After sifting through pop feminism and manosphere dialogues for quite some time, one thing is abundantly clear: each ‘side’ thinks the other is the worst scum-filled boil ever to burst on the ass of humanity.
Now before anyone screams at me, let me make it clear that pop feminism does not cover all feminism, and the manosphere does not encompass all Men’s Rights activism. This admittedly old but excellent piece by Emily Gould gives a pretty good idea of what constitutes pop feminism and why it can be problematic. Discerning what falls into the ‘manosphere’ category is a bit easier, as such material often explicitly describes itself as part of said manosphere. Both fields are basically the easy-access, non-academic, online branches of these respective movements. They are websites like Jezebel and Return of Kings, not to mention innumerable individual bloggers, who bring an opinion-based approach to analysing contemporary gender issues.
Both pop feminism and the manosphere can be extraordinarily hate-filled places, and each is extremely good at finding flaws in the other. One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that quite often the accuser is doing the very same thing as the accused – they just can’t see it. And it seems to me that both sides are guilty of doing a number of things that effectively shoot their own causes right in the foot. So I’ve drawn up a little list, of the seven things that people engaged in pop feminism and the manosphere both do that are self-defeating and/or just downright silly. As I said, this is not an analysis of either the overall feminist movement or the overall men’s rights movement; both are diverse causes and both have their good and bad aspects. This is a comparison of just two fairly similar branches of these respective movements, though some of the issues in this list could definitely be applied to other aspects of both the feminist and the men’s rights movements. OK, here we go…
Seven Things I Hate About You
(1) Conspiracy Theories. Individuals on both sides of the pond have a tendency to whack on the tin-foil hat with alarming alacrity. Often when faced with someone of the opposite gender disagreeing with or criticising them, the man or women in question will start waxing lyrical (or ludicrous) about the patriarchal or feminist apparatus which pervades society and seeks to oppress their Interweb-voice. I’ve seen the terms ‘misogyny’ and ‘misandry’ bandied about so often I think they’re imprinted on my eyeballs. Now, as I pointed out in my previous post, there is no feminist/misandrist conspiracy to systematically oppress the men of the Western world. And whilst patriarchy is undoubtedly still a powerful force in society, it is by no means a conspiracy – it’s a collection of traditions built up by the heterosexual white men who have historically controlled our society. It’s a tragically discriminatory system, but it is maintained more out of an unwillingness to break with tradition rather than an active desire to oppress. A person’s comments or behaviour may be insulting, but that does not automatically constitute misogyny or misandry. There’s a marked difference between someone offending you, and you being the victim of systematic gender-based oppression.
(2) Focusing Too Much on Women. It doesn’t surprise me that pop feminism focuses a lot on women. It does surprise me to see how much of the manosphere is also dedicated to discussing women – how to attract them, why to avoid them, what sort of women are best, and above all how feminism is ruining them. In the former case, this is problematic because it reinforces the idea that feminism is a women’s rights movement, as opposed to a gender equality movement (which seeks to increase rights and liberties for everyone). In the manosphere it’s an issue for two reasons. Firstly, discussing the modern woman as a problem detracts attention from other much more tangible issues affecting men such as depression, substance abuse, inequitable divorce laws and unemployment. And secondly, targeting feminism and Western women as the cause of such problems removes the impetus to tackle other (and more realistic) causes of these problems, such as economic changes or outdated laws. When we focus on women as either the heroes or the villains of the gender rights discourse, we diminish both the rights and responsibilities of men. Most critically of all, it limits the capacity of either movement to support and accept the diverse range of male identities that are emerging in our society as traditional gender norms are increasingly broken down.
(3) Childishness. OK, I get that this is the Internet, and it’s not exactly a bastion of rational discourse. But when even the people writing the articles are coming off as infantile, it can get a little exasperating. Fortunately there are not many actual writers guilty of this, and it’s mostly relegated to the comments section. But it does seem that some of the guys at ROK can’t write a single article about women without referring to them as “sluts”, “whores”, “bitches” or my personal favourite, the “Americunt”. (Apparently it’s also really funny to always write “Jizzabel” instead of “Jezebel” – maybe I’m just a humourless feminist?) Pop feminism is often not as directly abusive, but I do find that in many of the articles I read on sites like Jezebel, any analysis ends up being overwhelmed by mockery and a ‘look how much I don’t care about your opinion’ vibe. Quite frankly, some of it just feels like bad writing. And in the comments it’s tragic how easily people fall back into the “You obviously need a fuck”, “You have a tiny dick/loose vagina”, “HAR HAR GOOD ONE TROLL” retorts. I mean, really? Again, I realise that people get mad on the Interwebs; but the speed at which these discussions snowball into a virtual cage full of screaming monkeys throwing their own poo at each other is really just depressing. As for the writers themselves, it does kind of seem like being deliberately insulting or inflammatory is a really quick way to get people not to listen to you. Even if your insults aren’t directed at them, a person who comes off as unable to contain their own anger or disdain towards others is far less likely to be considered rational, and this kind of writing sadly obscures the message of some otherwise very thought-provoking articles.
