The NS vs Movember, or, white cis men have an overwrought intersectional critique applied to them for once and cry

Note: This is a piece from december 4th, previously published as a page on our website – not a post. 

Today has seen a great deal fuss over an article published on the New Statesman blog. Called Why Movember Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be it looks at the possible racist, sexist, cissexist and heteronormative implications of “real men, growing moustaches, talking about real issues” (I think a few of these issues are pretty obvious from the tag line itself).

Personally, I find the piece silly in places, with a few good points buried within it. I’m not a huge fan of Movember. As with Children In Need, Band Aid and Race For Life, I think there’s value in interrogating the stereotypes and compromises at work (without questioning the good intent of those involved). Movember has always struck me as ever so slightly “Fathers 4 Justice” in tone and approach. Nonetheless, I’ve donated money to it and it doesn’t fill me with annoyance in the same way that, say, Do They Know It’s Christmas? does.

What interests me, though, is the response to the NS piece. People are pissed off! Really bloody pissed off! How dare anyone write this intersectional bullshit and get away with it. Here’s a sample of the comments on the piece (which are pretty unanimous):

This is why people don’t take lefties seriously. And I am a lefty.

I. WANT. TO. CRY. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Facepalming so hard that I’ve built up a callous. Ridiculous article.

Burst out laughing at the first mention of the word “racist”, then as I realized you were serious, I felt a kind of astonished pity.

This article was so stupid I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

And so it goes on.

The response on Twitter has also been damning. Stephen Fry’s not happy:

If anything will incite me to grow a moustache next November it’s this preposterous sub-Judith Butler drivel.

And Mic Wright is well annoyed:

That New Statesman blog post has made me actually livid.

Poor Mic! That can’t be nice.

But why are these people so angry? Have they never read anything like this before? I have. I’ve read plenty of pieces in which someone critiques a well-meaning project from an intersectional perspective. Usually I find, as is the case here, that some points ring true, others don’t. It doesn’t make me furious (and I’m not a particularly patient person). It’s just someone exploring an issue from the side of people who may or may not be marginalised by it. It’s no big deal, right? Oh, but this time it is. This time it’s not white middle-class cis feminism that’s in the dock but white middle-class cis moustache-growing (and yes, you could say not everyone growing a moustache for charity is white and middle-class, but then you could also say … well, I’ll leave you to work out the rest).

This time, it’s not feminism that’s being interrogated to death but a men’s project! A well-meaning, positive men’s project, aimed at making lives better! How dare anyone have a go at that! When a culturally specific group of men try to do something good, you don’t sit around examining the potential racist and cissexist implications. Hell no! You say “thank you” and let them get on with it.

With feminism, of course, the rules are different. With feminism, everything’s up for grabs. Men might find it absurd to have Movember called out as discriminatory, but I can’t help wondering whether they’ve ever bothered to form a position on women who are called classist for focusing on the pay gap rather than, say, FGM? Or accused of cissexism for identifying as female and calling reproductive rights feminist issues? Or called racist for writing about Miley Cyrus rather than Rhianna (or vice versa)? Or told they are abusing privilege by using their own experiences to gain publicity for a wider cause? Because this happens to certain feminists ALL THE TIME. Is it a problem? Sometimes, perhaps. It depends, surely, on the validity of individual arguments (and who gets to decide that? The privileged! People like, say, journalists who get annoyed about NS blogs!). Anyhow, it is most definitely normal.

I know what the answer to this will be: “well, if feminists want to indulge in in-fighting, they can knock themselves out. Just don’t drag my precious Movember into it.” But I don’t think that’s good enough. If white middle-class cis men (see what I did?) are outraged by one lone critique of Movember, this suggests they have no idea what it’s like to question their own privilege. They have no idea what it’s like to be called out. They are hyper-sensitive and entitled. If all intersectional interrogations of privilege so far have focused on women, then we need to ask a) whether this weight should fall on these women at all, and b) if the answer is yes, why we aren’t throwing the same questions in the path of privileged men. You could say “yeah, but that piece was just silly!” So what? If a silly piece causes such anger, what does this say about the level of unquestioning acceptance every male-led project expects?

Men such as Fry and Wright benefit from the “privileged white woman” trope. It deflects attention from them. I don’t think they are actively complicit in its promotion (oh, okay, Mic Wright is, with his whole Caitlin Moran obsession) but if they cannot see the inconsistency in outrage over one Movember piece and unquestioning acceptance of every intersectional feminist critique that has been published over the past year, then I’d like to point it out to them.

So you didn’t like one lousy piece on a charity event. It’s not as though the world changed. Get some perspective, and some empathy. And yeah, next November, grow a moustache, don’t grow one. It’s not as though anyone is actively, seriously, limiting your freedom to do so in any way.

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