Too many times have I seen willful misinterpretations by otherwise rational, intelligent people, of what feminism does, or what it represents. Many such instances can be found on the internet, one such example being this comment:
SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) believe in this conspiracy in which all white people […] are organized and conspire to oppress everything that isn’t white men. […] Despite that and feminists claiming the same about men, I managed to miss 24 years of memos and orders from said organizations that supposedly exist and that I’m apparently part of.
Because this comment is, I think, representative of a lot of people’s misconceptions – spearheaded by apologists and Men’s Rights Activists (MRA) – it’s time for someone to explain to them how the system works. And that person is me, so sit tight, everyone.
First of all, no offense, but none of you – and I mean none of you - are smart enough to be intentionally operating and organising the sexist or racist machine, even all together, like the commenter believes. Most of you aren’t even smart enough to admit that racism and sexism exist, despite the fact that 1 in 5 of your male friends haven’t been victims of sexual assault. White men are not ‘organised’ or conspiring to oppress. They just benefit from a system which does this for them. This is what MRA’s and apologists need to understand. Nobody is calling you a racist or a sexist (except MRA’s who definitely are sexist. Explicitly, and in every sense of the word). Those whom you patronisingly call SJW’s simply want you to realize that your life has never been hindered by your gender or race. Is that really so difficult to admit? Not that your life has never been hindered, nor that you haven’t had challenges to overcome. Everyone has challenges to overcome. But your challenges have not included overcoming adversity caused by your race or gender. This is a fact.
This comment came from a screenshot of a debate over whether you can be racist to white people. Like any example on either side of a debate, this particular screenshot was expressly chosen because it featured one incredibly inept debater and one significantly less inept one. Can you be racist to white people? Yes, probably, though I have never seen an example of it in my sheltered European life. Does the institutionalised racism, prevalent in most – if not all – western societies affect white people as much as it affects other races? Fucking hell no! And I challenge anyone to prove me wrong on that point. Likewise, can you be sexist to a man? Yes, probably, and in fact I have seen instances of this. BUT, does the institutionalised sexism, prevalent in most – if not all – western societies affect men as much as it affects women and the transgendered? Fucking. Hell. No. This is the fight. This is what feminism stands for, and it’s important to explain that the label ‘feminist’ encompasses multiple points of view, like any movement does. The difference between ‘I hate white people’ and ‘let’s not hire him because he’s white’ is important. The former is entirely possible, the latter has never been uttered, nor will it. What started as the belief in the formal equality of women with men has become, in light of numerous social issues receiving more and more media attention, a movement for the equality of all. Formal equality and equality of opportunity for men, women, blacks, whites and everything in between. This is what feminism ‘is’, in its 4th, multidimensional and intersectional wave.
For the purpose of brevity I will concentrate on sexism but will relate it back to racism towards the end. MRA’s and apologists will often point to extreme cases of militant feminism – that is to say, women who have taken the feminist mantra and turned it into hateful, sometimes violent opposition to the establishment – as ‘proof’ that the entire movement is misandrist and that it seeks to establish a female dominated world, not equality. There are two responses to that. One, it is interesting that, in a male dominated world, the prospect of the reverse occurring would send many men into an incredulous stupor because they view this alternative as discriminatory and potentially oppressive. Presumably, this is what some women might feel about this world. Secondly, like every criticism of every movement, detractors will pick and choose the most extreme cases and attempt to portray it as representative of the entire movement. I may be accused of doing the same but let me debunk this now by pointing out that ‘being a man’ is not a movement, and the legitimacy of the ‘men’s right’s movement’ is still up for debate, seeing as it is about as necessary as being in charge of Kangaroo immigration in the Vatican. In which case, I am not picking and choosing extreme examples of sexist apologists, just ordinary examples of regular sexists. Because of the broadness of the feminist movement, there is no central authority for all feminists. We don’t pay a membership fee to be part of some club and there is no Pope of feminism (and if there was it’d probably be a man anyway). The movement just applies to anyone who believes that this disparity in social equality needs to stop. And, unfortunately, like anything ever, there are people who take this too far, or who express their ideas in a way that a majority of like minded individuals mightn’t agree with. There is nothing I, or any other feminist can do about that. If you have had a personal encounter with a feminist who appeared to hate men, or who seemed to have Malcolm X-like ideas of a feminist utopia where all men are in labour camps, I would like to take this time to apologise on her behalf. But I would also take this time to say that if you have taken one experience like this (or even several) and decided this is what all feminists want, you urgently need to look up anecdotal evidence and why it is flawed. Notice how this is the same as saying that all muslims are terrorists, or that all catholics are paedophiles, or that all men are rapists. In any movement based on ideas, there will be a spectrum of interpretation. You cannot hold the movement – or its ideas – responsible for that.
I will, however, quickly address one defense of the militant feminist. The very topical Israeli-Palestino conflict gave rise, in 2005, to Hamas, regarded by many as a terrorist organisation. They are an example of extremist behaviour, but it’s important to ask ourselves what brought this on? Hamas members, much as many hate to admit, are still humans. They’re as complex as everyone else. What are the motivations for their actions and beliefs? Could it be decades of oppression that has bred these violent men?
You have to remember that 90 percent of children two years old or more have experienced — some many, many times — the [Israeli] army breaking into the home, beating relatives, destroying things. Many were beaten themselves, had bones broken, were shot, tear gassed, or had these things happen to siblings and neighbors…The emotional aspect of the child is affected by the [lack of] security. He needs to feel safe. We see the consequences later if he does not. In our research, we have found that children who are exposed to trauma tend to be more extreme in their behaviors and, later, in their political beliefs.
This quote was by Dr Samir Quota, director of research for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, quoted in “The Journal of Palestine Studies,” written in 1996. Is it conceivable that he has, with this passage, stumbled upon an undeniable truth? If you raise a child in an unsafe environment, are they more likely to grow up to be a little more ‘extreme’ in their beliefs? Some may take issue with me comparing the victims of ethnic cleansings and military occupations to sexual assault victims and kids who get targeted by police because they fit a certain racial description, but the important thing to note is that I am comparing them, not equating them. And for the white men who are taking issue with this, can you truly say it is not terrifying for a woman feel unsafe walking through her own neighbourhood, alone? I am confident that many of you will be able to draw the relevant parallels within the context of this article.
There is still a factual inequality between men and women, and between white people and black people. It is institutionalised, and it needs to change. By resisting this change you are not defending men’s rights, you are preventing true equality. Women still make less than men (see ‘GAO report 04-35’; Pew Research Center Survey 2013), are still a disproportionately small percentage of the workforce – even when you consider women who chose to be homemakers (see http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_303.htm), are significantly more likely the be the victims of sexual assault (see George Mason University, Worldwide Sexual Assault Statistics, 2005), and I could go on. These are not issues that all men are controlling and organising, they are just institutionalised. They are part of our society, just like the inherent racism that has put a 12% population demographic as 40% of the prison population (see U.S. Department of Justice, 2009). Black people are not more prone to crime, they are more prone to being looked over for jobs, targeted by police and generally neglected by government. Feminism supports a change of attitude, not a change of leadership – though the leadership should be more proportional to the percentage of women and ethnic minorities than it is. So, to conclude, identifying yourself as a feminist means you are aware of the systemic oppression within our society that is inherently targeted at women and minorities, and you support changing this. It’s not that complicated. Oh, and this really shouldn’t be relevant, but I am a white male. My life has been fucking easy. Let’s make it easy for everyone.