(4) Sex as a Weapon. This one relates far more to individual commenters than anything else. Apparently there are plenty of people out there who think that threatening other people with sexual violence and/or genital mutilation is a totally acceptable thing to do on the Internet. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen someone threaten to stalk/rape/mutilate/castrate someone for daring to voice an opinion which differs from their own. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people. I get that it’s natural to want to lash out at others when they make you angry, but this is not the schoolyard and you don’t have the excuse of ‘the heat of the moment’ to justify you saying something like that. You’re typing for shit’s sake, you can take 2 minutes to think up a retort that doesn’t involve raping someone or cutting off their genitals. Making threats of sexual violence doesn’t help anybody, all it does is encourage the frankly hideous idea that sex is a weapon that men and women can use against each other to punish and assert their dominance.
(5) Coincidence Doesn’t Exist. Time and again, I come across the idea that anytime a man or woman does anything bad, it’s because they have a penis or a vagina. Actually that’s a little unfair – sometimes they also did the bad thing because they are feminists or anti-feminists. Point is, both pop feminism and the manosphere seem to stare blankly past the idea that the reason a person does something bad might be linked more to their personality than to their gender or gender-related beliefs. Gender studies has given us the framework to view almost any issue through the prism of gender, and this is a great social tool. But just because we can do this, that doesn’t always mean that we should. And ascribing someone’s behaviour to their gender or beliefs about gender is fundamentally destructive to gender equality. Why? Because it reinforces the idea that someone’s gender is the single most important thing about them. People don’t act shitty or get angry at other people because of their gender identity; they do it because they got divorced, or they had a rough day, or they’re getting paid less than their male coworkers, or they had a very traditional upbringing, or they’re a rape survivor, or maybe they’re just a natural asshole, or because of any of these fucking complexities that make up a real human being. We’re never going to get one step closer to gender equality if we keep behaving as though the type of genitals you’re born with is the deciding factor in the way you think, act, and live your life.
(6) Common Ground, Common Goals. This is probably the thing that disappoints me the most. Neither pop feminism nor the manosphere is particularly good at seeking out ways they can cooperate with one another. It’s not surprising that they can’t see much good in each other, but that doesn’t stop either group from seeking out other sources and areas of the feminist and men’s rights movements with which they might have more in common. There is so much focus on differences and division, on all the things that those who disagree with their views are doing to make the world a worse place for everyone but them. As though the widespread suffering of other human beings would be the life goal of anyone who didn’t belong in prison. They really do seem to think that MRA’s want women to suffer, and feminists want men to suffer. Could it not just be that both movements are trying to encourage changes that they genuinely think would benefit all of society, not just themselves? And could it be that gender equality does not deprive either men or women of their fundamental human rights? I understand that patriarchy and feminism can’t really coexist peacefully; but I believe men’s rights and feminism can work together for a common goal. After all, each movement fundamentally asks that one gender should not be more oppressed than the other. But until that becomes a widespread part of both feminism and men’s rights discourses the two movements are more likely to clash than to cooperate.
(7) Rise of the Robots. Most of all, there seems to be a real reluctance to see the people on the other side of the debate as real people. They’re often represented as some kind of sinister monolith, rather than as a collection of diverse human beings partially united by their belief in feminism or men’s rights. And there are so few attempts to understand why others think the way they do about gender, why they disagree with one another. It’s enough to know that they hold that belief, and that it contradicts and therefore threatens your own. People don’t just wake up one day believing in something, they have experiences and struggles and learning that leads them to the opinions they have. I’ve personally found that by unpacking the motives of others, I discover I actually have ideas in common with people I would never have imagined agreeing with. It’s not enough to know what someone thinks; we must also understand why they think it, because that is the true reason behind their ideas and actions, and that is what we must address if we ever want to work with each other rather than against each other. Not just for gender equality, but for anything.
Well, there you have it. As a final point, I’d just like to clarify that I’m not trying to trash any of the sites I mention: I think blogs like Jezebel, Return of Kings, and the blogs of individuals have a lot to offer to the struggle for gender equality. Pop feminism and the manosphere both contain some very insightful and thought-provoking work, and they’re a really important resource if we want to make gender equality more than an academic concept. It’s just that after reading this stuff for quite a while I can’t help but notice a lot of people in glass houses throwing stones. I’m hoping that highlighting some of the problems that both groups share will help people see that these causes are not so different from each other, and that they certainly don’t need to be diametrically opposed to one another.