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Monday, November 8, 2010

When Your Guy Friends Say "I Hate Feminists"

I started to write about this, decided I would introduce the topic by giving an overview of the Insecure Nerd Boy, and then got distracted and ended up ranting. Sorry.

So: the point I was trying to make is that most of my friends are Insecure Nerd Boys, an identity that has a little bit of misogyny built in (on of the Insecure Nerd Boy's main points of definition is that he lusted after the unattainable hot cool girl in high school, couldn't get her, and now believes himself too uncool to get a girlfriend, even one who is just as nerdy as him. And also, although I didn't mention this in the previous post, Insecure Nerd Boys tend to comment negatively on the attractiveness of Nerd Girls even though they are hardly more attractive themselves).

How, I have a very analytical mind. I'm constantly assessing and deconstructing what's going on around me, and one of the main lenses I use is gender. So I'm pretty much always conscious of the workings of the patriarchy around me. That doesn't mean I always talk about it. It's just so intrinsic that I only mention things that really bother me.

This means that it is somehow possible for some of my friends (especially the Insecure Nerd Boys, who have difficulty recognizing and identifying emotions and opinions not explicitly stated) to not realize that I am a feminist.

In turn, this leads to awkward situations where someone goes, "God, I hate feminists."

I try not to be personally offended when one of my male friends says this. Instead of putting on my hardcore-feminist-cloak-of-anger, I usually say, calmly and reasonably, "Why do you hate feminists?"

This often surprises the dude in question. He thought his statement was self-evident. Often he will stumble through some response which you can neatly tear down ("Feminists are just whiny lesbians") or handily win a debate over ("Feminists want chivalry AND equality, that's just not fair").

Because these dudes are intelligent, generally well-read and somewhat politically aware beings, they don't usually engage in mindless feminist-hate. In fact some of them will have specific, if stupid, reasons for hating feminists. For example: "The sexual assault hotline is an all-female space, there's no place for male victims to turn. Also the women who run it are crazy misandrists." This is actually true in the city where I live. The local sexual assault hotline is run by a bunch of super-radical feminists who are seem to view all men as a potential source of sexual violence. Of course, these ladies do not represent all feminists everywhere of ever. If a dude said, "I hate the women who run the sexual assault hotline," or "I hate crazy radical feminists," or "I hate people who see all men as a potential source of sexual violence," I would not have nearly as much of a problem with that statement.

The problem is that a lot of the guys I know have a severe misunderstanding about what feminism is. They might have some idea of second-wave feminism, or radical feminism, which leads them to paint all feminists as "feminizes." Third-wave feminist ideology is completely foreign to them.

This is often accompanied by a severe lack of understanding about how the patriarchy operates, and how misogyny operates. These guys don't understand that sexism with good intentions is still sexism, and frequently engage in this "benevolent sexism." Sometimes they engage in sexism without good intentions as well, as when a friend's boyfriend, standing on the street corner with myself and two other women including his girlfriend, yelled out a slut-shamey comment to two girls walking by in short skirts, and then laughed when we stared at him like he was an alien.

Fortunately, a lot of guys are willing to listen. I actually had a surprisingly nuanced discussion about rape culture with some guy friends one evening. They had never heard or thought about any of that kind of thing before, and they were surprised and kind of horrified to hear about it. Later that same evening, I was harassed by some drunk guys in a cab while walking home. When I told my guy friends about the incident, they were suitably shaken and disgusted.

Anyway, this post seems to have gone on a bit of a tangent (a common theme today… possibly because I'm sick and on pseudoephedrine), but the main point I'm trying to make is this:

A lot of guys that I know are kind of benignly, benevolently sexist. This is largely because they don't understand feminism, and don't understand how privilege and oppression work. (Interestingly, I've found that the guys who are most receptive to conversations about feminism tend to be ones from ethnic minorities.) Most of these guys are relatively open to learning about feminism, and at least try to get rid of their sexism, especially when they see how sexism affects their female friends.

Until recently, I had very few guy friends, and one of the reasons is that I'm a little bit allergic to latent misogyny. Recently I've discovered that as long as a guy is open-minded enough to learn about the patriarchy and how it works, and as long as I can keep myself from being too offended by blanket statements like "I hate feminists", friendship with men who are not already identified as feminists or feminist allies can work.

And that gives me hope. If every woman can introduce a few of her male friends to misogyny and make them face their own privilege, maybe the patriarchal beast will be conquerable.

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