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.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.
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 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.