Monday, April 5, 2010

feminist men and feminist blogs

This dialogue from Tiger Beatdown says a lot of things about the edifice of Internet feminism and some of its complicated, occasionally self-defeating attitudes towards men. To dive right in, I'd like to highlight this passage:
Amanda: Kind of like That Guy who shows up at a pro-choice rally in a “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt in an attempt to get some ass.
SADY: Oh, dude. If they figured it out, it would be OVER. It would be like the weird guy who walked up to you after Women’s Studies classes to say you’d Opened His Eyes, creepily, times a thousand.
I don't want to be too unfair with this; I know that they are having a bit of fun with this conversation. But, really, this attitude drives me insane.  A good friend of mine has been intimately involved with the anti-sexual violence organization Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault. I know that a good deal of the genesis of his interest in the organization stems from a frankly horrific situation, which I won't elaborate on. He has said that one of the consistently aggravating and dispiriting aspects of his involvement has been the tendency of people, sans evidence, to say, "you're only in that group because you think it will get you laid!" These people, apparently, possess the same talent for mind reading that Amanda and  Sady have. To any man who has taken it as his moral responsibility to oppose sexual violence through whatever limited means of discourse and education we have available, this lurking questioning of our "real motives" is discouraging and undermining. I can't show you my motives; when someone imputes selfish or negative motives on you, there is no recourse to evidence to prove them wrong. That these snipes take a man's dedication to the eradication of rape and other sexual violence and renders it just another tactic of sexual conquest twists the knife.

I suppose that's a small point in their larger conversation, but I think it is of a piece with a larger thread in what they are talking about, one that runs through much of Internet feminism, a confusion and disquiet toward male feminists and their projects.

I don't have a "This Is What a Feminist Looks Like" T-shirt, but if I owned one, I would wear it. Because that guy you see in the picture there to the right (that handsome fellow) is indeed what a feminist looks like, a particular feminist, this feminist. And this feminist is not looking for validation, confirmation or blessing from any particular female feminists. Feminism is not lady business; it is the business of all people who pursue equity and liberation, and who take the elimination of entrenched power imbalances as their ethical duty.

To be clear, and to be sure, the relationship between the sex and gender of feminists and their roles as feminists is a deeply complicated one. I cannot tell you what it is to be a woman, and there are consequences that stem from that fact. But the fact of that complication should not be taken as an excuse for female feminists, whether cisgendered or transgendered, to be empowered to have a constantly shifting definition of how male feminists are allowed to operate within feminist discourse. Far too often, the expectation that male feminists should be equally devoted to advancing the feminist cause is carried by female feminists who will turn around, when an argument arises about what best represents and advances feminism, and assert their privilege over feminist discourse based on the fact that they are female. I cannot tell you how many times I have been involved in spirited discussions about feminist issues, only to have a female feminist I am disagreeing with say, in one way or another, "what would you know about it, MAN?"

I am open to the possibility that what I am asking for is a reinstitution of male privilege within the framework of feminism. If so, I'm very sorry. But I don't think it is unreasonable for me to expect that I be allowed a voice in the debate that is not subject to being excluded because of my sex or my gender. There are many out there who are far better educated and better articulated feminists than I am, but make no mistake: I am a dedicated and well-read feminist. When I argue, I come correct, and I expect those arguing against me to as well. It is aggravating for me when I feel that the legitimacy of my position is denied even when the person I am arguing against couldn't tell Julia Kristeva from Phylis Schlafly. I'm not endorsing a vision of feminism or argumentation that is a naked appeal to expertise; I can be better read than someone and still flat wrong in my disagreement with him or her, and I don't mean to suggest that who has superior knowledge is a simple question. But I think it is fair and practical to place some value in feminist education when undertaking inter-feminist argument.

Maybe this is the way things should be; I'm receptive to the possibility that the righteous way forward is for men to have an equal responsibility towards feminist ideals but a lesser right to engage in feminist debates. That doesn't seem quite right to me, but who knows. But forget about what is right for a second, and think about what is for the practical good of feminism: do you suppose that there are a great many potential male feminists who are willing to give their support and voice to our cause while simultaneously being told that they have unequal right to argue? I doubt it. For all of the regular assertions of the power of feminism (usually in the form of complaints about political correctness), feminism remains a discourse that is embattled, reviled by a great many and constantly in need of defense. Women today continue to operate under the burden of massive entrenched disadvantage. If we are to address this imbalance, it is worth asking if a deeper integration of men into the feminist movement is the way forward, and simultaneously whether the tendency of female feminists on the Internet to undercut the male feminist position isn't an obstacle to that integration.

