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Friday, May 16, 2014

Coming Out as Feminist


[Note: since writing this article, two important issues have been brought to my attention. One is that the turn of phrase "coming out" is really a queer thing. It's not a phrase one should use about any once-secret revelation. The other is that the purple fist inside the women's symbol is specifically a black feminism symbol and that community isn't thrilled to see it used outside that context. I apologize for my ignorance on each of these at the time of writing this article. If I had to do it again, I would choose a different title and preview image. I've chosen to leave both in place with this disclaimer so that others can be edified as well. I will, however, take one or both down if there is an outcry that this decision was not appropriate.]

Peter says:

This feminist crap is really hurting your blog.... You are alienating your male audience.... Isn't equality the real goal? You obviously write this stuff to feel superior.... Just the word feminism...[blah blah blah]

My reply: [I didn't publish Peter's whole, three-page letter because it was tripe. (Actually, that's an insult to tripe.) But I trust you get the idea.]

Hi Petey. Little hint: if you send me an "anonymous" e-mail less than 24 hours after I've unfriended you on Facebook, and in said e-mail, you make all the same points that you did on FB, it's pretty easy to figure out who wrote it. Sock puppet e-mail accounts are only so useful when you use the exact turns of phrase.

You know, concern trolling is still trolling, right? While I'm touched at your magnanimous advice about how to run my own blog, I'm just not sure that I really have a huge following of patriarchy loving readers who are as put off by my crap as you think, but if I do, I'm really okay if after today's post they either A) learn something or B) are disgusted and go away.

Frankly, I'm fucking tired. I'm tired of tiptoeing around this issue (and other issues) because "this is a blog about writing." The fact that I'm a feminist is already the worst kept secret on this blog. (It's right up there with the fact that writers don't really actually have groupie threesomes.) But if I'm going to have to put up with shart offerings like your three page "what about the menz" manifesto of ignorance anyway, I may as well be loud and proud. So today (thanks to you Pete–thanks to YOU) I'm saying fuck it, and I'm coming out as feminist.

I'll just have to cry myself to sleep tonight when my massive throng of MRA followers unfriend me.

Feminist is a title I was *GIVEN,* not one I took upon myself. So let me tell you a story about how I became a feminist, Peter. Because not that long ago, I sounded exactly like you. Cast your mind back just about four years ago. It's 2010 and the world is still pissed off about the ending of Lost.




See, I used to be the guy who didn't like the word feminist. I thought it promoted inequality. By its very nomenclature, it was unequal. I thought it was "all about women." I preferred words like humanist or equalist. [2010 me would have loved Joss Whedon's speech late last year.] I listened to feminists fight, sometimes even among themselves, to control the meaning of that word. Some versions wanted to include everyone who liked equality. Some radical versions of it declared that as a man, I could NEVER be feminist.

I was above such petty strife, for I was a superior and evolved being. I didn't like labels. I preferred to talk about ideas.

Wasn't I totes fucking evolved? Man that shit was like next level deep. (2014 Me: Yes indeed, past Chris. That shit certainly was deep!)

Whenever someone asked me about gay rights or women's rights, I said (with evolved-ier-than-thou benevolence) "Why don't we work on human rights, brah. Why does it always have to be about one group instead of everyone." I mean holy fucking shit was I ever deep! If I learned one more meaningful truth, I was going to evolve into a being of pure energy.

But something about my world view wasn't quite right. The allies I was gaining weren't actually the people I felt were fighting the good fight. They seemed to be content playing devil's advocate for some hypothetical situation in which a man was misjudged or loudly proclaiming their problem with the language of feminism and not so much their alignment with its ideals.

Whenever I was just humming on about equality in a very non-specific way ("women are people!" "women are equal!" "equality is the default position!" "of course inequality sucks!" "we shouldn't be treating either gender as special!") everyone nodded sagely. "Oh Chris, you are so right with your rightly rightness!" they would say to me. "You are deep in all the deepest of ways. You call out our sexism and reverse sexism alike with your platitudes of power!"

"You teach us how to be..." they said with a sniff and a dramatic pause, "...better humans."

