Leon Jones argues that it seems that the Gender Equality society has changed course and is fighting a slightly different battle. Whether the name change is the right decision or not rests solely upon whether that was the motivation of the society.
I was initially pleased upon hearing the news that the Gender Equality Society had changed its name to the Feminist Society. Throughout my time at Exeter, I have immersed myself in feminist theory (to which I was previously unfamiliar) and have found that I agree immensely with many of its authors.
All of this has occurred, believe it or not, despite being male (whatever that means). I believe the existence of a Feminist Society within a university is extremely important, however I do wonder about the motivations of the Gender Equality Society in completing its metamorphosis.
I am confident that they are aware of the consequences of this name change, but it has become clear that many people do not understand or appreciate the difference between gender equality and feminism. For me, Gender Equality should be taken to mean exactly that: equality between men and women.
This is all well and good but feminism (It is important to note at this point that feminism has many different branches and a lot of internal disagreement) seeks to challenge the over-arching system of power relations within which men and women operate, which has been dominated by hyper-masculinity and heteronormativity, thus oppressing women.
Feminists seek to re-draw the fundamental structure of power relations, whereas those promoting gender equality are seeking equality within the current system of power relations. This is an important distinction.
Those promoting Gender Equality seek fairness and justice for women in the modern world and their prime objectives might include equal pay or equal access to certain professions (the armed forces) etc.
For many modern feminists, however, this represents women accepting the way that men have created society and seeking equality within that male-oriented system – for them, objectives might include restructuring power relations away from macho-macho competitiveness so that wars wouldn’t need to be fought, meaning no armed forces altogether. This broad and quite academic concept however isn’t readily translated when one reads the word ‘Feminist Society’ and a challenge that the re-branded society may face is the misconception that Feminists hate men or that men can’t be feminists.
The idea that the new society will exclude (either explicitly or implicitly) men is ludicrous to me as many types of men (including but not limited to: gay men, straight effeminate men and stay-at-home dads) have been long oppressed by the dominant masculine, heteronormative order. This brings in the distinction between ‘male’ and ‘female’ and ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.
Feminism is not predicated on the greatness of women and the failures of men. Rather, it seeks to redress the imbalance between the masculine and feminine within the political sphere. Many feminists argue that masculine approaches to global power relations such as competition, conflict and imperialism are not as well suited as more feminine attributes such as compassion and collaboration.
It is not the case that men are solely masculine and women are solely feminine, everybody has elements of both, and it is the dominance of the masculine within the world that feminists seek to counter. Thus, any man who shares the sentiment that masculine-centred approaches to international relations are not sufficient may well be a closeted Germaine Greer.
All in all, it seems that the Gender Equality society has changed course and is fighting a slightly different battle. Whether this is the right decision or not rests solely upon whether that was the motivation of the society, if not then they may have baffled everybody.
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