“The total of people who speak out and call themselves feminists get to define what feminism is.”.

This comment was from Justin Cascio, responding to Danny and other commenters on his post “5 Ways Feminism Helps Men.”

For the purposes of this article, I’m talking about the social effects of a movement. It’s a huge movement and it contains internal contradictions and it has evolved over decades. I could write a similar one about, say, Christianity, that allows for how a large movement that contradicts itself (there are gay affirming churches, and there’s Fred Phelps and his family, for one example) can still have a coherent meaning, identity, and discernible effect on mainstream society. The points I made about the effects of feminism are not traced to one distinct school of feminist thought, and they don’t deny the existence of SCUM Manifestos, lesbian separatists, or the prejudices of leadership at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival against trans women. The ideals that I have drawn from feminism can be applied to men’s lives. There are also people out there who call themselves feminists, who are hateful toward men, or indifferent, or ignorant. But they don’t get to define all of feminism, any more than Amanda Marcotte gets to decide what all MRAs are like. The total of people who speak out and call themselves feminists get to define what feminism is. I especially don’t accept the definitions of men who don’t identify themselves as feminists. It would be just as inappropriate for me to tell Christians what they believe.

photo: shankbone / flickr

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About Justin Cascio

Justin Cascio is a writer, trans man, and biome. His most recent publication is a short memoir, "Heartbreak and Detox," available on Kindle.
You can follow him on Twitter, Google, and Facebook.

Comments

  1. The points I made about the effects of feminism are not traced to one distinct school of feminist thought, and they don’t deny the existence of SCUM Manifestos, lesbian separatists, or the prejudices of leadership at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival against trans women.
    And that’s the thing. When talking positive about feminism there seems to be a demand that we “just know” the positive comments are not including those negative influences. But then those who make that demand won’t pay that same courtesy to others.

    Again I’ll say that the feminists and parts of feminism that support the stuff you’re talking about in that list are great. But let us not pretend that feminism is a monolith on this and that those negatives don’t exist or don’t have any influence, especially when that same consideration is not extended to others. (I think that was a set off point for some folks in that other thread.)

    A few years ago there was a piece at Shakesville called “The MRA Explainer” that literally said MRAs are trying to get the right to beat and rape women at will. The community there actively defended that generalization without even acknowledging that they aren’t all like that. But mess around and make a negative comment about feminists and all of a sudden, “feminism is not a monolith” is a valid defense against all criticism. You would think a mainstream site of feminists would not do that.

    The total of people who speak out and call themselves feminists get to define what feminism is.
    Does that apply to everyone or just feminists? Because a lot of feminists have no problem telling non feminists, MRAs, PUAs, and well anyone that’s not of the same strain of feminism that they are what they really are. I recognized that I was wrong to try to tell them what they really are and am working on backing off of that. However that doesn’t mean they are above question and it still seems they want the right to define while telling me I don’t get to define them.

    And even then its a matter of mixed messages. We are told that part of the definition of feminism is that they are working for equality for all people. Do people that work for equality for all people actively downplay female against male violence? Do people that work for equality for all people sum up any and all criticisms from males that don’t start off agreeing with them as denial of male privilege? Do people that work for equality for all people deny the racial experiences of women of color? Homosexuality? Disability? Transgender? Poor? Etc….

    Sure they can define themselves how they want but they don’t get to get bent out of shape when they contradict their own self declared definitions.

    You acknowledged those internal contradictions earlier but it comes down to this. How is it that they manage to excuse themselves from contradicting their self definitions but have no problem calling outhers who contradict their own definitions?

    I especially don’t accept the definitions of men who don’t identify themselves as feminists. It would be just as inappropriate for me to tell Christians what they believe.
    Ah Christianity good example. Think of it like this. You say you aren’t a Christian (or I take you statement here to say you aren’t one). Do you have Christians telling you that because you are not a Christian you have no problem breaking the acts that are covered in the Ten Commandments? Do you have Christians telling you that if you aren’t a Christian then you hate ____? Do you have Christians saying that Christianity has a monopoly on good behavior? I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and think that you aren’t a killer because you think killing is wrong rather than thinking that Christianity is the only reason people decide that killing is wrong thus anyone who is not Christian supports murder or is a murderer.

    Generalizing can get real ugly real fast.

