My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
Or else my heart concealing it will break,
And rather than it shall, I will be free
Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.
~The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, scene iii*
Noodling along through my Facebook feed recently, I came across this photo of Emma Watson, overlaid with a quotation — presumably from her — about the problematic tendency some folks have to equate feminism with man-hating.
The Other 98%, which is the Facebook group that posted the photo, captioned it with a simple “Feminism ≠ ManHater”:
Watson herself seems an articulate young woman, finding her own way in the world while also carrying the immense burden of celebrity hyper-visibility — and I totally support and affirm her need to forge her own path. All our paths begin with baby steps, and that includes baby forms of feminism. I look forward to what Watson’s feminist analysis will sound like in years to come.
That said, when men choose not to concern themselves with gender-based issues — whatever they say their personal justification is — it sure as shit ain’t true that “no feminist ever politely invited men to the gender-talk table.” Trust me: that invite’s been getting sent out, fully engraved and all-expenses-paid, in one fashion or another since the very beginning.
I resent — and dispute — the implication that scary feminist abrasiveness is the one thing holding back scores of shy and timid menfolk from fully embracing gender equity. Or standing up for the rights (sometimes even just the basic safety) of approximately ~50% of the human race.
Yet the “man-hating” stereotype — like all stereotypes — has some grains of truth in it, at least for me. Do I need to clarify that I hate #notallmen but #yesallpatriarchy? We are all products of our culture, for both good and ill.
And our culture remains patriarchal as fuck.
It is also: white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist and classist, violent, colonial and imperial, with hundreds of years of as-yet-unreckoned-with history of genocide and plunder directed against indigenous and black peoples.
So, yknow, we all got all of that working against us.
Sometimes a girl gets testy.
After my recent rant about gendered door habits, I had a male friend reach out to me with his own uncertainties: how can a man know — if he opens a door for a person who also happens to be a woman — that she will know he’s just being polite, without going into her own version of “pissed-off Alice” at him? At first, I marveled at the question. The distinction in intent feels absolutely clear to me.
Then I realized: My friend can’t ever know. Not for certain.
I agree that that sucks.
After all, I have my very own, pink-is-for-girls version of the “Polite? or Patriarchal?” conundrum. Our culture socializes everyone to value men’s actions more than women’s, and women in particular to do the emotional labor of making men feel their value accordingly. While I always appreciate male allies/male feminists (whatever an individual calls himself) and their contributions, what I sometimes feel is actually an effusive — and disproportionate — gratitude towards the man who is saying a thing lots of women have already said.
The distinction in the abstract feels absolutely clear to me. In practice, it’s much harder to remain clear about how my internal balance tilts. Don’t think that doesn’t piss me off.
Internalized patriarchy is a bitch.^
[^I did mention what a bitch this brainwashing is to step out of, yes? Right down to the sexing of our insults.]
To restore my faith — if not in all (hu)mankind — at least in my own ability to tell the good eggs from the misogynist eggs, I went back to that picture of Emma Watson on Facebook…and looked at some comments. Remember: the text reads, “THIS HAS TO STOP,” in a way that, divorced from context, could mean either “stop thinking all feminists hate men” or “hey feminists! stop hating all men!”
The commenters — at least, as many as I could stomach — were not confused about who needs to stop what.
“You feminists need to understand that a woman has a father, brother, husband, son that she cares about!” [Thanks for the pro-tip, Mr. Humanist. I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, should I ever run into a woman.]
“I am in support of respectable feminists but the feminazis just need to shut up.” [Do I hate this guy, and men like him? Yup, I kinda do — in an “insofar as I make any emotional investment in random strangers whose words I encounter on social media” sort of way.]
[I particularly enjoyed this contribution:] “How about the rights of tigers, dogs, and many more creatures that live in hell because of all humans. Want things to change? stop focusing on us and focus on what is more important. Do that, we will see each other in a different light and BINGO — You have change.”
Maybe my friends and I make this all more difficult that it needs to be, what with our worries about door handles and excessive gratitude. Next time I feel rant-y, I’ma just pet a tiger instead.
Who knows. Maybe, BINGO — I’ll save a Planned Parenthood clinic in the process.
[*POST SCRIPT: On the relative values of Shakespeare and f-bombs in socially-conscious rantings
I tried. I really tried — and succumbed nonetheless to the same old potty-mouthed feminism as usual. After leading with that Taming of the Shrew line and everything! Though, in all honesty, an epigraph alone is pretty much the pinnacle of a Lazy Susan Approach to Bardic Inspiration. I’m tempted to blame the language on a primal trashy urge to horrify Mike
Why does it matter, you ask? Because of this perfection of a rant, courtesy of a new-to-me blogger and the exchange he and I had in the comments. I’m now gonna exorcise my man-hating with a little blogger-love for The Difference between Cockroaches and Butterflies. Might I suggest, if you check his writing out, that you begin with this lyrically sparse short story?]