Through an agreement with UK-based Alliance magazine, PND is pleased to be able to offer a series of articles about global philanthropy.
Twenty years ago, my partner — at the time avidly absorbing the complete œuvre of Simone de Beauvoir — introduced me to feminism. It was a revelation: I realised that people are not born as women or as men, but it is society that shapes and projects gendered roles, behaviors and expectations. "Traditional masculinity is just as crippling a venture as the summons of femininity," says Virginie Despentes in King Kong Theorie.
What a liberation! As a heterosexual young man, I didn't have to be fond of football, I could hang out with gay friends, and enjoy the exploration of what is female and gay, straight and queer in myself. It was the realization that essentialist projections don't do justice to the multitude of individual identities and experiences. And that binary thinking — man/woman, good/bad, black/white, yin/yang, nature/culture, body/soul, right/wrong — is at the source of much suffering. Binaries stabilize hierarchies and power relations; they kill the nuance, the complexity, and the inter-connectedness of life.
However, I didn't see myself in all types of the rich and sometimes contradictory variants of feminism. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau calls himself a feminist, but he doesn't shy away from digging, burning, and poisoning his country through his support for the fossil fuel industry. And Hillary Clinton's "Let's break the glass ceiling" looks like the same careerism that replicates the patriarchal values of achievement, competition, and "power-over." The multiple systemic crises the world finds herself in today need to be addressed through a broader lens.
Feminism offers that lens. Beyond the essential fight for equal rights and opportunities, feminism is an analytical framework that allows us to understand and denounce the dominant system of commodification and exploitation of people and planet through the right of the mighty. Women and girls are among the first and most numerous victims of that system, but they are not the only ones — patriarchy is inherently connected with ableism, white supremacy, and anthropocentrism. That makes feminism a systemic alternative to the capitalist/extractivist/patriarchist nexus denounced by intersectional feminists such as Naomi Klein in her brilliant 2014 book This Changes Everything.. Indeed, such intersectional, systemic-change feminism is a powerful lens for social change, including for philanthropy.
So what might "male feminism" in the context of a systemic conception of feminism look like? For a start, "allyship" is critical. Men should be careful about the space they take and be willing to step back if their voices are being heard at the expense of women. Working part-time and assuming care responsbilities, for example, also allows men to enlargen their condition beyond masculine sterotypes and expectations. It's not always easy — I'm working 80 percent, and leaving the office at 4:30 is a constant challenge — but, hey, women juggle much more! And, most of all, it is actually enriching to spend time with your child.
Feminists have deconstructed the female condition over centuries. Men should dare to stimulate debates about the male condition, and about the parts of their masculinity that have been harmed, morphed, and damaged by patriarchy.
Beyond men ceding space and power, feminism contributes to collective liberation and systemic change. It can guide our quest for radically different ways of organizing our societies and our organizations.
Feminist philanthropy is therefore not only about giving money to women and girls. It is not limited to "grantmaking with a gender lens." Rather, it is flipping the coin from a "masculinist" logic of competition, growth, profit, exploitation, impact, and targets (note the militaristic etymology of these terms) to a radically different worldview and mindset in all aspects of organizational practice. It is a logic of cooperation, regeneration, healing, care, empathy, and deep connection with life, humans, and non-humans alike.
It is a philanthropy of trust. It is building horizontal organizations grounded in sober and solid values of love for people and planet. It is embodying a systemic alternative through a practice of playful experimentation, hands on and every day. Philanthropy needs the liberation of a truly feminist transformation as much as society as a whole does.
Tobias Troll represents the EDGE (Engaged Donors for Global Equity) Funders Alliance in Europe. EDGE runs a Gender Justice Initiative and regularly trains funders on feminism.
2. ^ This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the climate. Klein, Naomi (2015).