Monday, October 28, 2013

Three Things That Suck About Being a Feminist Dude

(Hey, kids. I wrote this a while back, planning to send it to one of those fancy modern websites. It didn't really fit their thing, and rather than trying to recut it for the vague promise of publication somewhere else, I figured I'd put it up here. Mostly as a chance to play with format a bit.)

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.

And yet, they seem to take issue with the goal, and not the tactics: “You should just admit it,” says the message board guy. “Then we’d respect you instead of spitting on you.” (This is quoted from memory of an actual Message Board Guy. I am assuming he had been spitting metaphorically, but you never know on Fark.) At some point in this discussion, it became a shameful thing for a straight guy to pursue the possibility of sex with women. Perhaps they think trying to be likeable is cheating, and that the only real way to play--the only noble way to play--is to fuck women who actively despise you.
Double points for nailing a girl who's actually tried to kill you. 5x bonus if you ejaculate during Star Power.

Because if wanting to fuck women were an acceptable pursuit, it’s hard to see why becoming the kind of person women want to fuck wouldn’t be the most obvious and laudable method. It’s not dishonesty that’s being criticized here, but the lack of dishonesty. This is what “game” is about: the artificial imposition of difficulty. Besides, what don’t you do to get laid? Is there anything you like about yourself--any quality you’re proud to possess, and skill that took great effort to acquire--that’s definitively not going to make you more attractive by improving the way people think of you? It turns out that most of the things you’d do to get laid are also worth doing for sundry other reasons, and very few of the things that aren’t worth doing for other reasons are worth doing for a few minutes of sweaty genital antics either. Interesting people are more fuckable than boring ones. Visible people are more fuckable than invisible ones.
And people who can converse knowledgeably about things that interest you--like, say, human rights issues that affect you personally--are more fuckable than people who are just waiting for you to shut up.

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.
It’s most commonly employed when discussing other species, and in most places “man” or “men” are better choices than “male” or “males.” (The converse--the use of “females” where “women” would make more sense--seems to employed almost entirely by men’s rights activists and the Ferengi.)
The Ferengi, to their credit, seem to be entirely aware that they're assholes.
At the moment, there isn’t really a consensus on whether men ought to be referred to as feminists at all, or rather the more qualified (albeit more descriptive) “feminist allies,” or simply “allies.” The whole thing can get pretty confusing, and if you don’t believe me, you’ve never spent hours locked in an unwinnable game of Axis and Feminists.

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."
Still, even well-meaning people bristle at being accused of ignorance or false consciousness. The joke, of course, is that it’s basically just a reification of the idea that you don’t intuitively understand other people’s perspectives. “You aren’t not-you” isn’t revolutionary; it’s a fucking tautology.

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.
You’ll find that the lives of women you care about are a bit darker than you’d thought. Fears you’d thought of as transient, when you thought of them at all, turn out to be around all the time. You’ll find that what you’d thought of as idiosyncracies have solid roots in anxiety, embarrassment, and quite often, trauma. As they learn to trust you more, you’ll realize how nervous they’d acted before, when you thought they’d trusted you. You’ll learn about your mistakes. You’ll learn that you’ve marginalized people without realizing it, been demeaning when you thought you were being wry. It’s a difficult feeling, because moral authority is a real thing, and guilt is ultimately a subtype of fear. Especially because you really didn’t think of yourself as being that way. Nobody wants to be the kind of person whose ass they’d want to kick. As for dealing with it, you have some options. You can decide that it couldn’t be true if it makes you feel bad, and blame those dastardly feminists for making up these elaborate hoaxes so you’d let your guard down, allowing witches to steal your penis. You can concoct elaborate conspiracy theories to explain why women run the entire Western world, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

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.
Pictured: feminism.

4) Internet comments.

Seriously. Fuck you, internet commenters.

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