Feminist Men – Andrew Griffiths
All of the interviews in our Feminist Men Blog series are uncensored and unedited. We did not impose a structure and allowed the conversations to take natural turns. In some cases, interviews ran long and contained too many questions to include in the post. Therefore, the only curating that took place was in the interest of the length of the article. Enjoy!
M: I know that this is going to be a trick question for you but… do you identify as a feminist? If somebody were to ask you, are you a feminist –
A: Yeah, well ‘yes’ would immediately come off my tongue. And I really, strongly believe that there is no possible progress to be made in any substantial social justice, environmental or economic issue, without feminism being at the base of it.
M: Can you expand a little bit on that?
A: Sure, so basically for me feminism just says that not only are women, you know, entitled and have the right to be human, they also have a right to define what the fuck human is in the first place. Because that’s the whole problem: being human has been largely defined by men, and so we’re stuck with this definition of even what a human being is. So it’s not enough for feminists to say ‘you know, women have full human rights’, they have to be ‘women have to be able to define what a human right is in the first place, and what a human being is in the first place’ and it’s sort of that base level that it has to start at. Obviously, as a gay man, there would be no gay rights if there wasn’t a women’s rights movement beforehand. Just like there would be no real gay rights if there wasn’t a civil rights movement beforehand. They all developed more or less together over different times and different places. You know, by definition you can’t have lesbian rights if women are not, you know, empowered to define what that is. (haha)
M: (haha) Right.
A: And no progress can be made because homophobia is so bound up in misogyny in our culture.
M: Makes sense.
A: Yeah because, so much of what has been thrown against gay men from day one is stuff which implies that they’re not fully human, and the reason they’re not fully human is because they’re kind of like women. And women aren’t really human either. You know that’s sort of level one there. And then you just take any issue – the environment. How are we supposed to deal with the environment when women – 50% of the population – isn’t entitled to say how that can be corrected? Or they do so much work that’s not acknowledged. Just pick any issue. And there’s not gonna be any progress. It’s like when the Catholic Church says that they want to address poverty in the world. And yet they’re the biggest deniers of women’s rights in the world – one of them. How are you going to address poverty in the world, when you’re not going to address women’s rights and eliminate poverty for women? It’s like – it’s not gonna happen.
M: That’s interesting. Here’s a good one… Do you see some hypocrisy in the feminist movement or in what’s been happening recently? Or now that feminism seems to be back on the table because of everything that’s happened with the #metoo movement, do you see bad uses of it, or are there things that irritate you about how people are claiming it or abusing it?
A: Well, obviously, because part of it is is that, in order to be fully human, you get to be as fucking stupid as everyone else, by occasion.
M: That’s true.
A: You know that’s it. You get to make mistakes. You know, you’re not expected to be perfect, you’re expected to be human, and all that, so of course! And this goes way back, especially from a gay male perspective – there’s always been, and I think there always will be, some contention and conflict. So go back to the 80’s in Canada when they were having their hearings on new pornography laws. And Catherine McKinnon came up from the states, and she’s a right-wing feminist. And there can be such a thing as a right-wing feminist. And she led the whole campaign to support the new pornography laws, based on the assumption that any depiction of sex was an inherent depiction of violence. All sex was violence, all depiction of sex was violence: this was the kind of thing she was promoting. And the way she did it is she showed the male judges gay male pornography. And got them onside, because she knew if she just showed them straight pornography, they’d just get a boner.
A: So, she showed them images of gay male pornography and they went ‘oh yeah that’s terrible, that guy’s getting fucked up the ass, that’s violence’. And so, they succeeded in getting these new pornography laws in. And what was the first organization that had them used against them? A small lesbian magazine called ‘On Our Backs’ in Toronto.
M: I remember this. So there can be misuse and misguided –
A: Well, according to them there was no misuse or misguidance, there’s just some basic differences of opinion here. And just because the difference of opinion is coming from a supposed feminist or a woman, doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. You have to look at what they’re actually saying and what they’re actually doing.
M: Wow, I forgot about all that. Now, how do you respond to the idea that the men involved in the feminist movement, the ones who actually get involved, might bring values of patriarchy to that movement? Is there a danger of that?
A: Of course they do. Just like the women involved in the women’s movement bring patriarchal values.
M: So true.
A: So, it’s something that you always have to guard against, but really there’s no way around it if we’re to make any sort of progress whatsoever. Again, in any gay movement, are the gay and lesbian people involved gonna bring homophobia? You bet your ass they’re gonna bring homophobia, that’s the whole point. If they didn’t bring it, we wouldn’t need the whole movement in the first place.
M: So, how do you find you’re on guard with your own patterns, as an artist?
A: It’s easier in poetry, because poetry is much more performative or personal, so there you really just have to be sort of on guard for not parroting things. You just have to say ‘is this – what I’m saying – in any way interesting, or is it just really some kind of re-hashing of some fundamentally tragic idea?’ If this is boring and repetitive to me, why is it boring and repetitive? Because maybe then it’s just another patriarchal idea, another anti-sex idea, another homophobic idea that snuck in there that’s really unchallenged. So then, in doing that, do you find some obvious things like, in song lyrics, or whatever, are you using the word bitch? To make it obvious and blatant and everything. It’s like, ‘why are you using that word?’ Which is used all the time in sexual contexts and gay settings, which annoys the crap out of me.
M: Yeah, it’s true.
A: If you’re gonna get in to that submissive, dominant, degradation, which can be good fun for all involved, and if you agree to it, why not just go for it and why not call me a faggot instead of a bitch? You know, let’s just get to it. (haha) So can we just cut out the misogyny and go straight to the plain old homophobia please?
M: Can you readily identify patriarchal habits that you have in your work, or not really?
A: Mmm, sometimes. (hahahaa) If I have to. Oh yeah, only when they become counterproductive to you personally. Let’s face it, I mean, you’re not gonna change anything about yourself unless there’s a benefit or a negative cost to it. If you’re just kinda moving along and everything seems to be working fine, then you’re not gonna change anything until someone points out that that’s a problem.
M: How – either through your work or who you are – how do you think you can be the best ally, to coin the popular term right now? What would you do?
A: Like, girlfriend, get over yourself and just realize when something is none of your goddamn business. It’s like, so when is something none of my goddamn business? And my opinion doesn’t count. So, if some woman is recounting her story of abuse or whatever, then my opinion on that fucking story is totally fucking irrelevant. So, I listen to the story. That’s what you do. You shut up and you listen, which people have a huge problem doing, because they feel that their opinion matters. And it often doesn’t. Or if it does, then they don’t express their opinion in the right place at the right time. Where your opinion might matter, is if the person beside you says ‘oh look – listen to that whiny bitch, talking about her story’, well then your opinion matters. But it’s not about her and her story, it’s about the asshole beside you. And that’s when your opinion matters because you tell them ‘you’re being a fucking asshole. Shut up. Who cares what you think about this.’
M: Right it’s that fine line, right, of when to speak and when to shut up…
A: And when to listen. Because it’s not enough to just shut up, you also have to listen. You can shut up and think about, you know, kittens and unicorns, and not listen to what anyone’s saying.
M: Thanks Andrew, that’s fantastic.
Andrew Grimes Griffin was born a homo in the natural splendor of Prince Edward Island and currently lives his chosen life as a queer amidst the decaying infrastructure of Montreal. A poet whose first poem was entitled “My Mother Eats Jesus,” he has also written several plays, and numerous pieces of journalism. You may sample his wares at tankawanka.wordpress.com.