After long discussion, your humble editors have come to the conclusion that Look, Kitten might actually embody The Worst About Internet Feminism as She Is Practiced. Given that fact, it feels almost a little unfair to argue against it. It’s like taking down a straw-man, except with a veneer of intellect ual respectability added because, well, someone is actually an advocate for the straw man position.
With that in mind, I’m going to aim at responding both to Milanese’s horrible argument as it’s actually outlined and gesture at the broader problem it represents. Without further ado, the last point of her argument, namely:
You might be a fauxminist if you disagree with me on any of these points.
Wait, sorry. My hands slipped there. Without further ado:
He is pissed off by this article.
That’s better. In my defense, the keys are, like, right next to each other.
Ok, I promised there’d be less ado than this, but here’s one more: This section, like the entire rest of the essay, is really fond of bolting qualifiers to “feminism” and “male feminists” like “supposed” and “legitimate.” This is wildly offensive and does, yes, piss me off. It’s down-talk, pure and simple. Also, its attempt to limit feminism to only what the author believes in is a dictatorial move. But I’m not going to talk about that except insofar as I already have. The real flaw in Milanese’s argument is that she’s deliberately creating a double bind on any dissenting position.
Here’s an epigram I made up:
“I have found an infallible test for determining the truth or falsity of a man’s ideas. I simply ask him ‘do you agree with me?’” – Mark Twain
To be a male feminist, Milanese offers, “requires a lot of listening – most often a lot of listening to how much people like you suck.” And once you’ve gotten used to apparently being tarred with a broad brush for your privileged status, you can expect “no cookies and no pats on the head,” because to do otherwise ”is also to remain content in a privilege afforded to them in every other social space.” All in all, it’s going to be pretty rough, thankless work being a male feminist, but seriously, did you expect any admiration for your “ultra-admirable dedication to decent human being-hood?”
Male feminists, in short, need to be saints. Saints who are content listen, wait, and receive nothing in return but the satisfaction of being on the side of the angels. Ugh.
But the move she’s made here is brilliant: she’s equated dissatisfaction at being treated with suspicion, abuse, and derision with the wholesale unexamined embrace of privilege. And at the very same time she’s drawn a line between disagreeing with her and that “dissatisfaction.” To recap:
a) If you disagree with this article, you’re dissatisfied.
b) If you’re dissatisfied with your treatment in feminist circles, it’s probably because you haven’t gotten over your privilege hangover. Check that shit, and then we’ll talk.
The only reason you can disagree with these points (based on the lived experience of a Real Live Woman) is because you’re wrong. To call that move “intellectual dishonest” would be a disservice to proud sophists everywhere.
The Care And Needling of a Male Feminist
“I Find Your Lack of Faith… Disturbing”
Milanese closes out the article with some advice for all the lady feminists out there who encounter “professed” or “self-proclaimed” male feminists. And, uh, I’m actually just going to blockquote this motherfucker because it is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever read by someone who probably shares my basic convictions:
While it is important for the feminist movement to be large, powerful, and diverse, if the commitment of any particular person is not up to par there should be a total of zero tears shed over their exodus from the movement. While men certainly have a place in feminism, they need to understand that this place will be radically different from the place they currently enjoy in the current social climate. If they can’t come to grips with that, then they won’t be any help anyway.
“Feminazi” is one of my least favorite words in the English language. The consonants are ugly together and I frankly think it looks like shit written out. Plus the notion that you could hear the tromp of jackboots in, like, the voices of people calling for the right to birth control is crazy. And it was a word that Rush Limbaugh made up in a sputtering haze of painkiller-fueled invective. So there’s that, too.
But if anyone is a feminazi, it’s Megan Milanese. She wants a large, powerful, movement of people to rise up and destroy the existing order. But not in a cool, “big tent,” everybody-gets-to-come-destroy-patriarchy kinda way. She wants a pure movement. And when she says she wants diversity, she could really take or leave whether half of the entire planet was represented in that diversity. There is something undeniably repulsive and fascistic about that.
And how does she recommend achieving that purity? Any time you meet a “supposed male feminist,” be an ass to him:
The best way to determine whether or not a man is actually dedicated to social justice and equality is to press him on it. It’s easy to be involved in social justice activism if you are getting your ego stroked because of it… Assessing how much of a rupture that causes in any particular self-proclaimed “ally” is important, and it should not be avoided for fear of “alienating” men who claim feminism.
Her core position is that male feminists should, as a baseline response, be treated with distrust and probing. Her worry is that people get involved in SJ activism because it feels good, which might mean that they aren’t “all in” in their commitment to the goals of the movement. (By the way, treating men as basically egos manipulated by the praise of women is a really sexist thing to do. Just by the way.) That is paranoiac reasoning, pure and simple. That is hogwash.
And as long as people like Milanese argue that suspicion is the right way to treat male feminist converts, we’re going to have a shortage of them.
Here’s my radical claim: If you don’t feel good about activism, or being a feminist, don’t do it. Being on the side of equality and justice feels right. That’s why I’m here: because after a long period of despising “feminism” I realized that the problem was that I’d merely been mistreated by people who identified as feminists. So don’t let needling ideological purists and mistrustful dogmatics heckle you. If you think you’re a feminist, you probably are.
The Right to Speak
But here’s where I gesture at the larger problem: This treatment of male feminism as suspect and requiring “proof” is something Milanese thinks she can argue for because it’s actually a mainstream position within feminism. To be a male feminist is, often times, to be treated as someone who cannot speak, shouldn’t speak, and whose opinions are inherently suspect because of your gender. I tried multiple times to write that sentence in some way that didn’t make the parallel between the treatment of male feminists under feminism and the treatment of women under patriarchy less analogous. But I failed.
Some day, maybe I’ll write the post about how long I avoided “feminism” as a label because I’d never once met a feminist I liked. (I openly mocked a high school friend when she stated her identity as an “omnisexual genderfluid bio-girl” because it sounded more like a sentai show than something a person could be.) And even today, that number remains pretty low. It’s gotten bigger, though, and I’m glad.
We’re still in the early stages of this blog-project, so we’re disproportionately prone to statements of purpose. Give us time, I’m sure we’ll get over it. But allow me this one:
I am writing a blog about feminism, gender, and the things that interest me because I see a need that isn’t being served. These discussions, particularly on the internet, are being handled in a way that limits out voices like mine. And I will fight the small-minded demagogues and gender-puritans in the streets to let people like myself into the discussion.