While it’s not well-documented (yet), my relationship with feminism on the internet is… troubled
Now, I’m a feminist. I’m even an angry, pretty radical feminist. I call people out for slut shaming and the use of certain gendered words, I yell at television shows when they’re being sexist (Rake is very tolerant) and I earnestly want to see all gender roles in our society destroyed and replaced with choice and freedom.
I just also sort of think that men, even white, cis men, deserve to talk and to be listened to. So, it’s complex.
Now, this is late news, but last July Lawsonry published this article by Megan Milanese about male feminists behaving badly. Even though the article is a year old, I think that it remains fairly characteristic of how feminists on the internet treat male feminists.
So, let’s talk about it. Milanese’s article is broken up into nine sections, each of which describes a warning-sign for a “fauxminist.” I want to respond to each of those segments, so it’s gonna get long. I’m doing this in three parts, each part dealing with three of Milanese’s points. Now! Let’s take a beautiful country stroll through the Land of Problematic Opinions, shall we?
Title: Look, Kitten, I Am Too A Feminist
My objections to this article start here. It portrays male feminists as fakers, and suggests that their charade is deliberate and for the purpose of showing off to women, who they demean.
I don’t want to talk too much about titles, though. Titles are attention-grabbers and can be deliberately hyperbolic in order to draw readers. This title pisses me off, but I’m not gonna dissect it any further than I already have because titles are simply not always reflective of the arguments in their articles. Briefly, though, it’s important to note that this undermining, distrustful, and skeptical attitude towards the feminist identity of men will continue throughout the article, and will continue to be grating and seriously problematic.
Intro (or, The Bad Beginning)
Anyway. This article begins, essentially, with “It’s great when men identify as feminists, but.” Because, according to Milanese, more than merely identifying as a feminist, male feminists must “actually [stick] to the tenets of that identity and philosophy.” She goes on to claim that “[m]any a woman-identified feminist is unwilling to speak out against men who self-ID with the movement for fear of alienating them from the cause all together [sic] – or worse – becoming the man-hating stereotype,” but that she is unafraid of such a label and is, therefore, willing to tackle the serious issue of “fauxminism, in male, masculine-identified allies,” (emphasis original).
I think that the bullhonkey quotient on this article is real high. So, here we go.
There are undeniable issues with the way that men treat women, even in feminist circles. Many things that appear to be issues, however, come about because female-identified feminists assume things about male-identified feminists, and/or because there simply are no specific “tenets of that identity and philosophy,” beyond the obvious “women are people, too” and those differences in interpretation cause clashes. Furthermore, a dismissive, skeptical view of male feminists is both not okay and very much ingrained in most of Milanese’s points.
He interrupts women that he speaks with.
I don’t actually take much issue with this first section. Interrupting people is pretty rude, and interrupting ladies when you’re claiming to respect ‘em is extra bad.
Unfortunately, she then goes on to state that “[l]egitimate male feminists make a concerted effort not to interrupt the women they’re speaking with,” and “they work to limit their male privilege within the confines of spoken communication.” I don’t much like this because realizing what to question about your own behavior and acting on those questions is hard. Coming to be a better feminist by reprogramming the way you think and talk while learning to be more socially conscious in general, is hard. And nobody is perfect.
The fact that someone is still learning or hasn’t yet figured out that what they’re doing is wrong in no way makes them, their identification, or their struggle illegitimate or “faux.”
Now, it’s different when someone is told repeatedly that their behavior is bad and unapologetically sticks with it. A person who does this is a jerk. But! You just can’t assume that someone is a jerk, especially if you’re assuming they’re a jerk because they’re a dude. That makes you a jerk. So don’t do that, you jerk.
He expects to be given leadership roles far before he’s ready for them.
Here is another sensationalist title. This section is really about how men are sometimes put in leadership positions in feminist groups “before they’re ready,” because “[i]t makes sense to fight back against stereotypes by having men at the forefront of feminist groups. It’s a great PR strategy.” I think that this is an important point and I’ll get back to it in another post. Putting men in the leadership positions of feminist groups, Milanese continues, can contribute to the “impression that feminism is only relevant if men are in charge of it.” Which would be unfortunate, obviously, if anyone ever thought that at all.
But here’s the problem with the section: Milanese never actually argues that men are asking for these positions, or warrants the claim their “asking” is somehow the result of either external patriarchal pressure or internal expectations. Exclusively discussed is the notion that men have been put in positions of power. By other people.
“You can’t smash the patriarchy by adhering to its demands for the privileged to always be calling the shots,” Milanese says. Unfortunately, she never links the mere fact that men can hold positions of leadership within activist organization with the influence of the patriarchy. As it stands, all we have here is a PR move that can backfire and which involves male feminists who Milanese is inexplicably blaming and calling attention seekers.
Milanese gives a (fine) definition of mansplaining as “any instance in which a man explains a subject to a woman despite that woman’s personal experience with said subject or proven expertise in that subject.”
And here, again, I depart from her: Milanese dislikes it when men “wax poetic to [her] about feminism— especially about how much [she’s] hurting [her] own cause.” She snarks, “I’m sure if a man was in charge, feminism would be over and done with and we’d all be living in post-patriarchal utopia by now. The only thing in our way is our very existence, and ‘feminist’ mansplainers are here to make us understand that.” (More on the ways that I think feminist discourse is seriously harmed by its relationship to sarcasm later.)
The issue here is that a man disagrees with her, especially about the way she comports herself. This man is probably making a “tone argument” and/or being a “concern troll.” But to read “men would handle feminism better than women do” into “the way you comport yourself is harming your cause,” is an incredible leap in logic. Also, either way, it’s not even slightly mansplaining.
Milanese rejects the notion that the concept of mansplaining should be divisive, claiming that, really, the only thing that sucks about mansplaining is the fact that men do it. She goes on: “Marginalized people should not have to suffer communicative indignities just to keep privileged people around. If those marginalized communities must be silenced or spoken down to in order for the privileged to stay, I would be just fine with showing those with unexamined privilege the door.”
Now, let’s put this in some context. Earlier in the article, she states that mansplaining is seen as controversial “mostly because it calls out men for a behavior they often don’t know they’re doing, and this in turn raises the defensive hackles.”
So, together what these statements say is this: “Many men, when they arrive in feminist circles have unexamined bad behavior, like a tendency to mansplain. When called on this they become defensive because it is difficult to be called on things; especially when you’re trying and you think you’re better than that. But, fuck that. They’re privileged, and, therefore, must work harder. Male feminists ought to be held to a high bar if they want to stick around feminist circles. Anything else and their feminism is false.”
And that’s not a stance I can get behind.
This higher bar that privileged male feminists must pass is one of my major disagreements with Milanese’s position and actually feminism generally. The notion that some people need to give 110% just to claim the label seems unfair and hostile. Also, this “show them the door” attitude towards people who fail to rise to her standard of ideological and behavioral purity is pretty galling. And it’s not just people who rise to an objective standard of some sort, but anyone who fails to rise to her particular brand of feminism.
It’s tempting to just qualify Milanese as a crap feminist who’d love to kick everyone out of the treehouse. But the problem is that she’s not even close to being alone in this attitude towards purity.
That’s all I have time for right this second. Soon, parts two and three. Hurrah!