Dear TIME, Sit Down. You Don’t Know What Feminism Is.



TW: domestic violence, workplace harassment, sexual abuse

In case you missed it, TIME posted an article on their site that says feminism is bad until it starts caring more about men’s issues. They use Emma Watson’s recent UN speech as an example of how feminism excludes men. I’m going to try my best to address the points of the article in a logical way — even though TIME and its contributor Cathy Young haven’t extended feminism the same opportunity.

Until feminism recognizes discrimination against men, the movement for gender equality will be incomplete.

Feminism does recognize discrimination against men. Patriarchy, a word feminists love to use, is the idea — well, fact to those who pay attention to gender in society — that men hold the power in society. Patriarchy manifests itself in all sorts of ways, an obvious one is exclusion of women from powerful roles. A less obvious one to those not actively involved in feminism is the damage patriarchy does to the male gender role.

Because femininity is seen as lesser in society, things that are seen as feminine are also deemed as lesser. These “feminine” things include: publicly expressing sadness, seeking help for physical or psychological issues, being more capable of raising a family, being weak.

That last one is important. The reason male abuse survivors are not taken as seriously as female abuse survivors is men are assumed to be strong. If a man is being abused (physically OR emotionally) he is expected to be able to just deal with it. “Man up.”

This is patriarchy backfiring on itself. Men are in the position of power, but that doesn’t come without consequences. But these are all issues feminism is fighting to correct. We don’t want men to be seen as invincible, we want them to be seen as humans. And we want women to be seen as humans — that’s gender equality.

…feminism in its present form has too often ignored sexist biases against males, and sometimes has actively contributed to them.

Young backs this statement with this example,

It is true that in the 1970s and 1980s, feminist challenges to discriminatory, sex-specific laws helped end formal preferences for mothers in child custody matters. But as fathers began to fight against more covert anti-male biases in the court system, most feminists sided with mothers.

Feminists sided with mothers? I wish Young had given real evidence for this statement. If they choose to have children with a partner, most feminists want to feel they have the choice to continue their career afterward. This often means trusting men can be good fathers. On the issue of custody, feminists want rigid and damaging gender roles to ease up so men are taught from a young age to have a healthy level of compassion for others — compassion that is key to being a parent. I don’t know a single feminist who wants courts to side with the mother in a custody battle if the father is more suited to care for the child.

At this point in society, it probably is more common that the mother is better suited to care for the child. That’s because feminism hasn’t yet been allowed to work its full magic on society. But there are many instances (I’ve personally heard of several) in which the father is better suited, and courts should recognize that.

Feminism is starting to sound like common sense, huh? Gee.

The women’s movement has fought, rightly, for more societal attention to domestic abuse and sexual violence. But male victims of these crimes still tend to get short shrift, from the media and activists alike.

I’m hoping you’ve been reading carefully and therefore can read that quote and confidently feel that’s not what feminism is about. If not, go back up and reread the bit about male abuse survivors.

But today’s mainstream feminism, which regards sexual assault and domestic violence as byproducts of male power over women, tends to reinforce rather than challenge such double standards.

Feminists point out male power over women so we don’t ignore a huge issue of violence: the fact that society has taught men that in order to be masculine, they need to assert their dominance over others. Some men give society the finger by refusing to give in to this part of the male gender role. But men have been taught since childhood not to respect women. And one of the many results of this is domestic violence.

That doesn’t mean that feminists want to silence the voices of male abuse survivors. We really, really want men to feel they can speak out. But we also want people to know that domestic violence is most often perpetrated by men against women and is a product of how we socialize men to think and behave.

Just in the past few days, many feminist commentators have taken great umbrage at suggestions that soccer star Hope Solo, currently facing charges for assaulting her sister and teenage nephew, deserves similar censure to football player Ray Rice, who was caught on video striking his fiancée. Their argument boils down to the assertion that violence by men toward their female partners should be singled out because it’s a bigger problem than female violence toward family members.

All right, this one is just a flat-out lie. The feminist commentator Young is referring to, and links to, literally says,

Does any of this mean that Hope Solo should keep playing while she awaits her day in court? Not necessarily. But spare the indignation about how women’s soccer is somehow doing worse on domestic violence than the NFL. If you believe that, you’re either a raging football apologist, or the commissioner of the NFL.

This feminist commentator, Amanda Hess for Slate, is explicitly saying that male survivors should get more attention than they currently get, but they get less because there are actually fewer of them and because the issue we’re talking about is women’s soccer vs. pro-football. Which do you think is going to get more attention? Hess’s article is saying that women’s soccer isn’t worse than the NFL when it comes to domestic violence — she is not saying a woman abuser should get a free pass.

You can’t provide a link to seem credible but hope no one clicks it to realize what you’re saying has no evidence to back it. If Young had said “Hope Solo’s case needs to be taken more seriously” then I could get behind that.

How about addressing this message to feminists who complain about being “asked to modify our language so we don’t hurt men’s feelings” when talking about misogyny — for instance, not to generalize about all men as oppressors? Or to those who argue that “Kill all men” mugs and “I bathe in male tears” T-shirts are a great way to celebrate women’s empowerment and separate the “cool dudes” who get the joke from the “dumb bros”?

