So this was spurred by talking to a friend who is a lady and a feminist, about how annoying it is for feminists to answer all the questions guys coming to grips with being a feminist ally inevitably have.
(A side note: I call myself a feminist, and consider myself a feminist. I am a dude, and some feminists feel that men can’t really be feminists because they have never experienced all the shit that comes with being a woman, and get to go around experiencing all the advantages of being a man on a day to day basis, i.e. male privilege. Most of these feminists would call me a “feminist ally,” since I’m on the same side politically but can’t really “get it.” Moving on.)
Literally every single guy that comes to feminism goes through pretty much the same process (I did, and if you’re reading this and not immediately scoffing at the word privilege you probably have/are currently as well.) Because EVERY SINGLE GUY that is friendly to feminism (and even those who are not) goes through this, feminists get really fucking tired of it. The guys all ask the same questions. They all make the same arguments. They all think they’re the first ones to ask these questions and make these arguments. Like, imagine you think sunsets are pretty. Now imagine that half of all people on the face of the earth are taught that sunsets are ugly. Every friend you have from this half of humanity has to learn, over time, that sunsets are pretty. And they all come to you asking things like “But don’t sunsets signal the end of the day and make you sad?” and making arguments like “If sunsets were pretty, the word sunset wouldn’t be synonymous with the end of something good” and the first friend you answer those questions for doesn’t annoy you very much. The fiftieth annoys you a lot. And then on the INTERNET, there are like a thousand people making these arguments and they all think they’re so clever for thinking them up. That might make you fucking mad, actually, to put up with over and over. NOW imagine that you run a pro-sunset blog, have a pro-sunset twitter feed, or whatever. There are even anti-sunset trolls that just like fucking with people who like sunsets, and end up making arguments similar to your well-intentioned questions. You’d probably go apeshit, even more-so than a friend asking about this stuff.
So here you are, and you have questions about feminism, and if my analogy wasn’t fucking terrible, you understand that asking feminists basic questions about feminism can be tiresome or even infuriating for them, based on context. What do? First, be aware that context is pretty important. If you have a feminist best friend/partner, it will be less annoying for them to go through this stuff with you than a stranger on the Internet. Second, be ready to suck it up and admit that you’re not special or clever for agreeing with feminist ideas. By and large they’re pretty basic, and we as men are just overcoming years of social programming to understand what amounts to “women shouldn’t be mistreated because of their gender, and massive cultural bias results in that very thing happening even unintentionally.” Third, be aware that feminism has a lot of its own terminology and that terminology exists for good reasons. You might think that, for example, “queer” means one thing (an insult) while it’s used in feminist academia differently (i.e. queer studies) and among members of the LGBT community as an identifier (i.e. “I’m a queer woman”). Arguing about these definitions is pointless, since they exist for a much broader community and derive their usefulness from the commonality of the definition. Finally, finish reading this and then go see if any questions you still have (or that you think I answered terribly) are on http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/. That there is just FULL of questions you have, and it’s a really good resource and you should search it for your questions.
Now, for your actual edification, here is the basic path every guy coming to feminism goes through.
First, they learn what privilege is and think it’s not really a thing. “But women have advantages too!” “What about the draft? Women will never have to get shot at involuntarily!” And so on. Privilege is a thing. You just have to accept it, even though it makes you feel kind of icky. And it seriously does make you feel icky, thinking that you get stuff just for being a guy. I get treated differently (i.e. better) by car dealers because I’m a guy, I have a much lower chance of being raped because I’m a guy, I get paid more (on average) just by default because I’m a guy. I got preferential treatment in school because I was male, giving me more confidence and assertiveness (immensely advantageous psychological traits) as an adult man. Male privilege is an enormous and completely undeserved advantage, and not having it would suck. It would be being a woman.
Next, guys coming to feminism accept that privilege exists, but try to minimize its impact. “There are laws requiring equal hiring practices, so women can’t really make less.” “But women have advantages too. They have all the power in dating!” There are some things that have been done to mitigate male privilege and structural sexism. Just because those things have been done, however, doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to do. As for advantages women have, they tend to be the result of sexist culture (which feminists want to eliminate), and frequently aren’t really advantages for women who don’t want to be treated differently. Feminists would like custody decisions after a divorce, for example, to be decided entirely based on the welfare of the child, rather than leaning toward giving custody to the mother by default (which is, on a tangential note, a recent development in custody law). They don’t like that women are treated differently based on their gender alone, and furthermore don’t like that women getting custody by default limits them to the domestic sphere to some extent. So just accept that privilege is a serious problem, and even if steps have been taken to correct it, the work isn’t done yet.
