It happens every day. In fact, it is pretty hard to avoid it. There are some things that can only be understood with a slap on the forehead. Things so mind-boggling that one wonders how humans managed to evolve thumbs while being this mentally inept. Case in point:
Lindy West of Jezebel has a problem. For some reason, men seem to think feminists minimizing their experiences is misandry. Men also seem to think that sometimes bad things happen to them because they are men. West disagrees:
Though it is a seductive scapegoat (I understand why it attracts you), none of these terrible, painful problems in your life were caused by the spectre of “misandry.” You can rest easy about that, I promise! In fact, the most powerful proponent of misandry in modern internet discourse is you — specifically, your dogged insistence that misandry is a genuine, systemic, oppressive force on par with misogyny.
It is never good to start off by telling someone that you know more about the causes of their bad experiences than they do. It is really not a good thing to do if you are not part of that group. It is a truly terrible thing to do if your group has a history of marginalizing the other group. It is downright offensive to accuse someone of being the cause of their own misery. But West is not worried about that. As she explains:
This is specious, it hurts women, and it is hurting you. Most feminists don’t hate men, as a group (we hate the system that disproportionately favors men at the expense of women), but — congratulations! — we are starting to hate you. You, the person. Your obsession with misandry has turned misandry into a self-fulfilling prophecy. (I mean, sort of. Hating individual men is not the same as hating all men. But more on that in a minute.) Are you happy now? Is this what you wanted? Feminism is, in essence, a social justice movement—it wants to take the side of the alienated and the marginalized, and that includes alienated and marginalized men. Please stop turning us against you.
Of course it is. That is why West is on a feminist site telling alienated and marginalized men a) that they are not alienated and marginalized, b) that anything bad that happened to them could never be the result of misandry, c) that the men are the misandrists, and d) that by speaking out about the sexism they face they turn feminists against them.
Many feminists use this retort whenever someone points out feminist misandry. According to those feminists, they would be on men’s side but for all the whining and complaining. Granted, one never sees those feminists reach out to men. One never sees those feminists talk about the problems men face. One never sees those feminists engaging with alienated and marginalized men on any equal level. It is only when those men protest that feminists say they were on their side until men turned them away.
It is not a believable argument, as West proves in her comments. She can barely muster a coherent defensive of her own position. Instead, she resorts to snark and sarcasm, something many feminists mistake for reasoned, rational argument. Perhaps West would have done better promising not to mock the people she wants to take her seriously rather than promising “not to yell.”
West divides her poor argument into five parts. The first defends the “fem” in “feminism”. As she states:
I wish, more than anything, that I could just be a “humanist.” Oh, man, that would be amazing! Because that would mean that we lived in a magical world where all humans were born on equal footing, and maybe I could live in a house shaped like a big mushroom and birds would help me get dressed or something. Humanism is a gorgeous dream, and something to strive for. In fact, it is the exact thing that feminism is striving for right now (and has been working on for decades)! Yay, feminism!
Unfortunately, the reason that “fem” is a part of the word “feminism” is that the world is not, currently, an equal, safe, and just place for women (and other groups as well—in its idealized form, intersectional feminism seeks to correct all those imbalances). To remove the gendered implications of the term is to deny that those imbalances exist, and you can’t make problems disappear just by changing “feminism” to “humanism” and declaring the world healed. That won’t work.
West’s argument makes no sense, and she appears to know it, which is why she falls back on the “women have it worse” trope. If feminism were striving for humanism, why is the focus only on women? The very concept of treating everyone as equal implies that one should not focus on one group more than another. At the very least one should not ignore one group’s suffering over another just because some members of that group had or have power.
Treating everybody equally does not deny that there was inequality in the past. Treating people equally tries to prevent that inequality from happening in the future.
West uses a Dr. Seuss analogy, which is much better than the typical, lame Matrix analogy many feminists prefer, to show why men really have no place to complain. Yet her analogy about Fleetches and Flootches shows exactly the bias men complain about. Instead of seeing how the Fleetches can be marginalized, West argues that since Fleetches run everything, they have no real reason to complain. She argues that any harm Fleetches experience happens on an individual level, whereas all Flootches experience the same problems on a broader level.
That illogical argument does not take much effort to disprove. Indeed, West’s own part four lists numerous examples of the ways men are oppressed in our society as men, despite that a handful of them hold positions of power. Likewise, scores of women benefit from their economic, social, and gender status in ways that would not work for other women or men. Or does West actually think a black or latina woman or any man who killed their child and blamed it on a non-existent nanny would walk out of court like Casey Anthony did?
