Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Feminist Discussions: In Which I Am Very Wordy

One of my recent posts about trolling women on the Internet using misogynist threats/insults got quite a bit of traction. While I was happy to see the interest and discussion, I was less thrilled with having to field a lot of “but feminists hate men!” and “feminism is a bad word, use something else!” and a whopping great pile of “mansplaining” comments on what Feminism “really” means and how I should talk to people (i.e. men) about gender issues without using scary words like “patriarchy” and “privilege”. It was both amusing and frustrating, as these kinds of discussions often are. It wasn’t unexpected, but it did get super repetitive.

Prepare yourself, this post is long, but thorough.

Something that should be noted: when you try to steer a conversation about women and discrimination into a conversation about men in general/how men also have issues/how Feminism “really” means man-hating…intentionally or not you are attempting to derail that conversation. There are times to have that conversation, and even times when those concerns are valid. But they aren’t on posts about women being threatened online, or pretty much any post that’s specifically discussing Not Men. You have basically the entire rest of the internet you can turn to for spaces that will happily have that conversation with you. That right there is one of the main reasons bloggers/activists/people get tired of talking to you about this subject. Try listening first.

Now, I happily identify as a feminist. But it’s not all I identify as and it was interesting to see how many people assume that being a feminist means not caring about other equality issues, like racism or homophobia or poverty. It was interesting because while Feminism is specifically addressing gender related discrimination and inequality, it’s not to the exclusion of any other problem. In fact, Feminism as an academic study, for instance, usually involves looking at ALL issues of inequality as interrelated and connected to one another. You really can't study gender issues without the idea of intersectionality. That's right, I have a Masters Degree in Liberal Arts. Can you tell?

One of the reasons gender issues are so important to me personally is that they effect one half of the world’s population, and it’s arguably the first “othering” most of us are subjected to. The gender binary seems to be the first way we define ourselves and the rigid gender norming of each begins at birth. We base a lot of discrimination on this first “difference”, and use it as an excuse for all kinds of problematic assumptions that lead to real world problems.

There’s also the fact that treating gender inequality effectively treats other issues, like poverty, child welfare, and education. So it has a pretty wide reach.

Now, I am NOT suggesting that gender problems are “worse” than any other. I do not believe in the Oppression Olympics. However, my Feminism does inform my activism, and the ways in which I address inequality as a human being. We all focus our attention on some things over others, but it doesn’t mean we don’t care about a lot of different issues. It’s just that there’s only so much of yourself to go around and so many hours in the day. I personally have a day job writing comic books, so, there comes a point when I have to focus my energy elsewhere.

For the purposes of this discussion, the general definition of Feminism: the radical notion that women are people.

It’s really that simple. Yes, there are lots of different waves of Feminism and many differing opinions on how to apply it and to what effect. This is because that while Feminism has a simple base concept, feminists are individuals and not a monolithic entity. So you’re probably better served by treating them as individuals, not representatives of every other feminist. You know, like you do with any person.

In that vein, here are my answers to the various assumptions about Feminism and feminists. You can also check out Feminist Bingo for some more succinct (and snarkier) responses to the same things. I’ll refer back to this in any threads going further where these questions/comments come up to save myself a lot of time and aggravation. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it's kind of like a "Greatest Hits".

1. “Well, this girl I knew in college/someone on Facebook says they are feminist and they hate men, so I think that’s what Feminism means!”

I say this with the utmost respect and kindness but: So what? People say all kinds of things in college when they’re just discovering how unequal and messed up the world really is. You can easily point out that no, actually, Feminism is just the radical notion that women are people. It says absolutely nothing about men as individuals being terrible or evil. It does, however, take a look at systemic sexism and how it undermines both genders and their ability to make equal choices.

Feminism definitely criticizes the patriarchy, which is the overall structure we currently reside in, which values “men” the general over anyone else when it comes most anything. It’s a system of power and all you really have to do is look around and see it working. If you’re a dude then you benefit from that structure, even if you don’t think you do. If you get defensive about it that’s normal, but it’s not the other person’s responsibility to make you feel better about it. It also, by the way, doesn’t mean that the patriarchy isn’t doing damage to men, too. It definitely is.

As for Facebook, people post all kinds of dreck on there. Like they do on Twitter/Tumblr/The Internet, that is not indicative of how every single person thinks or feels about something. If one person named Sam posted that they hate homosexuals I wouldn’t then jump to the conclusion that all people named Sam are homophobes. That would be silly. It’s up to you to look at the source and consider all available information. Expecting other people to provide you with an education in feminism on their blog, when you have Google at your disposal, seems a bit…weird to me.

