I travel a lot in what’s called the Manosphere, which is a loose collection of anti-feminists, men’s rights activists, pick-up artists and other terribly annoying people with more web presence than brainpower. These dudes (and the women chock-full of internalized misogyny who are their allies) love to write articles like “Why I’ll Never Date a Feminist,” or give talks on why feminism is a cancer, or…you know, I really don’t want to ruin your day with these examples. Watch this short clip of Paul McGann (the Eighth Doctor Who) narrating a documentary about owls instead.
Better? Okay, moving on. In the interest of populating the Internet with less ridiculous nonsense, I want to drop out five questions I wish these people would ask themselves before penning their “takedown” of feminism.
5. Do You Actually Know Anything About Feminism?
Because it’s pretty clear most of these people have never read a feminist article with an open mind, taken a women’s studies class or opened a book by bell hooks or Susan Faludi or any other driving force in feminist thought. Often they freely admit this. Prominent anti-feminist YouTuber Carl Benjamin (Sargon of Akkad) rather prissily said so when he debated Dr. Kristi Winters on feminism, and Davis Aurini, who released a whole documentary against Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, admitted in an interview he doesn’t watch the video series. When they bother to attend an event where a feminist speaks, they grab the floor and talk instead of listening.
It’s perfectly fine to not know anything about feminism, but it’s really apparent when you don’t, and no one of substance is going to take you seriously when you insist on pontificating on the subject anyway. If you want a basic guide to terms, ideas and other aspects, here’s one that a seven-year-old can understand (I tested this on a seven-year-old personally). Maybe give it a glance through before writing. Next question…
4. Do You Actually Know Any Feminists?
More accurately, “are you about to complain about something you heard a feminist say, or are you signal boosting something someone else said a feminist said?” There is a whole cottage industry in the Manosphere and on places like Breitbart and A Voice For Men that exclusively caters to reframing the words of feminists in ways that do not in any way make sense or resemble their original intent. If your information source is strictly a second-hand account, odds are you are not getting good information.
Beyond that, you can expose yourself to feminists rather easily for the unfiltered truth. Jessica Valenti is lovely on Twitter, as are Ijeoma Oluo and Lindy West. Steve Shives is great if you want a male and atheist perspective. Heck, I have a very liberal Facebook friend policy, and I’ll talk to you as long as you like provided you’re polite and respectful and can use a bloody paragraph break. Harassment is unwelcome, but information seeking in good faith is always appreciated.
3. Is This About Your Sex Life?
If the subject of feminism comes up and your first response is to discuss how this might affect who you get to screw, you’ve already lost the portion of your audience that matters and you’re going home alone. Feminists date, marry and have sex, but this is not their only life goal, and the idea that someone who doesn’t share their desire for gender equality won’t boink them is not exactly keeping any of them up with worry. Most women I know find the idea of dying surrounded by cats instead of with a clueless sexist a pretty good second choice, right after finding a partner who respects them as an equal.
It’s gotten to the point you end up with dudes dreaming about the apocalypse and how it will empower them to buy sex with canned goods after the “primal order” is re-established. They literally wish for the complete collapse of society to elevate them to “meaningful enough to not totally avoid” in the eyes of modern women. Call me crazy, but to me that sounds an awful lot like saying the real solution is maybe bettering your own lot in life. To quote Stone Cold Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice after Mr. Darcy claims he never learned how to not act like a jerk…
"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault — because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."
In short, feminism does not exist to wet your dick, so there’s really no point bringing it up.
2. Have You Ever Done Any Basic Gender Inequality Research?
I shouldn’t have to explain that gender inequality is a thing. It’s literally the history of our entire species, and being anti-feminism is simply anti-statistics and anti-science.
It sometimes seems like there’s this influx of new feminist ideas, but that’s only because the Internet has brought academia to the average person in the past couple of decades. Most of what the anti-feminists think are radical third-wave ideas are nothing of the sort. Cultivation theory, the idea that the media we consume can influence our ideas and behaviors about things like gender roles, is a half-century old and the third-most-cited theory in media studies. Rape culture didn’t spring up from a few college kids in the past few years; it’s been around as a concept since the ‘70s. These sorts of things aren't fringe or new; they're just fringe and new to you.
The fact is no country has achieved gender parity. Any look at basic statistical analyses of income and status will show men continue to outnumber women in every private and public power structure in the world. Even the places where women appear to have an advantage reinforce sexist ideas.
The oft-cited statistic that men lose custody cases more often than women in divorces is simply false. When a man asks for custody, he gets it more often than not, but many men are just not as involved in their children’s lives as mothers owing to a variety of society’s sexist expectations regarding who will be the caregiver. Not to mention that despite being half the workforce, women are still doing most of the housework and parenting, which often holds back their careers and choices. Even the claim that more women graduate college at a higher rate than men, which is true, ignores the fact that this is because women enter male-dominated fields more than men enter women-dominated ones, and that even with a degree they still earn less with it.
You can’t make the case with good science and data that women have surpassed men or that the balance has shifted to a “feminized society.” You only perceive it that way because male domination is seen as the default where female equality is perceived as domination.
1. Can You Name a Woman You Admire as an Equal or Your Superior?
During the Republican primary debates, the candidates were asked what woman they would put on the $10 bill, and 45 percent of them would not or could not name a historically important woman for the honor, including the only female candidate on the stage. The man who went on to win, Donald Trump, couldn’t name a single woman he’d put in a cabinet post aside from possibly his daughter.
This is important because the ability to see women accomplishing things and feel pride and awe rather than vague anxiety is the key to sexism’s continued erosion. Can you feel it? No, your mother or wife or daughter or sister or any other woman who fits into an easily defined traditional domestic role in your life doesn’t count no matter how awesome she may be. No, not a fictional woman or a historical figure, either. I mean a real, living woman out there doing things you wish you could do who inspires you to follow in her footsteps.
I can. I mentioned Jessica Valenti earlier, and I want to be her if I grow up. Barring her, I’ll settle for being Skye Knizley. I admire female leaders like Tammy Duckworth, Barbara Boxer and, yes, Hillary Clinton.
If you can’t do that, maybe close that anti-feminist article on your laptop and go take a walk. You might actually be the subject under discussion, whether you realize it or not.
Jef's collection of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is available now.