Again, West knows her argument makes no sense, so she tries to put it a different way:
Or, if you didn’t like that one, here’s another ridiculous metaphor: When women say things like “misandry isn’t real,” we mean it the same way you might say, “Freddy Krueger isn’t real.” The idea of Freddy Krueger is real, Freddy Krueger absolutely has the power to scare you, and if you suspend your disbelief it’s almost plausible to blame all of the unsolved knife-crime in the world on Freddy Krueger.
That would be a valid argument if there were not examples of misandry in our culture and society. Unless West contends that all those examples are in our heads, her analogy fails. It is curious that throughout her piece, West never gives a direct example or counter-example to support her argument. She simply declares misandry a figment of men’s imagination and runs with it. Again, it is really not hard to prove misandry exists in our culture and society.
West moves on to justifying sexism against men by arguing that since men make up the majority of certain industries, there cannot be any sexism against men. This is akin to saying that since black people make up the majority of United States football and basketball players, there cannot be any racism in sports against black people. But if you disagree:
It’s fine (though discouraging) if you legitimately believe that, but you need to own up to the fact that that is a self-serving and bigoted point of view.
Yes, if one conveniently ignores biases against other groups of people in favor of painting one’s group as that most oppressed, that is a self-serving and bigoted point of view. Pity that it appears to be West’s point of view.
Part three gets interesting. West has a huge problem: there are lots of feminists who do not like men. There are lots of feminists who downright hate men. These feminists are fairly easy to find. A few of them — Hugo Schwyzer, Amanda Marcotte, Michael Kimmel, Michael Flood, Jessica Valenti, Jill Filipovic — write pieces for Jezebel. So when it comes time for West to explain why feminists hating men is not misandry, the best she can come up with is:
There might be a lot of women in your life who are mean to you, but that’s just women not liking you personally. Women are allowed to not like you personally, just like you are allowed to not like us personally. It’s not misandry, it’s mis-Kevin-dry. Or, you know, whoever you are. It is not built into our culture or codified into law, and you can rest assured that most women you encounter are not harboring secret, latent, gendered prejudices against Kevins that could cost you a job or an apartment or your physical sanctity. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t isolated incidents wherein mean women hurt men on purpose. But it is not a systemic problem that results in the mass disenfranchisement of men.
West provides no examples to support her argument. However, there is evidence supporting the opposite argument.
Yet there is a greater problem: that is not how misogyny works either. Note the way West phrased her argument, “you can rest assured that most women you encounter are not harboring secret, latent, gendered prejudices against Kevins that could cost you a job or an apartment or your physical sanctity.” That is true, yet it is also true that most men women encounter are not harboring secret, latent, gendered prejudices against Marcias that could cost them a job or an apartment or their physical sanctity. The vast majority of men do not hurt or harm women. Most men find such acts disgusting.
More so, the vast majority of men lack any power in our society. One man who hates or hurts women does not represent all men. So even though some men hurt women, that does not mean all men do. However, even though all men are not misogynists, that does not make misogyny magically disappear. Likewise, even though all women are not misandrists, that does not make misandry disappear.
Even so, that is a tangent argument because we are actually talking about feminists, not women in general. When it comes to feminists, as a group they unfortunately do have a storied history of misandry. There is no getting around that, as much as West might not like it.
Again, West knows her argument is weak, so she tries to shore it up by claiming that the feminists who do hate men have no power. Yet that is not true either. Not only do they have power, but also have forums like Jezebel to get their message across to millions of people.
West gets particularly muddled in her illogic as she tries to explain the difference of the “reins of power”:
You might not benefit from patriarchy in any measurable way—on an individual level your life might actually be much, much worse than mine—but the fact is that certain disadvantages are absent from your experience (and, likely, invisible to you) because of your gender.
That argument is so stupid on such a fundamental level that West cannot even bring herself to properly defend it. If one does not benefit from some so-called privilege, then any absent disadvantages are irrelevant. There is no reason to even bring those up aside from making the moronic argument that even if a man has a worse life than a woman, he is still somehow better off than her. That is an indefensibly stupid argument that West quickly tries to weasel out of:
Maybe you’re saying, “Hey, but my life wasn’t fair either. I’ve had to struggle.” I know it wasn’t. I know you have. But that’s not how fairness works. If you present fairness as the goal—that some day everything will be “fair” for everyone—you’re slipping into an unrealistic fantasy land.
That kind of undermines the whole fairness goal of feminism, but then again:
Feminism isn’t about striving for individual fairness, on a life-by-life basis—it’s about fighting against a systematic removal of opportunity that infringes on women’s basic freedoms.
