Tuesday, January 19, 2010

FOF: Fear Of Feminism

I used to be a closeted feminist. This means that I was for the goals of feminism: equal opportunity and equal valuation of traditionally male and female spheres of activity, studied feminist books and saw myself as a feminist. But I was a quiet little mouse feminist for many long years. Closeted, tightly.

Why was that? The answer is fear. I feared the consequences of opening my mouth and actually saying something feminist. If I ever said anything, it was after careful calculations of the likely level of violence among my listeners, the likely number of rejections and how many others might support me. And what I said was phrased very carefully and neutrally (passive voice is great there). So I didn't make much of a difference.

That's what fear does to you, especially in settings where you know the world isn't going to change just because you opened your mouth. In economic terms: the benefits (for me) of speaking up were slight, the costs (for me) potentially quite large. And that's how it goes, of course.

But that anger had to go somewhere, so I swallowed it, and swallowed anger makes a girl nasty. Honest. It's much better to speak up and to create new webs of connections for the ones which were broken and to learn good self-defense against the violent ones and so on. Once you come out of the closet there's no way back!

I think this qualifies me to write about the Fear Of Feminism, the fear of being labeled as a man-hater or trouble-maker, the fear of being rejected. The desire to accept the results from the long and hard work of feminism (which accrues to all women, by default) without having to do any of that hard work myself. Now wouldn't that be the best of all possible worlds? Sigh.

In reality feminist change doesn't just happen. In fact, if we all stay silent and quiet what we get is anti-feminist change. And that's a scary thought.

Let's define Fear Of Feminism. It strikes me as several different things, depending on which group of people we are looking at.

Some MRA groups, the wildest and hairiest ones, truly seem to fear feminism, calling it pure evil, though they also think feminists are in power everywhere, that men are always hapless victims and that the only proper arrangement of life is all men on top, all women at bottom. So I'm not going to talk about their FOF much here. Or the FOF of utter misogynists.

Religious fundamentalists fear feminism because religious fundamentalism always seems to require the total appropriation of women's personhood and the turning of all women into property. Kind and gentle and maternal property, but property, nevertheless. Those people should fear feminism, because feminism really is about women's humanity and women's personhood.

Some supporters of pornography fear feminism because of its inconvenient questions about whether the porn they so enjoy is actually what women might enjoy, too, and because of the insistence that women are not sextoys.

I was never a member of any of those groups. My FOF group was the common one, being afraid of the backlash I'd experience if I truly spoke up about something. That's a big group, even today, and much of it is just a reflection of whom we really fear: It is not feminists, but those who are in power, whose approval we desire and whom we also ultimately fear. Don't step out of the herd if you don't want the predators to single you out!

Do guys go out with gals who are openly feminist? What happens to your promotion chances if you inquire about the treatment of women at your place of work? If you intervene in street harassment do you get harassed even worse? These kinds of questions are real questions. It's safer to hide behind the burly (?) shoulders of past feminists, to grab the fruits of their work with both hands and to stay safely silent. Except that silence never kept anyone safe.

That is not an exhaustive list of all the various ways FOF happens. It also takes milder forms such as the trick of laughing at feminists as if they were feminazis, truly marching on in their steel-tipped boots towards world domination, or the trick of defining feminists as ugly women who can't get laid. These are examples of "othering," and feminism has been "othered" most efficiently, so that it's even hard to think of the actual definitions of feminism when one hears the word.

When I see the word in the headline of an article I know that the article is probably going to be either about the exorbitant demands of a few women or about the many failures of the feminist movement.

Then there is the other type of FOF: Fear Of Women. Surprisingly often the two go hand in hand. For instance, a post could go on ranting about how horrible feminists are, trying to take away men's jobs, and then seamlessly move onto the horrors of stay-at-home wives taking their husband's earnings. Indeed, the Fear Of Feminism is very often just hidden hatred of women in general, and that's worth noticing, for those who still think that silence is a good shield.

When we fear feminism, what is it that we really fear? Given the ease with which individual feminists or groups of feminists are attacked in the media it is not feminists that people are afraid of, ultimately. Indeed, even other feminists feel quite brave enough to attack feminists. And feminism is pretty powerless as movements representing roughly half the humanity go.

Food for thought.
This post had several parents but reading this made me think and then visiting MRA sites made me think even more. Incidentally, I also noticed how men can write about the horrible treatment of women and not get attacked. More food for thought.