A Prominent Anti-Feminist Visited My School; Here’s What I Learned (Plus: A “Feminist FAQs” Handout)

First, I’m not going to say his name. He’s a media personality, so Voldemorting him only works in his favor. Basically, a conservative student organization brought this guy to campus for a talk entitled “CALM DOWN!! Restoring Common Sense to Feminism.” You can probably tell from the casual sexism and double exclamation points that the speakers weren’t exactly titans of scholarship; one of them, however, has become quite famous, so there was some buzz around the event. There were also multiple protest actions.

Rather than write about the guy, or the woman who spoke with him, or the specifics of the actual talk, I wanted to share a few bigger-picture thoughts. I also want to thank Lindsey and Ryan, whose liveblog was helpful (and insightful and kind of hilarious too). Here are a few things on my mind this evening:

1. Anti-feminism isn’t a big movement, but it is dangerous.
A common discussion point in situations like these is free speech. The value of anti-feminist thinkers is often wrapped up in arguments about the fundamental importance of free speech, of universities as places where differing viewpoints can have a platform, and of how critical it is for students to be open-minded and think for themselves. And that’s all well and good.

But a speaker who explicitly says that rape culture isn’t real, or that affirmative consent policies “don’t seem like that much fun” is directly contributing to the normalization of sexual assault; and that has a real impact on real people. We can argue about the precise size of the gender wage gap, and we can disagree about things like trigger warnings and safe spaces– but encouraging a room of 200+ twenty-something men to not take consent seriously crosses a very important line.

How warped does your thinking have to be that “don’t have sex with someone unless it’s clear that they really want to have sex with you” is some grand outrage? That this is seen as a “liberal” position and not just common decency speaks volumes about why sexual assault is still such a problem on college campuses and beyond.

The point here is that these people can’t be ignored away. They must be defeated. On a micro level, that might look like a protest, if only to let the larger community know that not everyone agrees. On a macro level, that means organizing– in physical, educational, and online spaces– proactively and effectively, to shift the larger culture away from that kind of thinking. More on this in point #3.

2. Part of the appeal of anti-feminism is that it provides a scapegoat.
According to the anti-feminist movement, men are increasingly insecure, confused, depressed, or even suicidal, not because of neoliberalism commodifying every aspect of existence, or because of billionaires who keep getting richer while the rest of us struggle to get by, but because of feminism. It follows a certain adorable toddler logic– men have things, but then women want those things too, and then women get greedy and take too much, so now men have less things and they’re sad. It’s easy.

It’s worth quoting Lindy West‘s piece on how so many “Men’s Rights” issues are actually things that feminism is fighting for, not against. Here’s the link (it’s in part four), plus a few excerpts:

Feminists do not want anyone to get raped in prison. Permissiveness and jokes about prison rape are part of rape culture, which is part of patriarchy. 

Feminists do not want anyone to be falsely accused of rape. False rape accusations discredit rape victims, which reinforces rape culture, which is part of patriarchy.

Feminists do not want you to be lonely and we do not hate “nice guys.” The idea that certain people are inherently more valuable than other people because of superficial physical attributes is part of patriarchy.

Feminists do not want you to commit suicide. Any pressures and expectations that lower the quality of life of any gender are part of patriarchy. The fact that depression is characterized as an effeminate weakness, making men less likely to seek treatment, is part of patriarchy.

Feminists hate patriarchy. We do not hate you.

That’s just five points from the 13 that West covers, and I think it gets to an important truth about the current anti-feminist movement: it isn’t made up exclusively of misogynistic monsters (though those certainly do exist). Some of these people are just blaming the wrong thing for their legitimate problems. It’s a matter of education, empathy, and perspective. And, of course, organizing, which leads me to this last point:

3. Part of the power of a “defensive” protest is the “offense” it can spark
When terrible things happen, it’s good to respond to them. “Just ignore them” is, generally, not a good tactic when it comes to things like hate speech. All of that being said, it’s important to connect the in-the-moment action with the organizations who are doing this work every day, and with the proactive efforts that are already happening.

