After five years of carefully and cautiously - okay, perhaps not that cautiously - but deliberately attempting to elicit a reasonable, rational response from feminism to the issues of the Manosphere, I may have finally found my unicorn.
Here's the backstory: I occasionally indulge in some friendly Twitter engagement with feminists, taking a strong anti-feminist position. I'm openly and un-apologetically acting as an agent provocateur, Understand, while this may be seen as trolling, I am extremely polite in my engagements with feminists and never cross the line into "bullying". That doesn't mean that some don't get hurt feelings, but in most cases that was a pre-existing condition.
Now, while many of you will shake your heads over the utility or the practicality of attempting such engagement, I do so for higher purpose, not just because I like yanking pigtails. I'm not there to make feminists mad, I'm there to challenge and give honest criticism, to make them think more than to make them angry. I'm laying out, in as practical and simple terms as I can, why the Manosphere and men in general have taken issue with feminism, as it has presented itself. I've done this over and over again, searching for a unicorn: a feminist who is willing to look past the rhetoric of the feminist movement and address the issues with it that men and the Manosphere have.
Why would I want to do such a perverse thing? While it would be much easier to just hurl mindless vitriol, as I said, I'm not into yanking pigtails for fun. My goal is to actually open some sort of reasonable dialog between the two spheres.
So, after responding to a fairly reasonable post by a young feminist woman who was confused and upset by the anger she detected from the anti-feminist movement on the #HowToSpotAFeminist hashtag which started to get meme-y (and then posting my reply to as many retweeters of the original as I could find) a bold feminist unicorn stood forth from the herd, and responded on her blog.
To avoid any miscommunication, I'd like to reprint her post in its entirety before I respond:
thanks for your thoughtful response! I appreciate your civil discourse and lack of ad hominem attacks. Seriously.
Due to your lack of actual citation beyond the link to a blog post that itself looks at largely anecdotal data, I will also respond using broad strokes and summaries. I can provide factual citation and data from research on historical trends from non-biased sources as requested, if necessary. Also, while gender and sexuality are multivariate, not binary, in order to most directly and efficiently respond to your letter, I will mostly be talking about feminism in largely binary terms.
So, I see your hurt feelings. They are true and valid. I will not dispute that they exist. However, I think that there’s some conflation going on assigning causality in incorrect ways. I am not saying that nothing was done, or that no one did anything. Things were done. People did them. But from where I’m standing, there’s been some conflation of separate entities in what all went down.
Yes, feminism has pointed out that there are issues that exist with men, masculinity, fatherhood, and male sexuality. It has not, however, said that those categories are the issues. They have the issues. And lots of those issues have affected women at a systemic and subsequently individual level. Yes, women, femininity, motherhood, and female sexuality also have issues. And those issues have affected men on a systemic and subsequently individual level. But feminism posits, with the whole of history that I won’t repeat here to back it up, that men’s issues have had the harder hit, when it comes to the way society has shown bruises. The phrase “it’s a man’s world” is an incredibly crude phrase, but it is a good summary of what the main problem throughout history has boiled down to.
You say that feminism has not been inclusive of men’s issues. I say that this is an unfair critique. Every activist movement only has so many resources to go around. You wouldn’t criticize a puppy rescue for not seeing to the homeless kittens out there, too. It’s not their scope. Do they care about kittens? Yes. Do they want organizations to exist to get the kittens help? Yes. Do they think that by addressing the cause of homeless pets while working specifically with the target population of puppies their work will also help kittens? Yes. When they go out to the public to talk about their mission, are they going to use their limited time and resources to talk about kittens? No. Feminism works on the overall condition of human rights by focusing on a target dynamic. We think men and their plights are important too. We’re just not that organization.
Finally, there is the important distinction between “the actions of an individual who claims a label” and “the definition of the label itself.” A person can claim that they are a certain thing, and then act in no such manner. It’s been the recognized case with religion for years. People claiming to be Christian and to believe in love and forgiveness have gone and slaughtered millions in crusades and KKK rallies and abortion clinic bombings. Were those actions produced by Christianity? No. They were actions produced by angry individuals who falsely claimed the nearest convenient label as a justification for their own independent action.
