I’ve encountered this meme several times recently in my daily internet adventures, so I thought I’d offer my two cents on it and the surrounding philosophy.
The idea is that feminism is for everyone, men’s and women’s issues, and any other gender issues that people might want to address. Basically the author is arguing that wanting gender equality that benefits all genders is what makes someone a feminist. I see a lot of arguments like this floating around, and some of you may be surprised to learn that I actually respect the hell out of this type of feminist. I am thrilled that these are the views these folks support (or at least claim to support), and I applaud any effort on the part of any equality movement to actually advocate for equality. In this world of loud and scary radical voices, it’s easy to believe these folks are a dying breed. Though I do feel the need to step in and make a few points. This argument falls pretty neatly in line with the oft-made argument “Feminism means equality,” usually associated with a dictionary definition describing feminism as a gender equality movement.
And to throw my hat in the pedantic ring of definitional debate, here’s the thing: Feminism doesn’t mean equality. Etymologically and in practice, the political and academic movement of feminism is and has always been a women’s interest movement, full stop. It’s right there in the word, and it has historically been reflected in just about every position and accomplishment of political and ideological feminism, from the Declaration of Sentiments’ hyperbolic and inflammatory list of grievances against men, the suffrage movement that came out of it, the second wave which was responsible for women’s reproductive rights and equality in the workplace (as well as things like the Duluth model and Valerie Solanas), and today’s feminism that almost exclusively addresses women’s issues from the arguably necessary to the ridiculous and reactionary. (And as an aside, egalitarianism means equality, and in my experience, people who identify as egalitarian tend to have more views akin to the meme above… wink, nudge.)
But let’s be reasonable. I don’t mind if you have egalitarian views but call yourself a feminist. I’m not that pedantic. Words and labels just don’t matter that much. It’s what you do and what you advocate that matters. But I hear a lot of “no true Scotsman” silliness from both sides, feminists claiming that certain feminists are not real feminists or not influential, and anti-feminists similarly defining feminism by those adherents who have the most offensive views.
Realistically, this is something that’s bound to happen when a movement gets as big and influential as feminism has. It’s going to have a variety of interpretations and branches, and I think it’s time for us all to acknowledge that there are a LOT of types of self-identified feminists, from people like Anita Sarkeesian to Gloria Steinem to the tumblr SJW types to the egalitarians who agree with the above meme and even some folks whose views are more anti-feminist than strictly feminist (I have been told by many that my views actually make me a feminist, and this doesn’t bother me in the least). Each of these have very different philosophies when it comes to gender issues.
Just like Christianity or any other religion, once there are enough adherents, the ideology is going to start to branch off into subgroups that differ widely. So which is the true Scotsman: Baptism, Catholicism, or Methodism? The fact is, they are all Christian, but it seems perfectly fair and reasonable that the most prominent aspects of Christianity, the tenets that influence culture and policy, the beliefs that infiltrate our politics and threaten our rights, are the ones that are most of interest and concern to those of us who are not Christian. To us non-Christians, those are the defining aspects of Christianity, or at least, of the Christianity that affects us, even though we all know there are Christians who do not oppose marriage equality, fight against reproductive rights, or engage in xenophobic defamation of Arabs and Muslims. I don’t have to deny the existence of moderate, reasonable Christians to acknowledge that the more extreme Christianity that threatens to affect my life is present and harmful, and I would be foolish to write them off as “not real Christians.” Whether or not a given Christian agrees with them, they are real Christians insofar as they use Christian dogma and beliefs to promote policies supported by biblical scripture.
Similarly, you can choose to define feminism however you please, and if the dictionary definition suits you and describes your actual advocacy, well fine, but you’d have to be willfully ignorant not to acknowledge that the egalitarian interpretation of feminism is not the feminism represented in policy, academia, and pervasive cultural movements. The representative, power holding members of the movement (and they are definitely members of the movement), the ones who use feminist theory to influence the lives of others, those feminists are not equity-minded people. Or if they are, they have a very different definition of equity than those of us outside their ideology.
So let’s talk about definitions. Let’s talk about what I mean when I say I am not a feminist and I oppose feminism.
I don’t consider myself a feminist, as defined by the popular and predominant representation of the movement, because I believe in equality.
Let me explain. Because I believe in equality, I am not interested in political feminism’s initiatives to implement affirmative action and scholarship and incentive programs that give women an even greater advantage over men in education and hiring, especially when boys have higher dropout rates in high school than girls, go on to earn 40% of all postsecondary degrees, earn an average of 8% less than women in most cities, experience a slightly higher rate of unemployment than women, and make up the majority of the homeless, and I do not ask to be paid as much as a man who works different hours in a different field (often exposing himself to harsher conditions and a much higher risk of workplace injury and death). I want to be educated, hired, and paid based on the merit of my skills, not handed things for the fortune of having a vagina, just because the vagina-havers in the past had a rough time of it. Even if you believe the series of misconceptions and oversimplifications used to assert that women are disadvantaged in these ways, the last thing we need is to be discredited and demeaned by these blunt tools that only tip the scales in the opposite direction and lead to the opposite inequality of the one we previously fought (opposite inequalities on which feminism as a whole is profoundly silent). Turning the tables is not equality, and I want to be treated as an equal. I don’t want special programs or privileges.
