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Sorry, Men’s Rights Activists, Feminists Actually Do Care About Girls in Africa

Yegna, the girl group sponsored by Girl Effect Ethiopia
Yegna, a girl group sponsored by Girl Effect Ethiopia. Click on picture for more info.

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One of the favorite talking points — trolling points? — of Men’s Rights Activists and other antifeminists is that feminism is little more than a frivolous hobby for wealthy Western white women obsessed with their own trivial problems and caring not a whit for the truly oppressed women of the world.

Or at least that’s a favorite talking point amongst MRAs who are willing to admit that women are actually oppressed anywhere in the world.

I found the “meme” below on the Facebook page of something called Anti-Feminism Australia, one of the few “serious” memes there, buried in a jumble of rape jokes and fat jokes and digs at Anita Sarkeesian.

WARNING: Not actually true
WARNING: Not actually true

Just how wrong is this little meme? Let me count the ways.

First, and perhaps most basic, the graphic seems to imply that feminism is entirely a phenomenon of Western (and presumably white) women, thus erasing the very girls it pretends to champion.

I hate to have to tell you this, MRAs, but there are feminists in Ethiopia. Really. And not just visiting white ladies either.

These actual real existing feminists blog. They write, speak, research the lives of rural Ethiopian schoolgirls and work for NGOs. They make music and appear in radio dramas. They hold conferences and forums to discuss and coordinate their activism on issues ranging from family planning to international development.

Actual women at actual international development conference in Addis Ababa
Actual women at actual international development conference in Addis Ababa

In fact, MRAs, there are feminists all over Africa. There are feminists all over the world. And when we eventually get around to colonizing Mars, there will no doubt be feminists there too.

But let’s just set aside the actual real existing feminists who actually really live in Ethiopia for a moment. Because the antifeminist meme I posted above is clearly directed at Western (and presumably white) feminists , in an attempt to shame them for not fixing the educational system in Ethiopia with the magic elixir of money.

This too is wrong, wrong, wrong.

First, let’s just note that complex problems in developing countries halfway across the world can’t actually be solved by white-skinned angels flying in from abroad on giant clouds of money.

The issue here isn’t just the patronizing colonialism inherent in this idea; it’s that you can’t solve any intractable problem anywhere just by throwing money at it.

Men’s Rights Activists, allergic to anything that smacks of real world activism, seem to think that they can fix anything (and win some Good Guy points to boot) by donating a few bucks to this or that Men’s Rights cause.

But in order for the money to help, whether here or abroad, you have to have organizations in place that will be able to do something useful with this money.

MRAs and other antifeminists don’t, and so they have wasted literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on causes and projects and people that have pissed away their money without accomplishing anything of value, from A Voice for Men to The Sarkeesian Effect.

Feminists, by contrast, have set up a wide assortment of organizations in the west designed to help women, from national foundations to local shelters.

And, yes, they have built or helped to build organizations to help women and girls in the developing world as well — including some in Ethiopia.

While no Western interventions in the developing world, even charitable ones, can be entirely free of the taint of colonialism and colonialist assumptions, Western feminists today try to challenge their own assumptions and to treat the girls and women they try to help as the authors of their own stories and the heroes of their own lives.

In the process, western feminists have learned that the problems faced by girls trying to get educations in Ethiopia — and elsewhere in the developing world — can’t be solved merely by buying school supplies or providing cheap computers. It also involves fighting against sexual violence and child marriage.

And, as odd as this may sound to most well-off Westerners, for sanitary products. One UK feminist who recently spent several months volunteering first in Ethiopia and then Kenya, wrote later about the surprise she felt when she discovered that one big reason that Ethiopian girls miss much more school than boys is that they cannot afford the sanitary pads that would enable them to attend school during their periods.

That’s why a group called Femme International, working in East Africa, devotes itself not just to educating girls about hygiene but also providing them with menstrual cups so that they will be able to attend schools are regularly as their brothers. (And in case any MRAs are wondering “what about the boyz,” the group also runs a Boys Health Management Program.)

