The title of this post, “freshly-hatched gynocratic rage”, is a phrase I came across in an issue of Bitch magazine, lo these many years ago, and I apologize for not being able to dig up the name of the author who originally coined it. She described it, more or less, as the phase every feminist woman goes through where she takes her first women’s studies course, suddenly sees and understands the pervasiveness of the damage and unfairness our society subjects women to, and spends a year or two completely pissed off. Most feminist women I know recall going through this period in one form or another; one always jokes that she’s relieved she got it out of the way when she was thirteen, like finishing your homework early.
Discovering that phrase was one of my click moments with feminism, when it really started to sink in that the knee-jerk gender hostility I’d encountered at my first college was not actually the be-all and end-all of feminist thought, and maybe I should start learning more. As I’ve written before, feminism made a really bad first impression on me. Over the years I’ve spoken to tons of other men, and a lot of women, who feel the same way. The first person they knew who actively called themselves a feminist tended to be… kinda ragey.
Now, you can say I’m just doing the Tone Argument here, but honestly, this is more about marketing than anything else. There is nothing else in the set with feminism, in terms of a movement or philosophy that people broadly agree with all the principles of, and yet loathe being associated with the name of. We’ve all seen plenty of people going “Sure, I believe in gender equality, but I’m not a feminist!” You don’t really see a lot of folks going “Sure, I believe in detaching myself from desire so as to become free of the cycle of reincarnation, but I’m not a Buddhist!” Feminism is more popular as a concept, while being less popular as a name, than anything else I can think of. Obviously, a lot of that is the ugly societal pushback against the gains of the feminist movement, but let’s not deny that a lot of the damage has also been self-inflicted.
It’s difficult; lord knows there are plenty of reasons to be mad at the kyriarchy; I’m mad at it right now. Denying activists’ right to be good and pissed off is to deny activism, and insisting that people only challenge power structures in ways that don’t ever make anyone uncomfortable mean you’re just propping up those structures. And yet, and yet. Feminism accidentally creates its own anti-evangelists, folks who must’ve skimmed Feminism Is For Everybody, because they go around telling various others “Well, it’s not for you, asshole!” That’s also propping up the power structures you’re trying to fight.
I’m not sure what’s to be done about this difficult phenomenon. Human nature tends to get overenthusiastic about new things, whether it’s New Relationship Energy in poly circles (aka the Fuzzy Pink Stupids) or that one friend of yours who just discovered anime or Bob Dylan or what have you, and can’t shut up about it. Discovery of the incredibly pervasive nature of gendered injustice combines the power of novelty with the power of legitimate outrage at something profoundly wrong, and it’s easy to overshoot.
Some feminists never leave this stage, of course, and it’d be nice if there was a special bar where they could hang out with all the MRAs who run on misogynistic resentment (I could have saved five extraneous words there, I suppose) and leave the rest of us alone. Most, though, outgrow it and learn to place things in context a little better. That’s fine, but it doesn’t solve the anti-evangelism problem. Too many people got told “Feminism’s not for you, asshole!” and thought “Well shit, I’ll take your word for it then.” Some of us, like me, later learn better. Others end up writing for Cosmopolitan, and that’s just horrible.
I don’t pretend to have a clear solution here. I’m just a moderately popular blogger who occasionally gets drafted for a typewriter fight. I’m curious what other folks’ stories are, though, your own tales of gynocratic rage and how you, one way or another, learned to move beyond that kind of simplistic nerve-twitch view of gender issues.