Because I believe in equality, I care about all victims of domestic and sexual abuse, not just women, and I oppose feminist academia’s targeted, systemic, and documented effort to conceal and ignore the half of these crimes that are perpetrated by women or suffered by men, such as the terrifying influence of feminist Mary Koss of the CDC who has insisted upon defining rape in such a way to exclude female assault on males, thus contributing to the concealment of the truth that intimate partner violence is a gender neutral phenomenon and perpetuating the long debunked Duluth Model narrative of violence that continues to be the gender-role-entrenched basis for legal and social treatment of intimate partner violence that is directly and unequivocally harmful to countless male victims and victims of female perpetrators. Koss’s reasoning for this definition of rape (repeated in various incarnations throughout more than one of her papers, and reflecting a common social perception of gender and violence) is laced with the strong implication that men always want it, aren’t really harmed by consent violation, and other flagrantly offensive victim blaming. This is most definitely not equality.
Because I believe in equality, I oppose feminist-implemented gendered policies that address such crimes disproportionately (such as predominant aggressor policies that almost always target men after domestic violence calls, and affirmative consent laws that treat men as default rapists and women as helpless non-agents), the erosion of due process for accused men through feminist initiatives, as well as the many criminal justice biases that men face but feminist organizations do nothing to address (the least of which is not the 63% higher rate of sentencing for the same crimes), to say nothing of NOW’s adamant published stance against gender equality in child custody law.
Because I disagree with the demeaning of women’s agency, strength, and capability, I directly oppose the bulk of the tenets of popular feminism, and as someone who debates these things regularly in a variety of places, I can assure you that the following are very popular tenets. I oppose the idea that women are so emotionally or psychologically fragile that they need to be protected from everything from beauty standards and gendered expectations to dick pics and being catcalled. When someone finds me attractive, I do not need to reach for my smelling salts like a Victorian lady whose honor must be defended, nor do I think it reasonable to claim entitlement to protection from the completely harmless comments of passing strangers online or in person, video games that depict women as especially curvy, or being sent a photograph of genitalia, a claim that only serves to depict women as pathetically weak and vulnerable.
I believe that women have agency, and as such, like any other human, we can never be truly compelled to act outside our will by forces as impotent as social expectation. In short, if you don’t want to shave your legs, be a mom, wear makeup, or pursue stereotypically female interests, the solution is simple: do what you like, and laugh at anyone who has a problem with it. If you aren’t attracted to someone who is expressing overt interest in you, tell them and move on with your life, rather than making silent and uncomfortable assumptions that he means to demean, embarrass, or rape you. If you don’t want to look at somebody’s dick pic, delete it and go do something else. None of these things need to affect you. This is what empowerment looks like. Popular feminism, the feminism I stand against, tells women to be upset and feel harmed by these things. It wants women to believe they are victims. Victims are objects, acted upon, without agency. Identifying as a victim is antithetical to empowerment. Trying to force an identity of victimhood on someone is objectification of the highest order, and identifying oneself as a victim is self-objectification. Thus, “real” feminists should be bothered by this narrative, no matter what organization or movement it comes from.
I oppose the idea that we must beg men and society to support, aid, and defend us from all the innocuous trivia of daily life. I believe women are strong and capable and do not need anyone’s help to thrive. I oppose all these efforts to “level the playing field” because it sends the unmistakable message to perfectly capable women and girls that they are fragile, helpless, and they’ll never be able to make it on their own merits, rather than telling us the truth: that we can and do achieve everything men do when we decide that we want to.
I despise the feminist-driven skewing of facts and statistics, dissemination of egregious misinformation, and outright fear mongering that keeps otherwise rational women afraid of men and afraid to walk the streets. Organizations like the CDC go out of their way to tailor their publications to that feminist brainchild the Duluth model by defining things like sexual violence in a way that includes the often trivial experiences of most women but excludes most experiences that affect men, thus producing highly questionable and intentionally sensational statistics that cause women to believe they are in constant danger, creating an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust that is the opposite of empowerment of women and very much contrary to any pursuit of gender equality. If rape culture is defined as a society in which the knowledge of violence against women keeps all women subjugated by fear, this practice of spreading sensational misinformation in order to grab attention and bolster an ideological worldview IS rape culture. This practice should not be a feminist practice. It should enrage feminists, and I sincerely hope that for many it does.
