Saturday, 21 May 2016

Opinionated Post: Why Men Need A New Feminism

by Thomas Cookson

This is going to be about male feminists.

Some 12 years ago, I tried my hand at being a male feminist myself, so I understand the appeal of feminism to men. I was part of an online feminist community that was were very kind to me and gave me much emotional support.

Since then mainstream feminism has changed for the worse into something hostile I don’t recognise anymore and now wouldn’t go anywhere near. Feminism today is one of homicidal hashtags, anti-manspreading legislations and abusive twitter campaigns.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the number of people willing to call themselves feminists today has shrunken. Many believe gender equality has been more or less achieved, and they’re starting to see modern feminism turn frankly into an embarrassment and are now losing patience with their insane antics.

But it can be quite uncomfortable watching emasculated male youtubers who still maintain their zealotry to feminism and insist we should too. These men seem so consumed with male guilt and self-hatred, seeming almost brainwashed. It seems no-one can or will tell them that maybe the movement they’re in isn’t that healthy.

So why do men become drawn to feminism, and why are many of them still staying with a poisoned chalice?

Well I can only speak to my experience and the factors that drew me to feminism.
  • I didn’t want to conform to a masculine macho role, and felt that joining feminism represented the best way to challenge and overcome that conformity.
  • Since I’d experienced bullying and gang harassment from male peers, I could more readily buy the idea of ‘toxic masculinity’ and see other males as rampantly violent, predatory and evil.
  • I felt I was failing to come across positively to women, believing that I’d present a better aura if I had a worthy womanist cause to follow and understood women better. I felt it was actually traditionalism and patriarchy that was the societal force keeping the genders segregated, dysfunctional and uncomfortable around each other, and that feminism understood the worst consequences of this and how to stop it.
  • I believed feminism would in the long run teach me to be a better, more understanding boyfriend.
  • I believed in honouring the women in my life, and working to help improve their lives.
  • Acceptance. Feminists can be very welcoming to men who join their movement. Many feminist communities are inevitably man deserts, but we’re only human and there’ll be women who miss and welcome male company, especially if it comes with the promise of being understood (However in recent times male feminists have grown prominent enough that their presence is clearly becoming an annoyance, hence feminist blogs devoted to bashing them and reminding them of their subordination in their mean girls clique)
  • I held the idea that feminism provided a road to self-improvement and becoming a better person, like pursuing sports, fitness regimes, religion or academia. Sometimes even when it was painful and defeating, it still appealed to that masochistic instinct.
But Feminism was, in the main, far from good for me. Even whilst being lucky enough to find a good accepting camp, being careful of the allies I chose, these feminist women are still likely to seek solace in articles and writings that are quite hostile and detrimental to men.

Here’s what I think are the main problems of feminism for men.
  • It rarely encourages men’s personal growth
  • Your voice is inherently an inferior one. There’s less good you can advance and more unspoken minefields you have to watch for. You learn to measure your words rather than expand your philosophy.
  • Good intentions are not taken for granted. You may think you’d fit easily into feminism. You’re clearly a decent person with a progressive outlook and believe that’s a good starting point. Sadly you might find feminism already considers you a bad apple until you prove otherwise. That’s your starting point. Female blunt honesty about men may seem refreshing, but really their view of men is usually one of distorted bigotry and not giving men a chance. Since they see sexism and bad intentions in everything, you might find it uphill work to convince them and even yourself that you aren’t sexist, or hope you can learn how to know and renounce your own unconscious sexism. 
  • There’s one prominent male feminist youtuber who introduced his wife in one video, and even after years’ marriage she still refuses to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s not sexist. If he still hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt, he never will.
  • Transparency is impossible. As you can imagine, presenting your best self in feminism is almost impossible. Your best self is almost never good enough. So you likely crumble into a grovelling state. 
  • But there’s a more sinister transformation that sometimes takes place. It’s not really a coincidence that some feminist women’s worst dating/relationship experiences were with self-proclaimed male feminists who turned out to be quite slimy, cavalier, controlling monsters. If speaking and behaving with transparency within the feminist movement is frowned upon, then you’re likely to think the best way to present well is to become a rather steely, manipulative, devious control freak. 
  • If you’re trying to rationalize the idea that feminism means equality, and you’re exposed to the cultish way feminism actually venerates women for being self-serving, impolite, unaccommodating and petty as empowering behaviour, then a downtrodden feminist man who’s wondering what’s in it for him might assume he needs to be equally inconsiderate and petty in order to get his.
  • I could never escape a feeling with feminism that I was actually being drawn back to the Victorian era, with their tyranny of etiquette, repression of male sexuality. It all seemed about ensuring men know their place and speak when spoken to, and don’t speak to a female stranger they haven’t already been formerly introduced to. Perhaps feminism hasn’t really moved on from its Victorian era beginnings.
  • Safe spaces and moral confusion. Feminism strongly caters to the view that the world’s a dangerous hostile place of violent, predatory men and harmful ideas and norms. But as with all safe spaces and fortresses, sometimes what you keep in is worse than what you keep out. Feminist ‘safe space’ don’t keep out ideas that are harmful to men. Infact it accumulates them. As a young man in feminism I quickly needed my own safe space within the safe space, but there wasn’t one.
  • If Valerie Solanas’ misandrist ideas and murderous actions (she wrote The Scum Manifesto and tried to assassinate Any Warhol) are revered and considered a ‘safe’ part of a dangerous world, and if that kind of violent expression of rage and hate is acceptable, downplayed, and empathised with, then you’re getting into dangerously morally confused ideas about the world and people and what represents ‘safe’ people.
  • Feminism has become an uncontrollable juggernaut with a never-ending goal to find sexism in everything. You may have noticed how feminist protests against the MRA are notoriously angry and belligerent. 
But I know first-hand that anger of being desperate for a righteous cause to fight, to right wrongs. The frustration of chasing shadows. I’ve absolutely wanted to kick something when that chance to get riled up and make protests was denied when a story about an unemployed German woman who’d been threatened with losing her benefits if she didn’t accept a job as a sex-worker, turned out to be a hoax.