Feminism is not about taking advantage of or attacking men. Feminism is in fact exactly the opposite, about righting a systemic abuse of power to bring us all back to a playing field of being reasonable, decent humans to each other who don’t make assumptions based on stereotypes, whether about males or females. The actions of not-actually-feminists only “stain” the movement as much as the action of male rapists and serial killers and bigots and otherwise terrible humans “stain” the whole of manhood.
As Katherine mentions in her blog post, true feminism does not discount subsets of feminist interests. Women are allowed to want to be mothers and wives and mascara-appliers and hair-doers and skirt-wearers. They are allowed to care about their high heels and children. That is fine. Acceptable. Laudable. As is not wanting to be a wife or a mother or to wear makeup or do anything remotely similar. Or, to be a male and to want to be a husband and father and to wear makeup and do hair and wear skirts. Or, to be someone who falls in none of those categories. Feminism is the idea that boxes are idiotic, and no one should be trapped in them – or outside of them.
You say my idea of feminism is naïve, but I would counter that perhaps your experience of it is limited. I do not deny that there are angry people out there calling themselves feminists and acting the opposite. They are visible. They are loud. They are really quite noticeable. Yes, they exist. But feminists who are reasonable and don’t go gutting others in the style of exactly what we’re trying to end exist, too. The “warm, happy, sunny feminism” you claim I know because I practice it, or at least try my damnedest to. Katherine does as well. There are others – women and men – in my day to day life who practice it, too. I see them. I know they are real. I’m sorry people like them apparently don’t exist in your personal world. Though when presented with two people – one who’s smiling at you and the other who’s about to stab you with a knife – I can understand how the knife-wielder might take more precedence in what you’re remembering came at you that day. I promise there are more of smilers out there, somewhere around you.
But don’t get me wrong – people who are good feminists, are decent humans are allowed to get angry, too. Just like you, we’re allowed to feel hurt at our own knife wounds. And we’re allowed to fight back. Just as you are.
Thank you for your polite and civil response. I do try to avoid ad hominem language, even if my language is often considered caustic, because the fact is my issue is with the feminist movement and a few particular leaders more than it is with individual feminists. My purpose has always been to arouse discussion, not foster an environment of hate. So your civil and reasonable response to my posting is very, very much appreciated.
I'll begin by saying that I avoided actual citation and stuck to generalities on purpose, to avoid getting entangled in dueling statistics. Thanks to the internet, citing stats and studies and then undermining their worthiness has become an artform, one which rarely accomplishes anything. I am trying to discuss the inter-gender situation in general, so I appreciate you keeping your response equally high-level.
First, let me thank you for acknowledging the validity of our feelings. That's bigger than you know. Men in the Manosphere (for our purposes, the combined MHRM/MGTOW/PUA/OMG and other advocates of positive masculinity) frequently express their strong emotions and feelings, though with varying degrees of eloquence. These expressions, ironically, are largely due to an upbringing in which we were encouraged by feminism to "express our feelings" instead of bottling them up in traditional masculine Stoic (and, according to feminism, "unhealthy") fashion.
now those expressions of genuine feeling, when expressed about feminism, are used against us. To feminism-at-large we are "bitter, whiny, angry, frustrated men consumed with rage". Rarely is the question of whether or not our feelings are valid and justified considered by feminism - it uses our bitterness as proof of our "toxicity", not as a token of our righteous anger. Instead, the emotions that feminism encouraged us to share, back in our youth, are now being used to shame and denigrate us because we dare share them. So your acknowledgement of their validity is refreshing, and I do genuinely appreciate it.
I can also appreciate your frustration with the Manosphere/anti-feminists consistently finding fault with an ideology that you have invested so much in, and that you see as being responsible for so much good in the world. Your point about conflation of causality is well-taken . . . but then when it comes to the details, that's where things start being a problem.
You agree that stuff was done, and people did them. That's a good start - too often feminists are unwilling to even admit that feminism has caused harm because of their investment in the ideology. I'll agree that the specifics are open to debate, but the very fact you admit stuff was done and something went down is a HUGE step . . . because feminism has been very, very reluctant to take responsibility for what the feminist movement has done. The specifics, you see, are very important.