This a legitimate question to ask yourself before posting: Do I really know much about Feminism? Have I bothered to check out any of the feminist blogs or writers out there? Read any Gloria Steinem? Susan Bordo? Lynda Nead? Erin Gloria Ryan? Dodai Stewart? Irin Carmon? Feministing? Jezebel? Feminist Frequency? Shakespeare’s Sister? Why is some idiot on your FB page the sole representative of a whole movement all of a sudden? Considering all the things Feminism has actually done for real life women (the vote, reproductive rights, pay gap, maternity leave, rape laws, etc) that seems dodgy.

Last, is it maybe possible that you might interpret the things said by someone who identifies as Feminist in less than favorable ways because you’re predisposed to be defensive about gender discussions? I know that can be really difficult to consider, but I run into it all the time. What a Feminist actually says and what is heard can depend a great deal on the biases of the person “listening”.

2.“Feminism has too many negative connotations to it so you should use a different term. Use humanist or equalist etc.” See also: “why do you label yourself? That’s bad.”

This gets a little tricky because my answer is probably going to seem somewhat hostile. But, the thing is, the royal “you” don’t really get to dictate what other people identify as. Nor do you get to define what Feminism is. And that’s particularly true if you’re a dude trying to tell a feminist woman what to call herself in a conversation about how women face gender discrimination. ‘Cos that’s some privilege-y stuff right there.

Besides, I refuse to let someone like Rush Limbaugh (who coined that obnoxious term “feminazi”) or his ilk define the movement. Civil Rights didn’t put up with that and I don’t see why Feminism should. Unlike, say, racism or chauvinism, feminism seeks to make life better for people of both genders by acknowledging the systemic issues of sexism. At the moment the group that’s most negatively affected by this system are women (though I absolutely acknowledge that this binary limits men in a whole lot of unnecessary and crappy ways as well). Those other isms seek to limit and dehumanize people who are not part of the power structure. Those are significant differences.

I also think it’s important to say when I’m looking at something from a feminist perspective because it is specifying the gendered nature of the discussion. I’m not going to shy away from that just because it can be polarizing. Sometimes we have to have uncomfortable conversations in order to move past a problem. If I’m talking about racism or homophobia or poverty I’ll use a different identifier. It’s not really that complicated.

Last, we all label ourselves, even if you’re saying you don’t like labels. That’s basically saying you are labeling yourself un-labeled so you will seem carefree and different, man. I get it, but, eh. Since I know what Feminism stands for I have no issue with identifying as such. It’s kind of not really my problem if you don’t. Other than having to constantly field it, obviously. Worry less about what other people choose to identify as and more about whether you insisting on them labeling themselves in a way that makes you more comfortable isn’t maybe a tad jerky.

4. "Some girls do stuff for attention!" or "A lot of girls aren't really geeks, they just say they are to get free stuff/wear skimpy clothing!" what? Are you suggesting that dudes don't do anything for attention? Because, seriously, no. I go to conventions, I've seen the spandex and men and ladies alike. Maybe our cultures obsession with valuing women for how they look over who they are has something to do with this "problem".

Also, is there a geek test that I don't know about? Because, seriously, there are a LOT of ways to be a geek/nerd/whatever. We don't all fixate on the same stuff. Maybe those girls are costuming geeks. Maybe they really love Buffy or Lara Croft or what have you. The length of their outfit doesn't actually correlate to the size of their brain or their dedication to a fandom.

Regardless, there's an important discussion to be had about objectification, but that's not really the point of comments like the above. They're just out to slut-shame women and pre-judge their value as a geek. Considering all it takes is being female in a geekysphere to get accused of not being a "real" one, I find the addition of what outfit a person is wearing indicating their intelligence or dedication dubious. Hell, I don't ever cosplay, but the commitment I see in some of those costumes? The details, the skills? Yeah, by that definition, they're a lot more geeky than I am in my store bought comfy dress.

4. “My anecdotal experience with x form of unpleasantness proves that racism/sexism/homophobia doesn’t exist” or: “white people can experience racism, too.”

Unfortunately, this is a prime example of privilege working its magic and turning unfortunate individual circumstances into universal “truths”.

In this case “privilege” is basically well, here, this is a good place to start (this one is male privilege centric):

Having privilege does not make you a bad person, but it usually does mean you’ve benefitted from it in obvious to subtle ways. And you probably aren’t aware of it. It also doesn’t mean you haven’t suffered or worked hard or earned things in your life. It’s about a system that allows for invisible privileges, not whether every single one is true for you personally. The above link addresses all that, too.

