Actually, Nah, Feminism Isn’t About You At All: a Response to “Feminism’s Duty To Gay Men”

– Martha Perotto-Wills 

[content note: discussions of misogyny and homophobia, mentions of slurs & sexual harassment]

So Hesham Mashour, depressingly omnipresent and opportunistically faux-left-wing student journo, has outdone former journalistic glories (e.g. that article arguing mentally ill and disabled students are just not tough enough and shouldn’t have applied to Cambridge in the first place) by writing this thinkpiece about gay men, misogyny, and feminism for Get Real.

Read it? Yeah, I know. Grim. Also, full disclosure before I go on, I said this was a bad article on Twitter and then Hesham replied (in a tweet that has since been deleted) “You’re not even queer”, so like, this is a bit personal – but I don’t have to have been sexuality-policed and insulted by the author to recognise that the thinkpiece itself is a pile of steaming shit on every level possible, to the extent where it’s difficult to even know where to begin criticising it.

But I hear that the very beginning is a very good place to start, so first off, and relatively innocuously: man, read a history book. Pretty much every historical point in this article is wrong – from the popular misconception that Classical Greece was a Utopian pride parade for 2010s-style gay male relationships and not a society that venerated and institutionalised highly heteronormative pedophilia, to the complete failure to recognise the fact that sexual identity as we conceive of it today is really a very modern (i.e. within the last 150 years) invention. Using current terms to discuss historical sexual practices, and viewing historical attitudes to sexuality through a lens of modern systems of oppression, is just plain bad intellectual practice. It invalidates any arguments an author could possibly be making based on historical example, and belies a pretty damning ignorance of the topic they’re writing about.

Anyway, after this misinformed romp through times past we are treated to the argument that, because both gay men and women (notice something missing here? yeah, I’ll get to that) suffer from pay gaps in the UK compared to their straight and male colleagues respectively, misogyny and homophobia are the same thing. I mean, it’s certainly true that, because of the structure of our society, different oppressions often manifest themselves in similar forms: both women and queer men face discrimination at work, lack of positive media representation, and the threat of violence in public spaces, to give just a few examples. It takes a bizarre, twisted logical leap to argue that this means they face the exact same form of oppression.

Hesham has also said that gay men should be allowed to “reclaim” the word “slut” as someone who has been called a slut before, and thus apparently faces the same structural misogyny as women. The issue of reclaiming slurs is a contended one in liberation politics discourse, but there is a very basic consensus that reclaiming slurs is the sole decision of members of the marginalised groups that those words are used to control, humiliate, and oppress – by definition, you simply cannot ‘reclaim’ a slur directed at a group you’re not part of, especially not if you (e.g. a man) are a member of the group that oppresses them (e.g. women). That’s not reclamation, it’s upholding existing hierarchies of oppression. But I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for another Get Real article arguing that straight men who’ve been called “fag” in locker-room fights with their bros should be encouraged to ‘reclaim’ that term for themselves!

After that, the author seems to deal with some latent annoyance at both drinking society homophobia and the fact that CUSU LGBT+ doesn’t have a campaign to combat this (both certainly real problems that need tackling) by blaming it on, um, all of feminism. “This would be misogyny if I were female,” Hesham writes, as The Point whistles merrily past several thousand miles above. Yes! If you were a woman, you would experience misogyny. But you’re not. So you don’t. This seems to me like a relatively simple concept to grasp. Both these points – even aside from not recognising that the work the CUSU Women’s Campaign does against drinking societies is to fight all the oppressive aspects of them, whether those are based on gender, sexuality, race, class, etc – fundamentally fail to grasp a pretty vital fact about feminism: yeah, feminism can help men, because part of feminism is getting rid of the patriarchy, and the patriarchy (as we are so often reminded by the more self-centred and loud-voiced of our ‘allies’) hurts men too. But feminism isn’t about men. It’s about the liberation of women. And if men, regardless of their sexuality, are distracting from that fact by demanding that feminism has a “duty” to pay more attention to them, and then refusing to listen to women who tell them they’re wrong, they very clearly do not care as much as they claim to about the elimination of gendered oppression or the liberation of those who face misogyny.

