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!"
Again...so 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): http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/
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!