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"I'm not a feminist. I love men!"

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you'll know I hold very little in common with the Religious Right. I do not, for example, believe that homosexuality is a sin, or that Teh Gayz are all destined for the fires of Hell. I don't much cotton to the notion that the government of the United States should be replaced with a Christian theocracy. Nor do I believe there is a hidden secret agenda of the Godless to drive this great nation into the ground--I think the anti-intellectualism displayed by so many on the Right is doing that job well enough, thanks.

But there is one thing I admire about the Right, and that is their fearsome, epic ability to frame discussion about any topic they care about by crafting a point and then keeping tenaciously, ferociously on point.

"I'm not a feminist. I love men!"

One of the ways the Right has been brilliantly successful at framing the public discourse is in the way they've controlled how we think about women. And by "we" I don't mean "people on the right," I mean everyone.

Even folks who ought to know better.

"I'm not a feminist. I love men!"

The areas of the Internet I frequent are not areas where the Right often appear. I tend to spend my time online in forums that talk about non-traditional relationships, progressive social issues, technical and scientific subjects, and skepticism.

And there's something really striking about all these places. The Right may not be present there, but the ideas of the Right are. Even, interestingly, in people who claim to despise the Right.

"I'm not a feminist. I love men!"

There's no place this is more obvious than in conversations about the Dread F Word. No, not that Dread F Word, the other Dread F Word.

Find yourself a progressive, generally respectful, tolerant, otherwise with-it person. Man or woman, it doesn't make much difference. Just find someone who thinks there's room for a multiplicity of views in the public ideosphere. Someone who, if he or she is religious, doesn't think God commands converting the heathens at the point of a sword. Someone who thinks that people ought generally to be treated well,and that religion isn't the basis for the formation of a Western representative government. Someone who will agree that racism is a bad thing, even if it's not entirely clear what we should do to get rid of it.

Now ask that person a simple question: "What is feminism?"

See that? Something very strange happens. For a brief moment, when that otherwise progressive, generally agreeable person starts talking, it's as if Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity stuck his hand up your interlocutor's ass and made his or her lips move. For that brief instant, that person, that otherwise agreeable and not at all racist or sexist person, becomes a meat puppet for Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Hannity, and his ilk.

Even if that person would be horrified at the thought of listening to their shows.

"I'm not a feminist. I love men!"

Think about what goes through your mind, dear reader, at the word "feminist." Do you think "shrill"? "Strident"? "Misandrist"? "Humorless"? "Man-hater"? "Feminazi"? Does an image pop into your head of a woman who wants to get ahead by tearing down men, a woman who blames men for her own shortcomings, a woman who wants to cause trouble because she can't succeed on her own? Do you picture someone who, even if she perhaps has the right intentions, has totally gone overboard, accusing all men of being sexist (or worse, of being rapists)?

Guess where those ideas come from? I'll give you a hint: Not from actual feminists.

Now, don't get me wrong: any sufficiently large group of people is going to contain extremists, bad apples, and destructive folks. If you look at doctors in general, you'll find the occasional cynical lying fraud like Andrew Wakefield--but we don't say all doctors are frauds who deliberately publish articles they know to be fabricated. There are probably a small number of extremists out there somewhere who hold something that might reasonably be within spitting distance of some of the stereotypes about feminism.

But the idea that this is what most or all feminism is about? Sheer, brilliant, amazing PR by the Right. Where did you get those ideas? You got them from the Right, even if you don't know it.

You probably think you didn't get them "from" everywhere. You simply know them to be true. Everyone knows them to be true, right? And that's the crux of the brilliance: if you repeat an idea often enough, everyone, even folks who ideologically despise you, will come to accept it as just true.

Feminists hate men. Everyone knows it. Because we've all heard it, even if we don't exactly remember where we've heard it from.

Are there women who are angry? Oh, yeah, you bet. What's amazing is not that women are angry, but that more women aren't more angry. All the dudebros I've personally met get a whole lot angrier about things a whole lot more trivial--for instance, the notion that they shouldn't grope those hot somethingsomethings at that con without, you know, asking them first. (Scientist Hope Jahren actually had a colleague ejaculate in an envelope and leave it in her mailbox when she dared to think that she might be worthy of a spot on a serious scientific research team...and this isn't even an isolated or extreme example of the kind of shit women deal with every day. And men say women are angry? Seriously, what would we say about women if they thought it was appropriate to protest the presence of a man on a research team by shoving a used tampon into a mailbox? Seriously, it amazes me that every woman on earth does not, at some point, climb a clock tower with a rifle. I guaranfuckingtee you that if the roles of men and women were reversed tomorrow, we'd see a whole lot of dudebros doing exactly that.)

