suffering fools
January 12, 2004 05:09 PM

This week's WHB question is a long one. You should read the whole thing, cause I'm only going to snip from it.

Why do some men in feminists’ lives (both female and male feminists) find it necessary to be overtly chauvinistic around said feminists? I am talking about men who aren't usually misogynistic, or not even usually chauvinistic, and how they become super women hating evil monsters when in the presence of a known feminist.

I think some of the other commenters have pointed out that this also happens with women. That is, women can become, in the presence of feminism, pretty piggish themselves. I'd like to talk about women and men together here, because I believe the negative response to feminism may be coming from the same place for both genders.

And what exactly is that place? It's complicated, but I think it boils down to the fact that we're schooled in adherence to norms, which depends on the norms not being questioned. This has two sides: first, there's a need to identify with normative behaviors (gender being among them), and second, there's the desire to comply - that is, not to rock the proverbial boat. Everything non-feminists hear and say about feminism is colored by the fact of activism or non-compliance.

Think of it this way: how do ten year olds treat non-conformists among them? Badly, right? This mentality doesn't fade with adulthood - for many people, it's actually amplified. People who attempt change are obviously failing to conform, and that means they're not like us and probably dangerous. Thus the success of commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken, who make a living not through espousing new ideas, but through critiquing others' different ideas. Rush is a particularly relevant example because he's so closely associated with things like the "feminazi" concept - a notion that feminists want to police your thoughts and control you [Well, personally, I do, but that's another thing...]. A lot of people believe the bad press of feminism without question, because they believe a lot of what they hear without question. Honey, if you act like that, you are already being controlled. You're just being controlled by groupthink, not by political correctness.

There are practical reasons to believe stupid things about feminism, too. There are only so many hours in the day, and a person can only care about and research but so many things. I think most people respond well to information, but not to righteous anger. Righteous anger is not only non-compliant; informed passion makes other people feel like they need to act more informed and more passionate themselves. Thus, defensiveness. Thus, stupid jokes. Thus, your [my] desire to pop their tiny heads off their bodies.

And. That's probably more true the better someone knows you.

There's another, related, component to anti-feminist responses: the gender stereotype. Some people really like them. They're familiar, they make people more predictable (at least in theory). A woman who knows you're a feminist may assume that you believe in the natural superiority of women or that you don't value "feminine" characteristics (lipstick, shaved legs). And so, companionable jokes about male ineptitude, the declaration of "not a feminist", things that establish her as part of normal - that is, someone who behaves correctly according to stereotypical gender roles. Men do the same thing, but in reverse. The intention in both cases is to establish comfortable normality, and you the feminist pose a challenge to that comfort.

So, assuming these theories are accurate, how does a feminist deal with sudden attacks of misogyny/misandry from otherwise fabulous people?

One thing is to always try to work the information angle, instead of responding with righteous fire. Try not to scare them. Counter the stupid shit they've heard from other people. Point out that they're being defensive and joke back at them. It works sometimes, sometimes changes minds.

But there comes a point when you want to hold people accountable for themselves, and carefully working around their defenses is just a big pain in the ass. Particularly with people you know well (for them, it's much too easy to separate their respect from you from their complete lack of same for other feminists) and see a lot of, the whole feminism-is-a-big-fucking-joke thing wears down patience pretty quickly. And it's okay to spew fire at people who deserve it. It might not work, if your goal is to change their views, but it might. It might shame them into some righteous anger of their own.

The one thing that never, ever, works is silence. It achieves nothing. It perpetuates their ignorance, reduces and demoralizes you, and isn't even clinically proven to reduce mean-ass teasing by semi-anti-feminists. Silence is for shit. So, my advice to feminists who suffer counter-misogyny and mistaken misandry is not to suffer it. Be firm, be gentle, be funny or serious - just say something.

Don't ever suffer fools, even the ones you love.

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your wicked thoughts

Awesome post! I've run into this not only as a feminist but also as a vegetarian and animal rights supporter and I think you have brought up some really good points. I found your discussion of non-compliance and defensiveness particularly interesting.

Having been subjected to lots of "teasing" regarding vegetarianism (talking incessantly about the wonderful taste of meat while I'm eating, endless arguments about animal overpopulation that can only be controlled by our mass consumption of living beings, etc) I think that some of that defensiveness also comes from the fact that people have some sense of being wrong and react strongly in order to ignore that feeling. I believe that many people know, on some level, that feminists and animal rights supporters are *right*.

these are the thoughts of lunadyke on January 13, 2004 09:38 AM

like i said in my blog, men who bait feminists need to be beaten w/ marble-filled socks.

these are the thoughts of lenée on January 13, 2004 02:27 PM

but, seriously, april -- you really hit the nail on the head when you said this:
"Righteous anger is not only non-compliant; informed passion makes other people feel like they need to act more informed and more passionate themselves."

i couldn't agree more.

these are the thoughts of lenée on January 14, 2004 01:21 AM

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