Basically, your personal experience is not necessarily relevant to the issue of systemic bias/discrimination. It’s relevant to you the individual, but our personal hurt feelings are not the point of discussion. You have to learn to separate that from the larger context.

While the word “privilege” may make you balk, it’s still the best term for the issue, and accurate. Plus, I mean, just how soaked in privilege are you that you think demanding that other people change their terms and conversation to make you feel better is going to lead to a better conversation? You’re sort of proving our point. And why would anyone want to indulge that? It won’t lead to a more productive discussion, it just serves to coddle those who don’t want to deal with the world the way it is.

It’s sort of like when people pull that whole “Why isn’t there a white/men’s history month?” Because aside from those two months that are about not that, that’s mainly what the history we’re taught IS. White, male, history. It’s also the default perspective ON history, with all the issues of bias that go with it. It’s one of those obtuse arguments that people think is really clever but is actually deeply stupid and annoying. So don’t do it.

4. “Why do people have to advertise the fact that they’re gay/a girl/a poc? Why can’t they just “be who they are” and not rub it in my face all the time like they’re special?”

Oy. The sheer fact that you think that sort of perfectly shows why we’re still struggling with issues of equality. You have the luxury of the culture not othering you constantly, where what you are is the default majority, whose perspective is more likely to be listened to, showcased, and revered. You also aren’t having your rights eroded or denied, and no one is silencing you regularly just for being “who you are” in any meaningful way. That time someone was mean to you online doesn’t count.

The entire culture caters, for instance, to being straight/hetero. It’s everywhere, in just about every ad, tv show, story, etc. The only reason it would even seem like someone being gay is “rubbing it in your face” is because you’re not used to having to consider that pov regularly. It’s the same reason people get all upset when people point out gender issues in male dominated spaces, or racial issues in our whitewashed culture. Whenever the other points out that they exist and are being othered, a certain part of the status quo gets offended and tries to silence it immediately. Because it’s so used to getting its own way and dictating the terms of the conversation.

5. But I still think feminists hate men!

Let’s try this again: Nope!

Moving on!


  1. A couple of years ago at the Pop Culture Association of the South conference, a guy gave a talk on "why girls can't be geeks." His conclusion was basically that the guy geeks drive the girl geeks out by being jerks, so girl geeks are assumed not to exist, therefore the guy geeks don't believe that there are girl geeks even if one shows up, therefore girls "can't" be geeks. My recap is way more convoluted than the actual talk, but it made sense. If a girl shows up in some sort of geek chat/forum thing and cops to being a girl, she's almost always either called on to prove her geek cred or told some version of "tits or GTFO" (in order to prove she's a girl). No wonder girls have avoided geek culture for so long. Heck, I self-identify as a nerd/geek (depending on what subject we're discussing) and I tend to stay out of fandom forums and such entirely just so I don't have to deal with people at all.

    1. Yeah, I keep having to delete comments on this post for that reason. They just can't handle a topic being not about them, and they want to dictate the terms, meaning, and application of the word "feminist".

      A lot of my job is interacting directly with different fandoms, which has thankfully mostly been positive (it helps that I have worked with the Buffy/Angelverse, True Blood, and other titles with large female audiences). But I still run into dudes every so often at conventions who don't believe I know anything just because I'm a girl, and a LOT of that online, especially from guys who read comics but have zero idea how the back end publishing stuff actually works. They assume I don't know anything when I've been doing it for over 10 years.

      Hence why I tend to get pretty cranky about the way geek "girls" have to overcome extra hurdles to be accepted, and even then, it's a challenge all the time.

  2. Its really exciting to have my eyes opened and realise there is are some really strong articulate authors/writers around challenging the assorted geek/creative worlds.

    I'd pretty much given up on comics and games as being almost inherently misogynistic, which isn't a great thing to accept. Its been public transport that's really rubbed it in for me - the number of books, comics, album game manuals that I go to pull out to read on the bus and cringe at the idea of the people around me seeing has made me increasingly aware of one of my main discomforts with a culture that I've always loved since I was young. I'm stoked to see that there is some hope in the future for art, imagery and content that I'm not embarrassed to be seen in public with!

    I totally realise that its something rippling away in lots of domains, the number of animated movies that have strong female characters that don't need rescusing, make their own decisions and look like normal girls and women is growing all the time. I love it that my niece likes Dora the explorer as much as Barbie (I kinda cringe at the Barbie, but its sort of where things are at...)

