Yesterday a man was invited to share his perspective at Jezebel on why women should not complain about women getting hit, for no reason, by men. The title he chose was, “Why is Snooki More Precious Than I Am?“ You can sort of imagine how it evolved from there.
I don’t want to rehash things the commenters adeptly pointed out about how stupid this guy’s argument was in the particular instance of reality television stars behaving like animals. What I want to talk about, and have been thinking about for some time, is this phenomenon of Men Arriving On the Scene of Feminist Discourse to Educate Us All. (I’ll refer to it as “Arriving on the Scene” in the rest of this post.) Understand that I don’t mean men trying to engage, of which there are some, and they comment on blogs like ours and Twisty regularly even though they get some abuse for occasionally being jerks, because frankly I think they want to learn. And I really respect that.
No, what I mean is that dude, you know that dude, who is here to let you know that sometimes feminists are aggressive (sometimes you’re lucky and they cite MLK Jr. or Gandhi), or don’t respect men generally (completely against the rules of the patriarchy under which all men are a priori entitled to respect) or should learn to watch their tone (because men who explain things are always totally starting from a place of respect) or should recognize that men are human beings too (as if it were in actual danger of not being the case among feminists who for the most part are trying to advance anti-racist, anti-homophobic and anti-transmisogynist causes as well, many of which involve, intrinsically, advocating for the rights of men – not that these dudes are ever talking about men of colour or gay men or trans men).
This is, of course, merely a variant of the widespread problem that is the mansplaining phenomenon. But what I find particularly distressing about it in the context of feminist discussion is that this maneuver is frequently the subject of congratulation by other feminists, which boggles me. Feminists will say things like, “we do need to include men’s issues!” and “we need men to be our allies, thanks!” to men like these. It makes me wonder if my reading comprehension skills are poorer than they are traditionally reputed to be. Because these men are not our allies, in my opinion. Why are they not our allies? Below, a list:
1. Men who think that feminists need urgently to know that masculinity is painful have not actually read any feminism. I’d say, despite the standard throwaway lines they usually include with their critiques, à la “I am just as much of a feminist as any woman,” or “I totally think violence against women is a serious problem but,” most of the men who Arrive on the Scene are only interested in feminism insofar as they can explain why it’s wrong. I mean, these guys are not citing other internal feminist discourse to us, though they could had they the least interest in reading any. They’d be shocked to know, actually, that their best sympathizers on this score are usually radical feminists like MacKinnon who say things like that men’s oppression of women will not end until dominance as a mode of social organization is over. But to get to that shock, they’d first have to read some feminism, and this above all, they haven’t time to do. Their pain is in too urgent need of address by the closest self-described feminists at hand.
2. Men whose alliance to feminism (assuming they state one) is dependent on feminism addressing their pain are allied to feminism on highly contingent grounds. It seems frustrating to have to say it, but highly contingent alliances are not alliances. They are quid pro quo bargains. (You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.) Their loyalty is purely strategic, not altruistic; what these men are saying is that the liberation of women alone is insufficient reason to ally with feminism. What big hearts they do have, these men. (This is a point other people have made more eloquently than I, but I say it again because I feel like we’re not internalizing this. We’re still telling men who are lecturing and hectoring and demanding things of us that we consider them allies. Ick, you guys, ick.)
3. Men like this want free cookies without actual selflessness. I know I just said these men want a quid pro quo bargain, but usually they’re not even prepared to make what strikes me as the minimum initial commitment of doing something more about women getting raped/beaten/intimidated/discriminated against, the whole shebang, than writing an internet comment in which one damn line is devoted to lip service. For this – for declaring themselves to be not like totally opposed to feminism, just of the opinion that it is myopic – they think we ought to alter the focus of our work. And while this is not universally true, most of the (internet and otherwise) feminists I’ve ever met are doing in the trenches work, and often it’s with men too. This I cannot generally say for the kind of guy who spends his days internet commenting about why “feminism is wrong.”
4. Maybe one day these guys will be feminists sure, but first, they need to learn about self-awareness. Let’s say you and I are at a party. Let’s say we are identical as regards all the usual suspect axes of power: gender/race/class/sexual orientation/cis/trans. Let’s say you got mugged last week. Is it an appropriate response for me to be all, “Right, but when I got mugged it really hurt”? Or is that the response of a self-absorbed asshole? I kind of think it’s the latter, and I’m kind of confused why, in the views of these men, that is an acceptable response. The acceptable response is to listen, to not ensure that the conversation centers around yourself. Because listening? Actually helps someone else. Talking can too easily become you in love with the sound of your own voice.