Rant: A Message to a Feminist, From a Feminist Critic

Liana K posted a rant about antifeminists on her YouTube channel. I intended to write a short response as a comment and a longer response here. Unfortunately, I do not think I can whittle the response down. Before I proceed with my comment, I suggest people watch the video. Whether you agree with Liana or not, she does come across as genuinely concerned about how antifeminists perceive feminists.

She does take a great deal of heat from feminists, non-feminists, and antifeminists on Twitter. For that reason, I can understand some aspects of her tone. Watch it is for yourself, and then read my response. It will be directed at Liana because, as I mentioned before, I intended to leave it as a comment.

I watched your video twice. It left me confused.

Who are the antifeminists you mention? I ask only because few of the antifeminists I encounter specifically or primarily cite Andrea Dworkin as their raison d’être for opposing feminism. The majority of them are more likely to cite someone like Amanda Marcotte, Julie Bindel, Jessica Valenti, Anita Sarkeesian, Zerlina Maxwell, and a host of other prominent, popular feminists as examples for their opposition to feminism. Likewise, they are more likely to cite literature, articles, interviews, proposals, policies, and laws as reasons for their opposition. They will similarly note biased research and the politicizing of certain issues as reasons.

So who are these antifeminists who hang on the word of Dworkin?

You also argue that the feminists that antifeminists target either are do not represent real feminists. They are radical feminists, a fringe, but vocal minority within the feminist community. Would you label any of the above feminists radical or fringe? They are fairly mainstream, with a great deal of support within the feminist community.

While I can understand how the loudest voices may be heard, it seems quite the cop out to argue that the negative aspects of modern feminism belong to a fringe group. There is nothing fringe about the “teach men not to rape” consent training being pushed in the United States and other countries. There is nothing fringe about the “stop manspreading” policies implemented in the States and the United Kingdom. There is nothing fringe about lowering the evidentiary standards on college campuses to make to easier to expel students accused of sexual violence.

Those are all mainstream feminist policies.

While I am not men’s right activist, I did find your claim that “legitimate grievances men’s rights advocates have don’t have anything to do with rights and they have everything to do with psychological support and male dominated areas” rather insulting. That is primarily because you went on to state, “This is opposed to the legitimate rights that certain regressive lawmakers are attempting to deny women, mostly in regards to bodily autonomy.” You then went on to claim that some people in power “still don’t believe that a woman can be raped by her own husband.”

The latter would imply that you think it is a woman’s right to be believed if she claims she was raped by her husband. One of the positions of men’s rights activists is that men have the right to be believed if they claim they are raped. It would appear that you are arguing not believing women violates their rights, while not believing men is just a lack of psychological support. Your follow-up statement to those comments was that feminists worked for 40 years trying to prevent sexual violence. Yet you failed to mention the vast majority of that has been and continues to be geared exclusively on preventing violence against women.

I think that portion of your rant, along with how you blithely swatted aside addressing male victimization on its own merits (arguing that the focus should be on addressing women’s issues), is the reason why antifeminists do not believe feminists are as egalitarian as they claim. Your point comes across as contradictory, dismissive, and defensive.

I am not an antifeminist. I am, however, a victim’s advocate and a man who experienced sexual violence for the first third of my life. Your comments are precisely why I do not want feminism or feminists involved in assisting male victims. There is no acknowledgement of the legitimacy of violence against men, no acknowledgment of the need to address that issue on its own merit, and no acknowledgment of the negative aspects of feminism and its impact on addressing that issue.

Why would I want to work with, let alone share my experiences with, a group that will not even recognize that I have the right not to be raped or have the violation believed should it occur?

Now imagine my view of feminism was not akin to that of the late Christopher Hitchens’s view of religion, but that I harbored an antipathy towards feminism and feminists. How do you think your above comments would come across? Would it not sound as if you are painting feminists with the finest sable hair brush while painting antifeminists with the paint roller used to mark street crossings?