That kind of undermines the whole “women can have it all” theme feminism has had since the 1960s. Indeed, it undermines feminists’ current effort for equal acquisition across the board. West claims that feminists only want women to have the same opportunities as men, yet during the last election season feminists complained about the lack of women in the Senate and the House. They have also complained about President Obama’s new cabinet being mostly male. If feminists were only concerned with equal opportunity, then it should not bother them if people choose men over women if they think the man is the best qualified person.
Yet it does bother feminists, and that shows that West’s argument is nothing more than rhetorical spin. Feminism is very much about individual fairness, otherwise it would not matter when individual women do not get promotions, get hired, or get picked to lead, and there would be no point to telling individual men how much better their lives are compared to women’s
In part four, West argues that feminists actually support all of men’s concerns. She lists almost two dozen examples, from child custody to suicide, and ends with:
If you really care about those issues as passionately as you say you do, you should be thanking feminists, because feminism is a social movement actively dedicated to dismantling every single one of them.
Really? Where? What feminist organizations are dedicated to addressing male suicide? To making sure women who kill, rape, and abuse face the same sentences as men? To arguing against suspecting men of being pedophiles? To preventing job-related injuries and deaths? To making men responsible for women’s wants and needs? To preventing false accusations? To boycotting commercials that humiliate men? To opposing unfair child custody arrangements? To addressing paternity fraud? To preventing prison rape? To preventing any sexual or physical violence against males? Even the feminist web magazine dedicated to talking about men’s concerns rarely talks about these issues. Why should any man thank feminists for doing nothing?
But that is not really West’s point. This is:
The fact that you blame feminists—your allies—for problems against which they have been struggling for decades suggests that supporting men isn’t nearly as important to you as resenting women. We care about your problems a lot. Could you try caring about ours?
You do not help people solely for them to help you later. You help people because it is the right thing to do.
Likewise, you cannot claim to care about someone’s problems after spending over 1,000 words running them down for talking about their problems. When you mock someone for speaking up and say that their experiences of sexism are comparable to fictional characters, that is not caring. Neither is telling the suffering people that supporting their own group is not as important to them as resenting yours.
That is you being a right jackass.
And it takes a right jackass to in one breath say they care about you while scapegoating you for all their problems and then in the next breath accuse you of scapegoating them, as West does in part five of her poor argument:
To all the men who have had shitty lives and mistake that pain for “misandry”: I totally get it. Humans are not such complicated creatures. All we want is to feel like we’re valued, like we deserve to exist. And I’m sorry if you haven’t found that so far in your life. But it’s not women’s fault, it’s not my fault, and it’s certainly not feminism’s fault.
One cannot argue that after arguing this:
It’s not easy to swallow your own privilege—to admit that you’re a Fleetch—but once you do, it’s addictive. It feels good to open up to perspectives that are foreign to you, accept your complicity in this shitty system, and work on making the world better for everyone instead of just defending your territory. It’s something I had to do as a privileged white woman, and something I still have to work on every day, because it’s right. […] Blanket defensiveness isn’t going to get any of us anywhere.
There West is blaming men for the problems in her life. Men who have not touched, talked to, seen, or even been near her. Billions of men worldwide are complicit her oppression. Meanwhile, her ideological group is wholly incapable of expressing even the smallest amount of bias against men, and anyone challenging that is a self-serving bigot.
This kind of pathetic circular logic is precisely why feminists have such a hard time winning people over to their cause. Comments like this also do not help:
Plenty of women know exactly what it feels like to be pushed to the fringe of society, to be rejected so many times that you eventually reject yourself. That alienation is a big part of what feminism is fighting against.
How can feminism be against what it is doing? Nowhere in West’s piece does she actually reach out to men. Everything is sarcasm and snark. Even her wrap up — “A lot of those women would be on your side, if you would just let them instead of insisting that they’re the villains. It’s better over here, and we have room for you. So stop trying to convince us that we hate you and I promise we’ll start liking you a whole lot more” — is off-putting.
If feminists want men to believe feminists are on their side, feminists simply need to show they are on men’s side. Writing articles that mock the people you want to listen to you is not going to get them to trust you. It will only make them resent you more because you are showing how little you respect them.
West started her article by claiming that men thinking that feminists “hate men” was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is, but not in the way she thinks. Men do not make feminists hate men. By pointing out the ways feminists and women oppress and marginalize them, men get feminists to reveal their misandry all on their own. No one has to force feminists to do it. Read the comments on the article. With little more than a “let’s bash men” prompt, feminists quickly take to beating men down.
That is why many men think feminist hate them. Not because of some imaginary fear, but because of what feminists actually do.