Let’s also talk about how white men get rewarded for presenting a watered-down, uncritical, privileged image of feminism.
— Shanley (@shanley) August 26, 2013
Ok, let’s talk about it. I don’t know Shanley, but she does have 6000 more twitter followers than I do, which is a pretty solid following. More importantly, she writes well about feminism (and other issues), often pointing out the ways that men seize control of issues.
First – it’s TOTALLY true. Privileged, white, liberal men discover oppression. They gasp. They write breathlessly about the oppression they’ve discovered. They own the issue. They genuinely want to help. Sometimes they forget to link back to the people who have been doing work on an issue for years. When questioned on this, they defensively say, “I just want to help,” then pout, “there’s no room for men to even TALK about gender.” And then they take their toys and go home and make themselves the victim.
Later this month, I have an essay coming out on “five rules for male feminist discourse.” Rule #1 is – it’s not about you. Rule #3 is – It is about them (them = the female feminists in the trenches), and I talk about making sure you link back to them and support writers like Shanley (or for me, Jessica Valenti, Amanda Marcotte, and the Crunk Feminist Collective – three writers/blogs I often find compelling). More on that in a few weeks.
“Shanley” was writing in response to this post from John Scalzi, a famous Sci-Fi author with a HUGE social media following. His blog gets around 45,000 visitors a day (and yes, my blog is commenting on a blog which it commenting on a blog and it’s turtles all the way down). Scalzi once posed in a dress to raise money, he was mocked by a “dudebro,” as he calls it, and he returned the favor my mocking the dudebro and owning the label feminist. It’s not a perfect post. It works with the assumption that men wearing dresses is transgressive, and my transgender and cross-dressing friends got kind of annoyed. It embraces notions of male privilege (big yard, lots of money), that are annoying. But it’s a good way to respond to the “dudebro” clan, I guess. The internet, in its infinite wisdom, liked it.
But while I find Shanley’s comment a little harsh and possibly infused by the broader backlash to Shwyzer and his ilk, she does point to that real problem. In fact, it’s a problem that Scalzi recognized in his “Quick Notes on his Feminism.” He wrote:
5. However, there are also a number of people,
including a fair number of women, who are frustrated that when I write
about topics relating to women that I often have a farther reach online
then women often do. They are frustrated, I suspect, not only just
because it’s a classic example of a guy being paid attention to, but
also because, per points one through three above, the filter
through which my own thoughts and opinions go is a male,
I worry about this all the time. Not that I have a huge social media reach, but as a straight white man, I operate out of a position of enormous privilege in several ways. First, to assert my status as a feminist doesn’t really threaten me. I might have to endure some pretty modest taunting and accusations of being queer, but nothing like the repeated and well-documented world of cyber-stalking and rape-threats for feminists online. These threats are intended to silence women, to drive them out of the conversation, and cannot be tolerated, but also can’t be stopped so easily. Shanley writes quite a bit about this kind of harassment (to call it trolling is too mild), as do many of the other feminists I follow, and it’s a real problem. Men get off easy.
As an aside – I once asked Scalzi if his sexuality got questioned (this was in the wake of my CNN article about my daughter, in which I got called queer a lot). He replied that he didn’t, because evidence of his heterosexuality was so clear – he talks about his wife a little and his daughter a lot in his writing. I thought that this was fair, but also a good example of his, “filter
through which [his] own thoughts and opinions go is a male,
not-entirely-on-point-to-feminism one.” This is fine with me – I like Scalzi and his writing. His demand that all conventions at which he attends has an explicit, ENFORCED, harassment policy is to me an unambiguous good. If people are annoyed that it’s a man who helped bring the harassment issue to a higher plane of visibility, well, I guess I don’t care (and I think everyone has worked hard to credit our friend Elise, who got harassed by someone who worked for a major sci-fi/fantasy press and went public, with starting this conversation. So good job Elise.). At any rate, I’m not so bothered by Scalzi not writing about feminist issues quite the way that I would want, or that Shanley would want.
So I get Shanley’s critique and I worry a lot about entering the male feminist world as I don’t want to present watered-down, uncritical, privileged, feminism. I may not have Scalzi’s readership, but since I started writing publicly about gender from a male feminist perspective, I’ve gotten interview requests, writing requests, and speaking gigs. My writing about gender receives more hits than any other topic on which I write, in general. Were I a woman, I think I’d blend into the throng.
But I can’t let my worry about this stop me from advocating for causes that matter to me. I want to assert my status as a feminist and write about patriarchy, especially the ways patriarchy hurts men. I cannot help if people respond to my writing differently, because I’m a man.
But I can remember my rules – it’s not about me. It is about them. Always, always, point back to the writers in the trenches, the sophisticated, critical, deep, threatened feminism of the best writers I can find.
Does that seem to work?