Sure, some uppity feminists would be all in my face saying "Um....equality and feminism are the same thing." and I would soften my eyes and say with my best Ted Mosby impression "Are they? Are they really? Because it seems to me that you can't exclude an entire gender when you're talking about equality. Even the word feminism has gender bias in it."

And...this is the way the world went.

For a time.

But I started to....notice...something.

People sure did like my equivocal, lukewarm lip service to equality. They really liked it. When I talked about social justice in the vaguest, most noncommittal terms possible the cis, white, able, males just ate it up. That was just the bee's knees. It was the cat's meow.


However, whenever I started to bring up actual specifics, like pay discrepancies or gender portrayals or sexual assault or human trafficking or even the way traditional gender roles tend to disadvantage BOTH men and women in different ways, people would begin to use this word to describe me.

"Feminist."

I would deny it, of course. "No no no...this is about equality."  But for some reason, they would not be convinced.

It kept happening. Over and over.

It was an invective–or intended to be. The way "liberal" was used after 9/11 or the way someone says "intelligentsia" to an academic institute that has debunked their psudo-science. People would (as you have done) often follow up "feminist" with "crap" or "shit" or maybe "agenda." They would claim that I only cared about these issues because I wanted to get laid and had succumbed to some Manchurian Candidate caliber mind control, which according to them had also left me impotent (but apparently still wanting to get laid, I guess). This attempt at an incivility became very closely linked with the slightest attention to CERTAIN issues–often the issues of greatest inequality, and ALWAYS the issues surrounding gender.

But I really was about equality. I really did care about all inequality. How could I ignore those issues of the GREATEST inequality?

Oddly, this never happened when I brought up the inequalities of men. No one labeled me a masculist or called me out for ignoring the plight of women. As long as I was talking about men's issues I was talking about human issues and general equality. Men's issues were human issues. Women's issues were well...you know...some chick thing.

Gosh, I just can't imagine why.

If I talked about the selective service or men's gender roles as providers, people went back to nodding sagely. I didn't particularly think that these issues quite matched the scope of women's inequalities, but as long as I talked about the former, and never talked about the latter, people assumed I was all about equality.  "True story, brah!" they would say.

Their sage nodding made them look like bobble heads.

Unless, of course, I began to drift into the territory of blaming those inequalities on our expectations of masculinity and our unequal gender roles, and then–shockingly–it started up again with a vengeance. "Feminist!" It was okay to complain about how unfair it was to be a man, but if I suggested any alternative of egalitarian roles or a shifting of power, I was once again a "feminist."

I realized that the discourse itself was laden with inequalities. People–most often (but not always) men–who tend to be into words like humanism and equalism and insist that today's default is equality and that "we're past all that now" were always pitted against me. They seem to believe that only after a laundry list of men's grievances were rectified, would it even fair to BRING UP women's issues–to say nothing of spending social capital becoming aware of them. Their effort was expended not in addressing or redressing issues, but in muscling into conversations to make sure the focus was still on them that not ALL men behaved poorly or that sometimes unpleasant things happen to men too.

"That happens to men too!" they keen.

Does it happen to men and so they feel solidarity? No. Does it happen to men and so they can relate? No. Does it happen to men and so they want to link arms and go fix it...together? No. Does it happen to men too and since it's bad enough they can really appreciate the urgency of the fact that it affects women disproportionately? No. Does it happen to men and they then really GET it? No. Does it happen to men and they turn to women and say "Holy crap my fellow human. Given how difficult this experience is to my half of the population, I can only sympathize with how much worse it is to be disproportionally affected by it! Clearly, you have a legitimate grievance." No.

No. It is always, always, ALWAYS used in only one way: "That happens to men too......so shut up."

Calls for general, vague, unspecified equality are most often used when shutting down conversations about CERTAIN issues. Again and again and again. They sound noble, but they are used as the stop energy to a conversation or complaint that women have about their systematic treatment in this world. They are used to silence and derail. They are a counterpoint. And they are employed to achieve anything but equality.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but feminism is willing to discuss how the power systems in play (oh the dreaded P word) hurt men as well as women. They do it all the time. That's why they want to dismantle the whole thing, and in fact you would only have to listen to a feminist define themselves (rather than their opponents) to grasp this.

