I am a feminist.
I’m not a “male feminist.” I’m not an “equalist,” or “egalitarian,” or even, such as it is, even just an “ally.” I identify, out of necessity, as a feminist.
I don’t write about feminism often because 1. I often don’t feel like I’m the most qualified person to do so, 2. I’m certainly not willing to take ground from other feminists who have devoted most of their waking moments to theory and praxis, and 3. Because I tried the “dude feminism” thing for a little bit and, as it’s been pointed out, is one of the biggest traps that men trying to evangelize other men into feminism fall into, which is inadvertently recreating the same “man as protector” theme that basically has helped hold patriarchy up for thousands of years. I fell into that trap.
I still identify as a feminist, though, because the world is a battlefield, as Jeremy Scahill pointed out, for different reasons, and I refuse to be on the side of the invaders. The social war that conservatives fear so greatly is, in fact, happening, and people are actually dying. Women are actually dying. And yes – by and large, men are the ones killing them. This is not a surprise – or even news – to anyone but men, it seems – Susan Brownmiller spent the entire first 20 pages of her book Against Our Will laying out the historically military roots of the war we’re currently embroiled in.
While recent events have illuminated just how dire the situation really is regarding the war on women, many people – many men – refuse to acknowledge that there’s something wrong. They point out Elliot Rodger’s history of mental illness, or wave off the stabbing murder of a 16-year-old girl on the day of her prom as an isolated incident.
This does go past Elliot Rodger. It goes past predatory “Pick Up Artistry” or Christian-persecution-complex mimicking “Men’s Rights Activism,” too, though those are certainly components of the wider problem. It goes past any act committed by a singular person. It is a systemic parasite, one of the many that attach themselves to the human race and sap individuals of their potential for flourishing.
Patriarchy influences us from day one. It informs our parents’ decisions to paint our nurseries blue or pink depending on our genitals, and what toys and clothes to buy us even when we can make the decisions ourselves. It informs our teachers on how to discipline and praise us, how to talk to our parents about us. It makes people shrug and say, “boys will be boys” when they get into a fight and scold girls for doing the same thing.
It simplifies complex relationships and drills incorrect preconceptions into people’s heads. “If I hold doors open for people, and I’m there for them, and I avail myself to them, then they’ll see me as a good person, and find me desirable, and I will be rewarded justly for my chivalrous behavior!” It even poisons those who try to eliminate it.
Lots of jokes have been made at the expense of the stereotypical, fedora-wearing – excuse me, trilby-wearing – neckbearded “Nice Guy™,” but I think most of us guys are kidding ourselves if we believe we haven’t exhibited the same behavior before. We, by and large, still conceive of women as an other, as a trophy, as an object to be protected from harm. It isn’t always apparent, because some of us – including those of us who identify as feminists – couch this objectification in good intentions. But it’s still there.
I have entirely selfish reasons for identifying as a feminist. I don’t want to see another friend harmed by a man. I don’t want to get another call or text at 2 AM from someone I know saying that they were sexually assaulted. I want my friends to lead lives where they don’t have to walk from their apartment to their car with keys gripped firmly between their ring and middle fingers. Or keep a baseball bat near their door or in their backpack. People shouldn’t need to be heavily armed to move freely in 2014 Oklahoma.
These are a lot of the same reasons I became an anarchist. Anarchism, unfortunately, is not – and has never been – immune to patriarchy, but its ideas of eliminating social hierarchies along with the institutional structures – capitalism and the state, namely – that allow them to exist fall very much in line with feminism’s goals. Anarchism speaks of a world where people won’t have to be afraid of the dark. That is, obviously, very appealing.
But anarchism, by itself, is not enough. It’s not enough to care about my friends and their safety and wellbeing. It isn’t even enough to want to smash patriarchy.
I have been struggling with a way to write about the rage and sadness I felt after hearing about Elliot Rodger’s actions, and then hearing and reading his words. I have been struggling over whether I should even write anything at all. But then I saw the #yesallwomen tag on Twitter and the male-led backlash against it. I saw the #yesallmen tag spring to life, full of poison. I saw people who might very well have been caring and sensitive men turn into brutes in the space of a few seconds.
In reaction to women posting their stories of sexual abuse, job discrimination, and social othering, men were posting about the time a girl didn’t show up to a date and how that made them sad. I read an article from a week before Elliot Rodger, and #yesallwomen, in the New York fucking Times about “cut-off culture.” About how the dude who wrote it experienced a break up and didn’t understand why the woman who dumped him won’t take his calls.
How’s this for #yesallwomen? A coworker of mine at the Center for a Stateless Society was recently told that the only reason she was brought on as an adviser and contributor was because we, apparently, collectively thought she was “pretty.” This same coworker regularly has campaigns mounted against her appearing on podcasts and television shows, at panels and conferences, and other blogs and news sites. Everything she writes garnishes Facebook threads hundreds of comments long decrying her as a terrible person, out to destroy “the Liberty Movement™” because she has the audacity to identify as a libertarian feminist.
There is a question that must at one point or another be answered by everyone. It’s a question that came up for me recently, in the aftermath of Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree in Isla Vista, CA and in the seemingly never-ending “debate” over whether libertarianism and feminism can coexist. I realized that the question I’m trying to answer isn’t over how to articulate the kind of antipathy I’m feeling. The question is much simpler:
Which side are you on?
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