If you’re a first-worlder in the 21st century, feminism is kind of a no-brainer. It’s not really up to you; over the last couple hundred years, a number of radical, heretical claims have become well-accepted enough that people now think of them as natural, intutitive, and self-evident. Still, the word raises a few hackles, here and there. Those who choose to use it anyway tend to either develop some apologetic patter about not being “that kind of feminist,” to pre-empt the accompanying stereotypes that inevitably follow, or lean into it, accepting that it’s worth dealing with a little extra hostility. We've all heard 'em; feminists are ugly, humorless, sexless, or (in rare cases) Joss Whedon. For guys, the territory is more confusing, the stakes lower, the stereotypes still being focus-grouped. Nonetheless, like a piece of debris stuck in the gonads of an oyster, it can be pretty irritating. Case in point:
1) “You’re just trying to get laid.”
This is both the most common and the most emphatic critique: the argument from insincerity: you’re hoping to ingratiate yourself to women, therefore you don’t really believe what you’re saying, therefore it isn’t worth believing. If it’s true that your primary or exclusive motivation in learning and doing more in the service of social justice is the possibility that it’ll help you get your dick wet, I have some bad news for you. While it’s not going to hurt, it’s very unlikely that your showing up to a meeting will make the difference between not-fuck and fuck. The most potent criticism to be offered of such a plan is that it’s the sexual equivalent of countering Scorpion's spear with a Kano ball.
|Niccolo Machiavelli popularized the rhetorical device of “critique, segue, Mortal Kombat reference” in The Prince.|
|Double points for nailing a girl who's actually tried to kill you. 5x bonus if you ejaculate during Star Power.|
|YOUR CHARACTER IS BAD AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD.|
2) The vocabulary
The title of this piece bears some scrutiny. The first draft used the term “feminist dude,” which is not something I hear very often, but it has the advantage of not being “male feminist,” which I fucking hate. My antipathy toward the adjectival “male” stems from the popularity of the nominal “male,” which sounds really awkward outside of a nature documentary. Unless you’re Katniss Everdeen and you need an appropriately depersonalized word to describe a tall combatant with long legs and the kind of chest and shoulder muscles you want for melee combat--because it literally hasn’t occurred to you that men’s bodies could be useful, desirable, or fun for any other reason--the adjectival “male” is a strange choice.
|For any new readers: if you didn't like The Hunger Games, we're probably not going to be friends.|
|The Ferengi, to their credit, seem to be entirely aware that they're assholes.|
Since drafting this article, incidentally, I'm told that "feminist dude(s)" has also been co-opted by assholes, although not the same assholes who earlier co-opted "male feminist(s)" "Guys who get it" has been suggested, but it's meaningless as a self-descriptor. I cannot, by definition, know whether or not I "get" something outside my own experience; if I didn't get it, I wouldn't know. It is, as they say, an unknown unknown.
So the title kind of sucks, and I might have just argued against the validity of my own writing on the subject. Clearly there’s some awkwardness right out of the gate. When you're writing about this stuff, you’re not always sure, in advance, what’s going to be insightful and what’s just going to piss people off. There’s no way to “solve,” this. It’s not about you.
This is a more jarring thought than it seems. If you’re a guy with internet access and time to waste reading my blog--especially if you also happen to be white, straight, and economically stable--you probably don’t realize the extent to which language and culture are bent to your experience. Yes, there’s a huge chunk of the culture devoted to the unique interests of women; it’s just that its primary purpose is to make sure you want to fuck them, and make sure they want you to want to fuck them. You don’t have to think about it, or even know about it to benefit from it. This phenomenon is known as privilege, and it’s one of those terms ends up being a rallying flag for misogynists. It’s a straw man’s wet dream.
|Editor's note: do not google "straw man's wet dream."|
While “privilege” will get you derision, “rape culture” will get you pitchforks and torches. (This is hyperbole. It will actually get you derision, defensiveness, hostility, and, once in a while, rape threats.) As with privilege, it’s a lot more intuitive than it sounds, and as with everything else, it wouldn’t be substantially improved with different vocabulary. These concepts are difficult to see, for sure. For you. Because you don’t have to think about them very often.
3) You won’t like what you learn.
When you do think about them, it can get pretty dark pretty fast. Eventually, you have to turn your Mighty Critical Gaze on yourself, and then you’re kicking at the other side of the problem from #1. Being a better person might make you more interesting, give you an in with a new social circle, or get you laid, but if you’re being a better person for those reasons exclusively, or even primarily, it’s going to end badly. Spend some time reading about white knights and predator theory, and put two and two together: earning someone’s trust is an valuable, laudable thing, and makes the best parts of the human experience possible. It’s also, for most people, a prerequisite for abusing and exploiting people and getting away with it. You learn that unexamined assumptions and self-deception have made your own motives are often murkier than you’d like, and you can’t inherently trust that your heart is in the right place because it’s yours. So, you’re going to learn stuff that isn’t pleasant. And it’s stuff that some people in your life--nice, well-meaning folk by most standards--aren’t going to know about, or care about, or spend much time thinking about. You’re not going to like it very much.
|Yeah, there aren't really any jokes in this section.|
Or, you can let go.
You can stop worrying that a subset of people will think you’re part of a different subset of people that behaves badly, and just focus on not behaving badly. You don’t personally need to be the standard-bearer for Justice, Logic, and Objectivity; you can even admit that you might not recognize them when you see them, because there’s shit you haven’t thought of. You can just listen. Once you make a habit of it, it’s immensely freeing. In that light, even minor annoyances I’ve here described in an overlong fashion are negligible. The only thing that sucks about being a feminist, for anyone, is misogyny. The rest is gravy.
4) Internet comments.
Seriously. Fuck you, internet commenters.