Someone named the "Questioner" (perhaps a troll, perhaps not) wrote me a couple of weeks ago, asking me to comment on this post from Janice at Girlbomb: Feminist Men: Oxymorons or Simply Morons? The post begins:
... most of the men I've personally known who have made a huge hairy point of identifying as feminists have been either date rapists, mom fetishists, porn addicts, or bear daddies inflicting their frustrated pseudopaternal tendencies on women. They are some of the most passive-aggressive, patronizing, out-dishing without it-taking twerps on the planet, and they are poisoning the women's movement from the inside by sapping the hell out of everyone's goddamn energy.
She then goes on to provide several examples. Questioner asks six questions of me about Janice's post, and because they touch on several important issues, I'm going to respond to them.
1. Do you think that Janice's post transgresses the bounds of reasonableness at all? Why or why not? Should we take her words seriously, or should we react with a good-natured chuckle and say that she didn't mean what she said?
Well, not all blog posts are meant to be "reasonable." Janice -- who is a well-known blogger in the feminist 'sphere -- makes it clear that she's reacting with a certain amount of frustration. Note that she doesn't say "all male feminists are bad" -- she refers only to the ones she's personally known. I've known a few guys who are very much like the sort she identifies in her (often funny) post; I hope that she does meet a broader array of pro-feminist men.
2. Do you think having opinions like these damages Janice's feminist credentials or does it enhance them? Can you explain why?
No one issues feminist credentials. In fact, I'm asking everyone to join me in forgoing the use of the phrase "feminist credentials."
3. If you were to make a post on your blog in which you said that all the female feminists you know are morons and bitches, would that get a warm reception? Would you get agreement and encouraging words from your feminist friends? Would it be considered a cute joke which would be greeted with a good-natured chuckle? Or do you think your reputation would be damaged somewhat?
Oh, I'm sure I'd get a very negative response, and deservedly so. But it's not the same thing! A woman calling a man a bitch is a very different thing than a man calling a woman a bitch; the latter is part of a long history of misogyny; the former is a relatively recent phenomenon. We have to judge words by their power to hurt.
4. Do you think that it's possible for the feminist movement to make any progress if it's OK-- applauded, even-- to call male feminists nasty names? Why or why not? How many male feminists do you think would feel welcome when they are confronted with opinions like Janice's?
Well, I responded to Janice's post -- which I only just now read -- with a sense of frustration. No, I don't like some of the language she chooses to use. No, I don't agree that all male feminists are frauds or narcissists or predators. But an authentic pro-feminist man doesn't demand to be treated as "innocent until proven guilty." Given the state of sexual relations in this country, pro-feminist men ought to be willing to be considered "guilty until proven innocent." I wrote here and here on this topic almost two years ago. Let me quote myself:
"I can rail against the "unfairness" of judging me by the poor behavior of other men, but in this culture, that's fruitless. As men, we do have to accept the fact that collectively, we have given good reason why it is that we ought not to be trusted -- above all in the sexual realm. We can bemoan the injustice of paying for the sins of others, or we can shoulder the burden that our brothers have created for us (and that perhaps, in our own lives, we have helped to create). What that means practically is that I am committed to meeting suspicion with patience, openness, and accountability. I'm no longer hurt when folks don't trust me just because I'm a man -- I accept now that they have every reason not to."
5. Can you see why some people would get the impression that there's a double-standard existing within feminism? Do you feel that their perceptions are delusional or do you feel that their opinions might have a factual basis to them?
Of course, I'm sympathetic to those who do see a double-standard. And yes, there are some feminist voices out there that are, in fact, unreasonable and unkind. Contrary to what my MRA critics believe, I don't believe that every single feminist blogger is always right and reasonable. After all, if we're going to acknowledge that feminism is about the radical notion that women are human beings, then we have to acknowledge that even the best feminists will, at times, say some intemperate and hurtful things. But what happens, all too often, is that folks focus in on a few angry or sarcastic voices and ignore the vast majority of thoughtful, articulate, and open-minded writers in the feminist blogosphere.
6. Can feminism realistically expect to widen its appeal if outsiders see double-standards? Do you see this as a stumbling block to the feminist movement's effectiveness as an agent of social change?
Every movement for social justice is accused of having double standards and of not doing enough to broaden its appeal. Look, in the feminist world there are many different people doing many different things. Some folks do theory; some folks do outreach; some folks do biting social commentary. Some of what is written is written for "insiders" -- and some is written in the spirit of evangelism. I suspect that the Girlbomb piece was the former.
What bugs me about a few pro-feminist men I've known is that they sometimes expect to be showered with praise merely for not being stereotypical sexist jerks. Newsflash, my brothers: we earn trust through the good we do, not just the bad things we don't. I've had male students in my women's studies class who expected gold stars merely for showing up. I've had men say "I'm a feminist man because I don't use porn or hit my girlfriend -- that's enough isn't it?" Uh, no. A great many women in the feminist movement have personal experiences of frustration and betrayal with men who appeared to be sympathetic allies, but whose "walk" didn't match the "talk." Being an authentic pro-feminist man means doing more than whining about "lack of trust", and it means doing more than just showing up in feminist spaces. It means committing oneself to surrendering privilege, it means doing a lot of listening, and it certainly means challenging other men.
Do I recognize myself in Janice's piece? No, I don't. And I don't think I recognize most of the men who have inspired me in my pro-feminist work. But are there guys out there who are the walking embodiment of what she finds so exasperating and hypocritical? You betcha.