"Equalists" without the slightest sense of irony do not seem to be willing to extend women's issues the same fucking courtesy. They do not seem to realize that their quest to get men's rights represented happens to the exclusion of women, but also to the exclusion of trans folks, gay folks, people of color, or any other group that isn't them. Basically...they're projecting their own prejudice onto feminism.

I didn't have to care about gender issues that affected women to the EXCLUSION of men's issues. I didn't even have to care about these issues MORE than men's issues.

I just had to care about them.

At all.

Even a little.

That made me a......."feminist." Over and over and over. "Feminist." Even spat out in repudiation: "God you're not a...feminist are you?"

Not an isolated incident. Not a few bad apples. Silencing any genuine, specific inequalities that had anything to do with women was the inevitable, immutable flowchart of cultural sentiment. It was everywhere I went–in person, online, conservative, liberal. Everyone knew the script by heart. Everyone rolled it out when the issues came up. Pernicious, ubiquitous, and always couched in the vestments of equality, it's only real goal was to shut down one side of the conversation.

"Feminist."

That's when I began to realize that the conversation itself was imbalanced. It was a microcosm of the problem. The slightest loss of focus, attention, and ultimately power from men was unacceptable. God help these poor dudebros, the histrionic feminazis were coming for their ability to control the narrative. Because if they can't even relinquish their control over the definition of a single word, how are they going to accept entire other narratives?

Fuck man, a guy can't even ignore the history of feminism and invent words to describe struggles they haven't been a part of without a bunch of uppity b's blogging them into oblivion anymore. What IS the world coming to?
If they can't even relinquish their control over the definition of a single word, how are they going to accept entire other narratives?
And that is why it bothers them, Peter. (And perhaps why it bothers you?) It has begun to dawn on those in power that in order to achieve anything beyond the after school special lip service to the equality they claim to love so dearly, they will have to relinquish some of their vaunted power to control how we frame stories, how we use terms, and how we view the struggle for equality. They may have to let half the population have equal say on what the issues of our time are or about the marginalization that still goes on...or holy shitsnacks, even about whether or not a woman they fucked ever actually consented. And that scares the crap right out of them.

That's about when I began to wear the aspersion as a badge of honor.

"Feminist!"

Upsetting people who are struggling (very, very hard, I might add) to maintain the status quo has always been a particular point of amusement for me, so I found "feminist" to be less and less insulting the more it was bandied about. My subversion has always gone beyond a slogan to sell more jeans.

Because what's more likely, Peter? That a multinational, millions-strong conspiracy of women are trying to assert their superiority over men by talking about how street harassment isn't actually flattering and telling their rape stories or that maybe–just maybe–the people who stand to have the most to lose from equality are doing what the oppressors have done since the dawn of time in the arc of human history: painting themselves as eminently reasonable and those who struggle under their dominion as hysterical and out of control.

Being afraid of/hating things you don't understand.
Hmmmm. I'm certain I've heard that somewhere before.

I remember the exact moment when I shifted sides. I was enraged that a judge said a woman wasn't raped because her pants were too tight. I could barely even type, I was so pissed off. There is no world in which that should be a men's issue or a women's issue. That is just a fucked up issue of human suffering and oppression in a kangaroo court.

But when I wrote about how upset it made me? "Feminist!"

"Rape happens to men too," my sagely-nodding allies said–as if somehow this issue was about them, that someone had claimed otherwise, or that it wasn't absolutely fucked up enough to be worthy of not derailing for even a few minutes.

That's why I stopped correcting people. That's why I started to smirk and give a little half shrug.

The problem isn't the word feminism. ("Fem" is not a bad thing, and the hypocrisy of this position can be observed when many of the same people with an axe to grind against the word feminism will roll their eyes at changing mankind to humankind.)