  2. “I especially don’t accept the definitions of men who don’t identify themselves as feminists. It would be just as inappropriate for me to tell Christians what they believe.”

    We don’t allow bears to define themselves. If we did would they not define themselves as cuddly and harmless that they might gain our trust and gobble us up?

    We don’t allow criminals to define themselves. If we did would they not proclaim their innocence and walk free?

    We don’t allow members of hate movements define themselves. If we did would they not assume the mantle of “the good guys” and claim that they were completely moral?

    No, a group gets to tell us what they believe. But we are absolutely allowed to define that group by its *actions*

  3. More succinctly:

    A group is not defined by its claims, a group is defined by its actions.

  4. The Bad Man says:

    Feminism is defined by the most powerful and influential groups like NOW.

    They don’t fight for equality, that’s a lie.

  5. assman says:

    Should Nazi’s get to self-define themselves too? Because Hitler and most Nazi’s thought they were the last vanguard of civilization and European culture.

    I define myself as: the person who is right about everything. Since my self-definition cannot be questioned it must be accepted. Now I say that Feminism is evil. Therefore it must be according to wonderful logic of Justin. QED.

  6. Mark Neil says:

    “There are also people out there who call themselves feminists, who are hateful toward men, or indifferent, or ignorant. But they don’t get to define all of feminism, any more than Amanda Marcotte gets to decide what all MRAs are like”

    First off, there is a distinct difference in you analogies. For one, the hateful people you say can’t define the whole movement are feminists in both scenario’s, so it’s a dishonest analogy to begin with.

    As to who defines the movement, no individual or segment defines what the movement IS, but they most certainly do define what the movement ISN’T. While I agree that pointing to radical feminists can’t be reasonably used to say the feminist movement is a hate group (and this is where I’ll admit I differ from many other MRA’s. I don’t actualy believe the ideology is a hate ideology), that doesn’t mean that radical feminists, who are recognized as radical FEMINISTS by the rest of the feminist movement (likely thinking segrigating them as radical somehow removes the negative, but so long as that feminist identifier remains, the proceeding point remains intact), can’t be used to prove what feminism ISN’T about. After all, if Andrea Dworkin and her like believes the family must be destroyed, you can’t claim feminism is about strengthening family. Where this contradiction differs from your christianity analogy is in, christianity doesn’t define itself by one of the sides of the contradiction, as feminism often does. Nobody has said christianity is about promoting heterosexuality. They say christianity is about XXX, and being ***insert contradiction*** is the way to do it.

    “The total of people who speak out and call themselves feminists get to define what feminism is.”

    So long as the TOTAL is considered, and no contradictions are established. In otherwords, the common denominator is what defines what feminism is. The each faction can define what THEIR faction is about by the common demominators within that faction. The problem is, most feminists don’t do this.

    And the irony is, when looking at the good feminism does, they are perfectly willing to ascribe all good deeds done by anyone moderately feminist in nature to feminism as a whole, but when someone does the same with a negative, all hell breaks lose and “we’re not monolithic” starts getting thrown around. The hipocrisy is dumbfounding.

    ” I especially don’t accept the definitions of men who don’t identify themselves as feminists.”

    You mean like Amanda Marcotte doesn’t identify as MRA… referencing my point above about the failure in your analogy. I also have to ask, if a women who doesn’t identify as feminist proposes a definition you don’t like, do you dismiss it just as quickly? or is it only non-feminist men you feel justified in dismissing.

    Lastly, regardless of whether you like the definition or not, ether feminism’s definition is set based on the lowest common denominator amongst all it’s factions, or else it’s definition is subjective, at which point you’r complaints of others definition is rather hypocritical and self serving. I’m curious, which is it?

    “It would be just as inappropriate for me to tell Christians what they believe.”

    First, there is a difference between what one “believes” and what one “IS”. when someone says the feminist movement is a hate movement, it doesn’t say anything about what you should believe, just how you’re chosen group comes across. Likewise, if I say christianity is a faith based religion with no imerical facts to prove their case, this doesn’t tell them they can’t believe what they want to. There have been many who believed they were men of good, just, moral men, who were actually mass murderers and psychopaths.

    But I do find it very amuzing how easily you equate the feminist ideology to religious beliefs.