At my school, I can tell people to check out the Women’s Center (and their Feminist Ambassador Brigade), the Gender, Sex & Public Policy Committee at Humphrey, the Aurora Center, Black Motivated Women, the Feminist Student Activist Coalition, SHE, Students for a Democratic Society, the Feminist Book Club, and the whole GWSS department– just for a start (feel free to leave others in the comments). If you’re interested in gender equity work, google them and get involved. Also, a few events coming up:

  • GSPEC is hosting a discussion called “Doxxers and Trolls: Gendered Perspectives on Digital Harassment” on 2/24 at noon in 215 Humphrey. 
  • The Women’s Center is hosting a discussion on “API Herstory” on 3/4 at 10am in 101 Walter Library.
  • The Women’s Center is also bringing in author Sarah Deer to discuss her book “The Beginning and End of Rape” on 4/5 at 7pm in Humphrey’s Cowles Auditorium.

These kinds of spaces are great ways to build power and expand the movement after a “defensive” action like tonight’s protests.

Also, here’s a super down-to-earth example. When I heard about this guy coming to campus, I helped write out this little handout. The idea wasn’t necessarily to hand it to all of the hardcore MRA types who’d be there that night; it was moreso about providing talking points to people who are already down, and maybe (hopefully) providing a little push for the people on the fence. I think organizing is usually less about convincing the people who disagree with you and more about mobilizing the people who agree with you. My posting this on my website and sending it out to my 11k Facebook fans and 7k Twitter followers isn’t any kind of earth-shattering, radical act, but it is an easy, concrete way to take positive advantage of the opportunity that this shitshow created.

It’s about how we use “bad stuff” happening to promote and cultivate the “good stuff,” whether through taking advantage of hot button issues and writing op-eds for the paper, bringing issues up in class, or encouraging people to plug into activist networks. Because there is a lot of “good stuff” happening– at my school, but all over the country too. We’re on the right side of history here; let’s keep building.

Here’s the text of our handout (it fit on one half-page; I’m posting the text rather than the PDF so people can cut/paste/edit). Feel free to steal it. Change stuff, make it work for wherever you’re at; this is just one example of what a document like this can look like:

FREQUENTLY-ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT FEMINISM

Wait wait wait: isn’t “feminism” about those man-hating trigger warning SJWs PC-policing all of the badass rebel free-thinkers out here?
Feminism is about gender equity. Of course, the movement is complex, and different people have different specific definitions; here are a few.

  • “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” -bell hooks
  • “A feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • “Whatever feminism you choose — good, bad, flawed, or half-assed — the label isn’t something to fear. It doesn’t mean you want too much or despise men. It means you believe in the equality and rights of everyone.” -Roxane Gay

Gender equity? Don’t we already have that? Isn’t feminism going TOO FAR?
The gender wage gap persists, according to the Pew Research Center (and it’s worse for women of color). Reproductive rights are being rolled back all over the country. Women still face sexual violence, domestic violence, gender-based discrimination, objectification in media, and harassment in the workplace, at school, and on the street.

We don’t even need to argue over statistics; just pay attention to the world. How many politicians, generals, billionaires, CEOs, judges, high-level managers, board members, or other people who hold real power are NOT men? Staggering inequity persists. Is that because men are just inherently more talented and ambitious? Or that women all just choose to not pursue power? Or could it be because women as a demographic face specific, historically-constructed obstacles that men do not face? No one is saying that all men have it easy, or that all women are victims (or even that this is as simple as just “men” and “women”); feminism is about deepening our understanding of how gender (and our other identities) impacts our lives and experiences.

But isn’t feminism about SHOUTING and calling people out and separatism?
Feminists all over the US and beyond are working on issues like preventing domestic violence, defending reproductive rights, supporting survivors of sexual violence, calling for (and creating) more representative media, and striving to create a world in which men, women, and people of any gender identity have equal access to opportunities and are free to be their authentic selves. Furthermore, few feminists are single-issue activists; feminists can be found deeply engaged in the struggles for economic justice, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, and beyond.

This stereotype of feminists as shrieking, ultra-extreme, irrational banshees who hate all men is kind of, well, sexist. Not to mention inaccurate. So why does it persist? Because people who benefit from the status quo (often but not exclusively men- often white, often rich too) want you (especially if you’re a young man) to believe it; they don’t want us all working together. Don’t fall for it.

Why should I listen to you? You’re just a piece of paper!
I agree. Don’t listen to me. Read books, challenge yourself, and connect with people in real life. You don’t have to agree with everything, but doing a little research on what actual, real-life feminists believe (as opposed to some anecdotal story about how some random person on Tumblr was mean) can really demystify the idea. We all benefit from the work of feminists, whether we know it or not. (if you’re using this as a handout, this can be a good place to shout out local organizations, events, or opportunities)