When feminism began to critically examine the the role of men in the late 1960s-1970s, I think we can all admit that some serious examination was necessary: the economy and society of the world had changed with industrialization, and our social system had to adapt to keep up. Moving forward into a post-industrial age in which women and men could both compete in the labor marketplace required some dramatic and frightening changes to our agrarian-oriented society. Technological innovations like the birth control pill fundamentally altered how human sexuality functioned, and our culture, our laws, and our society did, indeed, need the first two rounds of feminism like a shot of antibiotics.
Keep that in mind: despite the churning anger of the Manosphere, the vast majority of men involved do not, as feminism accuses us, want to curtail the basic gains made in women's rights and women's empowerment. By and large we don't want to restrict women's rights to vote, hold office, own property, or compete on an equal footing in the workplace. The vast, vast majority of men in the Manosphere and in the anti-feminist movement approach their activism with a humanistic perspective that has no desire to undercut the equal rights of women.
When feminism examined the issues of "toxic" masculinity in the 1970s, it didn't stop at a mere critique; it unilaterally decided on a reconstruction. Fatherhood, masculinity, men, and male sexuality were not only put under the microscope by feminism, to the vast majority of men it felt as if we were going under the knife. Traditional refuges of masculinity were attacked and criticized by feminism without understanding of their utility and usefulness to men, or the long-term effects of their assault on our society. In the pursuit of gender-based justice, feminism threw men and masculinity under the bus.
I can appreciate your point that both men and women have issues - but the difference is that feminism has cultivated a climate in which women are allowed to comment on male issues and women's issues, but the moment that men voice an honest opinion about either they are attacked without consideration. And while I can also appreciate that, in feminism's perspective, that men seem to have gotten away with an awful lot of masculine "privilege", that belies the truth of our own perspective. For millions of men over hundreds of years, their "male privilege" began and ended on the battlefield, while women were largely protected by their sacrifice.
When feminism speaks of equality, which it does often as a fundamental ideal, it assumes that the social and legal dynamic places men in a "higher" class than women institutionally, that men enjoy "more" rights than women, and that women must therefore "equalize" our institutions to correct this imbalance. Yet rarely, if ever, does feminism appreciate the large number of gender-based masculine obligations, both legal and social, that men incur as a penalty for our sex. In other words, while the rights to vote and sit on a jury and have a credit card are necessary for a woman's equality in our society, then logically the duty to register for conscription and the willingness to sacrifice your life for your society and nation are two profound areas in which men and women remain glaringly unequal.
Feminism has always ignored the profound effect this existential threat holds over men; when the subject is brought up it is dismissed either by denying the importance of an archaic institution only intended to serve in direst emergency, or the evils of conscription are thoughtfully acknowledged with a shrug of feminist shoulders and an occasional finger pointed at "the patriarchy". Yet when it comes to defining our gendered experience, the solemn fact is that women are protected from this specter by the virtue of their gender in a very un-equal way . . . while men are still expected - even by feminists - to be the first to sacrifice their lives and their interests for the sake of the greater (largely feminine) good.
I can appreciate the frustration implicit in such foreboding sayings as "It's A Man's World", and how that seems like a near-insurmountable challenge for women. Yet while that phrase is easy to employ, rarely does feminism stop to give consideration of just what this "Man's World" has accomplished, or appreciate the breathtaking achievements masculine ingenuity and inventiveness have wrought on behalf of all of humanity.
This "Man's World" feminism rails against gave us the industrialization that allowed women to earn their own incomes; it gave us advanced medicine and technology to reduce or eliminate problems women have complained about for literally thousands of years; it has reduced infant mortality and increased life expectancy, ensured food security and provided physical security, and granted the women of our time a standard of living not even monarchs could boast of two hundred years ago.
When feminism attacks the "Man's World", it is also attacking all of those things. It is attacking the social welfare system, the social and legal institutions we men established, and the underlying masculine pride we men rightly feel in what our ancestors accomplished in building our great civilization. Feminism has successfully demonized the legacy of men who toiled and gave their lives to build the society in which they live and thrive. It has reduced the breathtaking explosion of masculine achievement and ingenuity that has transformed our culture since the industrial revolution to a handful of imperialistic overlords and despotic oppressors. Feminism has, in other words, fostered and encouraged an environment in which masculine perspectives are at best untrusted, and at worst actively challenged.