This is of a piece with a dynamic that is present in a lot of intellectual movements, the tendency to regard criticism of various arguments or positions within those movements as criticisms of the movement as a whole. Often times, arguments about what is feminist, or in the best interests of feminism, results in one arguer or the other putting on the Mantle of Feminism and declaring that a person critiquing certain positions she or he holds means that person is anti-feminist. This is to ignore the fact that any affinity group-- feminists, conservatives, Democrats, environmentalists, utilitarians-- is going to contain a great deal of internal controversy about what that group is, what its tenets are, and what is in its best interest.

I  guess what I'm saying is that I am thinking about that date that Amanda and Sady are talking about. If I went on that date, with either or them, they would indeed find themselves on a date with a feminist. But as I am a feminist whose feminism is not a product of feeling obliged to any particular women or to some vague category called "women," but rather to the principles of equality and human liberation which inform and support feminism, they are unlikely to find me the kind of feminist whose feminism is guaranteed or even likely to please or flatter them. What I wonder is, what if their questions reveal a man who is a feminist that has ideas about feminism that differs from theirs? And what if that feminist man isn't inclined to back down from his position in an attempt to please them? To me, that is the male feminism that matters, one that is willing to be controversial, that stakes real claims, that stands up for itself, that is involved in the actual work of the feminist enterprise, one that doesn't merely take the name feminist and then stands flapping in the wind, blowing whichever way seems least controversial. I do wonder, given those conditions, what that date might be like, what kind of feminism Sady and Amanda are willing to coexist with.


Josh said...

Well, I mean, probably you're not going to get laid, is how the date will go.

Primeau said...

Gawker's thatta way, Josh.


Mark Thompson said...

Freddie - I sent you an e-mail about a week or so ago. Please let me know if you got it.

Elizabeth said...

Very well said, Freddie.

b michael said...

I think the way you 'get ahead' as it were and 'show your intentions' is by, you know, working toward the common goals of whatever it is you're working on? I understand it's hard to feel gratified or appreciated in a lot of social movements, but the less you make it 'about' I-am-participating and the more you make it 'about' How-can-I-help, the 'better' it is. I think? It's like with helping someone at a house party. You can make a big show of picking up empties and taking people's keys, or you can just do that stuff and get back to having a good time and making friends.

I don't think most net feminists have a problem at all with male feminists. I think they have a problem with male feminists who talk more about being a male feminist than they do talk about feminist issues. I write, like, 40% on feminist-type things and I've really never had any problem with the community.

bmichael said...

Follow-up: for instance, I notice in your most recent post, which is ostensibly about the Reuters journalists being killed, it seems like you've made it 'about' you rather than them. Try writing about the topic and not about yourself, you know?

Freddie said...

Number one, I don't know how you can read anything into a post that is literally only a video. Number two, it's pretty funny for you to accuse me of making a post about feminism about me, when I'm critiquing a site precisely because they make feminism all about themselves. Number three, I am involved in feminism because I am involved in mankind. I am not involved in feminism to serve as a proxy for someone else. My dedication and ethical duty to feminism comes from the fact that I am human. Ultimately, it's precisely the idea that my feminism has to serve other people that is self-defeating and damaging for feminism. I will keep my own counsel on what is for the best interest of feminism, as those who are asserting their power over my feminist impulse surely do.

Leah Raeder said...

Freddie, I sympathize with you on this in many ways. And I think b michael has a point, too. Your desire to be respected as an independent thinker within feminism doesn't preclude b michael's suggestion to reframe issues in a less personal way.

Full disclosure: I'm a cisgendered female feminist who often feels marginalized by e-feminism movements that center around various blogs, and I get weary of being ostracized and excluded for having my own ideas and for questioning the party line.

Feminists aren't perfect. Any group that coheres on a primarily ideological basis will exhibit some measure of groupthink. Feminists do it too, just like everyone else.

Don't lose hope because of this. Your voice IS important. But as b michael said, also retain cognizance of your tendency to become defensive and redirect issues toward yourself. That is a large part of what's setting these other feminists off. We become blinkered, too, and just see another man telling us what to think.

I understand that it's difficult, because you are unfairly scrutinized in many ways simply because of your biological gender. (And all of this hints at an interesting point about transgendered individuals in feminism--Are transmen feminists scrutinized to the same extent you are? What about transwomen feminists?--but that's another post.)

What really impressed me was that you made a stunningly candid point about the possibility that you were asking for a reinstatement of male privilege within the framework of feminism. That you freely confront this point tells me you are not an enemy. Continue to confront it. You are breaking new intellectual ground by exploring issues like this with fairness and sensitivity.

