Seven Things I Hate About You

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.

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Seven Things I Hate About You

  1. Hello! Another excellent post, thanks for some great beach reading 🙂
    My number eight for this list would have to be a reluctance on both sides to ask questions – there seems to be a lot of “nope, you’re wrong” but I think in any discussion about feminism it’s important to know what kind of place anti – feminist or anti-men remarks are coming from. They can come from a place of hatred, but they can also come from misinformation, ignorance, thoughtlessness, even poor choice of words or miscommunication, and each of these things needs to be addressed in a totally different manner and commenting style. I have so much respect for people on either side who are interested to know why someone feels the way they feel, and are able to use that as a tool in discussion.

    Also particularly loved your end point that both movements have a lot more common ground than they think – I totally agree that feminism is a gender equality movement, not just a women’s rights movement – although I still like to call it feminism rather than gender equality as I like to acknowledge that it was a movement begun by women, and I think the name is an appropriate homage to the bravery of those women. Would love to hear more of your thoughts on the name itself as I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had 🙂

    Take care!

    • Hey Amy! I’m so glad you’re commenting, you’re such a brain-box and it’s awesome to have your input 🙂 I think you’re dead on about the not asking questions thing, I get kind of exhausted by the way people make assumptions about people and label them, or else automatically make assumptions about the labels they’ve chosen for themselves. I’ve been reading and commenting a couple of men’s rights blogs lately, and it’s quite alarming how quickly people seem to become hostile after they identify me as a feminist (even though I’ve never actually described myself as such). It’s almost as though the way you identify yourself by labels like “feminist” or “anti-feminist” or “gender equality” or whatever is more important than what you actually believe, and so often people just hear the label and make assumptions about what others think based solely on that. Which is a shame because feminism, men’s rights and gender equality are all incredibly diverse movements and each includes a huge range of perspectives, it seems like such a loss not to want to investigate more thoroughly and instead just jump to conclusions.

      I’m so glad you brought up the point about the name ‘feminism’ because it’s something I struggle with a lot! I actually really want to do a post on it soon. So often I wonder whether I should or shouldn’t identify as a feminist. I’ve always understood it to be a gender equality movement, but then the strict definition of it and much of the material I’m reading at the moment clearly delineates is as a women’s rights movement. I’ve also found that people who have absolutely nothing against feminism, and do believe that it can encourage gender equality, still view it primarily as a women’s rights movement. It’s hard because I’ve always held a really clear view of what feminism means to me, but now I’m discovering that to so many people it means something quite different – should I change the way I identify myself to be more consistent with the views of others? Is it arrogant of me to expect that they should accept my definition of feminism over the one that they themselves understand to be accurate?

      I’ve also found that identifying oneself as a feminist when talking to anti-feminists automatically results in hostility and an unwillingness to engage. Which is really hard because I so want to hear what these people have to say, but it can be quite hard to engage with them when they can be quite aggressive and antagonistic, and as far as I can tell I’ve done nothing to provoke them except to not talk negatively about feminism. Should I avoid calling myself a feminist in order to avoid confrontation with people who I know are anti-feminist? Is that dishonest, to them or to myself? And do I need to ‘label’ myself as anything at all? Is it not enough to say that I believe in gender equality – do I need to explicitly state whether I support feminism as part of an overall struggle for gender equality?

      Ahhh it’s so confusing! Like I said I’m super keen to do a post on it, because I think the gender equality movement needs a bit of an overhaul in order to be more cooperative and effective, and I sometimes wonder if terms like ‘feminism’ and ‘men’s rights’ get in the way of people’s ability to work together for a common goal. And I’m so glad you told me about your perspective, of calling it feminism as a homage to the women who started the movement – I’ve never heard that before, and I think it’s one of the best points I’ve ever heard in favour of continuing to use the term feminism. I’d love to include it when I (hopefully) eventually do a big fat rambling piece about it!

      Take care, and thanks so much again for reading and commenting, it means a lot! 🙂

  2. Very well done. I do have an issue with point 2. Feminism IS a women’s rights movement, not a gender equality movement. This is not misinformation or misunderstanding. It is the dictionary. Websters, OED, Dictionary.com, and the google definition (box at the top when googling “Define Feminism”) all define feminism as advocacy for women’s rights. I’m going to stick with the dictionaries and say feminism IS a Women’s Rights Movement.

    Feminism does attempt to argue for gender equality, but only in the limited cases where it also is about women’s Rights. This is exceedingly problematic. Feminism is by far the dominant discourse on gender, and the limits of feminism make this very problematic.

