Yes, I intend to critique the mystique.
Let me preface by saying that I wholeheartedly support feminism. The notion that a group of people should be presumed beneath their potential is not only ridiculous, but also, for our society, shameful. I am thus proud of Duke’s feminists for their vocal strength and courage.
However, many feminists might agree that they’d rather have an angry businessman storm into their offices and tell them they’re dumb than a guy bringing roses and voicing support. So, to make feminists proud, I’ll ask you to humor my critique.
First, I’ve seen some feminists run the risk of turning feelings of repression into widespread distaste for masculinity. I’ve heard feminists say, or allow others to say, “Sometimes I hate all men!”
But is this legitimate? I argue no: The act of fighting for a progressive movement does not grant one the ability to perpetuate harmful generalizations. The profiling of men leads some feminists to reinforce the gender binary. A homogenous rejection of masculinity ignores men sympathetic to feminism and women who perpetuate gender inequality. It shuts out all black men, Asian men, immigrant men, gay men, men who used to be women, etc. I argue that adopting this attitude may close the movement off to supporting and receiving support from other minorities. As an openly gay male, I share similarly minded goals for equality. Where is the logic in an inclusionary movement allowing itself to be exclusionary, even if only in thought?
A feminist reading this might mistake it as my warning against misandry. But no: A member of a minority cannot be accused of prejudice in the same institutionalized sense that a member of the majority can. I argue, however, that some wrong can still be perpetuated. When feminists harbor negative thoughts against men, perhaps it isn’t sexism, but it still is ill will. As minorities, we should systematically attempt to be more open-minded towards those in the majority in spite of the fact—or perhaps because of the fact—that they might perpetuate inequality. As the Buddha might say, our oppressors are our teachers.
Now, I don’t think feminists should “seek acceptance from the majority.” That just reinforces the majority’s power to choose. Instead, feminists should seek to accept the majority, thereby removing its discretionary power. Gaga did this for the gays—she embraced the mainstream culture and simultaneously sculpted it into a more accepting place for sexual minorities.
With this thought, let me address a related concern: the feminist conception that in order to preserve the woman-centeredness of the movement, feminists should not care at all whether their words make men uncomfortable. First, this is simply impractical. If men are in power, causing them pain won’t make your movement successful. Second, it excludes.
Why? Well, for example, some elements of feminism make me uncomfortable. Not because they threaten the future I envision with a woman cooking for me each night. Often, when absolute and impassioned rhetoric is employed, it opens itself up to bias and closed-mindedness. For example, the feminist claim that “feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice” makes implications that my sexual identity is a choice. But a feminist who would not concern herself with whether or not her words made men uncomfortable would not stop to find this out. Indeed, it is of utmost concern for feminists to care about whether or not their words make men uncomfortable and to understand why the discomfort occurs. This allows the feminist to explicate why reasons for discomfort truly are valid or invalid.
Unfortunately, I fear that by virtue of fighting a moral fight, feminists are especially at risk for feelings of moral superiority. The feminist, ideally, should be enlightened. The notion of a homophobic feminist or a racist feminist is paradoxical. A real feminist to me is one that continually questions her place in the system and her own effects. For example, some sororities, bastions of anti-feminism, impose rigorous dress codes that can be considered horribly anti-feminist in an almost Orwellian sense. Also, wage discrimination studies report that women are often paid less than their male counterparts. Employers who pay women less than men should either not do so or be comfortable in their perpetuation of the problem.
Now, in sum: I’ve tried my best to talk and research and think before I wrote. Despite this, I’m not a woman, and my arguments have problems. But if you’ve hated them a priori, if you’ve discarded my words because they were from a man speaking about women, then you’re doing it wrong. The veracity of a claim is not determined by its origin. And so I say: Feminism is a great thing. Here are the pitfalls I see. As a supporter, the best thing that I can want for the movement is for it to get better.
Lucas Spangher is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Friday.