Personally, I prefer an inclusive attitude towards other feminists. I think this exclusionary practice of excommunicating any feminist, regardless of gender, who dares question a particular feminist community's dogma is stupid, counter-productive, and contributes to Balkanizing feminism when unity is more important.

You're not the only outlier. And you are right to criticize a community when it engages in pointless internecine conflict. Feminism is strong enough to withstand internal arguments. And you seem intellectually sensitive enough regarding these issues to know when to bite your tongue for the good of the cause you support, even when your allies are being pig-headed.

Freddie said...

Thanks, Leah. I know you and b michael have a good point. I just hope you can understand that, at this very moment, it's a little hard to be anything but defensive.

bmichael said...

You posted a video of eight people being senselessly killed and you're -only- comment was

"They tell me, Freddie, you must support the troops."

There's a universe and it probably doesn't have a center, and if it did, it wouldn't be you.

Freddie said...

Really? You really take that to be the point? I wrote nothing because I was awed and gutted by the power of that video. And in the face of that awe and power, all I see are platitudes about supporting the troops and fog of war. That was my point. What happens in that video is beyond me, beyond my limited powers of argument. It is precisely because I recognize my own limitations that I posted nothing beyond the video.

Now I'm sorry that I didn't lay out a host of caveats about that video. I was very close to just making the post say, "they say you have to support the troops." Would that have been sufficiently humble for you? Would it make any difference at all?

Freddie said...

Also-- your website has your name in huge font at the top of it and describes you as an "all-purpose intellectual." Don't you think there's a little pot and kettle situation here?

Josh said...

You know, if you guys really want to argue over who's more self-centered, I mean, far be it from me to stop you; but Freddie, you don't really want to get into the hypocrisy argument, because it never proves the logically founded correctness of anything (right?), just something about the hypocrite's behavior that also obtains in the behavior of every single other human being; and b michael, frankly, your comments seem to be a lot more about what you're inferring from Freddie's writing style than about the contents of his arguments. For sure, style matters, and it seems like Leah has done a decent job of addressing it constructively, but key to how she's addressed it constructively is that she's giving Freddie the benefit of the doubt. Which, honestly, here on this medium where we tend to communicate without any face-to-face, ought to be de rigueur, in my humble opinion.

And for all the constructiveness of Leah's commment, I'm not really convinced that the takeaway from the Internet should be "People need to learn how to make their points in such a way that disturbs as few people as possible," as opposed to "People need to learn how to listen to other people and not get so disturbed." Does that make sense? I guess I'm saying that when Leah mentions a "tendency to become defensive and redirect issues toward yourself" -- well, that tendency (or the style she's describing as that tendency) is part of the discussion, right? Not just about feminism but about how we discuss Big Issues. And hey, even if it's not, well, (1) I don't read blogs for some kind of newspaperial equitone, and (2) then the validity of the argument is still independent of and more important than how it's presented.

Freddie said...

you don't really want to get into the hypocrisy argument, because it never proves the logically founded correctness of anything (right?)

Right, of course. But I'm only human!

Anonymous said...

Huh. Never seen a feminist use the word "mankind" before, buddyboy.

Awareness Fail.

Freddie said...

Hoho! You've cracked the code!

Marissa said...

Number two, it's pretty funny for you to accuse me of making a post about feminism about me, when I'm critiquing a site precisely because they make feminism all about themselves.

Um, they're women. So, yeah, feminism is about them.

Also: "humankind": look it up.

Lauren Jr. said...

First of all, your whole premise for this argument is false, which means that your entire argument is false. You took Sady and Amanda's comments about the guy who shows up at a feminist rally wearing a "this is what a feminist looks like" t-shirt with the sole intent of getting laid. And the guy who shows up after Women's Studies class to say, "You've opened my eyes" not because he actually feels that way or is a feminist or has any real interest in feminist issues, but uses that as a front for trying to get women to like him. They were talking about a specific type of man who is really the complete opposite of being feminist, because they are trying to twist feminist issues to make it about them getting laid. They were not talking about male feminists. You made a complete over-generalization, and then used that false premise (I'm bringing this up because you were the one who emphasized logic) to write an entire blog post about how Sady and Amanda must think that YOU are not a feminist. I think that this points to your own insecurities. Once again, you have turned something that is relevant to feminism and made it about you. The vast majority of feminists realize that in order to dismantle patriarchy, all people must be involved, and "all people" definitely includes men. Why do you think that Tiger Beatdown had an entire series that invited men to guest post? And, as already mentioned on related posts about Tiger Beatdown, you said things including "mankind," that you feel no obligation towards women, and even went so far as to fantasize about a date with Sady and Amanda. These things are anti-feminist. Furthermore, the later point, that you fantasized about a date with them, made it about, guess what, your boner.