Tellingly, when western feminists have tried to raise awareness in the west about this issue, they’ve found themselves ridiculed, and even harassed, by uncomprehending MRAs and other antifeminists who apparently think that any talk about women’s periods is inherently risible.

When feminist writer and Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti wrote a column pointing out that “sanitary products are vital for the health, well-being and full participation of women and girls across the globe,” she faced a torrent of abuse on Twitter, of which the following Tweet was sadly typical:

jvv

 

Ironically, one of the nastiest Tweets — suggesting that Valenti needed “oversized” tampons “for her giant gaping vagina” —  came from a fellow named Adam McPhee, who (as I pointed out at the time) just happened to be the official spokesperson for the Men’s Rights group called Canadian Association For Equality (CAFE).

Or maybe this wasn’t so ironic, as it’s fairly typical of the MRA reaction whenever they encounter evidence of Western feminists trying to reach out to girls and women in the developing world. Or, for that matter, trying to reach out to men.

You may recall the gigantic wave of hostility, largely from MRAs and other antifeminists, that greeted actress and activist Emma Watson after she spoke at the United Nations on behalf of HeForShe, an international initiative to encourage men to help fight for gender equality.

The attacks on Watson have died down, but the HeForShe initiative continues on around the world. Indeed, at an event earlier this year in Nairobi, Kenya, a number of influential African cultural leaders signed on as supporters of the initiative.

The hostility faced by Watson, Valenti and other western feminists whenever they stand up for poor and disenfranchised women around the world makes pretty clear that when MRAs and other antifeminists criticize western feminists for allegedly “not giving a shit” about anyone but their First World selves, they are doing so in bad faith.

Indeed, MRAs and other antifeminists would prefer it if women around the world were never touched by feminism at all.

Pickup artists fetishise women in parts of the world that have been less influenced by feminism than the West, and complain bitterly whenever they discover that some of these women have more feminism in them than they did even a few years ago. Indeed, repugnant pickup guru and rape legalization proponent Roosh Valizadeh has chronicled his sad and hopeless quest for the unfeminist Eastern European “Poosy Paradise” of his dreams on his blog and in an ebook.

Meanwhile, MRAs and GamerGaters and other antifeminists have reacted with outrage to the news that the Swedish government will be providing every 16-year-old in the country with a copy of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED-talk-turned-booklet We Should All Be Feminists. (Note: If you buy her book through that link I get a teensy cut.)

The antifeminists don’t just hate Western women speaking up for their non-Western sisters; they also hate non-Western women who speak up for themselves.

This is sadly even the case when it comes to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who famously survived being shot in the face by a would-be assassin unhappy about her advocacy of education for girls.

After Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her bravery in continuing on with her campaign, a writer for A Voice for Men patronizingly declared her a “dupe of [a] deeply bigoted and socially dangerous ideology” — yes, they mean feminism — who may end up becoming “even more dangerous to world peace than Osama Bin Laden ever was … .”

Meanwhile, fantasy author, Manosphere agitator and all around nasty piece of work Vox Day has gone further, offering what can only be seen as a qualified endorsement of the Taliban’s attempt on Malala’s life. As he put it in one recent blog post (discussed here):

[I]n light of the strong correlation between female education and demographic decline, a purely empirical perspective on Malala Yousafzai, the poster girl for global female education, may indicate that the Taliban’s attempt to silence her was perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.

This is, sadly, not the first time Vox has suggested that violence may be the most “rational” response to women and girls demanding the same educational opportunities as boys and men. In an earlier post (discussed here), Vox asserted that

[F]emale independence is strongly correlated with a whole host of social ills. Using the utilitarian metric favored by most atheists, a few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay for lasting marriages, stable families, legitimate children, low levels of debt, strong currencies, affordable housing, homogenous populations, low levels of crime, and demographic stability.

When antifeminists attack Western feminists for allegedly ignoring the injustices faced by women and girls in the developing world, it’s worth remembering that more than a few in the antifeminist army would prefer that these injustices remain unchallenged, whether by Western feminists, by Malala Yousafzai, or by the girls in Ethiopia’s Yegna.

