Feminism is for everyone, but why does it seem as though those who insist they are "good guys" or self-identify as feminist grate on me?
It’s not that I don't think men can be feminist. I know many men who clearly align themselves with the feminist movement. The problem seems to be with men who self-identify as “feminist” as a means of gaining credibility or avoiding accountability. The problem is that many men who claim to be "good men" or to respect women, don't actually… well… respect women.
After his video “Blurred Lines,” was called misogynist and “rapey,” Robin Thicke responded by arguing that OH BUT it's ok for him to objectify women because he respects them so much! “We're the perfect guys to make fun of this,” Thicke said. Because HAHA you guys! Isn’t misogyny hilarious?
The deal is, apparently, that you can behave however you like so long as you plead feminism. “But you abuse women, sir...” “Impossible! I love women!”
I’ve heard it time and time again in my own life. Men believe they love women and that that simple belief or declaration erases their sexist behaviour.
Walter Madison, lawyer for the young men convicted in the Steubenville rape trial, painted the victim as “a party girl” and essentially accused her of being “embarrassed;” choosing to claim rape in order to avoid being labeled a “slut.” Despite his victim-blamey arguments, he told Ariel Levy that he considers himself “very much a feminist.”
And then, of course, there’s Hugo Schwyzer, who recently left the internet due to not only personal struggles but, according to an interview in New York magazine, because of vitriol from the feminist internet.
Schwyzer is clearly struggling with some very serious mental health issues and has a lot of personal work to do away from the feminist internet. But you’d think a self-described male feminist would know better than to blame “women’s anger” for his troubles. “Men are afraid of women’s anger,” he said. Hmm mmm. Women and their scary, scary feelings and opinions. Note all the men of the world cowering in the corner because women *gasp* feel angry. Man, I wish that worked.
The interviewer said: “One reason you became a punching bag is that there just are not many men writing feminist columns online,” prompting Schwyzer to complain: “If you look at the men who are writing about feminism, they toe the line very carefully. It’s almost like they take their cues from the women around them.”
Well yes. That’s the idea. While feminism is a movement that can include and benefit men and women alike, at the end of the day it’s also a movement to end patriarchy and has always been led by women. To say that “It’s very hard for men to stand up to women’s anger” is to imply that, somehow, white men in feminist spaces are being persecuted or silenced.
Women have long been silenced by being told they are hysterical or aggressive or out of control or “too angry” when they stand up for themselves or speak out. To call in such a sexist stereotype in order to gain sympathy displays the same kind of entitlement expressed by all these baffled men who say “But, but… I RESPECT WOMEN” when called out on their anti-feminist behaviour.
David Roberts (who wins the prize for sincere apologies and genuinely learning from one’s mistakes) got at this idea when he apologized for calling intern, Olivia Nuzzi, who recently published a tell-all about Anthony Weiner's campaign, a "social-climbing mercenary hobag" on Twitter. Roberts called it “White Dude Privilege Syndrome,” writing:
"This is the key first step in a bout of White Dude Privilege Syndrome, especially the specific variant of White Liberal Dude Privilege Syndrome (WLDPS). Very few bouts begin with deliberate sexism or racism or heteronormativity. We are not thinking sexist thoughts! Our intentions are pure! We love women! Some of our best friends are black! We are good people, dammit!"
It’s the idea that because one doesn’t see oneself as a sexist, everyone around us must also accept that one is not only not sexist, but is, actually, fighting for women’s equality. WITH THEIR MINDS, one supposes.
“The first step in WLDPS therapy is for the sufferer to acknowledge that it does not matter what was or was not in his head, or what he “really” meant. Part of privilege is the deep conviction that one is the absolute authority on one’s own mental states and thus the dictator of one’s own meanings — no one can tell you what they are, what you think, who you are, man. You don’t know me!”
So when men claim feminism as their own either to gain legitimacy in feminist spaces and conversations or as a way to excuse their misogynist behaviour, it makes me wonder whether men might be better off staying away from the title completely.
“I’m a feminist,” when coming from a man, always feels to me like demanding a pat on the head. “I love my mother,” they say, puffing out their chests, as though it excuses their visit to the strip club the previous night.
An evil man I was in a relationship with once told me I was being “cunty.” I looked at him with shock and disgust. “You realize it’s not ok to call women ‘cunts’ or ‘bitches’ or ‘sluts’ or any of those other gendered words used to degrade women, right?” I responded.
“Oh, well some women I know say it and they think it’s fine,” he mansplained.
“It isn’t. Especially when it’s coming from a man. Especially when you’re saying it as an insult,” I said. (As though being called “cunty” could be anything but insulting). CONTEXT PLEASE. This man insisted he was both progressive and feminist. He, therefore, was free to use sexist language against women. It wasn’t sexist when he said it!
Similarly, Thicke tries to pin his creepshow video on women. Supposedly he preferred the clothed version of the video, but then said: “I showed it to my wife and all of her friends and everyone's immediate response seemed to be 'This is amazing. You have to put this out.’”
That’s like saying: “But that feminist just called herself a slut! Therefore, it’s ok for me to call my girlfriend a slut.” Or, like: “But all those women are posting porny photos on Instagram! So it’s ok for me to creep their accounts.” Nope! Or, I suppose you can but don’t do it while simultaneously pretending to be feminist. Pro tip: We can all see when you “like” those #sxy #babe #hot #girls #asss shots on Instagram and we are all judging you.
“I don't want to be sleazy, I'm a gentleman,” Robin Thicke insisted on BBC's Radio 1. Well, too bad bud. If you don’t want to be “sleazy” then don’t make a video that’s essentially a celebration of male power and rape culture.
Men who insist they are the "good guys" without actually changing their behavior or interrogating their beliefs about women and what gender equality really means do more harm than good. It’s manipulative more than supportive. It’s silencing. And if you’re silencing feminists or objectifying women while claiming to respect us, you’re doing it wrong.
Men need to do much more than call themselves "feminist" in order to be allies, which is why, generally, when men claim the label "feminist" I feel more irritated than elated.
I want men in this movement and there are men in this movement. But the men who I see doing the work and changing their own behavior both in their personal and public lives to support women aren’t going around advertising their feminist status and demanding we all recognize. They’re just doing it.
So you want to be one of the good guys. You want to join team feminism. You want to respect women and be an ally. Awesome. Now stop telling everybody how much of a feminist you are and start acting like one