More Feminism for Dudes: On “White Knighting”

Periodically, when I argue against sexism online, I’m told that I’m just trying to impress women or sleep with them.  Why else would I espouse feminist views, after all?  I’m trying to be some woman’s big strong white knight, and I think she’ll be so impressed that I agree with feminism that she’ll fall in love with me.  Or, other times, I’m accused of trying to teach women about feminism, and I should shut up.  This latter criticism is fair, actually, if it’s accurate (and I try hard to make sure it’s not accurate).  The former is just a way to silence men who speak up against sexism.

Listen Here, Ladies

Let’s talk about that fair criticism first.  In this form of white knighting, a guy wades into a conversation about abortion, or rape, or any other topic that’s tied up in our sexist culture, and shares his view.  Not only that, but he talks over women in the discussion, discounting their opinions if they don’t line up with his.  He even takes pride in how he discovered some brand new concept, like the fact that our culture treats both promiscuous and virginal women poorly.  Guys that do this stuff are assholes, and it’s completely fair to tell them to cut it out.

I think it’s fair for men to engage in feminist discussion (obviously!).  And I think there are lots of times it’s helpful for guys to share their personal point of view on a feminist topic, so long as those guys remember that they’re coming to feminism as outsiders who will automatically have a diminished ability to recognize and comprehend sexism, since they don’t experience it.  What becomes really troublesome, really quick is when guys decide it’s their place to dictate the terms of feminism to women.  That’s bullshit white knighting, with the man thinking he’s so smart and clear-headed and rational that he’s sorted out feminism and can lead women to the promised land.  He is this Onion article, in the flesh.

I talk to female friends about feminism, and when I do it’s generally to sound out a thought that I’m having trouble with or to ask questions.  It’s to learn, pretty much.  And I like to think that occasionally I vocalize an idea in a way that’s helpful or useful, but I’m pretty much not going to revolutionize feminist thought.  I naturally suck at feminism.  Things that women realize quickly and immediately take some real thought and observation for me to grasp, and I can accept that while I might be welcome as a feminist ally (in some, but not all, spaces), I’m not leading the charge.

I also try to talk to other guys about feminism, and that’s pretty much what I focus on when I write my rare blog post or record my occasional video.  And that’s not white knighting, because I’m not at risk of talking over women, or talking down to them.  What’s more, there are some things that are easier for me in talking to guys about feminism.  While I don’t have any lived experience as a woman struggling against sexism, I do have experience as a guy overcoming sexist attitudes.  And I can share how I did that with other guys, who might actually find that perspective useful.  So that’s what I take comfort in, when I’m accused of trying to talk for women about feminism: I’m really not, and I don’t ever want to give the impression that I’m some authority on the subject.  I know what I know from reading, and from talking to lots of friends, and I know a little about the saturation of sexist attitudes from what I’ve had to unlearn myself.

“Feminism Will Not Help You Get Laid More Often”

In comments on YouTube, I’ve been told countless times that 1) I’m just saying this stuff to seduce women and 2) it won’t work.  It’s an easy way to dismiss my opinions, and it’s bullshit.  I’m sure there are guys who consciously pretend to hold feminist opinions in the hopes that women will give them a roll in the hay.  But I don’t think they’re going online and arguing with other guys to do it.  I mean, how much sense does that even make?  “My brilliant plan is coming to fruition: I’ve made a blog post addressing other men, talking about common experiences men have while coming to grips with male privilege, and now I’ll just start sharing the link at bars!”  I write and say all this stuff because I think it’s important, and I’m really passionate about it.

And the root of the argument ends up being really twisted, too.  Let’s walk through it.  I’m just saying this stuff to get laid, right?  So I don’t believe in feminism.  When I say that women have a harder time getting into high-paying jobs than men, or that rape is a serious problem caused by deep flaws in our culture, I’m just spouting stuff I think women want to hear.  And why am I lying about my beliefs about pretty important stuff?  For sex!  So the guy accusing me of white knighting is the pure, brave soul who says what he actually thinks, that women are complaining about a big bunch of nothing.  I’m so corrupted by my desperate need for sex that I’ll lie about anything in the misguided belief it will help my chances.

That’s some odious shit right there.  It’s also pretty ridiculous, when you look at it on its face.  Good ways to get laid, in my experience as a straight guy, are learning to cook, maintaining good hygiene, and practicing telling stories to the point that you can tell an entertaining one over dinner.  Bad ways to get laid are making complex political arguments online.  That’s not a hard distinction to draw.

But I’m an Ally!

I do want to talk about one last thing I finish, and it’s related to the legitimate critique of guys talking over women.  Sometimes when a guy says something shitty and gets called out on it by women, he’ll come back with, “Hey, I’m on your side!  I’m an ally!  You should respect my opinion!”  It’s this tendency that actually causes a lot of women to treat “ally” as a dirty word.  They have an idea of feminist allies as guys who totally think rape is bad and abortion should be legal, but hey lay off pornography and strip clubs, those are different, and I’m an ally so you need to stop disagreeing with me about those topics.

Agreeing with feminism doesn’t make you special.  Feminism isn’t some super-secret enigma that you figured out by being so clever.  It’s really just “men get treated better than women, and it’s ingrained in our culture.”  Realizing that leads to a lot of other realizations, but they all flow from something that’s pretty easy for women to realize, and only hard for men to realize because they’ve had smoke blown up their asses by a sexist culture for years.

And the difficult part for guys coming to feminism is you start to feel entitled.  The bar is really low for being considered a stand-up guy on gender issues.  One time, he criticized another guy for using the word “bitch!”  It sucks that it works like this, but a lot of women are really happy to see a guy not being a total piece of shit about feminist issues.  So if, as a guy, you get used to women praising you for just being a decent person (praise that women frequently don’t receive from other women for the exact same opinions, by the way), it comes as a shock when someone even gently tells you, “Hey, what you just said was out of line.”  And you come back with “But I’m an ally!”

Don’t be that guy, guy.  And look, I disagree with some of those aforementioned feminist friends from time to time.  When it happens, I try to honestly assess whether I’m continuing to believe something that is just sexist, or if I have good, justifiable reasons to believe what I do.  But do that, instead of coming back defensively because you feel like you’re God’s gift to feminism just because you’re a man.  Feeling like you deserve special treatment for being a guy is the whole fucking problem in the first place.

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2 Responses to More Feminism for Dudes: On “White Knighting”

  1. Anita says:

    Well written! Yes thats the whole point: what men say have more validity than what women say even when they’re saying the same thing, this should change. It makes me sad that sometimes even whilie I engage in expressing feminist ideas, people (non-feminists, that is) take it more seriously when the source is a man. Somehow it seems that even when its an issue which women are the ones experiencing, better knowledge and insight are expected to come from a man. Because ‘female minds’ as we all know, are just weak and unintelligent, right..

  2. Robert says:

    You write: Feminism isn’t some super-secret enigma that you figured out by being so clever. It’s really just “men get treated better than women, and it’s ingrained in our culture.”
    And that’s completely wrong. Women are treated different, but in principle NOT worse.
    In many topics they were treated much better than men, in many others worse. And that’s the hubris of feminism, to refer ONLY to the points, where women are treated worse, and to ignore all those topics, where men are treated worse.
    Anyone who can see that, cannot be “feminist” or “feminist ally” any more.

    And on “white knighting”:
    Why could a man be so willing to ignore the discrimination of his own sex? This question is difficult to answer. A sense of justice cannot be the reason (because ignorance is incompatible with justice). The assumption of “white knighting” is one of the nicer assumptions.

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