LAU­REN MCKEON

The Georgia Straight - - Fall Books - > KATE WIL­SON

In Au­gust, Google fired an 2

em­ployee whose in­ter­nal 10page memo sug­gested that women are un­der­rep­re­sented in the tech in­dus­try be­cause they are bi­o­log­i­cally in­fe­rior. It’s a fringe sen­ti­ment gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in parts of Sil­i­con Val­ley. Pro­po­nents of the doc­trine call them­selves “con­trar­i­ans”, hold meet­ings ad­vo­cat­ing to­tal sep­a­ratism be­tween the sexes, and ar­gue that gen­der di­ver­sity is a ploy to sub­ju­gate men.

They’re not alone. On Red­dit fo­rums, in pri­vate Face­book groups, and even in or­ga­ni­za­tions that have gained char­i­ta­ble sta­tus, there are voices that loudly pro­claim that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, and that gen­der equal­ity over­steps the bound­aries of male and fe­male roles. By cer­tain ac­counts, men’srights ac­tivists—both male and fe­male—are be­com­ing more plen­ti­ful, and more vo­cal.

Lau­ren Mckeon, au­thor of Fbomb: Dis­patches From the War on Fem­i­nism and dig­i­tal editor at the Wal­rus, has spent much of her ca­reer ex­am­in­ing cul­tural at­ti­tudes to­ward women. For her, it’s vi­tal to ad­dress the in­creas­ingly prom­i­nent hos­til­ity to­ward gen­der par­ity.

“I had a lot of peo­ple say to me be­fore I started this book that an­tifem­i­nism wasn’t a thing, and that fem­i­nism was an ob­vi­ous done deal,” the jour­nal­ist tells the Straight on the line from Toronto. “Op­po­si­tion to gen­der equal­ity was not in­creas­ing, a back­lash was not hap­pen­ing, and that any men’s-rights ac­tivists—women and men—were just in their prover­bial moth­ers’ base­ments. But if you re­ally do the re­search and start talk­ing to peo­ple, you un­der­stand that these ideas are spread­ing even as we want to ig­nore them.

“This ar­gu­ment that we shouldn’t shine a spot­light on the an­tifem­i­nist move­ment, or the alt-right, or Nazism, or any of these things we’re start­ing to see bub­bling to the sur­face—i un­der­stand where it comes from,” she con­tin­ues. “But I think the is­sue I have with that, es­pe­cially as a jour­nal­ist, is that there is a dan­ger of look­ing away from things that scare us. If we’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion to these is­sues, they grow unchecked.

How can you pos­si­bly en­gage with some­thing if you choose to ig­nore it? We have to be thought­ful about what kind of space and plat­form we give those move­ments. But when we don’t ex­am­ine them, we’ve al­ready seen some of those con­se­quences—like Trump ris­ing to power.”

For those who are skep­ti­cal about an uptick in men’s-rights ac­tivism, Mckeon’s ev­i­dence is com­pelling. Through a com­bi­na­tion of per­sonal in­ter­views and sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis, she weaves a per­sua­sive nar­ra­tive high­light­ing the covert and ex­plicit at­ti­tudes to gen­der pol­i­tics and, specif­i­cally, fem­i­nism. In a 2014 Ip­sos-reid study that looked at 15 de­vel­oped coun­tries, for in­stance, just 60 per­cent agreed that there should be equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for men and women, and that women should be treated equal to men in all ar­eas based on their com­pe­tence, not their gen­der. In Canada, that fig­ure stood at only 67 per­cent. Both men and women are in the re­main­ing third of the pop­u­la­tion— the por­tion that be­lieves that there should not be equal

op­por­tu­ni­ties for gen­ders.

By talk­ing to those who op­pose women’s re­pro­duc­tive rights, de­lib­er­ately si­lence the vic­tims of cam­pus rape, and back the ex­clu­sion of women from cer­tain in­dus­tries, the au­thor sheds light on the mo­ti­va­tions be­hind these po­si­tions. In Mckeon’s view, that rise in an­ti­women sen­ti­ment is due, in part, to a back­lash against fem­i­nism.

“I do think that fem­i­nist is viewed as a dirty word,” she says. “Many women who were part of the original move­ment say that be­cause gen­der equal­ity was so rad­i­cal and of­fen­sive to some, it al­ways had that con­no­ta­tion. Now there are men and women that feel that as women move closer to­wards equal­ity—the def­i­ni­tion of fem­i­nism—it is tak­ing away some of men’s rights. Equally, a lot of women who be­lieve in the fem­i­nist politic feel that the move­ment ex­cludes them—whether that’s on the ba­sis of race, or class, or age. It’s been branded with an ex­clu­siv­ity.”

Rather than merely point­ing out the ar­eas in which women are fac­ing re­sis­tance to equal­ity, how­ever, the book goes to great lengths to pose so­lu­tions. Mckeon calls for a new strain of fem­i­nism, where dif­fer­ent groups ad­vo­cate for their own in­ter­ests but come to­gether to fight for com­mon goals. She ex­am­ines ways to cir­cum­vent the bar­ri­ers thrown up be­tween women of dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions, and their re­sis­tance to how the move­ment is evolv­ing. Most im­por­tantly, though, she looks for ways to move be­yond the con­cept of fem­i­nism as a brand—some­thing that can be printed on a T-shirt or pen­cil case—to a work­able po­lit­i­cal move­ment.

“I think it’s im­por­tant that we in­ter­ro­gate all the ways that fem­i­nism has been at­tacked, all the ways that it’s los­ing ground, and all the ways that it is con­tribut­ing to its own chal­lenges,” Mckeon says. “But if you only think about that, it’s so easy to be im­mo­bile. Young women are car­ry­ing for­ward the ideas of equal­ity. They’re en­gag­ing with it, they’re trans­form­ing it, and they’re mak­ing it some­thing that they want. When I look at the fu­ture I see a con­tin­u­a­tion of that process.

“It’s im­por­tant to not lose sight of the fact that fem­i­nism aims to change things on a cul­tural and gov­ern­men­tal level,” she con­tin­ues. “It’s not as easy as say­ing ‘You’re now em­pow­ered’ and ‘Girls are cool.’ In pol­icy, and in the work­place, the home, and out in the world, there are many things that we ac­tively need to trans­form. They will not be solved in the next gen­er­a­tion. But I’m op­ti­mistic about where the next gen­er­a­tion is tak­ing us.”

In F-bomb, Lau­ren Mckeon mixes per­sonal in­ter­views with sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis to high­light a con­certed back­lash against fem­i­nism by men’s-rights ac­tivists.

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