"I'm not a feminist. I love men!"

The idea that feminism means hating men has been so skillfully inserted into the public discourse that it's accepted as a premise in almost any dialog about men and women. And it's a corrosive idea. It distorts conversation. If you accept this premise, a whole lot of things that would otherwise seem unreasonable--indeed, even offensive--start to sound reasonable.

What is feminism?

It's the idea that men and women are both people, equally deserving of agency. That's it. That's the whole package.

What separates feminism from humanism, then? Centuries of institutional, systematic inequality, that's what. Saying "I think men and women are equal" is all fine and dandy, but if you ignore the fact that we live under a system that treats, in a thousand ways, men and women as decidedly unequal, congratulations! You've just won a Nobel Prize in Missing The Point, which you will be sharing with approximately two and a half billion other luminaries in point-missing.

If you think women are people, congratulations, you're a feminist! And if you don't, well...the alternative, it seems to me, is "asshole."

If you reject this notion of feminism, because everyone knows it means something else, ask yourself: How do you know? Do you know from actually talking to women, or because you've heard of this one person who said this feminist this one time said all men are rapists and should die? And if it's the latter, ask yourself...how did he know that? And more to the point, who benefits from this particular notion of feminism? (I'll give you a hint, bro: it ain't women.)

End note: At this point, I know, I just know, that some of you have fingers already all a-tingle to send me a private email telling me pretending to be a feminist is a great strategt for getting laid. Seriously, don't bother.


( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 8th, 2014 10:55 pm (UTC)
Preaching to the choir. I find it silly that feminists should shun men.
May. 8th, 2014 11:00 pm (UTC)
Enh. Tell it to the feminists that use acronyms like PIV and express sentiment like "PIV is always rape, okay?"

May. 8th, 2014 11:09 pm (UTC)
Like I said, any sufficiently large group of people is going to contain extremists, bad apples, and destructive folks. If you look at doctors in general, you'll find the occasional cynical lying fraud like Andrew Wakefield. Yet we don't say "all doctors publish fraudulent journal articles for profit."

Yep, there are enough feminists out there that you can always find one or two whackos. If you try to cast this as some sort of default feminist position, though...well, you've been played, my friend.
(no subject) - fin9901 - May. 8th, 2014 11:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - May. 8th, 2014 11:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fin9901 - May. 9th, 2014 12:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tatjna - May. 9th, 2014 12:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tcpip - May. 9th, 2014 05:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fin9901 - May. 13th, 2014 01:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - May. 13th, 2014 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - May. 21st, 2014 02:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - May. 13th, 2014 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sweh - May. 9th, 2014 02:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ashbet - May. 13th, 2014 06:48 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 9th, 2014 02:11 am (UTC)
I agree that saying you are not a feminist because feminism hates men is ridiculous but there are good reasons to not identify as a feminist. Feminism in the past and present has failed massively at being a movement which accommodates anyone but the most privileged of women - cisgender white etc. Of course many feminists try and take an intersectional approach and be inclusive of other marginalized groups and I greatly admire many of these feminists but there are still enough transphobic feminists alone for me to be uncomfortable calling myself a feminist. Many prominent feminists have spewed transphobia - Sheila Jeffreys, Germaine Greer, Janice Raymond, Julie Bindel, Gloria Steinem - and many more non-famous feminists are inspired by them. The term TERF was coined for a reason. Saying that marginalized people must identify themselves as part of a group that has aided in their marginalization and if they don't they are an "asshole" seems to me to be quite frank the kind of thing an asshole would say.
May. 9th, 2014 03:56 am (UTC)
You may want to re-read; what I actually said was if you don't think women are people, you're an asshole.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - May. 9th, 2014 10:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - May. 10th, 2014 04:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ashbet - May. 13th, 2014 06:49 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 9th, 2014 02:18 am (UTC)
"Now, don't get me wrong: any sufficiently large group of people is going to contain extremists, bad apples, and destructive folks. "

There's also the squeaky wheel factor; the loud mouths get the exposure. I call them "the vocal minority" (to compete with the "moral majority" bullshit).

