Interview with Activist Emi Koyama on Silencing and Male Feminists

portrait of emi koyama

It's upsetting when an activist group winds up alienating the very people they're supposed to be supporting. That's exactly what happened to long-time social justice activist Emi Koyama two weeks ago at the Forging Justice conference in Detroit, which was sponsored by the National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) and Michigan domestic violence and sexual assault agency HAVEN. During Koyama's talk, the NOMAS organizers turned off the conference livestream, so people watching online were unable to follow along. Koyama wrote a long, detailed piece on Shakesville about how some organizers continued to treat her in a way that was so upsetting that she had to leave the conference before it was over.

I talked with Koyama on Friday about took away from the experience and what's next for her.

What sort of response has your article about the conference received?

EMI KOYAMA: I feel like people have been really supportive, but the NOMAS people are largely silent. Largely, I mean, except a couple. On the NOMAS Facebook page, somebody who was not there at the conference posted a link to the article and wanted to hear peoples' reactions then one of the co-chairs said they presented a formal apology at the closing ceremony, which I wasn't there for because I had to leave. They didn't contact me or anything, so I didn't know there was an apology.  I'm not really sure who it was for, since I wasn't there.  It's still to be seen how the organization responds, we gave them till September to have a response.

You give a lot of presentations. Have you ever experienced anything like this before at a conference?

I didn't have a very high expectation of this conference because of my past dealings with men's groups, but they went under my expectations. For example, at [Portland Community College] earlier this year, there was a panel for Sexual Assault Awareness Month of men fighting sexual assault and violence. There were maybe two men in the audience, and the rest were women. What's the point of having a panel of all men if other men aren't listening? The whole point of having men in the movement is men can talk to other men about sexual violence and sexism. In theory, I think it's really important to have men in the movement against sexual violence against women, but in practice, I haven't seen it done in an effective way.

Does this experience change the way you'll approach activism in the future?

Sadly, this confirms my bias against male feminists. Obviously, there are many men who are feminists and supporters of feminism who are wonderful people, but as a group, it's a difficult thing because I'm not sure who are the good ones. It serves for me to be more guarded in a way than I necessarily want to be. When men distrust feminists, it doesn't hurt them at all. But when women distrust the men who are supposedly supporters, it makes everything difficult.

What do you think NOMAS as an organization can do to move forward?

I have no idea. It's such a big problem. It's one thing to talk to one person who was bad, but it's the board, the co-chairs, it's just way too big. I don't know how they can recover from all this. What the group of women who are talking about this decided is we can't talk about this. I don't know how they're going to find another co-sponsor for this conference. For someone to feel comfortable going there next year as a speaker, there's a lot that they would have to do.

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is Bitch Media's online editor. She's interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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