After that, men argue something that boils down to “but what about men and how feminism affects them.” For example, they might say that all this talk about rape culture makes it sound like all men are rapists, and I’m not a rapist so you shouldn’t paint all men with such a broad brush. (This is the biggie out of these arguments, actually.) The frequent response, and the one that you really need to take to heart, is this: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. If someone talks about rapists, and you’re not a rapist, THEY ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT YOU. If someone talks about companies that never promotes women to the highest positions, but your employer has a female CEO and half its board are women, THEY ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT YOUR COMPANY. It’s nice that you personally are not directly contributing to the particular problem being discussed, but it’s extremely disruptive to respond to a discussion of that problem by saying you’re not part of the problem. It comes across as 1) diminishing the problem, more or less saying that since you aren’t part of it, it must not be that commonplace and 2) complaining that your feelings are hurt by this discussion and you deserve compensatory praise for not being an awful sexist.
Feminism is not aiming to make men feel comfortable while also eliminating sexism. It’s just aiming to eliminate sexism. You will probably be made uncomfortable by some things feminists say, because they’re horrifying. That one in four women is raped is awful, and that men are doing virtually all of that raping is proof of a systemic problem in our culture. That you personally have not raped anyone is nice, but beside the point. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable about the problems our sexist culture creates for women. Women feel considerably more uncomfortable about it because it hurts them. Accept that feeling and move on, and hopefully be comforted by the fact that if sexism is completely eliminated, nobody will have to feel uncomfortable about male privilege or rape or discrimination EVER AGAIN! YAY!
Finally, the big argument that men coming around to feminism make that is trickiest is what’s called “tone argument.” In short, it boils down to something like this: “I agree that sexism is awful, and I look forward to the day when it’s eliminated. But whenever you talk about sexism, you sound really angry about it, and that’s alienating for guys like me, who want to help! You should adopt a more friendly tone, that would draw more people in.” This is a surefire way to make a feminist on the Internet annoyed with you. They hear this constantly, in a variety of forms, and it’s not helpful. There are feminists out there making arguments with friendly, inclusive overtures to non-feminists. It takes multiple approaches to reach everyone, and the assertive brand of feminism you’re taking issue with IS NOT AIMED AT YOU. It’s aimed, in all likelihood, at other women who are also upset with the effects of sexism in society. Just like any political movement rallies its base, feminists talk to each other about what bothers them to raise awareness, to practice articulating particular ideas, and just to fucking vent. If you are bothered by the tone, repeat to yourself: It’s Not About You. If a woman is angry about pick up artists, and you’re not a pick up artist, she’s not mad at you! If a woman is pissed she lost a job to a less qualified male candidate, and you aren’t the person who made the hiring decision, she’s not pissed at you! And her anger is helpful in reaching out to other people who are angry about the same issues.
There’s a time for diplomatic tone, but it’s really not your place to suggest when that time is. Doing so comes across as condescending, and you can bet that the feminist making the angry post/tweet/comment/whatever has thought about this more than you. Furthermore, even if you’re completely well-meaning and just think you’re offering helpful advice, your suggestion is used by a lot of trolls to try to shut down feminist arguments. Because of that, telling a feminist to consider a different tone frequently provokes an angry response, one you may be surprised by given your good intentions, but one that is reasonable nonetheless. If her anger at sexist behavior/attitudes makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself if you’re uncomfortable because you think the thing she’s talking about doesn’t exist, or if it’s because you feel like she’s mad at you and that makes you feel bad. If it’s the former, you’re probably wrong, should check the issue out on feminism 101, and think long and hard before getting into it with her over that issue. If it’s the latter, suck it up. If she’s mad about something you have yourself done, STOP DOING THAT THING. If she’s mad about something you’re not part of, it’s not about you!
If you take all of this to heart, you can probably avoid annoying a huge swathe of women on the internet! And that will be nice for you and also really nice for them.