Your point about feminism lacking room or energy for pursuing "men's issues" is well-taken. Yet advocating for equality for one side of the equation without consideration of the other is inherently frustrating. Unfortunately, feminism has not just ignored men's issues in the past, oftentimes it has actively worked against them, and the hard-working, dedicated men who are trying to bring them to light on their own. Many of us in the Manosphere were, at one time or another, affiliated with feminists and feminism, and when these issues with pursuing true equality were brought up, we were told smugly "sure, go start your own movement, then!" with a matronizing grin. In the face of feminism's indifference to our issues, that's exactly what we did. You wouldn't rescue puppies, so we started rescuing puppies.
The MHRM is the result. Yet feminists regularly blast this network of organizations and its activities (pursuing basic equal human rights for men) regularly and repeatedly . . . on the basis of your claim that men's issues have had "the harder hit". The perception of historical "oppression" by men has allowed feminism to rationalize such radical notions as enforced male sterility and male genocide without criticism. I admit, these are radical voices of an increasingly radicalized movement, and hardly representative of the feelings of feminists overall . . . yet these voices are not only uncriticized and left unjudged by feminism in general, the authors of these horrific ideas are celebrated and touted for their advanced thinking. The crimes of the Manosphere may be many, but advocating genocide among women is not one of them.
When men attempt to go rescue our puppies, feminism has consistently tried to cut us down. When Warren Farrell, originally a member of the feminist movement, dared to criticize some of feminism's fundamental concepts, he was ostracized from the movement and denigrated. Now one of the leading figures of the Men's Human Rights Movement, he is regularly attacked by feminists for the crime of suggesting that maybe men suffer from inequality in some important ways, too. When feminists attack shared parenting initiatives or advocate for lighter sentencing for female criminals, using a "patriarchal society" as their straw man, they not only undercut their stated dedication to equality by demonstrably working against it, they profoundly alienate otherwise reasonable men who are passionately advocating for their human rights away from feminism's stated goals.
We understand you "aren't that organization". But the issue of, believe it or not, equality comes to the fore. Feminism regularly beseeches society at large (which is made up half of men) to pay attention to feminism issues and the plight of women and girls all over the world. But when the MHRM attempts to call attention in return to the plight of men and boys, feminism attacks us for attempting to steal their thunder. Pleading with us for change and understanding, on the one hand, and then refusing to even listen, much less improve your understanding, on the other is a very poor way to solicit the meaningful cooperation of men.
I can also understand your desire to distance yourself from the radical positions and proposals that Third and Fourth Wave feminism have inflicted on men. You ask that we not conflate the imperfect actions of some individuals with the noble ideals of an entire movement. The common summation of this position is "Not All Feminists Are Like That". You ask for us, as men, to accept the ideals of equality and ignore the hurtful, hateful speech directed at us for forty years by your radical wing. You ask us to sacrifice our interests and issues for the greater good of social equality, while allowing your self-labeled sisters to call us rapists and violent psychopaths to our faces. You ask us to ignore the hateful language of those who feel entitled to accuse us unjustly, and then help you create a "better" world. Seeing the individuals - folks like Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti - as representative of all feminists is unfair, you seem to say. Yet just as only a tiny minority of male rapists has succeeded in tarnishing the good name of male sexuality for all men, these aggressively vitriolic heralds who claim to be feminists have seriously tarnished any hope of us men seeing the feminist label, no matter how lofty its ideals, as anything but a brand by which we are being savaged.
Your perspective on feminism's goals and ideals is noble . . . but the execution has indeed both taken advantage of and attacked men as a natural social and cultural consequence of its ideals. While insisting on the goal of a world without damaging stereotypes, feminism itself propagates the most damaging kinds of stereotypes about men. You ask us to use our judgement about just who the "real" feminists are, after calling our collective judgement into question for forty years and demanding that men have no role in determining women's self-image, interests, or issues. Plenty of men in the Manosphere strongly and profoundly condemn the rapists and murderers among us as a natural course of instinctive masculine protection of our society, but even mild criticism of the not-actually-feminists by the "real" feminists is thin on the ground.