Batshit stupid feminists will get the press exposure because they're batshit stupid, not because they're feminist. But they get labelled "feminist" and so that becomes the association people get.

FWIW, I think the term "feminist" has been too polluted. When you ask "what is feminism" the answer I have is "I've no idea". Because there's so many contradictory sources.

Of course you then say "women are people" and I have a "well, duh! Big red truck!" response. I'm afraid I just don't grok any other view point.

So I think we might be hitting a semantic issue; the _term_ "feminist" vs "what it means to be feminist". In this respect I think the "right" has won; they've polluted the word and made it a 'dog whistle' term that stops people have reasonable and rational debate. I'm not sure where we go from here. Articles like yours are preaching to the choir. We know this. And it's not gonna make the blindest bit of difference.

Should we stop using the term "feminist"? Consider it too polluted? Come up with a different phrase? Or do we try to rehabilitate the word? (c.f. "gay").
May. 9th, 2014 04:05 am (UTC)
The problem with coming up with a different word is that it doesn't solve the problem. Any word anyone comes up with will also be polluted. It isn't the word that's the problem. The problem is the Right fundamentally embraces the notion that women should be subordinate to men, and is extremely effective at painting anyone who disagrees as a man-hating radical.

In other words, it's the idea that women are people, not the language used to express that idea, that is attacked.

Accommodating the right by adopting different language won't change anything. They've polluted many words and they can pollute many more.

Instead, I think the solution is to stop allowing the Right to frame discourse. They're effective at it because they understand the value of repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition. Even progressives reflexively think "feminazi" when they hear "feminist." One man did that. Just one man.

So, reject that framing. Counter the stereotypes. Let people know that by adopting that framing, they're playing into the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannities of he world. When did we allow the loudmouths on the Right to set the terms of engagement? When did we cede to them the ability to decide what words mean?
May. 9th, 2014 01:16 pm (UTC)
It's probably the last couple of years I've spent on tumblr, where it seems extremism is more the norm, but while I absolutely agree with you that most feminists are exactly as you describe, the extremist minority is larger and more vocal, in my experience, than you imply.

I believe passionately in equality. I am absolutely pro-choice. I believe in the need to promote consent culture. I think Men's Rights Activists are moronic trolls. And yet, I am uncomfortable calling myself a feminist because I don't want people to confuse me with the extremist assholes.

Of course, the same can be said of a lot of labels - they're all reductive in some fashion, because the human brain has a tendency to simplify and create stereotypes.
May. 9th, 2014 02:00 pm (UTC)
I think it's for this exact reason that it's so important for more rational, inclusive people to call themselves feminists. So that over time, there will be fewer occasions where feminism is linked with words like 'feminazi' and 'extremist'. I think it's critical to break down the stigma - we're so busy defending what feminism is, or our right and reasoning behind calling ourselves feminists that it takes away from discourse on actual issues.
(no subject) - ashbet - May. 13th, 2014 06:52 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 9th, 2014 05:18 pm (UTC)
I agree with the original essay.
Communication is not easy. When words like feminism get distorted by assumptions and attempts to manipulate the discourse, which is exactly what the "right" is successfully doing, it makes clear communication between people that much harder.
However, we all have personal responsibility when we communicate with one another to check our own assumptions, state those assumptions within the conversation, especially if they could be mid-interpreted, and treat each other with respect. Respect should include an understanding that ideas can be debated and discussed but that does not mean attacking people directly.
I sadly find few lack even the awareness that they are making assumptions every time they make a decision, it is especially rare to find people with the desire and intellectual rigor to examine the assumptions that create the foundations for their beliefs.
- A Woman
Linda Sager Kazalski
May. 9th, 2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
Well said! I'm a feminist. I adore men. Most of my best friends are men. On the other hand, I would really appreciate making a decent salary equivalent to that men make for the same type of work. I resent the fact that I can't live my life without being wary and careful to avoid situations where I could be sexually assaulted.
May. 9th, 2014 11:55 pm (UTC)
Most people have a totally inaccurate understanding of what feminism is. While there are women out there who think that women are superior to men, feminism is simply the desire to have equal rights and responsibilities, such as equal pay for equal work with that of men. There is also the secondary definition of feminism as to being effeminate. There is nothing wrong with wanting equality or with choosing to embrace a feminine look. Personally, I don't take the attitude of men being inferior as a gender, and I am a feminist. I know numerous people of both the male and female gender whom I perceive to be inferior to myself for one reason or another, but that's another topic all together, and I didn't come here to initiate troll-fest 2014.
May. 10th, 2014 05:37 am (UTC)
This is exactly why I don't identify as a Nazi. Because I support the right for Jews to murder and enslave everyone. [/sarc]
May. 11th, 2014 04:40 pm (UTC)
I think you may be over-simplifying by ascribing all the bad press to "the right". I live in Europe so I don't follow US media as much, but I do know that "feminism" itself is strongly divided internally to the point it's probably inaccurate to say there is one feminism unified under a "women are people" banner.