Both sides play in extremes. Both sides have valid points about the other side’s behavior. In this instance, antifeminists are correct that the average feminist does appear to support an essentially biased position that favors women over men. You did it while saying you were not doing it (and throwing male victims and men’s issues under the bus).

This leaves me in an odd position because I technically agree with you that antifeminists cherry-pick bad statements. I would be lying to say I have not done so myself. However, I disagree with why you think this occurs, who you think causes antifeminists (and critics of feminists like myself) to oppose feminism, how prominent those voices are within the feminist movement, and how to resolve the divide.

I do not think simply doing everything feminists way, as you suggested, is the solution. If people have a negative perception of your community, you need to ask why. If you think the moderates of your community are the real voice of the community and not the so-called vocal radical fringe, you need to ask why the moderates remain silent. Just like the members of another community that is not that popular with a large portion of the population, you need to explain how you can be the moderate voice when your opinions do not appear to differ from that of the radical fringe.

As for your final questions to antifeminists, I find them to be unintentionally condescending. While I agree that it is better for people to say what they are for rather than what they are against (hence the reason I do not identify as an antifeminist), antifeminists routinely talk about the positions they support. One need only listen to someone Karen Straughan or Erin Pizzey of what it is they support and what it is that they want.

I can only think that you asked those questions because you either have not looked into the antifeminist position or you focused on the most negative aspects. Both are ironic because they are essentially the charge you made against them.

I think that if you want antifeminists to meet you half way, you need to acknowledge that some of their concerns are valid. You also need to extend to them the benefit of doubt you wish to have extended to you. It is not enough to say that they are essentially good people and then follow that by accusing them of engaging in bad activist habits. It is also not enough to acknowledge that some feminists are “predators”, only to deflect responsibility for their bad activist habits onto those who grant them media attention. You will not bridge this divide by presenting your side as the victim of a fringe group while presenting the other side as stuck on Dworkin.

Both sides fight dirty, but you need to admit your side started the fight.

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9 thoughts on “Rant: A Message to a Feminist, From a Feminist Critic

  1. “While I am not men’s right activist”

    Jacob, I’ve read this statement in several of your articles and comments. Why?

    I’m aware the you are opposed to cult thinking and ideologies, so perhaps that is why you state this. I don’t expect you to join any formal men’s rights organization (is there one? I thought Warren Farrell led one but apparently he just writes books). MRA strikes me as a label more than anything else. A label used as an insult.

    But what a stupid insult! What part of actively working for the right’s of men sound at all like a bad thing?

  2. Liana is no different when people mention feminism has problems. As evidenced here, she holds the same worn belife that the problem feminists are only a loud minority and that we should focus on the “Good” ones.
    I’m ticked she took this stance because she should know by now that it’s hard to call something a minority when it occupies powerful positions in government, education and media. If it were a fringe, it would be treated as such. But we live in a world where “Loud, Fringe Extreme Minorities” like Anita Sarkeesian get interview spots on shows like The Colbert Report and invited to speak at the UN. Where Amanda Marcotte and Julie Bindel get paid to write biased, gynocentric, misandric opinions while Warren Farrell isn’t taken seriously due to an article on incense in Playboy Magazine decades ago (that people still like to bring up as a blotch on his record). Where a feminist researcher (Mary Koss) could wipe out the existence of Male Victims of Sexual Abuse with the stroke of a pen as her research methods are still revered and respected while a Mens RIghts Advocate can’t even get government funding to continue running his own Shelter for Male Domestic Violence Victims.
    I’ve grown beyond accepting this argument from Liana K and other moderates.

  3. Peter, I dislike labels. I will use them if a person or group prefers a label, but I will not apply them to myself unless they are a technical description. The reason is because labels invite presumptions. I make it a point to listen to a person’s argument to see where they stand before I make a solid judgment about them. Most people do not do this. They see a label and immediately apply whatever biases, positive or negative, they have toward the label. They will not look at a person’s individual position, or at least not give it the weight it deserves. It also leaves them confounded when they encounter ideas or behaviors they do not assoicate with that label.

