Recently, a quote by feminist Gail Dines with an accompanying picture has been circulating my Facebook feed (editor’s note: and was posted to the Feminspire Facebook page). It reads,
“I’m going to tell the men in the room something that they probably don’t know. Feminists are your best friends. We are the only group that really believes in your humanity. The feminists are the only group that believes that you are not born rapists, you are not born johns, you are not born pimps or batterers. In fact we believe you are born with the full human capacity that women are born with. And we believe, unlike the pornographers, that you are not life support systems for erect penises.”
Not that what she’s saying isn’t in part true, but that’s not what my Feminism is about at all. Especially after my night last night, I really cannot abide by that “FEMINISTS ARE YOUR FRIENDS, GUYS!” logic. I was already 100% “No that is bullshit” before, but now, I’m 100000000000000000000% full-stop thinking that it is bullshit.
See, I got followed yet again by some asshole in an SUV as I made my way by foot to my restaurant job– one that I truly dig but that is seriously currently lacking in the diversity department, as there’s only three girls in the kitchen when there used to be many more, and I’m the only woman of color.
Thing is, Feminism isn’t about you, men. Sorry. It is about the fact that I don’t wanna be terrified and objectified and harassed and dehumanized while just living my life. Feminism is about destroying the glass ceiling and making traditionally male-dominated fields inclusive to women and mediating the wage gap and other workforce-related inequalities. Feminism is about destroying systems of oppression that hurt and malign and discriminate against me, AND empower and embolden men in toxic, dominating, misogynist behavior toward me and normalizes and justifies it. Feminism is about me finding myself and finding power in my identity and those of others in my communities, and learning of and listening to the narratives of other marginalized people. Feminism is about our pain, our joy, our struggle our complexities, our autonomy, because men already are raised on that and validated in those areas. Feminism is about the fact that in the streets, out at night, in our daily lives, MEN don’t prove themselves to be MY friend or ally, and people like me can be criminalized for defending ourselves.
So when I talk about how men aren’t inherently abusers or rapists or misogynists, it isn’t because I want to talk kindly of their character or to make men look good. It is because I know that to essentialize that behavior is to justify when it hurts people, and the people it hurts and victimizes are always the priority. Because Feminism is not about the humanity of those with privilege, visibility, and power, it is about the humanity of those without it.
If you, as a man, want something to prioritize and center and accommodate you, well, congrats, you live in a Patriarchy, everything already does. And If you, as a man, are mad about some reputation that paints men as these awful, animal, uncontrollable, rapey gross human beings, then you take that up with Patriarchy and the dudes and institutions that comprise Patriarchy instead of the people trying to protect themselves from it, and quit leaving me to do the brunt work to clean up your mess and defend myself. Hell, take it up with yourself, too! How do you perpetuate and embody these norms that are a threat to women and other marginalized folk? How to you condone them or co-sign them? I can’t with men sitting idly by while Patriarchy is being learned and perpetuated and happens in every step of the institutions and social groups they exist in, yet they get mad at the thought of a woman who might not be their biggest fan because of that.
So if I’m not your friend, it is not because I started this fight, first. You were the one who crossed me, who infringed on me, and I am defending myself.
Now, there are some valid things people mean when they say “Feminists are your friends,” and it is important to look at them.
They’re trying to say, for example, “Feminists aren’t your oppressors.” There are people on this planet who believe that real “sexism toward men” exists and isn’t, you know, their own Patriarchy coming back and biting them in the butt, but rather that women have the power to enact said sexism, and their goal is to start a toxic Matriarchy that would totally be just as dangerous and damaging as the Patriarchy except we benefit (AKA “women start treating men how men have treated women.”) Pathetic, right? It is important to questioning this line of thinking and to make people realize that -isms are based on power dynamics and have contexts, and feminists are NOT trying to reverse the roles and use the tools of the oppressor -we’re trying to destroy the preexisting hierarchies and hierarchical social norms altogether.
Related to that point, people also are trying to say “Hey, did you know Patriarchy hurts you, too?” Since Misandry Don’t Real, what men are often feeling or going through and thinking is “misandry” is actually misogyny splashing back in their face like dirty dishwater, or women and marginalized folk not trusting or liking them because of said misogyny (KARMA, as it were). Seriously, do your research! Us feminists have! If you really absolutely have to make things about you and yourself, and you want to see the Patriarchal norms that affect you disappear, then hey, you should thank Feminists because they’re by proxy doing that work for you. And then quickly get over yourself and quit making everything about yourself and your non-oppression as a dude.
There’s also “All these misogynist myths you hear about feminists are just manipulation, derailing tactics, alarmist bigotry, and ignorant falsehoods, here is what we’re REALLY about and here’s the lies you’ve been told.” The idea that feminists are all angry, violent, aggro, no shave “slutty” lesbian college girls is all a loaded, hateful, body policing homophobic ruse to ignore what we’re actually here for and dismiss our depth and complexities and why Feminism is important and needed.
That said, the main thing and most problematic and saddest thing people are trying to say with “Feminists are your friends” is “I know you won’t take us seriously if you think we’re a threat to you, if we don’t adhere to sex-shaming, conservative, white hetero-patriarchal norms, and if you don’t prioritize you, so we’ll be non-threatening, assimilated, and prioritize you and make concessions on our radical and progressive politics to appease you!” Combating sexism by engaging sexism seems like fighting a fire with fire: It makes no sense and everything’s just going to burn down. Someone who is only willing to listen so long as you pander to them and coddle them in their bigotry and privilege is someone who is decidedly very much part of the problem. If dudes you’re trying to convince to respect Feminism have an issue with butch or non-gender conforming women or lesbians (or any other women or non-male identified person who don’t need or desire men sexually); a problem with body hair and a woman’s choice not to shave it; a problem with a woman’s choice to be promiscuous; a problem with confident, strong and aggressive women; a problem with intersectional and radical politics; then they’re slut-shaming homophobic body-policing, tone-policing ignorant misogynists. I shouldn’t have to whip out and present a pretty, quiet, hetero and cis normative, domestic, thin white power femme feminism to convince them that we’re valid.
Ultimately, Feminism is about uncomfortable conversations, about criticizing and questioning these traditional, dominating toxic institutions, hierarchies and norms, about alienating oppressive and ignorant nonsense. Feminism at its best enrages and upsets those with power, makes them uncomfortable and feel othered, like they aren’t the center of attention and they aren’t the most important thing in the room (which they’re used to!) and that they’re actually not righteous but wrong, and that’s how it should be. To water down or change that is to make Feminism ineffective and not Feminism.
Written by Briana Ureña-Ravelo
Briana is a first generation Dominican feminist activist based in the Mitten state. You can follow her blog here.