A couple of years ago I delved into various fora and blogs about feminism as it relates to comics - the reason being that I had started a webcomic and wanted to avoid potential stereotypes and obvious pitfalls in the depiction of women characters. Now, the fora in question were completely dominated by what I later learned to identify as radical feminists (radfems). If I hadn't stuck around long enough to figure out how heavily policed these communities were for ideological purity, I'd probably be convinced now that all feminists are batshit crazy. Fortunately I discovered the opposing camp of sex-positive feminists (sex-pozzies). But anyway, I don't think Rush Limbaugh (whoever that is) had anything to do with shaping my impression of the radfems. The mere fact that a good portion of feminists feel the need to self-identify as "sex-positive" to differentiate them from unqualified feminism should give us reason to worry...
May. 13th, 2014 04:24 am (UTC)
I didn't call myself a feminist for a long time because I kept getting shit from self-identified feminists who would yell at me that I was supporting the patriarchy by wearing skirts (which I do for comfort, because I can't wear fitted pants or skirts without pain from my fibromyalgia), or that I was betraying feminism by not working because I'm disabled. I ran into enough of that and said "Fuck this." Not to mention the TERFs who said horrible things about my once-fiance and my girlfriend just because they're trans. And the "BDSM is always abuse" type, even though I can't sub to men, and only do kink play with women.

I've found a much... well, more reasonable... group of feminists since then and I now identify as a feminist, but it took me awhile of getting over the harassment from feminists that had been directed at me. I'm pretty vocal about it now, but at one point in my life, I had so much other stuff going on that I really didn't want to deal with that, and didn't know where to look to find groups that weren't like that.
May. 17th, 2014 03:26 pm (UTC)
The problem is that there are (at least) two kinds of people who call themselves "feminist".

You have those who, sensibly, believe women should have equality with men. Be treated as people, human beings, respected, paid the same for the same work and so on. Such feminists recognise that we have come far in recent decades but more remains to be done. They are realistic enough to realise that the world cannot generally be changed overnight. They don't seek to turn the patriarchy (real and perceived) on its head and produce a female dominated world. They want everyone to get along as equals. This is laudible and I would hope any sensible person agrees. We may not all have the time to fight for it but it seems perfectly sensible.

And you have the radfems who - in my experience - genuinely DO hate men and see patriarchy everywhere. To the extent that a man paying a nice compliment to a woman is irrevocably seen as an attempt to get into her panties. Such a man must be treated as a rapist because they genuinely think that's how he will turn out. The believe that a marriage - even one where the woman "wears the trousers" is seen as giving into the patriarchal society. Any participation in mainstream western society is shunned as giving into the patriarchy.

There is no doubt that much is wrong with western society, that much has been done to improve it and more remains to be done. But there do exist radfems, feminazis and other unpleasant characters who blame everything and anything on males, assume that all males are deliberately and knowingly intent on retaining their unjust hold over females. I have met several such people and attempted to engage them in rational discussion of our varying viewpoints only to end up with the end statement "Your opinion does not matter because you are a man". Which has NOTHING to do with equality and rather proves my point that such people who call themselves "feminist" are not into equality at all.

I do move in non-conformist circles. And in the last decade I have seen a worrying rise in the number of women who are extremist in their anti-male beliefs. The kind of quotes below ("heterosexual sex is the pure, formalized expression of contempt for women’s bodies" as one example) are becoming more prevalent. I have witnessed heterosexual women badgered by radfems for their traitorous love of men. this view of feminism has nothing to do with working together for equality or a more egalitarian society - yet the women who preach it are completely unable to see it this way. And, of course, any opposing view is simply invalid because it comes either from a man or from a woman who's mind has been poisoned by men.
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