    Anyway, thanks heaps for such great posts.

  3. I had a great rant about why men SHOULD be concerned with gender studies (and of course, in recent history feminism is a large part of that) but it's apparently more than 2^12 characters long, so I'll post it over on Will Wheaton's repost of your blog. I enjoyed it though, and thank you for putting up with people somewhat shallow and giving a serious and reasonable response. It's a hard balance to address an issue without minimilizing people's personal experiences, but I think you do a good job here.

  4. ...Brilliant. Seriously. Very well articulated argument....And I think you mainly managed to avoid succumbing to the frustration of banging your head against the same brick walls so many times ;p

    "It’s sort of like when people pull that whole “Why isn’t there a white/men’s history month?” Because aside from those two months that are about not that, that’s mainly what the history we’re taught IS. White, male, history. It’s also the default perspective ON history, with all the issues of bias that go with it."

    Yesssss! Couldn't agree more. I have heard people complaining that there's no fight for 'men's rights' or 'white rights' which is unfair...that's because YOU HAVE THEM ALREADY BY DEFAULT >.<

    4. “Why do people have to advertise the fact that they’re gay/a girl/a poc? Why can’t they just “be who they are” and not rub it in my face all the time like they’re special?”

    "It’s the same reason people get all upset when people point out gender issues in male dominated spaces, or racial issues in our whitewashed culture. Whenever the other points out that they exist and are being othered, a certain part of the status quo gets offended and tries to silence it immediately. Because it’s so used to getting its own way and dictating the terms of the conversation."

    Yeah, and I think that's definitely what we're seeing here with the trolling stuff. I'd like the state that my experience as a 'gamer girl' i.e someone who is both female and who plays video games, has been overwhelmingly positive. I've had a majority of good experiences with friendly, laid back people.

    That said. There are a vocal, obnoxious MINORITY (who may well be the majority depending on the game you are playing and the age range concerned) who absolutely cannot accept women in games.

    They erase you out of the conversation entirely by either refusing to admit you exist at all ("MMORPG stands for 'Many Men Online Role Playing Girls" "Girls don't play games!") or claiming anyone who IS openly female is "attention seeking". So you really can't win with these people.

    ...There's also the third group who seem thrilled that you're there as it's an opportunity for them to hit on you. They then seem somewhat betrayed when you really aren't interested.

    So yah. To the vocal minority, you either can't exist, can exist but should shut up about it, or only exist to fulfil sexual fantasies :S

  5. i like people who fight for equality. but not feminists. feminists fight for perks for one gender. (if "male privelege" is flying through your head right now, try auctually being a guy, women have more priveleges, we may have a few social things that hardly even matter like "if a man drives badly it wont be equated to his gender". women cant be drafted. if we go to ww3, you wont have a rifle strapped to you and be sent off to die.) women do have issues that need to be addressed, as do guys but to target guys and say these people are the cause of all social inequality is kind of sad. tl;dr if you pick a side, you are not fighting for equality. and if you are going to be a coward and delete my comment, just you reading this has already fufilled this comments purpose.

    1. Except feminism is explicitly and specifically about addressing gender inequality, not women over men. That's entirely and completely false and always has been. And it tends to indicate to me that someone hasn't done much research about feminism at all. "

      Perks" for one gender is not, and has never, been the goal. And I don't target "guys". I target sexists, misogynists, and our culture. And I blame the patriarchy, which is a social construct, not individual men. It's all above.

      Women don't have more privileges than men, sorry. Most of the things you're listing as "privileges" are directly related to sexism that does not benefit women. You mentioned the draft. I agree, I don't think anyone should be drafted. However, the reason women aren't (in the US, other countries don't make this distinction) is because they are, because of sexism, deemed weaker and less capable of being soldiers. That's not a privilege in the way you're implying.

      I think the patriarchy and gender inequality damages men, in many ways and for many reasons. The rigidity about male sexuality and the way men are "allowed" to display said sexuality is one way, which factors greatly into gay rights.

      Sorry, but, your comment isn't exactly displaying anything new or different or interesting. I've heard it before. But, you know, thanks for implying I'm a coward. I post dissenting comments all the time, but I do moderate as well. Because at a certain point it's just redundant and there are loads of places on the internet that are not my blog that you can rant on.

    2. Also, man, there is some hardcore irony going on where someone posting ANONYMOUSLY preemptively calls someone else a coward. Wow.