Because I believe in equality, I believe that men should be able to convene to discuss issues that affect them — things like circumcision, suicide rates, workplace injury, homelessness, the education gap, and sexist biases in criminal and family law — just as women are freely able to convene to discuss women’s issues. I am appalled that such male groups at universities are often prohibited from doing so (under the assumption that they will somehow make women unsafe) by feminist administrations citing feminist theory and philosophy. And talks about men’s issues are often disrupted by feminist protesters who harass attendees (that video is from a conference on male suicide, by the way), drown out speakers with shouts or noise making devices, or pull fire alarms. Many men’s organizations must pay hefty security fees due to the threats of violence they receive when they plan events, all the while being called misogynists and rape apologists just for wanting to openly discuss issues that affect them, as women are freely able and encouraged to do about our own issues. Is it any wonder men scoff when they’re told feminism is for them too?
Because I believe in equality and sex positivity, I oppose the feminist perpetuated double standard that while a woman overtly expressing her sexuality is empowered and laudable, a man doing the same is engaging in harassment or reinforcing rape culture. I oppose feminist initiatives, rooted in feminist academia and theory, to decry men who express sexual attraction, linking it baselessly to risk factors for violence and other harms, as if the average rapist attacked strangers on the street whom they called sexy, rather than acquaintances in familiar places. I oppose the use of the term “sexual objectification,” which does nothing but pathologize and demonize male sexuality (and female sexuality, on the rare occasion that the term is leveled at a woman), and the re-definition of delivering sexual compliments as “street harassment,” which criminalizes sexuality. This is not equality, it’s slut shaming for men, and I’ll repeat that any claim that women need protecting from the scourge of men finding them sexually attractive is a claim that women are weak, helpless non-agents, who are incapable of so much as politely rejecting advances that don’t interest us, as we would expect men to do without complaint.
Because I am tired of the stereotype that women are hysterical and illogical, I am tired of feminism’s string of ever more ridiculous grievances, from Shirtgate to manspreading to mansplaining to miroaggressions to any argument supporting the belief that any aspect of our culture condones violence against women, this neurotic McCarthian witch hunt by which today’s feminist powers attribute malice and misogyny to completely innocuous behaviors in their desperate attempt to justify their continued discursive dominance. I oppose its infiltration of academia through campus policies to censor ideas and stifle discussion out of a misguided desire to protect students and others from ideas that are unfamiliar or with which they disagree (again, the absurd notion that ideas can make one unsafe). I oppose this infantilization of women and students that feminism once also claimed to oppose.
Because I agree that women should be taken seriously, I’d really like this brand of feminists to stop inventing and griping about these silly made-up first world problems, because it is undoubtedly making the problem worse by representing women as the sort of people that should not be taken seriously, that can not be trusted with power or responsibility because they lack the basic judgment to differentiate something that is harmful from something that is demonstrably not.
You can argue that you agree with a lot of that, that some of these positions make me a feminist (and indeed, many people do), or that feminism secretly cares about some or all of these problems, or that feminism’s definition and ideology aren’t restricted to those particular interpretations, but that merely means that your definition of feminism is not the same as the feminism represented in politics, policy, academia, media, or predominant advocacy. So when I say I oppose feminism, I mean that I oppose the feminist-initiated and feminist-perpetuated biases, policies, and other harms that infantilize women and demonize men. I oppose misandrous and misogynistic feminism. I oppose oppositional feminism that casts men as the adversary and women as the victim. I oppose the erosion of equality under the guise of efforts to seek equality. I oppose the game by which we all define a group only by the actions and factions we like to pay attention to and sweep everything else under the rug. The feminism I described above isn’t a loud minority of radicals who don’t matter. It is the power holding group that makes changes that affect us all (for the worse), and it needs to be redirected or stopped.
So to all the reasonable, egalitarian feminists out there who say that the feminism I talk about isn’t real feminism, or who argue that my views make me a feminist, I think it’s time to start letting your voices be heard, to try to speak louder than the radicals. It’s time to stop pretending the powerhouse of radical feminism doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter, like the racist grandparents we ignore at Thanksgiving. It’s time to join the forces of reason and fight against the power of inequality that is dominating the gender equality sphere. Just like atheists can co-exist with theists who don’t oppose marriage equality and reproductive rights, we anti-feminists and men’s rights folks can get over the fact that you believe women are disadvantaged or oppressed as long as you don’t use that belief to demean women’s agency and erode the rights of men. In short, reasonable feminists, you don’t have to agree with us on everything, but we could really use your help to make feminism something closer to what you define it as: a movement for gender equality that is willing to address everyone’s issues and everyone’s needs, one that empowers women rather than demeaning them, and one that embraces men rather than demonizing them.
Stop trying to tell us what a true Scotsman does and doesn’t do and try working with us. Come join the dark side. We have cookies.