.” Ignoring her body language and facial expressions I replied, “yeah me too sis.” You see, I was mainly referring to a boy that had taken a few days to reply to me, whereas she was referring to a tutorial in which she had been overlooked by her male tutor when she raised her hand to contribute, she was repeatedly spoken over by her male classmates and been mansplained to numerous times. Apples and oranges really.
What this anecdote speaks to, for me, is an ignorance some gay men have for the plight of other oppressed groups. Intersectionality? We don’t know her. What I did was an attempt to ‘man-relate’ to a serious issue of gender inequality.
I have been known to call out some of my female friends for saying things that weren’t particularly sensitive towards queer people. These were things like “it’s so obvious he’s gay,” or “I have no problem with gay guys, I just get annoyed when they’re overly flamboyant.” And credit to them, they’ve understood why saying things like this are insensitive and they’ve decided to do better. What I’ve not seen a lot of, is gay men getting called out on their blatant sexism.
This sexism doesn’t just extend to heterosexual women, it’s that overall the gay community isn’t particularly welcoming of women of any sexual identity. I’ve heard gay men complain about there being too many women in ‘gay’ bars and clubs and this kind of misogyny never gets called out. In fact, gay men never seem to call each other out on their sexist behaviours and this is something that really needs to change.
Playing the ‘gay card’ doesn’t give you license to call a woman a ‘slut,’ a ‘hoe,’ or a ‘bitch.’ No matter how long you draw out the ‘i’ sound, or how sassy your hand movements are when you say it. I know I am guilty of using the above slurs. I never mean it in a derogatory way. I pride myself in being sex-positive and would never want to participate in slut shaming. What has become apparent to me, however, is that in using these slurs, I perpetuate harmful attitudes that continue to oppress women. Ironically, I hold my female friends’ partners to a higher standard than I hold myself. I would not sit idly by if any of their boyfriends called them any of those slurs, but in the past, it seems I thought the gay card was a ‘get-out-of-jail-free-card’ when it came to sexism and misogyny.
Today, wondering whether I could possibly contribute to feminist discourse, I realised that gay men aren’t called out on their crimes against feminism enough. It’s possible it’s because we, as a society, oversimplify the nature of oppression and believe queer people are more oppressed than women so we can’t criticise them because that would be ‘homophobic’. Maybe it’s because we live in a patriarchal society where it’s all too easy for gay men to continue to behave the way they do, unchecked. I want to call out gay men. Let’s BE BETTER. We aren’t innocent of being sexist and misogynistic. We do it all the time. We are far too often both complicit and implicit in these problems. So, this International Women’s Day, I encourage everyone, but especially gay men, to reflect on their behaviour and attitudes and seriously consider what they can do to be better. I encourage people to stop playing their oppression as a ‘get-out-of-jail-free-card’ and start LISTENING to the people around us. I encourage everyone to call others out when they’re sexist and to think a little more broadly. Intersectionality? Let’s get to know her.