White Knights: The Problem With Praising Male Feminists

On 14th October, Ched Evans – footballer and all-around dick – was found not guilty of raping a woman in 2012. After a two year stint in jail and a staunch maintenance of his innocence, Evans was allowed to launch an appeal of April this year, the basis of which apparently rests on the claim that the woman in question (whose anonymity is protected) was not too drunk to consent to sex. Similarly, the ‘not guilty’ verdict seems to be the result of a horrifically invasive trial in which the woman’s sexual history was exposed to the public – because, as we all know, a woman having the audacity to have had drunk sex in the past and not remember it automatically means that rape isn’t a viable verdict.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, this verdict caused the meninists and misogynists of the Internet to rise and crow with delight. Although the comment threads I perused on Reddit proved to be remarkably sympathetic towards the woman who was, essentially, slut-shamed in court, browsing the Ched Evans hashtag on Twitter turned out to be more of a mixed bag. For every insightful article on how this case could deter women reporting rape (in itself a huge and problematic outcome of the case), there were numerous proclamations on how ‘justice’ had finally been served, how any other reaction than horror to using women’s sexual history in rape trials was ‘complete drivel’ and, most terrifyingly, rape threats to women who protested this verdict and the rape culture that still continues to dominate our society.

One of the most interesting responses, however, came from English musical duo Rizzle Kicks who described the verdict as ‘fucking vile’. Shared on their official Twitter account, the statement disputed the overturning of Evans’ sentence, asking the pertinent and salient question of ‘What’s a woman’s sexual history got to do with whether or not she was raped?’

An important, vital point; raised by countless numbers of women in the aftermath of the trial. Yet, for some reason, Rizzle Kicks’ reaction seemed to garner considerable praise, and nowhere near as much abuse. Of course, the statement of two male musicians is going to generate more attention than the response of say, The Everyday Sexism Project or Women’s Aid, two organisations whose very ethos is to highlight sexism and abuse directed towards women. Rizzle Kicks’ statement reaches a lot more people who might initially be sceptical about the use of previous sexual history in such cases or cynical about the level of misogyny in society – an undoubtedly positive result of their reaction. Yet the proliferation of comments lauding Rizzle Kicks’ statement, mostly in the vein of ‘we need more men like you to speak up’ highlights more than just support for the immediate issue.

Why do we need more men like Rizzle Kicks to speak up? Why does society as a whole congratulate men for supporting feminist causes? And why does a man’s (unquestionably sincere) opinion matter more than a woman’s in cases such as these – when do you see a woman applauded for stating the obvious?

This is a recurring theme in feminist movements, with initiatives like Emma Watson’s He for She campaign which encourages men to be vocal about their support for gender equality. Although this smacks a little of men as knights in shining armour swooping in to save suffering women, there’s no doubt that male support – just like that of Rizzle Kicks – is imperative in achieving change. Sometimes it feels like feminism is like an echo chamber: urgent, obvious and all-encompassing to those who already identify with the movement. And sometimes it can feel like no one else is really listening outside this like-minded bubble, so much so that there’s a genuine sense of relief when support arrives from an unexpected, high-profile corner. But more than that, there’s the sense that in such a patriarchal, male-dominated world, getting the crucial cooperation of men might eventually lead to a widespread change in attitude. In a world where women’s individual worth is regularly associated more with their relationships with men – wives, mothers, sisters, daughters etc. – than their own status as people, it makes sense to vocally support men who identify as feminists. After all, men who are prejudiced against feminists are much more likely to listen to other men than the scary man-hating lesbians of popular lore.

When such online abuse is a normal, day-to-day part of women’s interactions on social media, men standing up for women’s rights is always welcome – in such cases, it is often less about a male-female dichotomy and more about being a decent human being. It’s important for people, regardless of gender, to speak out if they see an injustice happening before them, but it’s about time that we stopped congratulating men for simply doing the right thing. If women protest and receive no flurry of praise, then we should probably treat men’s protestations in exactly the same way – because isn’t that the point of gender equality?
[Rachel Walker]

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