I’ve had listed for some time, as part of my profile on the right, the fact that I consider myself a feminist. I put it in shortly after joining Freethought Blogs and being assailed in very short order by the winged monkeys who have this absurd tendency of descending onto any pro-feminism post, shouting down the defenders of equality with absurd accusations of being misandrist. Merely by considering our patriarchy to be heavily weighted against women, who despite making up over half our population seem to get the short end of the stick more often than not, you are de facto anti-male, apparently. I added that descriptive out of spite for the denizens of the slimepit who consider women fighting for women’s rights to be evil, and men fighting for women’s rights to be “fauxminists” just looking to get laid.
And, frankly, I think I fit the descriptive of “feminist” well enough that I did not hesitate in adding it, though until that point I called myself pretty much exclusively an egalitarian. I despise the gender roles that harm both men and women in different ways, and I recognize that the ways in which women are disadvantaged significantly outweigh the disadvantages that men have, especially taken in concert with the advantages that male privilege confers. I want gender roles to simply evaporate, to disappear entirely, to be cast off like the vestigial organs that they are in light of the harm that they do to humans of all genders, and that simply won’t happen without taking out the cultural institutions that reinforce them with each generation.
So imagine my surprise when I saw a post by fellow FtB blogger Comrade PhysioProffe, excoriating a disturbing trend of taking the name of “feminism” under troubling pretenses, like the case of Hugo Schwyzer. My surprise came not from the fact that Schwyzer deserves more scrutiny — after all, he built a career of teaching women how to be feminists out of some expressed remorse for having attempted to murder an ex girlfriend, so he damn well deserves scrutiny as a result.
My surprise, rather, was borne out of the fact that Comrade caught me in the blast.
The arguments that were made by CPP and his commentariat gave me some pause. Primarily, his objection was that any man claiming the name “feminist” is making a big melodramatic display, and it’s up to women to decide on the merits of your actions whether or not you’re a feminist. Given that I’d had the name applied to me by women whose opinions I greatly respect, I figure I’m inured to accusations that I’m co-opting a “brand”, especially for my own benefit. But really, there’s an aspect to the whole argument that rubbed me the wrong way.
It’s not that there aren’t men who actually do co-opt the label to preemptively label themselves as “safe” so they can get through your defenses (and/or into your panties). I know there are. And I am grossly disturbed by the idea that someone would make a career out of telling women how to be better feminists with such skeletons in their closets. But, to be perfectly honest, it would be inconsistent of me to claim that someone can never change — that something that someone did in the past totally disqualifies someone from ever fighting for someone else’s rights. PhysioProffe even expressed as much. Where we differ is apparently not in that the fact that Schwyzer’s admitted attempted murder is disturbing but does not disqualify him from being interested in achieving gender parity. Where we differ is that nor does the fact that he is a male, nor that he calls himself a feminist, nor that he makes money doing so. If there is a purity test for who can fight in a movement and who cannot, it is only in who is doing damage to the movement as a whole.
These things I have mentioned might disqualify him from being a role model, a spokesperson, or a teacher of feminism. If he is genuinely interested in feminism, he is not a good person to choose. Any or all of the facts we already know about Schwyzer, including his involvement in the LA Slut Walk, his self-aggrandizement, his focus on convincing his students to embrace sexuality, and his apparently having used his female students for sex outright, could all effectively disqualify him as a feminist. He is in my estimation no feminist; he is rather a manipulator and a wolf in sheep’s clothing. His actions are borderline sociopathic and damaging to the movement, and feminists have every right to deny he is one. But not because he is male. There is nothing about his actions that necessitate maleness, nor is there anything about maleness that necessitates actions like his.
I agree that the simple fact that he claims the mantle of feminist does not make him one, any more than my claiming it makes me one. Just because someone calls themselves something, doesn’t mean they are. It doesn’t mean they deserve the label. See the pushback against Sarah Pond’s NOT sign, and her eventual admission that she actually identifies as many of those things even though she was lying on the sign about them. The fact that she’s middle-class and was identifying herself as not part of the outgroups actually damaged the movement by reinforcing memetics that the movement was only made up of freaks and outsiders and needed legitimizing by the insiders. In the same way, if I were to fight for feminism while pointing out my maleness, that would be rather uncouth. It would be an attmept to say, “the feminist movement wasn’t legitimate until I, a man, came along, so now it’s not just whiny bitches.” Anyone actually acting that way should get slapped down. But they should not be slapped down preemptively just because they are of the appropriate gender to be able to say that, any more than Sarah Pond or any other middle-class person should be kicked out of the Occupy movement solely for their middle-class-ness.
The idea that there are purity tests in place to be able to join any movement is abhorrent — that one must be as untouched by privilege as possible to make an actual impact and to be allowed to continue in the fight. Rather, as with Sarah Pond, I lauded the fact that the middle class might get in on the fight, but was only upset that her way of doing so expressly sent the message that all the diminishing memes bandied about regarding the Occupy movement were true. People with privilege fighting to overturn that privilege are actually necessary in order to achieve social justice and any sort of parity. It really sucks that this is the case, but short of sheer numbers and/or armed revolution, you need some insiders to help tip the scales. The trick is in finding people who won’t try to tip them right back later, or who tend toward committing “own goals” by delegitimizing your movement.