Our issue isn't necessarily with what women want to do with themselves and their lives - but the insistence that you do so without fear of consequence or criticism from us is unreasonable. The lives of men are inextricable interwoven with those of women, and your choices, your decisions effect us intimately, whether you are our mothers, our sisters, our girlfriends, our wives, or our co-workers. While it might seem of only academic interest to feminism what individual women do with those choices, it is of very real interest to the individual men who must contend with them. It's not about whether or not you want to become corporate powerhouses or domestic goddesses; it's about which of those we're more comfortable associating with, and which we prefer to pursue romantically.
Feminism is great about advocating for men and boys to become more feminine in their outlook, but it punishes us when we try to exercise our inherent masculinity. Yes, it's fine if boys want to stay home and be house-husbands . . . but the fact of the matter is that not only is that almost entirely untenable for a man in our society to do so, but when given a preference most men want to pursue more traditionally masculine pursuits and activities, not become househusbands . . . for which we are castigated.
Feminism's willful ignorance of masculinity's interests and issues projects common female concerns onto men in the mistaken belief that our goals and aspirations are equal. They are not. They are very different. Little boys don't want to grow up to be househusbands because they're being poisoned by the patriarchy with toxic masculinity . . . they don't want to grow up to be househusbands because they see the disrespect and condemnation that such men receive not from their fellow men, but from the women around them. This has not changed in forty years of feminist activism. For while feminism will fight to the death for a boy's right to cry out his feelings, it goes up in arms when that same boy wants to invest in his masculinity in ways that is not in service to women. Feminism has attempted to ignore the very real factor of intersexual and intrasexual competition, and as a result the personal lives of millions of men have suffered because our natural masculine inclinations are viewed as uniformly toxic.
I would have to counter that my experience with feminists and feminism isn't limited - I spent six years in an environment of academic feminism, and continued to support feminist-oriented causes and activism for years. I know literally thousands of feminists, from Old Guard 2nd-Wave Equity Feminists to Radical 3rd Wave Riot Grrls, moderates, radicals, intersectionalists, Marxist feminists, and every shade in between. My problem is not too little exposure to feminism, but such a grand exposure that I have seen up close and personal it's inherent flaws and failings.
The fact is, plenty of "sunny, happy feminists" exist in my world. And they are part of the problem. Not because their intentions or ideals are in error - they're good people, trying to make the world better the way they've been taught to. But because their intentions and ideals are not fulfilled by their actions and activism. Standing firm behind the inherently misandric concepts of "patriarchy", "rape culture", and "misogyny" while the vocal component of your movement uses them as weapons to actively shame and emasculate all men means that you are providing political and social cover for folks who are stomping all over the ideal of equality . . . and we're watching you do it. While you were smiling at us, assuring us that you were not a threat, the radicals have been hiding behind you and stabbing us repeatedly while you watch them do it. Would you trust a voice who endorsed that?
In the end, the issue is one of accountability. Feminism's goals and ideals are lofty, but as they have been executed they have caused incredible damage to men that feminism - and feminists - are unwilling to be accountable for. More, despite your assurances about labels, feminism has regularly and routinely savaged women who disagreed with them and viciously attacked their decisions. Pretending that all feminists (or even a majority of feminists) think its equally acceptable and valid for a woman to choose whichever path she likes belies the thousands of articles from within feminism's own ranks which prove otherwise. Women who marry early, don't go to college, and condescend to devote their lives to their husbands and families are frequently harassed and demeaned by the feminist narrative. Motherhood and domesticity - hallmarks of femininity and parts of the essential self-image of women for thousands of years - are regularly debased as unimportant by feminists, scalding the millions of women women who decided their reproductive future was more important than their career future.
But feminism won't own its own savaging of women. It won't own the millions of men who have suffered because of feminist-inspired culture of serial monogamy and divorce. It won't own the blatantly unfair and unequal treatment it has given fathers over the years, the cynical attacks on fatherood and father's rights. It won't own the reality of false rape accusations, because the supposed effect on the alleged victims far outweighs the legal and moral rights of anyone accused of a crime to due process. It won't own the millions of families shattered by the feminist movement's unintended consequences. Or the dramatic social and cultural impact feminist initiatives and programs have had on men and children.