    • Hi again! I’m actually really glad you brought this up because it’s something I also find really problematic. I frequently wonder whether or not I do/should identify as a feminist. Everything I ever learned about feminism, either in academia or in seeing it applied and discussed in the real world, led me to believe that it is primarily a gender equality movement. But as I get older and look at a wider variety of sources, especially when seeking out viewpoints that disagree with my own, I’m coming to see that most people view feminism as a women’s rights movement rather than a gender equality movement. And as you rightly pointed out, the very name ‘feminism’ delineates the movement as primarily focused on women.

      I’m not misguided enough to think that feminism has done nearly as much for men as it has for women, and I know many people believe feminism has done nothing at all to help men (a view I’m coming to understand more and more). What I normally posit is that feminism was imagined as a gender equality movement at its inception , but like any ideological movement applied to reality, it’s been drawn away from its original goals. But even this is problematic, as I’m well aware that feminism began as the women’s liberation movement, and that there was a men’s liberation movement conceived alongside it. My understanding is that men’s liberationists were inspired by the women’s lib movement to try and break down gender stereotypes for men as women’s lib was doing for women; but that doesn’t change the fact that women’s and men’s liberation were still two separate (if closely linked) movements. So I often question what my belief in feminism as a gender equality movement has been founded on; I’ve read and witnessed considerable proof that it does promote gender equality, but is that enough to counter the equally large body of evidence suggesting it’s primarily about women’s rights?

      And on a personal level, I also question whether or not to call myself a feminist. Because I emphatically do not believe in supporting the rights of women over the rights of men. I believe all genders can experience oppression in different and sometimes overlapping areas, and that the proper application of principles like anti-discrimination and breaking down gender stereotypes can be of benefit to all. So should I call myself a feminist, if I value the rights of men as much as those of women? Because I don’t want to become one of those people who says “I’m not a feminist but I believe in gender equality”, since I don’t feel the two things need to be mutually exclusive – both feminism and men’s rights have a lot to offer to gender equality. Another reason I’m sometimes reluctant to call myself a feminist is that it can make anti-feminists automatically hostile; they believe I support women’s rights rather than gender equality. This is understandable, but should I allow their understanding of what feminism is to override my own? Or is it arrogant of me to think that my interpretation of feminism should take precedence over what their own understanding is? And if I support both feminism AND men’s rights as part of an overall struggle for equality, do I really need to label myself at all? Truth be told, a lot of people just assume that I AM a feminist because I see positive points to feminism. And I do, but I also see a lot of problems, just as I see positives and negatives in the men’s rights movement. You’re quite right that the gender discourse is hugely defined by feminism (or opposition to it), and I feel that this often gets in the way of actually working towards gender equality.

      Anyway sorry for the rambling, I know it got a bit too personally focused. But I think you have some really interesting ideas so I’d really like to hear what you think – do you think I (and others who support gender equality) should give up or limit our use of the term ‘feminism’? Do you think it would help promote a more tolerant discourse, or might it be seen as dishonesty? Do we need to scrap the idea of feminism and men’s rights altogether and replace it with a ‘gender equality’ movement, or should we by trying to overhaul these two existing movements to try and encourage both to focus more on overall equality, rather than on the rights of separate genders? Thanks for commenting, your ideas are always very though-provoking!

      • I am sure you can find many instances where feminism and feminists are fighting for gender equality. This is not the question. The real question is how many of these instances are feminists not also fighting for women’s rights?

        I see no problems with self labeling as both a feminist and MRA. This will really screw with some peoples heads. Really with this combination you are advocating for the rights on men and women on the basis of social economic and political equality between the sexes. There is nothing wrong with being a feminist, advocating for women’s rights, so long as you recognize that it’s not the be-all end-all of gender equality. To actually argue for equality you also need to also advocate for men’s rights, A Men’s Rights Advocate (MRA).

      • I think you’re super spot-on about when you say “There’s nothing wrong with being a feminist, advocating for women’s rights, so long as you recognise that it’s not the be-all end-all of gender equality.” It’s one of the most infuriating things about feminism in my opinion, that so many people who support it do so absolutely, as though it’s the only and ultimate path to gender equality. So far it’s done some great things but it’s also created some new imbalances (some of which do disadvantage men), and I think advocating for men’s rights AS WELL as feminism is a possible way of rectifying those inequalities. I totally agree with you that to argue for true equality overall, you have to support both men’s rights and feminism. I also don’t get why so many people seem to think that these things are incompatible. I mean I understand why they do, but I suspect that if they really thought about it logically they’d realise that they’re not opposing ideologies. But I guess that’s the problem with ideology in the first place – it’s not something that really encourages critique from within.

      • You hit the nail on the head for why I don’t like feminism. At this point it is not so much a movement or a mission as an ideology. Ideologies are very dangerous and destructive things as they blind the adherents to the obvious truths that conflict with their beliefs.