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Frank Torpedo
6 years ago

To be honest, I felt silly talking about it in the first place, being as I am a cisgendered person. MOSTLY.

My mother says I do really good impressions of women! 😛

Most black men do really good impressions of white women. It’s very odd. I’ve considered this from time to time. My black male friends are amazing at imitating the white women who live around here. It’s uncanny.

I have also watched enough anime to be fascinated with the idea of being a girl.

But ANYWAY, what I’m trying to say is that I am not a transperson and shouldn’t really be taken as an authority on the subject. I haven’t really taken any college classes on the subject, nor have I written a thesis about it, so I accept your guidance on the matter entirely. Thanks for clearing that up!

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
6 years ago

Hey, you gave me a crash course in interracial dating and LGBT issues in the black community, I figure I can flesh out the T of that some 🙂

Also, I’m just generally cranky today, so that was a nice little rant to get that out of my system.

Kootiepatra
Kootiepatra
6 years ago

Honestly, I could totally see Sage Gerard going into the women’s room and ranting about how he feels genderfluid today and so it would be bigotry to kick him out, so ha, checkmate, feminists.

Of course, it’s absolutely not worth making/blocking bathroom laws based on him and the handful of poopwaffles like him. But with all the hand-wringing about cis-men sneaking into women’s rooms and pretending to be women, the only scenario I can really imagine where that happens are a few shouty MRA protesters (and it will only be a few, because most of them are too afraid of catching girl cooties).

And seeing as Sage has been sneaking into the women’s room already, it doesn’t actually change much.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
6 years ago

Re: killer whales

He, when I’m chatting with my Sea Shepherd accomplices about what they’re actually saying my thesis is “Stop calling us Orcas; we have the coolest name in the ocean!”

It does seem likely that originally it was whale killer though as they were reputed to do that.

Ktoryx
Ktoryx
6 years ago

What the actual fuck is he talking about? Globally, the liberation of women has been STRONGLY corellated to the economic growth, health, and happiness of citizens.

Broken Butterfly
Broken Butterfly
6 years ago

@Argenti Aertheri
I feel nervous asking this (mostly because I’m used to being screamed at for asking questions elsewhere), but what’s the difference between “transpeople” and “trans people”? Is it just proper English? (like how “blackman” seems the same as “black man” to me, but I was taught to spell it the latter way)

And is “trans*” actual shorthand? Because I’ve been griped at for using that before.

Sorry if I’m being stupid; I don’t really get to hear much about any of this because of the aforementioned “being yelled at”.

guy
guy
6 years ago

Trans is used as a prefix (e.g. “transgender”) and black is not, so the space seems an odd thing to insist on. I guess it follows if it’s a shorthand for “transgender man”.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
6 years ago

Re: trans

It was explained to me that by saying trans woman you’re acknowledging the person is a woman who just happens to be trans whereas transwoman implies that the person is in a separate category that’s a different thing from being a ‘regular’ woman.

I do have form for getting this sort of thing wrong though, so apply salt as appropriate.

LindsayIrene
6 years ago

Speaking of US feminists doing things for women in Africa, Mara Wilson just helped a Gofundme raise $4000 for underpants and reuseable pads for Kenyan girls, to help ensure that they’re able to attend school when they have their periods.

Entropy Jukebox
Entropy Jukebox
6 years ago

Thank you for this piece, David. I keep coming back here every day, even though doing so leaves me feeling a little sad and more disgusted, but I love your posts and your ability to inject humor into what would otherwise be a grim task.

I’m assuming you (and probably most of the commenters here) have already heard about the BBC Extreme UK show on the manosphere; I watched it last night with my husband and, while it was only an hour and couldn’t delve very deeply into specific issues, did provide a decent overview and, we though, some very good reactions on the part of the interviewer, Reggie Yates. For anyone here who has not seen it, it is now up on Youtube:

Entropy Jukebox
Entropy Jukebox
6 years ago
Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
6 years ago

Speaking of women* helping women overseas I hope it’s ok to post this here. This is the project set up by some friends of mine. They’ve done the first trip but have been asked back so I’m sure they’d welcome any support peeps here can give.