So regardless of the smiles, we see far more knives . . . and even one knife is too many. After forty years of relentlessly using men and masculinity as a punching bag without fear of serious consequence, the result is what you see before you: two generations of men confused, angry, bitter, and nearly hopeless about our futures. Being lambasted for our male privileges while 70% of homeless and suicide victims are men galls us. Being accused of perpetrating "rape culture" while the majority of us have been so heartlessly attacked for our sexuality that some of our best minds consider chemical castration and self-imposed exile from the gene pool because of the terror feminism has inspired in men about sex is insulting. Feminism has succeeded in nearly criminalizing and certainly demonizing normal, healthy male sexuality - and undermining the social stability of family life and long term monogamy that men have been traditionally dependent upon for our motivations.
If feminism is to be true to its ideals and pursue a culture of equality, not only can it not do so without taking the issues and interests of men into consideration, it will never happen without the active and enthusiastic cooperation of men. Using shame, ridicule, disrespect and outright antipathy to motivate us just doesn't work. In fact, it produces things like the Manosphere as a direct result.
Nor are we as "fringe" as you might imagine. Over the course of the last several years the Manosphere has exploded, thanks to information technologies, and part of our continuing efforts involve educating young men and boys about our perspectives on feminism. And it's catching on.
We are purposefully - out of sheer desperation - doing our best to inoculate young men from feminism and demonstrate that feminist perspectives do not have their best interests in mind. We are encouraging them not to marry, and when they do, to have ridiculously high standards for their wives. We are encouraging them to pursue their natural masculine goals and interests without regard to the concerns of women. We are encouraging them to reject women with a high partner count as poor long-term risks for matrimony, but good short-term prospects for sex. We are teaching them to be more callous and calculating in their personal choices because in our collective experience it is the attitude that will serve them best in this environment. We are teaching them that there are enough women in the world to consider for sex and dating that becoming reliant on any one is a poor idea. We are teaching them that girls are not their friends, but their competitors and sex interests alone . . . because we've seen how women treat their male "friends".
I know, all of these things will horrify your average feminist. But just as the radical wing of the 3rd Wave (Dworkin, McKinnion, et. al.) saw the cautious attempts of men in the 1970s to contend with feminism as proof of the inherent "male oppression" that justified thirty years of misandry in the feminist movement, as reasonable men we look at the future that our sons have, and we don't want them to experience the same hateful and hopeless dance with feminism we were forced into.
Instead, we will teach them to be masculine Men, according to their own desires and needs. Which includes a healthy amount of male sexuality. Yes, getting laid is a primary male interest. So, ironically, is getting married. So is having children. But the days when a man could safely count on good opportunities for all three of those are over, and we have to teach our sons how to deal with the world they will live in, not the ideal we want for them.
So we're telling them to drop out. Drop out of college, turn their back on corporate achievement, and withdraw their active support and energy from society until feminism relents and decides to actually talk to us, not merely scream at us. We're telling them to withdraw their participation and focus solely on their own well-being. We're establishing the meme that a man who works on a woman's behalf has betrayed his self-interest and that of his fellow men. We're telling our boys that feminism is a foe, that women are all suspect, and that they should have fear and suspicion in their hearts when approaching the topic . . . because any other perspective for men in a post-feminist world is not going to be in his best interests.
It's sad, it really is. But this is not the world we wrought - this is the world that feminism gave to us. Our mothers were divorced and bitter, our fathers were estranged and disrespected, and you've tried to make us feel ashamed of our masculinity for so long, we just don't trust you any more. Every time we do, we get hurt - it's like an abusive relationship. It will take a lot of effort and a lot of energy to reconcile these perspectives, I know. And yes, that might be easier to do if men and the Manosphere would take a more conciliatory, less-caustic tone.
But the problem is we tried doing that in nice respectful language for forty years, and you ignored us and humiliated us. We CAN'T trust feminism any more, and we HAVE to treat it with suspicion, because it's clear that the future it wants for men is not one that men want for themselves.
I hope this inspires you to continue the dialog, and I invite your thoughtful response. But if it follows the usual pattern of our discourse with feminism, you will likely shrug your shoulders, write us off, and ignore what we've been saying while you go rescue another kitten. That's your prerogative, of course. But don't say we didn't try.
Very Best Wishes,