Note 11: Reconsideration

It was some six years ago that I read an article by Inna Shevchenko, leading figure in FEMEN. Personally I am not a big fan of FEMEN. At times I have found their positions crude, their tactics too eagerly following the logic of mediatization, and their objectives unclear. However, back then, my attitude to FEMEN could better be described as being opposed to them than as “not being a fan”. I was not an anti-feminist, in fact I would have considered myself “on their side”, but there was something which invariably vexed me about FEMEN. They seemed to me attention-seeking and drawing ridicule on feminism. It was from this position of antipathy that I read Shevchenko’s article, judged it, and decided to comment on it. However, irritation is a bad counsellor as I soon enough found out.

My failed attempt at humour sprinkled with some whataboutism rightly received plenty of criticism. I learned that, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, “the phrasing is the message”. Even if I only meant to say that FEMEN’s tactics aren’t effective due to the pervasive sexual objectification of women, the way I put it did not result in me warning against it, but in sexually objectifying women.[1]

Why this mistake? Though I broadly shared, and still share, common ground with a range of contemporary feminist movements, I lacked both an awareness of the pervasiveness of daily sexism (as different from patriarchal social structures) in the lives of women and a habit of considering my own behaviour as gendered and thus susceptible to sexism.[2] Let me be clear that I do not mean to justify my comment. Instead, I only mean to say that if I had not lacked these two, my mistake would have been less likely to have been made.

With time I have come to reconsider my own statement as more and more of an error. An error both in style and in opinion. Though perhaps understandable, it is not admirable to hope that silence will erase one’s errors. Moreover, for a man to be an ally to feminist movements he needs to admit mistakes such as these. It is these reconsiderations of our behaviour that our contribution lies.

* * *

[1] Whether the criticism that sexual objectification makes FEMEN’s tactics ineffective itself is merited, I will not discuss here.

[2] In addition, I also lacked a feminist conceptual framework, or doctrine, but I do not think that this is either a sufficient or a necessary condition to have prevented my error.

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