That rare and exotic creature: the feminist man

Aaaaand it’s the holidays, everyone breathe. I am becoming reacquainted with a long-lost friend, sleep, and with a host of terrible TV shows offered on iplayer. It is wonderful. Happy holidays to everyone, and I hope that you all get the rest that you deserve. Short days (dark at 4pm – what is this madness?!) and weather that freezes my ears make me hate this time of year, so it’s good to remember that there are some benefits.

I never did find out what happened with Icarus and Mystery-Girl, but sadly I think he probably didn’t take my advice to just ask her what was going on. People seldom do. Maybe sex-positive communicative feminism is just too extreme and hardcore for the world to handle. Or maybe my friends are afraid of becoming sexually frustrated bloggers who chronicle their lives on the internet in order to avoid the harsh truths of reality. Which would be fair enough. I sympathise either way.

Anyway. Some of you might remember Leander, an absolutely awesome guy I was seeing last year, and who remains one of my closest friends. Leander has had a wonderful girlfriend since February, and they have the sort of healthy, communicative relationship I keep going on about. He is also still a passionate feminist and addicted to the progressive blogosphere, which is one reason why I love him. This can sometimes surprise people, since Leander is a straight white male (or ostensibly straight, at any rate), who went to a posh school and has professional upper-middle-class parents. In other words, he’s basically the poser child for privilege.

This has a couple of interesting outcomes. For one thing, people tend to listen to him a lot more than they ever do to me, because while I am either a crazy man-hating feminist or an irrational and hysterical woman, Leander is a calm, reasonable man who talks sense. Even when we are making the exact same arguments about the exact same topics. This is often frustrating for me, but it’s not his fault he’s more persuasive, and really, I should be happy that he’s out there making an impact. Any way to win battles, and all that.

But I don’t think I ever realised the flip-side of this until about a week ago, when Leander posted a general acknowledgment on facebook that he is proud to call himself a feminist, because he believes that men and women are equals, and doesn’t see why other people who believe this wouldn’t want to be called feminists. It was, in my opinion, a nice gesture, but nothing particularly loaded or provocative. I post about abortion and rape apologia and sexism all the time, usually in response to news stories, so this didn’t seem that shocking in comparison.

The responses he got astounded me. One was a genuine concern from a black female friend that the term ‘feminism’ has a problematic history for non-white women, which is why she prefers not to use it, and I can appreciate that. But the rest? It was like someone had unleashed the Men’s Rights Brigade. Immediately there were comments about Bad Feminists, the kind who actively discriminate against men and think all men are rapists and want to castrate them all. When Leander pointed out that these are a tiny minority (if they even exist) and that every group has its fringe extremists but that these don’t speak for the entire group, he was called out for being a hypocrite. Sexism is widespread and mainstream in our society (check any article on rape or on the appointment of a woman in a position of power for some instant evidence), but apparently it’s more important to criticise radical straw-feminists than to fix any of that. Until the movement is perfect, no one should identify with it at all. Or… something like that.

Now, these aren’t new arguments, much as their proponents might think we’re all hearing them for the first time. I’ve lost count of the number of times ‘well-meaning’ guys have approached me with horror stories about Things Feminists Have Said, expecting me to either justify extreme anti-male prejudice or admit that I’m not a real feminist because I disagree. But usually it comes out of some previous discussion, not out of the blue. These were people – men, I should add – reacting to a simple statement of support for women with shock and horror, as if Leander had said he believed passionately in killing kittens.

It’s not that I don’t get negative replies to what I say and write – I do – but somehow this felt different. Leander didn’t get dismissed as irrational, or have anyone patronise him by trying to explain ‘logically’ why he was incorrect, which is the most common response to me. His gender and his privilege protected him from that, but also added to the shock these commenters clearly felt. It was as if they’d latched onto the fact that one of their own was turning against them, and come out in force to bring him back in line. People who argue against me, however much they disagree, can usually understand where I’m coming from, even if that understanding only goes as far as ‘she’s a woman and she just doesn’t know what she’s talking about’. Not so with Leander. When I reread those comments, I can sense the confusion. Why on earth is a straight white guy like Leander supporting all this womanly nonsense?

And if the feminist-equals-woman link wasn’t clear enough, someone even commented with: ‘Don’t listen to haters Leander. You’re a strong independent woman!’. Because supporting equality for women, supporting an ideology that takes privilege away from those who have historically always had it, means you must be a woman, or at least gay and effeminate. That’s why Real Men don’t listen to feminism.

Leander is one of the most amazing guys I know, because he has such privilege, and instead of trying to cling on to it and refusing to see that he has it, he recognises it, and actively tries to make a difference. I hate everything about the assertion that men who do this aren’t masculine enough, from the gender-binary element of that idea to the way it automatically implies that being feminine or womanly is undesirable. But if we have to have it, then I want it on record that Leander is the realist Real Man I know, and I wish I knew more guys like him.

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One thought on “That rare and exotic creature: the feminist man

  1. Isn’t humanity wonderful sometimes?

    There’s an easy (if potentially flamebait) way to reframe the problem for the haters. For clarity the negative responders to Leander’s post shall be called “Joe Bloggs”:

    “Premise: Joe Bloggs believes that the presence of a small, extremist minority that self-identifies as members of a larger movement makes it unacceptable or undesirable to associate with that movement.

    Richard Reid self-identifies as a Muslim.

    Therefore, Joe Bloggs believes that Muslims should not make open displays of their faith because it makes them look like terrorists.”

    I invite people more educated than I to point out fallacies in my argument, but the result is the same: stand back and watch as Joe Bloggs craps himself with fear at the prospect of having to argue that point (especially if J.B. is a white British male).

    That being said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the Well-Meaning Guy to say “I read this on a blog/in a newspaper article/on Twitter, as a feminist what’s your opinion?”. As a person with a history of WMGness, I will say that not all of us are trying to establish Morton’s Fork in the way you describe (“this person with extreme views identifies as feminist, so you must either agree or not be a feminist”); it’s more likely that the underlying question is “I’ve read this, you’ve got a more informed viewpoint on feminism than I do, do you think that these extreme views are valid, and can you justify your answer cos I’m interested”. Engaging with that question and explaining that yes, it’s an understandable and valid point of view but it’s not the be-all and end-all of feminism is more likely to make people keep learning than a response of “wtf dude, why would you say that”.

    jm2c

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