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/storm-a-fighting-chance-1

[*There are some guys involved too but the women set it up and are definitely the ones who make it work]

guy
guy
6 years ago

@Alan

That makes sense. Not how I’d interpret it in a vacuum, but I don’t have control over the English language.

Probably shouldn’t use trans* in that case; it’s using * as a wildcard and would imply the lack of a space if it’s going to be specific.

Freemage
Freemage
6 years ago

guy: Instead of trans*, for the reason you mention, it’s preferred to use “trans people”, or “trans folk” if you’re feeling more casual.

And apparently I need to re-do my registration, too.

Broken Butterfly
Broken Butterfly
6 years ago

@Alan
Oh that actually makes a whole lot of sense! I’ll definitely remember that, thank you!

@Freemage
Not at me, but also good to know. Thank you, too! I’ll definitely remember both of these.

DepressedCNS
DepressedCNS
6 years ago

Sorry for the late post but this made me so incensed that I had to delurk. First of all, as others have said, female education is probably linked to country prosperity (This can be easily tested; go to the WHO data repository, download some data and test it yourself. It’s very easy, and I might add, fun). From a “purely empirical” “rational” and “scientifically justifiable” that statement is obviously still utter bullshit; just because something correlates doesn’t mean it’s causally related (Stats 101 stuff here), thus saying a “few acid burned faces is a small price to pay for less debt” is not only callous and terrible, it (like most callous and terrible things) is also idiotic. It’s like saying it’s perfectly rational from a purely empirical perspective to try and limit ice cream sales because they correlate with property crime (which they do, because both increase during summer months, but limiting ice cream sales would obviously do nothing to lower property crime).

I’m so utterly sick of people being all “let’s be rational about this” to justify their shitty beliefs and then just sucking at logic, and thinking they are all renegade or something for being willing to confront the unpopular Truth. It’s science abuse, and it’s why certain groups are distrustful of actual real science.

Slightly off topic but to the fellow stats nerds out there (I know you’re there because I’ve read your comments), have you read Stephen Jay Gould’s the Mismeasure of Man? He chronicles historical racist and sexist attitudes in science (from IQ testing, neoteny, to skull size) and then critiques the conclusions from a statistical perspective; there’s even a chapter on factor analysis! It’s lovely and I would highly recommend it.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
6 years ago

@ DepressedCNS

fellow stats nerds

Ah, as someone who knows about standard deviations etc. you’d be the perfect person to analyse the data from my survey about broccoli/tongue rolling correlation! 🙂

EJ (The Other One)
EJ (The Other One)
6 years ago

Slightly off topic but to the fellow stats nerds out there (I know you’re there because I’ve read your comments), have you read Stephen Jay Gould’s the Mismeasure of Man? He chronicles historical racist and sexist attitudes in science (from IQ testing, neoteny, to skull size) and then critiques the conclusions from a statistical perspective; there’s even a chapter on factor analysis! It’s lovely and I would highly recommend it.

Oh, that sounds fascinating. My reading list can currently be measured in parsecs but I may have to add that one.

DepressedCNS
DepressedCNS
6 years ago

@ Alan

Before we worry about variability first we’ll have to brainstorm the proper covariates; I recommend age, gender and floret size.

@ EJ

I really think it would be right up your alley (I may or may not have wasted several hours messing around with that reddit comment word frequency tool you posted a bit ago). The book is basically a synopsis of every MRA pseudo-scientific argument you’ve ever read, only from old academic geezers from the 1800’s instead of internet commenters. It was really eye-opening for me to read about the rampant racism and sexism from very prominent scientists (Paul Broca, WHY?). Even the attitude behind eugenics and IQ testing mirror current immigration debates in the US, despite being hundreds of years old. Stephen Jay Gould is most well known for coining the “Spandrel” effect term, a.k.a “why every evolutionary argument applied to social stratification is probably wrong”. He’s a great socially conscious scientist.

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