What Anti-Feminists Won’t (and Maybe Can’t) Understand

First off, cheers to BruteReason for tipping me off to ManBoobz, whose posts got me thinking about this topic again.

I wrote earlier this week about “patriot” militias and conspiracy theories, but there was one major conspiracy theory I left out: the men (and women!) who are terrified to be linked to the feminist movement. And this saddens me deeply.

There are some people out there who merely fear the word. Feminist. They hear it and straw men come to life: women burning bras, rejecting their biology, calling down hellfire on men and any man who wants to have sex with a women. They call all men rapists, and all women who love men victims of false consciousness.

They don’t exist. Or, they exist only in the fears of misogynists.

But still, some people refuse to be linked with feminism because this is the demon conjured by the name. People like Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer who publicly repudiate feminism as a driving force in her success. These people are part of the problem, but they aren’t the main danger. The really dangerous ones are the ones who identify as anti-feminist, because they too fear the strident, militaristic anti-man.

These people go out of their way to attack feminism, chipping away at its reputation and its intellectual basis. They find quotes and take them out of context (or completely fabricate them) in order to damage feminist causes.

And this is a real shame, because feminism was never about rejecting men. It isn’t even about remaking society, exactly. And anti-feminists would know this, if they could stop screaming about the woman-apocalypse long enough to pick up a feminist essay or two. Rather, feminism is about the creation of a positive, healthy identity for women, outside of the one given to them by men. That’s a goal that doesn’t seem to objectionable to me.

But the problem is that traditional female identity was crafted and expounded by men, and so, in order to find a positive identity, women have had to strip themselves down, intellectually and emotionally, to discover what lies at the center. This is the major focus of feminist thought: a self-investigation meant, in the end, to determine what a woman is when she isn’t defined by self-described “benevolent father figures”. This has had some consequences for society, and that’s reasonable. But anti-feminists don’t see it that way.

This is why men’s rights movements keep failing. These groups aren’t out to discover a positive male identity or engage in self-investigation. They exist to attack feminists and women in general. They see victimhood and privilege everywhere, instead of looking into the self and figuring out what’s there.

This is also a shame. It’s true that feminist gains have redefined the male role as surely as they have rediscovered the female. This should have been a tipping-off point for men: our identity has for centuries relied on the female gaze for justification. We needed women to tell us we were right, and we were mad if they didn’t.

Then one day, women stopped telling men what they wanted to hear. They asked what they were without us – or, at least, without our definitions. Men never stopped to ask the same thing, and when they sort-of did, they returned too readily to rhetoric of supremacy and strength. Anti-feminists are so caught up in being the victim that they never consider positive identity formation to be a goal, or even a possibility. They’re afraid of losing what they have, never understanding that by kicking and screaming, they’ve misunderstood the promise, and the power, of feminism from the start.

7 comments

  1. Great post! Thanks for writing it and linking to me. I’m glad to see that someone else “gets” it. :)

  2. [...] What anti-feminists don’t understand. “Then one day, women stopped telling men what they wanted to hear. They asked what they were [...]

  3. Considering that Feminism isnt a monolith your assumption that certain types of feminists dont exist is wrong. All the ones you cite I have encountered in my life. They might not be the norm but make no mistake, they are real.

    1. Hmm – okay, I’m willing to believe that pretty much every kind of person exists, and that the people you’ve met cloak themselves in the name of feminism. I was referring mostly to feminist writers, especially academic ones. Although you’re quite right that feminism isn’t a monolith, it doesn’t follow that just anyone can describe their beliefs accurately as ‘feminism’ – I just wrote a piece about politicians who insist that only their own positions are “patriotic”, even if those positions don’t participate in what we usually define as patriotism.

      I don’t honestly know how to feel about the people you have met. I can’t in good faith lump them with the academic feminists I’ve met, though some of the more famous academic feminists have in fact described lesbian separatist positions. I suppose the nebulous definition of feminism is part of what creates this debate in the first place.

  4. [...] religion, etc., mind you) from the last 50 or so years and starting over. Or, as the writer of Bespectacled Ape put it, The problem is that traditional female identity was crafted and expounded by men, and so, [...]

  5. On top of people who identify as anti-feminists you also have the ones who ignore it, or “fear” the word “feminist”. I don’t know how to explain this fear, but I have met very intelligent, educated people who looked at me in a curious (not positive) way when I mentioned I was a feminist. When I go deeper into a conversation about things I believe in, and I mention the gender aspect they seem to agree with me all the way, but the word itself, to be a “feminist” is truly frightening for many. Sadly, they just reject it, rather than investigating what it actually stands for.

    1. I think a lot of the women like Katy Perry et al. who go on stage and say “I’m not a feminist but I believe women can do anything!” are exactly these kinds of people.

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