It’s a question one cannot avoid asking or avoid hearing in this movement: Where are all the women? Females are noticeably absent, save for the wives who get dragged along to events by their husbands. Being female myself, people often ask me why I think this is or what can be done to change it. I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject, but since I have been asked about it frequently, it is a question to which I have devoted some thought.
The main factors that I believe result in a lack of female participation are a generally hostile atmosphere in the movement, minimal or non-existent social acceptability, and an excessively political orientation.
The overall hostility towards women is, in my view, probably the biggest factor. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a bra-burning feminist nor do I hate men. In fact, some of my best friends are men (all of them are, actually except for two) and I don’t approve of the way modern society tends to build up women at the expense of men.
But there are a LOT of bitter men in this movement. I’m sure you know the type: The ones who blame women for all of society’s problems, as well as for their own personal problems; the ones who view women as little more than baby-making machines and are resentful of women who do anything besides raise children; and the ones who think women are inferior to men (intellectually or otherwise) and therefore have nothing useful to contribute.
I can’t say if these people are in the majority or not, but it doesn’t matter. They are so vocal that one cannot avoid hearing them and any woman who encounters this, particularly one who is on the fence, is likely to be put off by it, if not driven off completely. No one wants to participate in an activity where they are being put down, denigrated, and criticised at every turn. Most people’s participation in anything is contingent upon feeling valued by other members of the group. This kind of anti-female language that is so prevalent does not make women feel as though their contributions toward activism will be valued, nor does it give the impression that this movement has something better to offer the average woman than does modern society.
But it’s not just men! I’ve encountered some pretty hostile language from other women, too, who believe that any woman who isn’t having a million babies and keeping house for her husband is a radical feminist. That is also extremely off-putting and sends the message that any woman who wants to be involved in this movement is expected to give up her own dreams and aspirations and focus only on having a family. However, having children is not activism. It is important and necessary, but it is not activism. Most women were born with a uterus and a brain and we are capable of using them both. Currently the face of this movement is entirely male and until there is a noticeable female presence, it will fail to mainstream.
That leads me to the next factor, the lack of social acceptability. Contrary to popular belief, women are not all that left-wing. In fact, women tend to become more conservative as they get older and have families. There are a lot of right-leaning women out there. And they are not participating in our movement. Why?
Most people do not seek out ostracism. Participating in this movement, especially openly, means having all sorts of unpleasant labels attached to one by default. Guilty by association. Many of our men may not have a problem with that and feel that they can “go it alone”, if they must, but women aren’t hard-wired that way.
To date, very little has been done to mainstream the movement. It has remained on the fringes, primarily attracting fringe individuals who cannot find social acceptance in other circles. This is starting to change, slowly. When women can join this movement without fear of ostracism and loss of their entire support network of friends and family, they will flock to it. It’s not that women don’t care. It’s just that there is not much in this movement as a movement (as opposed to a set of personal beliefs) that is worth potentially placing in jeopardy one’s reputation, livelihood, or physical safety.
This goes back to what I said about offering women something better than does modern society. Promising a woman that her only reward for participation will be becoming outcast in regular society is not particularly enticing (especially if it comes with a rigid enforcement of gender roles). But if and when the movement mainstreams, it will be in a better position to offer something more attractive and beneficial to women. Men can afford to hold to impractical ideological principles like multiculturalism and diversity, but women will almost always break ranks when it is in their or their children’s best interests.
Lastly, current means of activism offer very little that is of interest to the average woman. Most activism is centered on political activism. Conference, rallies, blogging, etc. are not activities that appeal to women, on the whole. Women generally are more inclined towards social causes.
Political causes are largely a man’s game. Politics requires a level of confrontation and competition with which many women are not comfortable, either because of their own gentler nature or because they have been socialised not to be aggressive in that manner. I get the impression sometimes that men expect women to be as enthusiastic about political causes as they are, not realising that by offering no other options for participation, they get either half-hearted efforts from the women who do participate or they attract Sarah Palin types who think they are honourary men and are generally an embarrassment to the movement. The remainder of the women just sit on the sidelines, not knowing how they can help and feeling generally useless and left out.
There is no organisation in this movement that focuses on the social problems of our people and no one coordinating efforts to solve those problems. It’s not that we don’t think political causes are important. We know they are, but they don’t engage our sensibilities. We derive a lot more satisfaction out of helping someone in need than in writing letters to our senators and the results of social activism are usually more immediate. I engage in political activism because it is essential, but I much prefer opportunities to help our people directly and in a tangible way.
Social causes are something women are historically very good at taking charge of and turning into a success. Our movement could benefit a lot from organisations whose focus is on helping people and the existence of such organisations would attract more women by offering them activism options that are interesting to them and give them a chance to utilise the talents they have. Women tend to be community builders and would excel at providing a framework in which we can offer services and support to our people.
Additionally, having groups whose purpose is to help others can put a more positive spin on the movement, helping to debunk the myth that we are all just haters. Any serious political movement should have an arm whose purpose it is to improve the community and the lives of the people in it.
So how do we put this into action and start attracting more women?
First, negative attitudes about women have to change. Make the movement more welcoming to women. Get rid of the He-Man Woman Haters Club- it is toxic to our movement and serves only to feed the stereotype that we are made up entirely of older, reactionary men who are living in the past.
Second, get those new women (and the older ones, too) involved in social activism for our people that engages their sensibilities and makes use of the talents that come naturally to women. Put them to work as the new face of the movement and they will not only attract more women, but also more men, increasing our overall numbers and the amount of talent available to us.
Once these things have been achieved, mainstreaming this movement will come much more easily, but until then, we will continue to have very little political power and our influence will remain limited. Women are essential to the success of this movement. Anyone who is serious about the future of our people should be making it a priority to reach out to women and make them feel welcome.