Now, if you’d indulge me a few moments to talk about myself, why I call myself a feminist — why I dare defile the purity of the label with my filthy, filthy Y chromosome.
Mostly, I’m in it for the women.
By which I mean, I want women’s lot in life improved significantly, not that I’m a “Nice Guy®“. I find the myriad disadvantages that women face to be deplorable — in getting justice after being raped, advancing in their careers, being treated as nothing but baby factories forced to give birth, being mistreated or treated as outsiders in fields where men have no real advantage but are still the default gender, being subjected to the slut/virgin dichotomy and being shamed for being either, being treated as though they don’t understand or can’t do things just because they’re women. I want all those (and the innumerable other subtle ways that patriarchy disadvantages women consciously or subconsciously) to disappear, and I strongly suspect that eliminating gender roles will go the absolute farthest in achieving the gender parity I want to see. Especially since eliminating those gender roles will also as a side effect benefit men, by eliminating the damaging memes that hurt us all.
The other part of that philosophy — remember, I said I’m only mostly in it for the women — isn’t for women in specific, but for the gays, lesbians, transgendered folks and anyone else who doesn’t fit into one of the two neat, tidy, utterly stereotypical boxes of “boy” or “girl”. Advocacy for the non-cis-gendered is not expressly feminism, even though it is a goal of many feminists; but it flows from my egalitarianism much as my feminism does. The two philosophies dovetail together quite nicely, actually. They are intrinsically and extrinsically consistent.
One of the main reasons that I talk about feminist topics, and that I point to women who discuss these feminist topics, is because I have incorporated many feminist ideals into my philosophy because they fit together so naturally that they were probably components of that philosophy before I even realized it myself. I may not comprehend the all-permeating assault that women face in their daily lives as they are bombarded with damaging imagery and memetics derived any more than I do the bombardment that gays or blacks face. I am, admittedly, a privileged cis-gendered white male. I recognize that privilege. And I try to use it to undermine the privilege, understanding that there are many women, gays and blacks whose voices should not need my amplification, but that my amplification assists them even while it injures them. And I regret that injury.
This random and inconsistent attention paid to such topics on the blogosphere seems to happen less often between cohorts on this blogging network, I’ve noticed. Being on the same platform really helps even things out. I am most gratified, for instance, that Stephanie Zvan’s blog has gotten significantly more exposure than it was getting before — and that she’s parlayed that exposure into roughly 15-20% more traffic than I get regularly.
Before either of us had joined FtB, I had linked to an excellent post of Stephanie’s. In my linking post, I added some words of my own — evidently enough that people were more interested in what I had to say than what she had to say, even though it built on her words. My post got something like twice the hits that hers did, and generated only a small handful of clickthroughs. I told her privately how much that bothered me. Telling her so did nothing to fix the situation. Just by virtue of having added my say to the topic, I had talked over her. If blogging across multiple sites was any sort of meritocracy, that never would have happened, because her post was by any empirical metric the actual meat, and mine was but a dash of salt thrown on top. Sometimes, this game is definitely not a meritocracy — the most ludicrous or damaging or insipid memes will get the most hits, and the really important stuff, like the stuff Greta Christina or Ophelia Benson post, will get ignored, passed over because something else happened to attract more attention. It’s really a roll of the dice, sometimes. Some memes travel.
But I digress.
I talk about feminism, and I call myself a feminist, out of no attempt to “legitimize” the movement with a male presence — in fact, I hate that I have to disclaim that I’m making no attempt at this. I do it not to “show women how it’s done”, because I’m no expert in the subject. I’m a neophyte who happens to have a philosophy that I happen to think is worth expounding on, built from the great ideas planted in my head by many great women, and many great egalitarians of all genders. I talk about this stuff to counter the horrible memes that are spread by douchebags, misogynists, men’s rights activists, and the people who are so steeped in privilege that they don’t even realize that they’re spreading those horrible memes or that they’re horrible for whole classes of people. That I happen to use my privilege to leverage my say into the conversation should count for me, not against me.
If you have decided that one must be a woman to be a feminist, and will only call me a pro-feminist or an ally or mansplainer or simply refuse to accept me, fine. I’m not asking for your permission to let me fight alongside you, and I’m damn well not white-knighting for a “cookie” when I do. Frankly, I’d prefer as few shivs in the back as possible while I’m facing down the asshats that are intent on treating you — no, US — like shit. I can defend myself, though, at least adequately enough to stay in the fight for a while defending myself on both sides, even if I’d consider your reasoning to be more than flawed, given that one does not have to be black to be interested in ending racism or gay to end homophobia.
But, ultimately, it’s up to you to judge me and my actions. That’s why I write, and why I write in public, and why I do not apologize for doing it. So, judge away.