    Calling myself a men’s rights activist would invite a number of people to immediately discount anything I write or say as “misogyny”. Granted, they are going to do this anyway, but at the very least I can then point out that I never attested to any label and I can therefore show how their presumptions are clearly biased.

    I also do not feel the need to do it. I support a number of different issues, and I do not feel the need to pick a specific label that focuses only one aspect of my concerns. I support rights for gay people, but I would not call myself a gay rights activist. I support rights for women, but I would not call myself a women’s rights activist. I could go on. I think it is better to simply state my position than pick a name to call myself.

  4. How about Egalitarian, Toysoldier? That’s a pretty free-flowing label. Where you support people regardless of their gender, race, or creed.

  5. I’m not a fan of self-labeling, either, but I think getting people to say “I’m NOT an MRA” may be an application of a common sales trick.

    I’ll come back to the sales trick in a second. First let’s look at what you are actually saying. When you say “I’m not a…” that is more than simply eschewing labels, it is actively denying association. It implies that you are trying to distance yourself from the group or belief in question. In this case, men’s rights activism.

    You are literally saying you think that either people should not, or do not need to, stand up for someone’s basic human rights if that person is male. I do not believe you think that.

    So why else would you deny association? The most common reason is fear. We all do this at times, and it isn’t good. It isn’t good when we deny something we actually believe is true simply because we are not courageous enough to confront those who would disagree in a bitter or even bigoted way.

    When you say-

    ‘Calling myself a men’s rights activist would invite a number of people to immediately discount anything I write or say as “misogyny”.’

    Isn’t that fear? Who cares if “they” dismiss you as a misogynist, you and I and any reasonable person would know “they’re” wrong. Standing up for men’s human rights is not misogyny. Period. Whatever little argument you are trying to win is not worth denying that basic fact.

    The sales trick is called thinking past the sale. If I want to sell you a shirt, I might say “I think you look better in this red shirt than that blue shirt.” If you agree, you will think you should buy the red shirt. If you disagree, you will think you should buy the blue shirt. Of course, *I* didn’t actually care about what color shirt you look better in. I just wanted to sell a shirt!

    Don’t go out of your way to adopt a label. But don’t deny one either. That’s buying the blue shirt.

  6. How about Egalitarian, Toysoldier? That’s a pretty free-flowing label. Where you support people regardless of their gender, race, or creed.

    I suppose if one had to pick a label, egalitarian would be the most accurate. However, I still prefer to go without a label.

  7. Peter:

    First let’s look at what you are actually saying. When you say “I’m not a…” that is more than simply eschewing labels, it is actively denying association. It implies that you are trying to distance yourself from the group or belief in question. In this case, men’s rights activism.

    You are literally saying you think that either people should not, or do not need to, stand up for someone’s basic human rights if that person is male. I do not believe you think that.

    I am not a feminist. I am not a Christian. I am not a Democrat or Republican. I am not a homosexual. I am not a scientist, sociologist, doctor, game developer, or (legal) porn star.

    Does this mean I am saying people should not support these things?

    So why else would you deny association?

    I answered this: I choose not to define myself by a limiting label that invites presumptions. I would rather someone ask my opinion rather than think they know it because I called myself a particular label.

    The most common reason is fear. We all do this at times, and it isn’t good. It isn’t good when we deny something we actually believe is true simply because we are not courageous enough to confront those who would disagree in a bitter or even bigoted way.

    The people who would most object to the label “men’s rights activists”, i.e. feminists, will automatically apply the label whether I use it or not. What more is there to fear? The people most inclined to listen to feminists will automatically reject any arguments I make. What more is there to fear in that circumstance? The only thing to “fear” is that people will make assumptions based on the label. Removing the label does not stop them from making assumptions, yet it does reveal that this stems from their bias, not anything I put forth.