        One can not be an ideological feminist and a Men’s Rights Advocate because the very existence of Men’s Rights issues undermines the ideology. One can very much argue for both Men’s Rights and Women’s rights. These two are not mutually exclusive and are very complementary of each other.

  3. I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for quite a while. Too bad you beat me to it! I have seen every single one of your above points on a majority of feminist/manosphere blogs, and reached the same conclusions you did, namely that each side argues against the other in the *exact same way the other argues about them*. At times, it can resemble less of an attempt to resolve human differences…and more like 8 year olds fighting about whether boys or girls have more cooties.

    I especially find #6 to be true. Both sides tend to try to distill a man’s/woman’s actions down to sex-specific traits. This can work sometimes, but certainly not for everything. Do men sometimes rape? Yes, but it’s not because they’re MEN…it’s due to individual issues or prejudices. Do women sometimes divorce their husbands frivolously, or use their boyfriend as a walking ATM? Yes, but it’s not because they’re WOMEN…it’s due to immaturity or a perversion of “traditional” values.

    Glad to see I’m not the only egalitarian who thinks this way. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you said this, number 6 drives me insane! I don’t understand how people can look at another human being’s actions and be like “Well he/she obviously did this because they have a penis/vagina.” As though this is the driving force behind every one of a person’s choices. I do feel like so much of the hostility in the whole feminist/manosphere discourse would be reduced if people could just learn to stop for a second and think if there might be another factor behind why a person says or does something. It’s also something that really annoys me about language itself as it’s used in these areas: like people saying “women” instead of “feminists”, or “men” instead of “men’s rights activists”. As though being the former automatically makes you the latter. I dunno, maybe it’s just nitpicking on my part but I do feel like that’s where a lot of the outrage is generated, from people making generalisations. Sure, if you say “Feminists do this bad thing”, you’d be wrong and you’d piss off a lot of people. But if you say “Women do this bad thing” you’d be even more wrong and you’d piss people off on a far grander scale.

      Also I checked out your blog and I think it’s awesome! I particularly liked your post “Chivalry is dead, long live courtesy”, it says a ton of stuff I’ve been wanting to write about (but way better than I probably could’ve said it). I can’t remember where I saw it but a few weeks ago I came across a link to a study saying that women who approved of benevolent sexism (or “chivalry”) were more likely to have marriages that end in divorce. Don’t know how accurate it is, but it’s definitely an interesting concept. Thanks for reading and commenting, and I’m really enjoying following your blog! 🙂

  4. If I may, many manosphere bloggers will label you a feminist anyway, regardless of what label you go with (if any). I’ve been called a feminist numerous times even though I do not identify as one, nor do I agree with a lot of feminist ideologies/comments. Then again, I’ve been called an MRA on feminist blogs…so I guess it evens out?

    I have come to the conclusion that if you’re an egalitarian/humanitarian/”fence sitter” like myself (and you?)the people you speak to in the manosphere or femisphere will automatically adopt a type of tribalism. It’s truly a “you’re either with us or against us” mentality…which ends up confusing some fellow commenters to no end, when you agree with something they say in one comment (like; men have to put up with being sought after for their resources/money) and disagree in the next (like; all women are therefore gold digging slits).

    Now, this doesn’t happen with everyone, or even on every blog. But the amount of times I’ve been called a “spy”, “misinformer”, “traitor”, or “blind to Truth” is honestly very amusing. People on both sides can get super defensive when you only agree with *part* of what they spend their lives believing in.

    • Isn’t it infuriating?! I think you and genderneutrallanguage above are both right, many people in these discussions are so fixated on ideologies and an ‘us or them’ mentality that the tribalism you mentioned becomes more important than the issues themselves. And yeah, it’s like if you agree with part of what they’re saying but not all of it, you must have an ulterior motive. I mean a “traitor”, really? That’s like setting up women’s rights or men’s rights as some kind of sovereign entity that you can “betray” by being anything less than totally adherent. Or people just treat you like you’re stupid – I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people talk down to me like I was an idiot just because I said I agreed with some but not all of their idea. Why is it that some people feel so threatened when others don’t absolutely agree with their views? Guess maybe it comes back to the whole ideology thing again, believing is more important than thinking.

  5. I actually agree that feminism is primarily a women’s rights movement, not that there is anything wrong with that. Feminism may have spillover benefits for men in that by validating traditionally feminine traits, men can get off the hook for being gay, sensitive, emotional, transgendered, dancers, nurses, etc. However, whenever I write opinion posts on my blog, I am mainly writing about women, for women, and from the perspective of my experience as a woman. I actually think I would be insulting men by trying to advocate for them, without really knowing what they go through. It makes more sense for men to advocate for men’s rights issues (no shit Sherlock..)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s