The problem is the idea of feminism. If feminists ignored the history and context of their struggles to this point and changed their name tomorrow to "equalists," these people wouldn't suddenly jump on board. They would just quibble over that. (Well "equalist" implies that we're all in the same place, so I prefer the term "egalitarian" which discusses potential.) As they would quibble over the next term and the next and the next. ("Egalitarian" implies that we shouldn't have designated roles so I prefer the term "humanist" "Well, humanism is a philosophical movement, so I prefer the term....") And while they stroke their chins and have a brandy in an endless debate over the perfect word, every issue to which those labels concern themselves remain un-redressed.
And it's not as if these people couldn't struggle for equality under another label–any other label. Instead they have limited their "struggle" to policing the word wherever they see it. When your only cause for equality is to piss and moan about the label used by the people actually doing the work, you suck at caring about equality.
The way I know this is because such groups exist, and the "feminist word police" haven't joined them. They just sit around and find excuses that rationalize the fact that they don't want to fight against a status quo that benefits them.

"Feminist."  (Yeah, okay. If that's what you want to call me. Sure.)

I didn't claim it. I didn't declare it. I didn't even want it at first.

It was hurled at me for caring about things like consent, harassment, or impossible beauty standards. It was flung at me for suggesting that victim blaming sucks or that there might be a double standard in politics. It was lobbed at me like a grenade because I cared about the glass ceiling or vastly, hugely, outrageously imbalanced violence between the genders.

"Feminist!"

So after a while, I picked up the label, dusted it off, and pinned it to my lapel with a shrug. It kind of looked good on me.

No, that's not even true. I realized that it pisses off exactly the sort of misogynists I like pissing off. It rocks the boat of exactly the mealy-mouthed, diplomatic, Ted Fucking Mosby, Me-From-2010, equalist, status quo lovers I wanted to shake up. It seemed to stand for all the things I actually, really, honestly stood for rather than just their unctuous homage. It went beyond platitudes and bumper stickers, and I liked it because of that.

It was what the world saw of me and what the world wouldn't let me forget, and so now I wear it like armor.

I am a feminist.

33 comments:

  1. You are awesome, really awesome! Thank you for this.

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  2. Writers don't actually have groupie threesomes? God dammit. Love this piece. Pretty sure you are required to wear this T-shirt now. At least you're in good company! http://www.democraticunderground.com/125542583

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    1. I was as devastated as anyone! But that T-shirt would totally dry my tears!

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  3. This tale sounds familiar...

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    1. Is this how you got roped in? Or is this a reference to the fact that I wrote something similar on FB a few months back?

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  4. When you said you had something from the mailbox for Monday (or did you get more than one this week?) I wasn't expecting quite that level...

    Excellent response.

    I've never seen anything here that I'd think of as even approaching being alienating... unless you WANT to be able to be the creepy guy or one of his cronies.

    (PS... really no threesomes? Really?!?!? Bugger that. Throwing away my stories.)

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    1. Yeah, I'm so ticked off about the threesome thing. My guidance counselor totally lied to me!

      I have some run-of-the-mill Mailbox questions (when to edit/dealing with bad feedback) that would normally go up on Fridays, and I would normally save "personal updates" for Monday, but in this case, the bugs inside my skull really wanted me to write this, so I'll be switching those out.

      Thank you!!!

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    2. You may be running a risk though.. ."I'll just have to cry myself to sleep tonight when my massive throng of MRA followers unfriend me." ... does the blog know you're taking that risk THIS month? ;-)

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    3. Well, it does now. ~prepares for argument~

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    4. By "guidance counselor" did you actually mean "penthouse forum"? I can see how it would be easy to mix those up.

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  5. worst blog i have ever bothered to read. i want my 5 minutes back.

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    1. Too late. They're already fueling my Genesis device.

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    2. Based on your grammar, I wonder if it's the ONLY blog you've ever bothered to read.

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    3. Hey, Chris.

      Great post. I'm taking the liberty of recommending it to people around the web. Hope you don't mind.

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    4. Don't mind at all! I think that's pretty awesome, actually.

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  6. thank you so much. I cannot tell you how many men I have tried to have this exact conversation with. where they try to "explain to me" why I should stop using "this offensive word: feminism". they are unable to see that their very attitude is exactly why the word is needed, and they wouldn't listen to me or believe me BECAUSE I AM FEMALE and they felt ATTACTED by the conversation. I have reposted this both on fb and G+ and i hope they read it.