    When you say-

    ‘Calling myself a men’s rights activist would invite a number of people to immediately discount anything I write or say as “misogyny”.’

    Isn’t that fear? Who cares if “they” dismiss you as a misogynist, you and I and any reasonable person would know “they’re” wrong. Standing up for men’s human rights is not misogyny. Period. Whatever little argument you are trying to win is not worth denying that basic fact.

    As I stated above, they will make the “misogyny” claim regardless of what I call myself. I do not think the label accurately describes my positions, so there is no reason to use it. Likewise, the same argument that applies to feminism applies to men’s rights activism: one need not support a label or movement to care about human rights.

    The sales trick is called thinking past the sale. If I want to sell you a shirt, I might say “I think you look better in this red shirt than that blue shirt.” If you agree, you will think you should buy the red shirt. If you disagree, you will think you should buy the blue shirt. Of course, *I* didn’t actually care about what color shirt you look better in. I just wanted to sell a shirt!

    Except that is not what happens in this situation. In order for me to buy a blue shirt I would need to adopt another label. What I am doing is refusing to buy a shirt at all.

  8. Jake, you can call yourself whatever you like for whatever reason you like. I’ll respect that.

    So please take this as advice, plain and simple, that you do not have to take if you don’t want to. You presented this as a comment that you intended to leave somewhere else. I’ve studied the science of persuasion quite a bit. It makes sense to offer you some feedback on the persuasiveness of your phrasing.

    I’ve been reading your blog a long time now. I already know you aren’t a feminist, Christian, Democrat or Republican*. Not just because those are labels and you don’t believe in labels, but just because those shoes don’t fit. They simply aren’t phrases I would use to describe you, your ideas, or the ideas of the people you link to and admire (Honey Badgers, Sargon of Akkad, Karen Straughan, just about everyone on your blogroll etc.)

    MRA is the shoe that does fit. It is the phrase I would use to describe what you are talking about and doing, what those other people are doing. That is not a bad thing at all. In fact I admire it.

    When you say “I’m not an MRA”, it just sounds like self-contradictory nonsense to me. I just don’t understand you mean by that. That’s coming from someone who likes you, is friendly to your personal message, who has read several of your rants about labels and ideologies, asked you for clarification and carefully read it several times. I still don’t get it.

    I’m pretty sure most people aren’t going to that much trouble to try to figure out what you mean. I’m pretty sure what most people think when they read “I’m not an MRA, but…” is the same thing they think when they hear “I’m not a racist, but…”. Specifically, they think “He IS an MRA, and he’s lying about it to trick me because he knows it is wrong.”

    So my advice is to just own that label. If someone calls you an MRA, say something like thank you, I take pride in standing up for men’s rights. I can’t understand why anyone would be opposed to men having rights.

    If someone hasn’t called you an MRA, and you don’t like the label, just don’t bring it up. Anything else is, at best, confusing for the reader.

    *I don’t know what you do for a living. I sell wastewater equipment.

  9. Peter, I appreciate the response. You stated:

    When you say “I’m not an MRA”, it just sounds like self-contradictory nonsense to me. I just don’t understand you mean by that.

    Perhaps that is due to my lack of clarity. However, may also stem from this:

    MRA is the shoe that does fit. It is the phrase I would use to describe what you are talking about and doing, what those other people are doing.

    Is it that I deny the label or is it that you think the label applies to me?

    This is precisely why I dislike labels. It is too easy and too tempting for people to apply them regardless of what the person they are applied to states. While you are not using it maliciously, many others do. This is how someone like Sargon of Akkad gets labeled a men’s rights activists or how Milo Yiannopolous, a man who brags about his love of black men, is racist.

    They do it because the label “fits”. Again, I am not saying this is what you did. I am only noting how dangerous the “the label fits” logic can be.

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