    • Mark Neill writes:
      “As to who defines the movement, no individual or segment defines what the movement IS, but they most certainly do define what the movement ISN’T.”

      Exactly. If there are unwritten rules of the governance of the feminist movement one of those rules would be that fighting for the rights of men is not mandatory (i.e. there is no policing to make sure members are egalitarian), it is *optional*.

      Also, when well-known critics (even ones who self-identify as feminist) talk about the excesses of feminism, they are ostracized from the mainstream branches.

      Warren Farrell (who served as chairman the NY chapter of NOW 3 terms), Christina Hoff-Sommers, Camille Paglia, Cathy Young, and Kathleen Parker have all had this happen.

      The movement actually seems to police AGAINST egalitarian actions or critics of it’s own excessive actions.

  7. The total of people who speak out and call themselves feminists get to define what feminism is. I especially don’t accept the definitions of men who don’t identify themselves as feminists. It would be just as inappropriate for me to tell Christians what they believe.

    The only way a group gets to wholly define itself is if it has no interaction with any other groups. Once a group interacts with others, it is just as fair for people to define what the group represents as any member of the group. Sometimes those definitions are fair and sometimes they are not, but it is ridiculous to say only those who identify as feminists get to say anything about the ideology.

    To make it personal, by your logic my gay brother cannot define evangelical faiths as homophobic because he is neither an Evangelical or a Christian, even if it is easy to show that many evangelical faiths are rabidly homophobic. Likewise, as a male survivor I cannot define feminist-run domestic and sexual violence groups as misandrous because I am not a feminist, even though it is easy to show that many of those groups are rabidly misandrous.

  8. Transhuman says:

    Actions speak louder than words. By their actions taken as a whole, Feminists are not for equality and not concerned with men’s well being. The regimes we vilify in the west also had good points, but their bad points overwhelmed their benefits. From a man’s perspective, Feminism may well work for in the interests of some women, but it does not work in the interests of most men.

  9. Transhuman says:

    Why are articles concerning feminism on the Good Men Project the most heavily censored? It is not a debate when an article is presented lauding Feminism and then any dissenting comments are removed by the mods. If GMP only wants Feminists on this site then come out and say so and I’ll find another forum to discuss issues concerning men.

  10. Transhuman says:

    Everyone, men, women, feminists, masculinist, MRM, MRA, LGBT you name it we are all judged by those outside our sphere of identification based upon what we say AND what we do. In practice, what we DO is far more influential upon peoples opinion of the groups we ascribe to than what we say we believe. In this case we are discussing Feminism and the claim it is good for men, in case in point five specific items were listed as good for men. Yet when men, posting on a site called Good MEN project, take issue with the claims, many of them are shut down by censorship.

    In the very handling of the comments it disproves item 4 on the list “Encourages us to speak in our own voices”. Consider this-

    -Censorship is not encouragement.
    -Mods deleting messages that challenge the premise of the article is not encouragement.
    -Mods adding comments admonishing men not to answer a list based on generalisations about Feminism that are positive, with a counter list of generalisations about Feminism that are negative, is not encouragement.
    -Claiming disagreement constitutes threats is not encouragement.

    These are methods to silence our voices.

  11. Justin writes:

    “The total of people who speak out and call themselves feminists get to define what feminism is. I especially don’t accept the definitions of men who don’t identify themselves as feminists. It would be just as inappropriate for me to tell Christians what they believe.”

    In reverse order:
    The critics of your article (including me) weren’t declaring to know what all feminists believe. We were expressing frustration of the negative affects of feminism on men, and the seeming inclusion of anti-male behavior under the banner of feminism without any consequences or policing from other feminists.

    Also, when you look through the lens of history what you say works exactly the opposite. The people *affected* by a group’s actions are the 1st in line to decide whether the group is positive or negative.

    That is precisely why nazi’s, kkk, and aryan youth are deemed to be bad, because the people *affected* by the groups actions (as well as other observers) get to define what the group stands for.

    What you seem to be saying is that feminism (as a whole based on the aggregate actions of it’s political orgs) is A)free to pick a fight with men and B) immune to criticism.

    I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. People have a right to defend themselves. Groups of people have a right to defend themselves from hurtful laws that subject those groups to 2nd class status based on arbitrary aspects of their birth (color, race, gender).

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