    I lived in Texas for a short time... and people there would claim they weren't "racist" and I quote "just as long as they stayed over there"... they really had no idea they were bigots... and that is how I feel these people are about "misogynism"... these people really believe they are not misogynists, but they are so programmed into it that they can not see it. it is so frustrating.

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    1. Isabelle, I didn't get an email notification about this comment for some reason, so today is the first I'm seeing it. But I just wanted to say thank you for chiming in. I think you're onto something about the fact that they can't even see it.

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  7. Are you me? 'Cause I've done this, never realizing what was wrong with the logic of it. Dammit.

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  8. Excellent article! I really enjoyed it, and wanted to thank you for telling your story so other people can relate to it.

    I also found it quite helpful to understand how your own mind was changed, It's given me a lot to think, and I hope it helps my conversations with men and equalists around me.

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  9. If you haven't already, you might want to check out an article on the Daily Kos. It's of a similar vein to yours, and definitely addressed to clueless individuals like Peter. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/05/30/1303118/-Dear-Men-STFU

    What's worse, is that even as a woman I used to do the humanist crap myself (I do still call myself one, just not in direct relation to any other ist/ism), just to avoid getting lumped in with those scary fight-the-phallocracy chicks from PCU. I wish I remembered when I came to my senses. I don't know when it happened, I just remember one day thinking, "Wait, so to avoid being labeled as someone who only cares about women's issues, I'm supposed to avoid being labeled as someone who cares about issues which affect my life every single day - like for instance, whether or not my state should be able to pass a law, forcing me to have an invasive and unnecessary medical test, in order to have a routine medical procedure, because some people want to guilt trip me into being a walking incubator?Something is seriously messed up here."

    From one reclaimed feminist to another - well done for shaking off the flotsam of men sick of this feminism crap. I'd hope Peter will read this and grasp the concept, but as an atheist, I don't believe in miracles. :)

    P.S. If this ended as a duplicate, my apologies - the login process had some issues.

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    1. No duplicate. Thank you for the recommended read. I liked it!

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  10. Keep on writing! This is perfect! Thanks!

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  11. From one feminist man to another - well evolved. I, too, used to be in the "equalist" camp when it came to women or gay people, or people of color. "Why can't we all just get along and stop talking about things that make me feel uncomfortable? I'm a good person so why do I need to hear about sexism/racism/homophobia?" The cowardice in that stance is so plain to me now, it amazes me I that ever allowed myself to go down that path.

    Thanks for standing up with the rest of us. We've got a lot of work to do.

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  13. As a feminist and a secular humanist, it annoys the hell out of me when anti-feminist twits propose "humanist" as an alternative as though they'd just invented the word, and it didn't have a long-standing, established meaning that's not only not mutually exclusive of feminism, but arguably requires feminism as one of the key elements of a humanist worldview and ethical stance. The Affirmations of Humanism include these statements:

    •We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.

    •We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.

    •We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.

    It takes a special kind of willful ignorance for someone not to notice that eliminating discrimination and intolerance, supporting the disadvantaged, and reproductive freedom, and access to comprehensive and informed healthcare are not matters that affect both genders equally. You can't actually pursue those goals, in the real world, and not be a feminist, and if you're not pursuing those goals you have no business calling yourself a humanist.

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  14. I think that I'm falling in love.....

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  15. "painting themselves as imminently reasonable"

    Do you mean painting themselves as eminently reasonable, as in prestigious, respectable, prominent - qualities often held by those in power?

    Or perhaps the defense of the status quo has *seemed* like it was about to become reasonable, imminently, any moment now? If so, then it's jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, and never jam today.

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  16. The problem with the word feminism is more how it's defined. From what I've seen there are two major camps in their views of the definition. The one that appears to be the media representation. The one in which women are superior and should be made as such is not a view that I and many others agree with. That view is what gives the word its dirty reputation. The other definition is that feminism is about increasing equality as much as possible while still acknowledging our dimorphic species and making the appropriate allowances for those to help empower both genders as equally as possible. That definition I moat definitely will stand behind.

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  17. You might not appreciate the comparison (I believe you're not a huge Pratchett Fan), but you do sometimes remind me of Sam Vimes (a twenty-first century Roundworld one, that is). It's a compliment. Great article.

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