Upon entering the discussion of contemporary feminism, one is never confronted with a single answer: instead a multitude of subjective beliefs that compare and argue the roles of substantive equality, gender specificity and stereotypes, stances of anti-feminist and men’s rights groups, and feminist activism.
Boyd and Sheehy, in their article, “Men’s Groups: Challenging Feminism”, explore insights from a workshop by the same name (held March 2014, Vancouver) with the objective of “[addressing] a modern form of resistance to feminism: organisations acting in the name of men’s and father’s rights and interests” (Boyd & Sheehy, 2016). Investigating the two authors of this text, both have extensive research and practice in feminist legal theory and are acclaimed for their actions in teaching and promoting Feminist Law and Equality, both in Canada and internationally. Boyd and Sheehy adopt a somewhat confrontational and aggressive tone when referring to the actions of the men’s right’s groups, and, whether correctly or incorrectly, align “openly hostile anti-feminist activism” with “ambivalent post-feminist discourses” as equal threats to the rise of feminist power. Heavy ownership and pride is placed upon citations promoting women’s rights, particularly in the legal sector, with a heavy critique of institutions that adopt patriarchal norms at both a local and international level, offering the UN as an example of one such institution.
Comparatively, if we consider a review of Nikki van der Gaag’s Feminism and Men (2014) by Jemma Stringer, a very different perspective of the role of men in feminism is presented. Stringer is a Gender Justice Officer for Oxfam GB with an MA in Development and Gender, as well as working as a volunteer coordinator with men serving custodial sentences. Stringer’s stance of strong support for the male agenda in feminism is evident as she states that van der Gaag’s book provides “important insights” into male and female roles in feminism, and that “achieving gender equality is not a zero sum game…but instead is a process where all can benefit” (2015). Her tone is notably less scathing and critical than that of Boyd and Sheehy, as she makes her pro-gender equality stance clear without evangelistic convergence.
Interestingly, all three authors have experienced similar levels of exposure to cases of violence against women and breaches of rights for women, however each have vastly differing manners in achieving their desired outcomes for “feminism”, however it may be defined. It is also fascinating to recognise the vastly differing discourses surrounding this topic from relatively similar view points, however I must acknowledge my bias in support of Stringer’s argument towards an equal space for men and women in feminism. I am critical of Boyd and Sheehy’s ability to affiliate any view that differs from that of achieving pure rights for women as a “cause for concern” (2016), regardless of its position on the spectrum of feministic belief and practice. This text comparison presents a small yet significant case study into the difficulty of converging the feminist discourse, with strongly held beliefs in achieving goals that lack a consideration of external contributing factors and values. I conclude by posing this question: how can we possibly achieve gender equality when one gender refuses to extend the same respect that it demands from the other?
Boyd, S. B., Sheehy, E., 2016, ‘Men’s groups: challenging feminism’, Canadian journal of women and the law, vol. 28, pp.5-10
Stringer, J. 2015, ‘ Feminism and Men, Nikki van der Gaag, Book Review’, review of Feminism and Men, by N van der Gaag, Zed Books, viewed 8 August 2016, accessed online <http://www.genderanddevelopment.org/page/feminism-and-men-review>.