This afternoon tens of thousands of women are set to march from the Obelisk to the Pink House, demanding that the state does more to combat violence against women.
That inevitably leads to the question: What role, if any, should men play? Should they march side by side with their friends, colleagues and partners, or should they lend support from the margins?
In a post titled, What can we the compañeros do?, reposted by the organizers of today’s event, Ni Una Menos (Not One Less), a male activist has proposed that men stay on the sidelines at today’s protest, avoiding taking a leading-role in the activities or talking to the press. The organizers of the event have espoused similar messages during radio interviews.
The position would represent a departure from the previous Ni Una Menos march, when men were actively encouraged to participate.
The informal guidelines have unleashed a heated debate on social media, not just about the involvement of men in today’s activities, but in the nature of male participation in feminist struggle more broadly.
“At the end of the day, is this a problem of all of society, or just of one gender?” wondered Marcelo on Facebook, who suggests that sexist violence is a problem for anyone who wants to live in a just and safe society.
“I’ll march next to whoever helps to defend us,” writes Maura, who argues that, from a practical, strategic perspective, excluding men from the march and other “spaces of debate” does little to combat the problem of violence. The implication being that men need to participate in the debate if they are to learn ways of overcoming sexist thought and behavior.
Meanwhile, others draw on the idea that feminism is about creating a new kind of world, one in which the old male antagonisms — the exclusion of certain groups from the public sphere, the old discursive aggressions — are left behind. “Feminism doesn’t exclude, it includes!” says NinaLu.
The original post is written as a practical guide for men, and is based on a couple of ideas: firstly, that “the protagonists are and should be female.” Given it’s women who are murdered, assaulted, objectified, underpaid, discriminated against, overlooked, etc., it’s women who should be at the front of the march, talking to the press, dictating the course of events, and shaping today’s narrative.
But the nub of the post is the idea that male domination and violence is omnipresent, not just in political and social structures, but also as a dull, daily, unconscious, micro phenomenon. In this context, “attempting to replace the voice of compañeras, disputing their protagonism, invading their spaces to which we’ve not been invited, are also manifestations — though more subtle — of sexist violence…”
Imagine the woman who attends with her male co-workers, nice enough guys, with nice, progressive ideas, but a habit of talking over her, of trying to fix her hard drive every time her computer hiccups. What will her experience of the march be? Will she find a space in which she can reflect on the nature of a social system dominated by men, to articulate her thoughts and feelings on a question that affects all aspects of her life?
Obviously, a march is not free from power relations just because it has as its aim a set of demands about combating sexist violence and promoting the plight of women. It doesn’t happen parallel to society, it’s part of it. A march happens in real time and involves real-life encounters between people who feel their sense of gender and self very deeply. There are certain voices that sound louder, certain individuals who emerge as leaders.
In this context, the march itself offers an opportunity for women to unite and express themselves in a novel and empowering way. The word “space” has a tendency to be over used today, but it is a powerful concept. If you’ve ever attended the National Women’s Summit, you know the impact that an altered space, a different set of social rules, has on the behavior of women.
In a multitude of 70,000, the idea of men being physically or intellectually superior, of having any natural right to hold the floor, evaporates.
Standing on the edge of the march earlier this month in Rosario, I watched three teenage boys, uneducated and a little silly, try to ride their bikes through the crowd to create problems for the women. Without a moment’s thought, a woman stepped out and told them to scram. She was powerful. But it was the fact it was so natural and unthinking, that she was able to repudiate their foolishness with such ease, before returning to the march, that so impressed me.