These are all things feminists say as a joke because we are so fed up with male oppression. When we’re having a real discussion about oppression and we say “men are violent” we mean “men have been taught by society that being masculine means the assertion of power.” But almost without fail, a man will come in and say “NOT ALL MEN!” This is derailment.

“Kill all men” and “I bathe in male tears” are not meant to silence male survivors. They are meant as a joke to point out the issue that some men (yes, not all men) are really, really annoying when it comes to discussing the oppression of underprivileged groups. Some men want to make everything all about them. Including feminism. Ahem.

I personally choose not to take part in this kind of ironic misandry because I know so many people refuse to understand where it comes from. And then they write poorly researched articles about how misandry is going to destroy men or something.

A real conversation must let men talk not only about feminist-approved topics such as gender stereotypes that keep them from expressing their feelings, but about more controversial concerns: wrongful accusations of rape; sexual harassment policies that selectively penalize men for innocuous banter; lack of options to avoid unwanted parenthood once conception has occurred.

I agree that there should be more space for men to express their feelings. And men should definitely have access to male birth control (I hope you’re not implying that men should be able to force a woman to get an abortion because NO.) But please stop talking about wrongful accusations of rape as if they happen all the time. They are extremely rare but people seem to always want to use them as a way to shut down feminism (and that doesn’t even make sense. Feminists don’t want false accusations of rape. It makes real survivors less likely to be believed.)

And for the love of gender equality, “innocuous banter”?????? “Banter” is a pretty good way of making sure women feel excluded in the workplace. And that’s enough to make it harmful (which is the opposite of innocuous). Do you know what it feels like to be in an office where you’re one of the only women and your male coworkers are making jokes about choking women with their penis so the woman can’t criticize them? I do. And I bet almost every woman who has worked in a co-ed office has similar experiences. That is not “innocuous.”

It goes without saying that these are “First World problems.” In far too many countries around the world, women still lack basic rights and patriarchy remains very real…

You’re suggesting male abuse is a first-world problem. Um, no. But yeah, I agree. In far too many countries, women lack basic rights. In fact, I can’t name a single country where women don’t lack basic rights.

…and, while there is still work to be done, it must include the other side of that revolution. Not “he for she,” but “She and he for us.”

Agreed. That’s exactly what Emma Watson was saying. That’s what feminism is. Though we shouldn’t have to invite men to care about gender equality. They should be able to see that it benefits everyone.

But even if feminism only helped women, do men need social justice to benefit them to be able to see it’s the right thing to do? You don’t see TIME articles arguing that LGBT activists should care more about straight people’s issues or that black-rights activists should do more to include white people’s voices. Because that’s not how fighting for the underprivileged works. You fight because you care.

So yes, feminism —when you actually understand it — benefits everyone. But you shouldn’t have to know it benefits you to care.


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2 thoughts on “Dear TIME, Sit Down. You Don’t Know What Feminism Is.

  1. –“Kill all men” and “I bathe in male tears” are not meant to silence male survivors. They are meant as a joke to point out the issue that some men (yes, not all men) are really, really annoying when it comes to discussing the oppression of underprivileged groups. Some men want to make everything all about them. Including feminism. Ahem.–

    This is a very unprofessional segment of the argument against the TIME article. Although I agree with nearly 100% of what you’ve contributed with this post, this section was not very objective. When trying to rise above the oppressive consequences of what some men see as “light-hearted” “banter”, it’s really not taking the high road if you belittle your own argument by defending your choice to joke about killing all men and bathing in male tears – as if being a feminist makes it okay to make jokes about killing all men the way men passively objectify and oppress women through “banter”. Being “fed up with male oppression” is no excuse for perpetuating gender inequality by swinging the pendulum the other way. To give a stark, heavy-handed example, I don’t think “Kill all white people” would have been acceptable at any point during the civil rights movement, no matter how “fed up” Dr. King was.

    If you are offended by men making sexist jokes, what good will it do the movement toward equality to make similar jokes? I wish this section were more objective. If you want to be taken seriously, please take yourself seriously and realize how “Kill all men” and “I bathe in male tears” perpetuate the “male-bashing” stigma associated with the word feminism.

    I only address this to you, the author of this article, because you personally defended “Kill all men” as acceptable because “some men (yes, not all men) are really, really annoying when it comes to discussing the oppression of underprivileged groups.”

    I really wanted to agree with 100% of this article, but this point you have argued is very disappointing as well as hypocritical. Terrific dissection of the TIME article, otherwise.

    • Thank you for your polite criticism of my piece. I think you’re right, “kill all men” is not something that should be taken lightly – it’s not good to suggest murdering anyone, let alone a group of people. I do feel, however, that these statements are meant to be an ironic way to shine light on misogyny in society. That being said, it’s not something I personally take part in. I (again, personally) want my feminism to be about creating a positive world for everyone.

      Thanks again for your comment!

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