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.