Danielle said...

"What Freddie is saying, in fact, is that he is such a good feminist that he should not have to listen to women. He is such a good feminist that, when he enters feminist spheres, he should not have to give up the privilege that he, as a man, has experienced his entire life. He should not have his authority, his experience, or the validity of his insight questioned on the basis that he has not actually experienced the oppression he claims to be fighting. For women to assert their own primacy, their own knowledge and expertise, which is gained not primarily from “intellectual” sources such as works of theory, but which is based on the simple, practical, gut-level experience of being oppressed every day of their fucking lives, with (in my case, and many other cases) theory consumed and utilized, not to teach them much that is new, but to help them verbalize and explain what they already know… well, that’s “privilege,” it’s “privileging women,” and it’s unfair, because it means that Freddie isn’t treated as the World’s Foremost Expert. On our fucking lives."

"Yes: Freddie, as a feminist, wants to be regarded as knowing more about women than women do. And he gets really, really sad and angry when you tell him that, because he is a man, he will never know more about womanhood or women’s oppression than women, and he will never be allowed to define feminism for women, and he will never be able to engage in feminist discussions without having his privilege pointed out to him. That’s what’s at stake here: Whether Freddie’s “feminist” engagement should involve listening to women, and valuing their voices enough to make them central to his understanding, or whether (as he explicitly seems to wish) he will be allowed to be a “feminist” while keeping his ability to oppress women, his privilege, intact and unchallenged. Don’t think for a second it’s anything more advanced or “intellectual” than that. Freddie is a man, and it makes him mad that women don’t listen to, agree with, and obey him. Because of his “feminism.” Which, as he explicitly states above, is not based on any obligation to listen to or learn from the people that feminism is intended to help."

Nora said...


Iany said...

Because feminism is all about how women treat men and their willingness to go on dates with them.

Yes, some of those guys who wear the tshirts are creepy. We can tell which ones. They deserve open scorn.

Feminism is about women, we're allowed to make it about ourselves because we experience all the shit and men don't. How are you not getting this? It's entirely about us and so very few things are. Why do you, a man, need feminism to centre on you along with eeeeverything else?

larryniven said...

Well, you know how I feel about you in general, Freddie, but this is just about 100% right. Good luck finding anybody else who understands what you're talking about, though...

blakerivers said...

Great post. The comments are amusing.

Freddy, your post is appreciated.

Listen to Leah Raeder and Josh. The ultimate goal of feminism and masculism is what is best for the human race, which makes both equally applicable to all genders.

Unfortunately, I don't have much of anything encouraging to tell you:

The vast majority of people are going to respond to anything you do in an immature and ignorant fashion--as is evidenced by the comments to this post. Perhaps it is better not to concern yourself over trying to set them straight. Offer your opinion, but be humble and understand that it's all right if no one seems to understand. Let them carry on as they will. If they would like to do what will ultimately only hurt them, let be free to do that. You cannot undo the stupidity of others.

Again, your article is greatly appreciated, if only by a precious few.

blakerivers said...

I have to say, though, I just read the rant Why Tiger Beatdown Has Jokes On It, and I am not impressed. I didn't realize when I wrote my first comment that you had gone through such lengths to engage these people in conversation and defend yourself publicly. That was foolish and unnecessary, as you probably can see now.

That was kind of like being a black male and trying to interrupt a white supremacy meeting in the 1950's American South in the dead of night, shouting about your rights to be included. What were you expecting, other than to be ripped to pieces? Trying to make them include you is self-centered. They're a bunch of angry women; they don't want to reason with you, and you can't really blame them. As I said already, at the first sign of aggression you should just back off in humility.

Emily said...

"the expectation that male feminists should be equally devoted to ***advancing the feminist cause*** is carried by female feminists who will turn around, when an argument arises about ***what best represents and advances feminism***, and assert their privilege over feminist discourse based on the fact that they are female"

Note the two sections I emphasized. You can be committed to "advancing the feminist cause" without being up there in the captain's chair weighing in on the best way to do it. Some people get to be leaders and others get to be soldiers, and you know what? When it comes to understanding the experiences of women, women get to be leaders on this one, OK? Saying that as a man you refuse to soldier because you can't be a leader is exactly why we need feminism. Because men feel so fucking entitled to lead every project they get involved with, because they are so sure they must know better than the people who have actually lived the experience of being a woman. Your liberal credentials are good, really good, and I like a fuck of a lot of the stuff you write on liberal politics. But when it comes to feminism, you're Che in the Congo, man.