Actually though, while what the article does say is odious enough, I’m really more concerned with what it doesn’t talk about, and I think its omission of a couple of key points is very revealing of how insincere the author’s supposed commitment to anti-misogyny is. What I mean is this: if someone asked me my thoughts on possible links between misogyny and homophobia, two key points would come to mind, and neither of them would be ‘they’re the same thing and gay men have it worse off’.

One link I’d make is the perpetuation of misogyny by gay men. Pretty much every woman I know (regardless of sexuality) can think of instances where they’ve faced sexism from a gay man. Getting groped in clubs by men who defend their objectification and harassment with “it’s fine, I’m not attracted to you”, Perez-Hilton-style gendered shaming of women’s bodies and fashion/life choices, gay men who talk often and loudly about how disgusting vaginas are (thereby adding cissexism and transphobia into the bigotry mix) – this is a well-documented and widespread problem. To completely fail to bring this issue up in an article about the links between homophobia and misogyny is disingenuous, and belies the author’s real lack of compassion for the people who really face misogyny.

The second point is to finally address the conspicuously missing piece in the article: ACTUALLY, QUEER WOMEN EXIST. To write a thousand words on the link between homophobia and misogyny and fail to consider intersectionality, to not even once mention that there are real people who face homophobia and misogyny simultaneously, is bafflingly ignorant at best and actively thoughtless and offensive at worst. Queer women exist, Hesham, hi, no matter how much you police our sexuality over Twitter! And unlike you we actually do deal with the combined weights of misogyny and homophobia every day, and your self-obsessed erasure of our existence and experiences from your sub-par thinkpiece about the links between those oppressions is pretty fucking misogynistic and homophobic in itself.

And maybe I’m being unfair – and maybe not – but if you use the word “controversial” in every social media post you make about your article on feminism and say you “can’t wait” for the “haters”, you probably don’t need feminism. If feminism for you is an edgy thinkpiece topic to get your student magazine’s website a higher hit count, you probably don’t need feminism. If feminism for you isn’t something that touches the entire way you view the world, every single interaction you have with another human, the way you think about yourself – if feminism isn’t life-or-death work for you, but a way to boost your fucking web brand, you probably don’t need feminism.

One last point: I know for a fact I’m not the only member of the Cambridge LGBT+ community who has not written for Get Real because Hesham Mashour is editing it. In the absence of a better alternative or a Get Real editorial coup (hint hint), the Gender Agenda blog is always open to submissions and we’d really love to accept anything queer-related you’d like to write.

5 Comments

  1. This is an excellent piece and I totally agree with you on *every* point you make.

    I would just like to say, as you hint at the end, that many people who contribute to Get Real were not comfortable with this piece. Many people who are heavily invested in GetReal are uncomfortable with the hierarchical nature of the magazine (i.e., being controlled by Hesham and the way that opinions and views are policed and the way we are treated). So, please realise that whilst it is correct to criticise GetReal, it’s because of Hesham and not because of the majority of the GetReal team.

    • genderagenda

      March 29, 2015 at 11:08 pm

      hi, martha here – yeah i agree, and i know this piece makes it sound kinda like i am condemning get real as a whole, which i’m definitely not! the only problem i have with it is this one particular editor. otherwise it’s a-ok by me and definitely has my support. kick out hesham and i’d submit stuff for sure xxx

  2. I was actually pretty baffled reading his article! Thank you for this detailed response – you addressed all the key issues well and show clearly the faults in his argument!

  3. I agree with all of this article except when, as you are rightly chastising Hesham for failing to appreciate the recent evolution of the concept of ‘homosexuality’, you apply another anachronistic term, ‘pedophilia,’ to describe Ancient Greek paiderastia.

  4. Thank-you for this well-thought out response – I am also deeply uncomfortable and have stopped reading GetReal due to Hesham’s involvement, which often reads like click-bait with a window dressing of historical or social research.

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