There’s a conversation I’ve had with feminists more times than I care to remember. It goes a bit like this:
Me: “Hey, I have a problem with Feminism.”
Feminist: “Feminism? It’s only the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. You must have internalised misogyny!”
Me: “The actions of feminists show that feminism is the advocacy of women’s privileges (our rights having been secured decades ago) with indifference or even hostility towards the rights of men.”
Feminist: “Hand in your woman card, you’re doing it wrong!”
This debate is so irritating that I want to stuff headphones into my ears and blast Frank Zappa’s ‘Bamboozled by Love’ so loudly that I can’t hear any feminist insisting that only she or he understands human experience.
Maybe that gender studies degree or that Tumblr you consume didn’t cover this, but the dictionary definition of feminism isn’t something you can trot out when it suits you yet never live up to it. It confers no virtue; it’s something you must express during every interaction in your life. It’s an ongoing process of learning and investigation without prejudice. If you’re not prepared to listen when non-feminist men and women tell you what feminism is, you aren’t progressive. You’re a bigot.
If you do want to be a feminist, and you find yourself conversing with a human who feels that your ideology is a problem, here’s a few pointers on how to handle it.
First of all, if you are more upset at being told that your ideology is problematic than actually thinking about the problem that has been raised, it means you are more worried about protecting your ego than understanding the experience of the human in front of you.
It’s all right, I understand, you are being made to question your fundamental beliefs and that is scary. I recommend dipping your feet in the shallow end and seeking out the wisdom of heretic feminists like Camille Paglia and Christina Hoff Sommers and their criticisms of mainstream Feminism. It might hurt less coming from them.
Remember though, that Gloria Steinem called Paglia ‘The Anti-Feminist’ in the ‘70s and feminists at Oberlin College set up a safe space to shelter themselves from Sommers’s lecture — which seemed to pose an existential threat!
I know you think that you “understand gender equality”, but even feminists are not infallible. I used to be a feminist. I thought that women were uniquely disadvantaged, a perspective so cliché that I am actually ashamed of my ignorance at that time. People told me that my ideology was a problem, and you know what? I didn’t cry “oh my god, it’s only about gender equality.” Instead, I listened and then I said “Yeah. You’re right. My bad.”
You know why? Because I know I can be wrong. Anybody can. And I’m glad when someone hands me better information than I’ve already got. If a non-feminist calls feminism “the feminist problem”, you definitely need to listen because you haven’t walked in everybody’s shoes and you are not all-knowing.
It is so tedious how feminists claim authority over gender equality and act like they’re the only people who care about it. It is so tiresome how feminists pretend that feminism is objectively “right” for all time, beyond all further discussion – we even have a name for this: feminist triumphalism.
While feminism is theoretical to you, it’s oh-so-very-real to us, so at least listen to what we say. Be thankful that the non-feminist men and women around you don’t think you’re a lost cause because “behind every ex-feminist is an exhausted non-feminist you need to thank.”
You’re no longer in denial and you have successfully reached step two. Maybe you didn’t realise until now that your ideology was a problem: that’s OK. Feminism is so deeply woven into the very fabric of our society that sometimes you can’t see how toxic it is.
Feminism isn’t something we opt in or out of. In our society, it’s always there. It’s the white noise humming in the background of almost every interaction. If you still can’t see it or understand it, at least acknowledge that the other person did, and listen to what they say. If you’re still denying that there are problems with feminism then straight you go to dictionary-definition jail. Do not pass go.
If you accept that there are problems with feminism, if you listen to non-feminist reasons for saying so, and if you’ve taken these things on board, then you are on the road to becoming a non-feminist. Because, guess what? Gender equality is not a feminist project! Feminists merely pretend that it is, in order to mask the unpalatable flavour of their actual goals.
Finally, as a feminist you must come to terms with non-feminist alterity: the absolute independent existence of the world beyond feminism. You must accept the fundamental right-to-exist of the non-feminist sector, and the fact that this sector is morally self-sufficient and has no need of feminist regulation in any form.
As a feminist, you must check the feminist privilege which makes you feel that feminism “is the world”. You must learn to coexist, peacefully and in good faith, with the rest of the world.
The above was written in response to Kirsty Major’s article ‘Men, if you really think you’re a feminist here’s what to do when a woman says you’re being sexist’
For a classic rebuttal listen to Paul Elam’s video ‘The Kirsty Major Male Feminist Handbook’
After conversing with colleagues, however, I decided to turn the tables on Ms Major and deliver some home truth to feminists, using her format. I hope you enjoyed the ride, Kirsty!