I had a fascinating encounter recently with a dude named Jimmy.
I came across Jimmy in a friend’s comment thread on Facebook. Normally I don’t enter into discussions with misogynists and mansplainers because, hell, life is short and there’s only so much time left in which to drink gin. However, on this occasion an awesome male feminist friend of mine had expressly asked for my support, as he was trying to educate some asshats but felt like he was drowning and nobody was lending him a hand.
When I read my friend’s request I’d just spent an evening out with my feminist posse, drinking gin, cackling raucously, and ranting about the patriarchy. Feeling fired up and ready to tackle odious dudes on the internet, I bravely waded into the fray, graciously dispensing enlightenment and intellectual refinement like it was going out of style.
The topic was Emma Watson talking about feminism, and a friend of Jimmy’s – let’s call him Timmy – was arguing that Emma Watson is the wrong kind of feminist, and shouldn’t actually be raising her voice at all. The “real” feminists, according to this particular asshat, are women in business, because they work harder than other feminists, and are not highlighted enough. This, as any woman who has ever tried to voice an opinion knows, is a common silencing tactic. “I’m not opposed to equal rights,” the argument goes, “but you’re not the right person to talk about the issue”. A variation of the same tactic is “You’re not allowed to talk about your own oppression if you’re able to do paid work/haven’t suffered genital mutilation/don’t live in Saudi Arabia“. This is of course total bollocks. If critics of feminism care so much about women in Saudi Arabia, why don’t they take action themselves, instead of waiting for someone else to do it? Or, for that matter, why not do something to support women in business?
Jimmy, continuing Timmy’s thread, was convinced that the most vulnerable social group in the entire world is white heterosexual men. Feminism, Jimmy argued, is wrong, because it leaves out this important marginalised group. Jimmy seemed unable, however, to tell me why this group is particularly vulnerable, or give examples of how they are marginalised. I tried to find out if he in fact does anything to help white heterosexual men, but the response I got was just more ranting, not an actual answer.
As anyone who’s ever tried to maintain a discussion with a misogynist online is aware, you might as well bash your head repeatedly against a concrete wall. No matter how responsive, pedagogical, and open-minded you are, the only response you will get is “You are wrong and I am right”.
When attempting to reason with the likes of Jimmy, you will expend enough energy to light up New York for a week, and the result will be absolutely fuck-all. “You are wrong and I am right,” repeated, ad infinitum. One starts to suspect that Jimmy and his ilk are not, in fact, interested in making the world a better place, but merely like whingeing on the internet, and putting women in their place.
Feminism is a movement that strives for equality between all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, skin colour, religion, or physical ability. It is called “feminism” (humanism, for the record, already exists and is something completely different) because it originated in a patriarchy, where women didn’t have the same rights and possibilities and men. The patriarchy is still going strong, hence the term feminism is still relevant.
As women have gained the ability to educate themselves, to express themselves and be heard, other injustices have come to light. Feminists the world over are vocal in their support of all marginalised groups – the disabled, the elderly, the LGBTQ community, the black community. In fact, feminists support everyone who is disadvantaged by the patriarchy. Including white, heterosexual men.
As the director of the Swedish organisation Kvinna till Kvinna, Lena Ag, says in an article in Göteborgsposten, the Women’s March on 21 January this year was “in support of minorities, and in defense of democracy and human rights, not least women’s rights”. However, Ag points out, some people seem unable to view the Women’s March as a demonstration for humanity. That women should represent the human race as a whole, not just women and “women’s issues”, is apparently still too controversial.
For some reason, feminism invokes anger. It’s hard to understand why. Feminists are trying to help people. Not just themselves, but all of humanity. Why is this so provocative? Why are so many men so angry?
Dudes. Some advice for you. Feminism is a global movement. Feminists will continue to fight for equality. If you don’t like it, why don’t you start your own movement?
Nobody’s stopping you from starting a support group for white, heterosexual men. You can talk about each other’s feelings (or, if you happen not to have feelings, about football) and discuss the restrictions that a violent patriarchy places on your lives. Literally nobody would stop you from doing that.
Nobody’s stopping you from starting a men’s shelter. Women are subjected to more prolonged, more serious domestic violence, requiring more hospital care than men, but men are subjected to domestic violence, too. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers the world over, mostly women, work for nothing to keep women’s shelters going, in order to keep women safe from men’s violence. You can start your own shelter any day, and provide help and support for men who are exposed to violence. Literally nobody would stop you from doing that.
Nobody’s stopping you from starting a suicide prevention hotline for men. Women make more suicide attempts than men, but the attempts men make are more successful than women’s, meaning men top the suicide statistics. You could help save men’s lives. Literally nobody would stop you from doing that.
Nobody’s stopping you from arranging your own marches, to highlight things that are wrong with this world, and start a discussion about how to solve them. You could, like the organisers behind the Women’s March, arrange a demonstration with millions of participants, marching on every single continent. Literally nobody would stop you from doing that.
Feminism is here to stay. Get used to it. Also, appreciate it! Studies show that gender equality, racial equality, and all other kinds of equality and diversity, are good for everyone. Men who are accustomed to male privilege have a hard time understanding this, but when one group of people has privileges denied to other groups, they have to work less hard to gain power and influence. When the people who have power and influence don’t have to work very hard, no innovation happens. When everyone competes on the same conditions, and nobody has an unfair advantage, people are forced to come up with good ideas.
Yes, women taking up more space means that men will have to work harder. As many men have discovered, meritocracy means having to make an effort. When women compete for the same jobs as men, men have to, in the words of Tesco’s chairman, “work twice as hard”. This is not because white men are oppressed. It is because, when the talent pool is expanded, everyone has to try harder. Men having to work twice as hard means that they will have to work as hard as women – who are already having to work twice as hard as men to be considered equally competent. When we all work harder, society gets better.
Dudes. If you don’t like feminism, start your own damn movement. Put your energy into trying to help someone, instead of criticising people who are already making an effort.
A stultitia fortuitarum personarum simplicium in Interrete vagantes libera nos, Domine.