I May Be a Man-Hating Feminist; or, When do tigers matter more than people?

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”:

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The syntax leaves ambiguous what the “this” is that actually needs to stop. More on that in a moment.

Now, I have long felt conflicted about the #HeForShe-style feminism that Emma Watson is currently known for. (That’s the campaign she spoke about at the UN, as a reminder.)

And by “conflicted” I mean: “I find it simplistic, reductivist, and trans*-ignorant.” (For related perspectives, see here and here.)

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. 

via my friend David. Who is a man.
via David. Who is a man. Whom I don’t hate.

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.

Santa let me down. *sigh* Maybe next year. (via)
Santa (that man) let me down. *sigh* Maybe next year. (via)

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.^

(via)
My bad! I read the comments. (via)

[^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.

Oh, Tiger! (via)
Love makes the world go ’round. (via)

[*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 Fuckabee Huckabee.

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?]

11 thoughts on “I May Be a Man-Hating Feminist; or, When do tigers matter more than people?

  1. It astounds me what a lot of people think feminism is about that it isn’t– and the pervading attitudes that exist- from both a lot of men and women when the movement is brought up. The fact that there is still a lot of “not seeing” going on convinces me that feminism is so needed. I agree w/ you- all of us in the movement have our own relationship to it depending on where we are at in the journey and who we are. I definitely think it is important to honor that.

    I think Watson’s voice is important because of the generation she represents and her fans and her speaking out contributes a great deal. True, she ain’t Steinem, but who is except for Miss G. herself. Having Emma in the fold doesn’t take away from any one else’s contributions and voice versa. (I know you aren’t saying contrary to any of what I just said- I’m just sharing my thoughts, which were sparked by your thoughtful post.)

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    1. Agreed! Everyone has their own journey to make, in feminism as in every other major philosophical orientation that humans apply to make sense of (and make improvements to) their lives and the lives of those around them.

      It’s a big part of why I find myself so unsympathetic to these recurring efforts to (re)brand “the movement” so it’s enticing to a wider audience. I see no good coming from domesticating feminism enough to be encompassed by any singular definition — let alone a singular definition that would appeal to the broadest swath of people. I think feminism only works when we let it sing its own Whitman-esque refrain: large, contradictory, and containing multitudes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t heard of the heforshe program before reading this blog, which I have conflicted feelings about. When I first read that comment from Emma Watson, I thought that she was pointing to all the women lately that have come out saying they aren’t feminists. I thought her meaning was that feminism has a stigma that isn’t true. These young starlets usually don’t want to be labelled feminist, because they don’t understand what feminism means.

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    1. Oh, lemme be clear: I think that’s absolutely what Emma Watson is saying. The meme here is ambiguous only because it’s decontextualized. That said, the overall vibe around #HeForShe just reeks to me of tone-policing (“If we ask men very VERY nicely — and point out all the ways they’ll be helped too! — maybe they’ll join in”) and chauvinism (“men! stand up for your women!”).

      Frankly, I ain’t got time to worry about someone’s precious fee-fee’s, when the stakes involve someone else’s health/life/safety. My feminism is too impatient and poorly-mannered for that!

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  3. Being man-hating just alienates both women and men from the cause. Most women want to steer clear from anything that promotes hating men. And of course men don’t like it either.

    It’s also not fair to clump all men together. I teach both young women and men in my women’s studies classes. About one-quarter of the into class tends to be male. And sometimes half the women’s psych class is men. And a lot of these men are actually feminist. So it’s important to make a distinction between “patriarchy” — which both men and women may support — and “men,” who are actually often feminist.

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    1. Yours seems like it must such an emotionally taxing endeavor, with very high highs and very low lows: helping young humans to see and understand all the damage wrought by our entrenched current systems of gender. And — as with any system of oppression and privilege — the people who most benefit from patriarchy, due to their gender (and other identities), can find it hardest to see the system without feeling that something integral to their own persons as individuals is being taken away.

      I don’t envy you the task. But I am so very glad people like you are undertaking it.

      Like

  4. Alice,

    1) Love the title.
    2) I had to read this several times. (Which is a good thing, duh.)
    3) That men’s contributions to feminism are more valued — or at least disproportionately praised — than women’s contributions, often by women themselves, is a mindfuck. You’ve inspired me to be just as meticulous in my own social criticisms.
    4) Thank you, thank you, thank you (still can’t say it enough) for the linkback.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “A mindfuck” — yes! Most soul-destroying -ism’s [racism, sexism, homophobia (an -ism at heart, if not in grammar), etc.] are mindfucks at the core, seems to me. For me, blogging is a low-stakes way to come back, again and again, to seeing and seizing and recording all that such systems want to make unseen. Until I get good at it. Until my mind is no longer quite so fucked.

      While you’re clearly not a new writer, yours is a very new blog — and I’m very happy to signal boost, in the small ways I can. Good writing deserves good readers. And vice versa.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As a nod to my agreement that we must affirm the right to rant when and if we please I am gonna link this post on the FB page (if that’s okay?) because occasionally ranting produces engagement, constructive and otherwise 😉
    Also, I think I have another new blog to add to my list…the ‘short story’ blew me away

    Liked by 2 people

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