If you’re an outspoken man, and disagree with the feminist consensus, Dominic Falcao writes, there’s maelstrom coming—but it’s OK to be bewildered.
I recently read an article by Hugo Schwyzer on why he resigned from the GMP. The article was depressing because it suggested to me that people of differing ideological stances cannot work in the same publication, especially not on gender topics. Since I read it, I’ve also been concerned to work out why so much internet discussion on feminism is dedicated to the elaboration of tactics used by each side to “derail” one other. Each new article posted is followed by a vicious comment war, trolls unintelligible from the naive but for Bright’s Law, and the tactics being used appearing to get filthier by the day.
And I am beginning to realize why. Someone I respect recently reminded me that “the biggest problem we have to address is the fact that feminism, as much as anything else, is a way of thinking about things, a way of critiquing and a way of analyzing things.”
I suddenly realized why it is so important to me to be right, and why I will do anything to stay on track. The case is best illustrated by an event which has given me cause to feel a level of empathy for Tom Matlack.
I don’t even know how it happened. I just sort of became aware of sexism. As a mixed-race kid growing up in London I had been preoccupied by racism and other forms of discrimination for most of my life. University introduced me to people who noticed these things and stridently made others aware of them: the arbitrary lack of a women’s football team, the overwhelming lack of female performers at local gigs, the absence of female democratic representatives on our student union. This was something illogical, irrational, arbitrary: something I objected to and was eager to change. This was something, which once brought to my attention, hovered just in front of my eyes regardless of what I was looking at.
Of course, I started talking about it. Repeating the observations of my feminist friends, adding to them with my own insights as I discovered my own ability to uncover these rotten bouts of illogicality nestled insidiously into the framework of university life.
I, perhaps foolishly, started a feminist website. It seemed the obvious thing to do—there was no-one talking about this stuff in public. And then? The most surreal intellectual experience of my life. There was a group of people who believed very much the same things as I did, who hated that people could not see gender inequality even when it manifested in the most blatant manner, who loved talking about it and who campaigned for change.
But they were so incredibly hostile. I wandered around like a newborn horse, stumbling home to read reams of esoteric feminist academia to work out why anyone would be so angry that a man was trying to affect change on feminist issues. I felt I had to defend the idea that men could be feminists, I felt that I had to go on a crusade about the tone of arguments used in debates, I felt, and I expressed those feelings.
I have to be right because when I talk about these issues it is too important to be mistaken and risk being wrong about my own identity and manner of perceiving the world. These are debates in which we swap observations about each other. Where perceptions of other people really come out. It is not because I have a “genuine fear of being challenged and confronted”—in fact, I go out of my way to have my views challenged. (How else will I know I’m really right but if for the fact that nobody is able to persuade me otherwise?) No. It’s not this.
I have come to the conclusion that it is because it really is a mindset that has roots deep within our identities. And for men, it’s so much harder than most women seem to appreciate. It is a two-step process of realizing that parts of your personality that you valued and which are useful to you are genuinely harmful to society: we are (blamelessly) toxic, and it is then rejecting those pieces of yourself and persuading others to do the same. It involves realizing that you are born into a dominant position, and giving it up. Men involved in feminism have to preach their own deconstruction.
So when Hugo says that “one of those childish things adult men put away is the need to deflect, belittle, or exaggerate women’s anger,” it does serious damage to the self-esteem of men who are brave enough to admit that they have had their feelings hurt. Tom is labelled childish for being confused and hurt by the strength of views against his position, about the personal tone of the attacks. He expressed thoughts from a place that most men don’t access in public—and was reminded with force why this is so.
I have two constructive conclusions. Firstly, I do not think that the idea of the “angry feminist” is a myth. I think it is a necessary truth. Secondly, the man who is “hurt” by feminist anger needs to be taken more seriously. If you want change, then you will have to accept emotional honesty from men, one part of which will inevitably be bewilderment at the whirlwind of gnashing words that decimates those who disagree with the feminist consensus. And there will always be disagreement; it’s what comes just before understanding amongst those with curious minds. I agree with Hugo on one point: I think that the “grown-up virtues of self-control, responsibility, and manifested empathy” are incredibly important, and it is the lack thereof which shows when the tone used is heavy-handed enough to be labelled “wrath.”
I have one final musing. Hugo’s argument assumes that all feminists criticised for getting angry are women. Without this assumption, lines like “It’s a key anti-feminist strategy … it forces women to become conscious caretakers of their male peers by subduing their own frustration and anger. It reminds young women that they should strive to avoid being one of those ‘angry feminists’ who (literally) scares men off and drives them away” simply don’t make sense. I don’t know if Hugo thinks that female feminists are the only ones who get angry, or whether he thinks that they are the only ones criticised for getting angry—but I assure you, neither of these things is remotely true.