After that I learned there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

So how can we make a better feminism for men?


Well, let’s get away from the idea that gender is the overriding factor that determines who you are, whether your intentions are good, what you’re allowed to say. Perhaps our feminism should begin with men’s good intentions already written into it. Society overall needs to get away from harmful, detrimental ideas that make men see themselves as potentially dangerous or threatening to women.

Feminism needs to lose its filters, its skewed gendered lense, safe spaces, its rose-tinted view of its own shady history of bullying behaviour, and to finally understand the real world with clarity. Realities about our real world need to be spoken of, even if they might offend.

Opportunity Feminism by nature presents opportunities for men. Outcome feminism only offers them conclusive negative labels and dead ends.

Feminism’s always perhaps been a movement of ideologues who were useful for bringing about important changes, but always needed carefully watching to ensure they don’t become too powerful. Sadly no-one seems able to stop them enforcing their authoritarian madness anymore, yet simultaneously woman’s advocacy is still needed in areas where UK austerity cuts are now badly affecting availability of battered woman’s shelters and resources.

The main reason I want a better feminism is I still feel that I’ve got an old promise to keep to the feminist allies I’d once formed. I still want their suffered injustices to be righted. Egalitarian Feminism offers me a new chance to get back into the fight.

2 comments:

  1. As a fellow man, Thomas, I definitely have vested interests in the way that feminists treat men. If feminists hated you just because you are a man, I don't think that's morally right.

    Let me acknowledge that I have not done much for anyone. I'm just a guy who likes to argue with people on the Internet. So I can hardly criticize anyone else for not doing a lot for women's rights.

    Nevertheless, I will criticize your opinion piece for focusing mostly on the activists and not on the people who they are trying to help. If Amanda Marcotte or Jessica Valenti (for anyone reading this who doesn't know, those two people are both feminists) wrote about how feminism needed to change in order to better meet their needs, I would feel the same way. Feminism should not be about Marcotte or Valenti, it should be about all women, particularly the most downtrodden women.

    So, that's my two cents. You may take it or leave it. I really hope that my comment came off as attacking your ideas and not you as a person. I try to practice civility on the Internet, but sometimes I say really hurtful stuff without even meaning to.

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  2. Thank you for replying very thoughtfully to my piece.

    "If feminists hated you just because you are a man, I don't think that's morally right."

    In truth I didn't really experience hatred from the feminists I encountered online, and I didn't mean to give that impression. On the contrary I was very welcomed as an ally. But there was a lot of media and articles by feminists that were linked to on that forum that were about encounters with men who sometimes would make a faux pas when interacting with them, that I couldn't help in some way take personally, especially when it began to seem that in their eyes anything the man tried to do to amend his behaviour just made it worse.

    "Nevertheless, I will criticize your opinion piece for focusing mostly on the activists and not on the people who they are trying to help. If Amanda Marcotte or Jessica Valenti wrote about how feminism needed to change in order to better meet their needs, I would feel the same way. Feminism should not be about Marcotte or Valenti, it should be about all women, particularly the most downtrodden women."

    From my understanding however, Egalitarian Feminism is about being a different form of feminism. One with roots in the first wave but that has gone its own course from the second and third wave.

    Whilst I did touch on some of the actions of feminist activists that I disapprove of, I was mainly more focusing on the culture of feminism itself and how some of that mean girl behaviour is just an inevitable symptom of that culture. A culture of punk rebelliousness, pent-up frustration, venting, self-aggrandisement and more than a few personality disorders. And that's fine. That culture is what it is, and if we're outsiders to that culture, we can't presume to change it or assume the arrogance to judge it.

    But if that culture is starting to bully its way into the mainstream and demand everyone else live by its tyranny of etiquette, then I think it becomes a problem and there becomes a need to criticise, and to explain why I think it's incompatible with or unhealthy for the rest of society.

    I don't expect the rest feminism to change as a culture and maybe if it's still doing good work for the downtrodden then it shouldn't, but my article is about how I feel a need to find a different, healthier culture of feminism, that I'm probably not alone in that feeling, and how I see Egafeminism as providing that.

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