Men, it would seem, are welcome in the feminist movement, but not together with the women. Atleast, according to the organizers of last Friday's big G8 rally in Toronto.
Arriving early for the "feminist picnic" with fellow Oxfam volunteers, we made posters, made up riffs on Tina Turner songs ("What's genitalia got to do, got to do with it?), and looked forward to another great afternoon of campaigning together for gender justice.
Even more exciting was when it was announced that the feminist contingent was to lead the multi-issue parade. But when we shuffled up there, a woman scurried over to me and asked what I'm pretty sure is not a standard bar pick-up line:
"Do you identify as a biological male?""Um, yes" I cautiously answered, wondering if it was a trick question, or at least what on earth it had to do with marching in solidarity for women's rights. She clarified that fast enough: "Then you'll have to move back in the parade, behind that banner there (a banner for disabled rights about 30 metres back). This front area is only for women and trans people."
"But I'm here for gender justice, with my Oxfam friends" I protested. Seeing no room for bargaining, I shrugged and said, "I disagree with your politics, but this isn't the time to have this discussion" and started to move back. A much more angry woman shouted at me, "You're always at the front of the line - take your turn back there!"
So for the rest of the parade I held up my carefully painted sign "REAL MEN ARE FEMINISTS" sign and marched with the Sandanistas, with the immigrant rights folk, with the tar sands opposers and Free Tibet-ers and Boshevicks, wondering how on earth me and my sign and my apparently offensive body parts would have weakened the message of solidarity and womens rights being expressed by my female and transgender companions up front. And for the rest of the rally, a few self-appointed penis-police continually shooed all men away from anywhere near the front of the march.
Thankfully, many other women I respect do not share this exclusionary opinion. Maude Marlowe, head of the Council of Canadians and one of Canada's most influential and progressive thinkers, had told us last week at the opening of the Peoples Summit that the feminist movement must be open to men, that progress depends on all of us coming together. Oxfam Canada is an open, inclusive organization dedicated to gender justice. The many dedicated feminists and progressive thinkers - female and male - with whom I have shared this experience all expressed surprise and did not agree with it.
I would dearly have loved to have the discussion with the dedicated rally organizers, wanting to know their reasons which are presumably based on significant experience and forethought, but that never happened. If any of you readers can help me understand what their thinking was, I honestly would like to hear. I spent the rest of the rally trying to stay open to any understanding of their rationale, but none came. Instead I kept having my photo taken and receiving big smiling thumbs-up from hundreds of kindred women and men, while up at the front a group of women and transgender folk were demanding justice and equality from the patriarchy but not allowing men to be part of that message.
Happy ending - the even bigger rally Saturday had a strong Oxfam contingent of all genders marching together with the strong message of gender justice. The perfect ending to an imperfect but immensely satisfying and challenging time in Toronto.