Tue, Mar 19, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Can men be feminists?

After a group of women boycotted the Taipei Women’s March over the inclusion of male performers, three local feminist groups give their take on the role of men in the gender equality movement

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

At the Women’s March in Taipei on March 9, mixed-sex dance troupe Allure performs lyrical choreography in the rain.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

When more than 100 supporters braved the rain to march for women’s rights and gender equality at the third annual Women’s March in Taipei on March 9, there was little to suggest that a confrontation over the role of men at the march had been unfolding on social media.

In the days prior, several women had taken to the Women’s March Facebook page to express confusion and outrage at the organizers’ decision to feature male performers at the march, which celebrates International Women’s Day, and the perceived prominence of the men’s names in event publicity.

“It makes absolutely no sense that there are any male performers when a Women’s Day March should specifically center and showcase women,” wrote user Rachel McPhail.

“When you give those spots to men you rob a woman of being able to have her voice heard or her skills shown. Isn’t that part of what this is all about? So disappointing!” added user Catherine Daigle.

The controversy was a rare public display of a rift between women in the feminist movement.

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Though the majority of performers and speakers were female, that did not assuage the critics who objected in principle to any man being given a platform at the Women’s March.

Jaclynn Joyce, who also made comments about male participation on the Women’s March Facebook page, tells me that while she believes men can be allies to women, International Women’s Day is one occasion “where men should just step back and let women lead the conversation.”

“It is disrespectful and patronizing for men to have a voice at an event that highlights what women go through when it comes to systematic sex-based oppression,” she adds.

Daigle and McPhail didn’t respond to questions from the Taipei Times.

While Joyce and others confined their misgivings about male participation to the single occasion of the Women’s March, the response of the organizers points to a broader commitment by various groups in the homegrown feminist movement to reach out to men.

Women’s March organizers defended their decision on the grounds that the majority of the speakers and performers were female, and that their intention was to create an inclusive environment, “especially considering that in Taiwan there are certain stereotypes regarding ‘who should support women’s rights.’”

“Far too often the responsibility for gender equality falls on women’s shoulders when men should be held equally accountable for bridging that divide. When we reserve a spot for a male it is not at the expense of a woman, but as a deliberate decision to highlight the role both sexes play in achieving parity,” the organizers said in response to Joyce’s criticisms.

Crystal Liu (劉小妤), founder of the Women’s March chapter in Taipei, says that organizers invited many female artists to perform but found it difficult to secure appearances, with the lack of remuneration being a possible factor. Members of the LGBTQ community, including the featured drag queens, were forthcoming and “instantly” agreed to support the march.

For the record, Taipei’s pride parade, which attracted close to 140,000 participants last year, does not limit its stage to LGBTQ-identifying performers. Applications are open to “all who identify with the ideals of the parade alliance.”

Liu says that she can understand the thinking behind objections to feature male appearances at the Women’s March. But even if time and resources were unlimited, she would still include at least one male performer in the march line-up.

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