Maria Jesus Orihuela Bolaino is an intersectional feminist who is passionate about social justice. Maria’s passion for diversity & inclusion and her desire to destigmatize the word “feminism” led her to create a project called MenTalkFeminism. Based in London, Maria has a mixed cultural heritage being originally from Spain and having grown up in Germany.
She believes that change might happen more effectively if men talk with other men about the perils of patriarchy and the value of dismantling a system that hurts everyone. She speaks on these topics and delivers Training and Coaching in the areas of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Leadership Development, Resilience & Wellbeing and Career Change & Interview skills.
Maria, can you please tell us about your initiative MenTalkFeminism?
MenTalkFeminism serves multiple purposes: it is a way of curating male pro-feminist voices all in one place, a platform for pro-feminist men to advocate feminism through answering 3 short questions and publicly sharing their answers. The idea is for them to use their voice to help destigmatize the word feminism for other men so that more men can start to engage with the biggest social justice movement of all time and help further the cause of gender equality. Men take it upon themselves to highlight why feminism IS for men too, meaning why men should engage with it, contrary to the belief of some. It is also designed to create more visibility for the many pro-feminist men out there all over the world and to show everyone that the 2 words “men ” and “feminism“ are not in opposition to each other. Finally, the platform is an educational hub where men who want to explore feminism can find out more in addition to reading the entries, by browsing the resources that have been selected with a male audience in mind.
What was your primary motivation behind MenTalkFeminism?
To increase the number of men who engage with feminism positively and who understand why the world needs feminism.
I was gobsmacked and incredibly frustrated by the sort of conversations I was having with men about feminism. Ignorance, defensiveness and outright rejection were common reactions, and I just couldn’t believe this was the 21st century. I was wondering do we live in the same world; after #metoo especially do you see what I see, all the suffering caused by a gendered hierarchy, because if you did, you’d embrace feminism. I know that privilege provides us with blinkers and some things aren’t obvious to those with privilege but I was amazed that after all the public discourse around this in the past few years so many men seemed to still live in blissful ignorance and worse hold misguided views about feminism. So, I wondered what could potentially help men to view the movement for what it is, to drop misconceptions and to realise what a much-needed force for good for everyone feminism is. I thought that maybe having men, a huge number of varied male perspectives, explicitly make the case for feminism could help. I knew those voices are out there, but they aren’t very visible in the mainstream.
Whilst the feminist argument stands for itself regardless of who is the mouthpiece, as humans it is natural to be more receptive to what our peers, people with a similar lived experience, say. So, I wanted to create a hub, where those who identify as profeminist and male could build a bridge between feminism and those men who are less familiar with it/disengaged from it or suspicious of it.
The idea was that everyday male voices speak about why feminism is relevant to and beneficial for men. A lot of more prominent male profeminists tend to come from academia and have studied gender studies. I wanted to create a resource that’s accessible for everyone on why feminism is for men too without any heavy theoretical or academic explanations.
I wanted there to be a public record of male support of feminism and the reasoning behind that, to unite perspectives from all over the world on why men should engage with feminism.
The ultimate aim is for it to become normalised and in fact the norm that men self-identify as profeminists.
How have the responses been so far?
I’ve gotten mostly positive feedback about the initiative. You get the odd anti-feminist comment on social media as well as the odd exclusionary female feminist, but it’s been nice to have many people of all genders support it mainly. Many have DMed me on Instagram to say they love it. It was great to have many men in my network heed the call when I asked them if they were willing to contribute an entry. A particular highlight has been Tony Porter’s entry, the founder of A call to men, who I admire greatly for his work. The pace of entries could be faster though. I wish more men would decide to actually use their voice and leave an entry as opposed to just following social media accounts. I understand that it’s not for everyone and that it doesn’t mean those men don’t show up in different ways as feminist allies.
I just hope more will step in to create momentum and reach more men. While there are clearly themes, every single entry is unique and can speak to different people. You don’t know who you might be getting to with your entry. Especially with the 3rd answer on whether or not the poster has always embraced feminism. It’s super interesting to hear what has nudged men onto this journey.
It’s also a numbers game. I want the platform to have a gazillion entries, so it becomes absurd to suggest that feminism and men don’t go together for whatever reason.
Why engaging men in Feminism and gender equality is so essential?
It’s very simple, we need men to be on board or else we will never achieve gender equality.
If women could end sexual violence against women and girls on their own, we would have by now. If we could pay ourselves equal pay, we would have by now. The list goes on. Men’s engagement is crucial because in many ways we need men to stop doing certain things and start doing other things.
It is difficult however to get men engaged in something they perceive as threatening or over the top or unnecessary. If asked they might even say they support gender equality but not feminism, as if the 2 were not about the same thing. However, in the same way, it is not enough for white folks to simply not be racist and assert that we believe people of all colours should be treated equally, it is not enough for men to simply not be sexist/misogynistic and assert that they believe in gender equality.
As white people, we need to educate ourselves on the racially unjust system we live in and how we inadvertently contribute to it, we need to learn about our privilege and then be actively anti-racist which involves unlearning certain things, watching our own biases and behaviours and being an active bystander and ally.
Men need to go beyond “believing” in gender equality and show up as feminist allies in their everyday lives and help to actively dismantle a system based on gender imbalance and hierarchy. The difficult thing here of course is to get men to see that feminism’s fight is THEIR fight too.
Many believe it is a women’s movement by women for women, others believe it antagonises and disadvantages men, and therefore is not for them. Let’s be clear: feminism does ask something of all men. It demands reflection, accountability, change and solidarity, however not as a favour and not as a threat. It is an appeal to humanity.
In a world in which the balance of power is tilted towards men, the balance cannot be corrected without men getting involved. The balance visual however isn’t hugely helpful as it implies that men ought to give up something vital when in reality they gain and win too in a gender-equal world. This is widely documented. The myth of the zero-sum game is one I am hoping men on my platform will help dispel.
There are some, not many, but some female feminists who don’t like my project because they feel very protective of the movement and think that men should not be the voices to talk about feminism. I understand where they are coming from. In a world in which the default is male, we don’t want to centre male voices even more and drown out other voices.
However, I do believe that it is crucial that we have men talking to other men about feminism in order for the things that feminism is after to have a chance of materialising, the same way white folks need to talk to other white folks about anti-racism if we want to dismantle racism. This is the kind of conversation MenTalkFeminism tries to amplify. It is not men taking the torch and pretending to be experts on feminism, it is men getting behind feminism.
We live in a system that favours men in many ways and harms them in many too at the same time and whilst the men today are not the ones who created this system, they are the ones (inadvertently) upholding it by not challenging it and benefiting from it in ways that other genders don’t.
Therefore, it is still on them to help co-create a more egalitarian system. Let me be clear, we all, women included, are part of this system and other systems of oppression and when those are left unchallenged we become accomplices in the oppression. But it’s men who belong to the group of the oppressor in the case of gender and who live in that paradox of both benefiting and losing out, of harming and being harmed by the same system they were conditioned to uphold, and therefore they have a vital part to play in changing our world for the better.