Why I Am Not A Feminist

I’ve never felt comfortable calling myself a feminist; I know some feminists would say that’s because I’ve been programmed to please the patriarchy and I don’t want to suffer the consequences of speaking out for what’s right, but just for the sake of this post, let’s assume it could be something other than that. I mean, hey, maybe I am brainwashed by the patriarchy and there’s simply no hope for me, but I think we can entertain the possibility that maybe there’s something else going on here.

To be honest though, initially I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t comfortable with the term; part of it was just simple contrariness, I’m sure. The message I got loud and clear when I was younger was that “smart women are feminists,” and I’m very big on saying “I’ll decide on what makes me smart, thank you very much,” even when it’s to my detriment. I still can’t decide if this is a character flaw or not, but that’s another blog post.

As a teen and young adult, I dodged the question by saying “I’m a humanist, so calling myself a feminist is redundant.” With 20/20 hindsight, I think this is the Pascal’s Wager of the gender politics sphere; it (kind of?) wins the argument on a technicality without really engaging the substance of the debate in any meaningful way. It may technically be true — and if I’m inclined to identify with any -ism at all, it’s humanism — but it’s kind of beside the point. So, no more relying on that particular dodge.

Now, feminism is all about gender equality, right? What’s not to like about that? Well, if I’m in favor of gender equality, the way I would choose to express that is “I’m in favor of gender equality.” I wouldn’t want to use a masculine or feminine prefix there; if the cause is truly equality, I don’t want to use the word “feminism” for the same reasons I wouldn’t use the word “masculinism.” Making the word highlight one gender over another undermines the purpose right from the getgo; why would I endorse that?

By the way, the reason why I say “IF I’m in favor of gender equality,” is because I don’t know what that means in practice. “Gender” and “equality” both mean different things to different people at this point, to the extent that there’s as many versions of “gender equality” as there are people with opinions on the matter; some of those opinions I’m inclined to agree with, others not. So I may be in favor of gender equality — depending on what “gender” means, and even more importantly, on what “equality” means. I have to make this clear because many people boil the feminist/not feminist divide down to, “Look, are you in favor of gender equality or not?” and…that’s a super-loaded question. It’s impossible to say no to that without being Literally Worse Than Hitler… but if you say yes, you have no way of knowing what you’re even agreeing to.

Then, there’s the way that feminists tend to frame debates, which I was always skeptical of, but over time I’ve come to find downright odious. Now, I’m not talking about the extremist “All men are evil and should be killed!” feminists; every movement has its lunatic fringe, and feminism is no exception. I am not making the mistake of judging a movement by only it’s dumbest members. I’m talking about the rhetorical tools that most feminists tend to use to process information, at least online. The best example is “rape culture,” or the idea that if anything that might communicate false ideas about consent contributes to the prevalence of rape, and supports rapists themselves.

I have a lot of problems with this idea. The first is that while the concern about the dissemination of false and/or dangerous ideas about consent is valid, all too often, anything that a given feminist doesn’t like for any reason gets lumped under the “rape culture” banner. But even when the term is used in a valid context — in fact, especially when the term is used correctly — it implicitly paints anyone who disagrees as some kind of sick rape apologist. That’s a really disingenuous way to conduct any kind of discussion, and I find it intellectually cowardly.

That’s not to say that these concerns are never valid; sometimes, I too find ideas about consent that are communicated by mass media to be troubling. But my problem isn’t with questioning how sexual consent should be portrayed in media, and in what contexts it may be okay to render consent in shades of gray, if ever; it’s with labeling the argument as “rape culture,” and how that label can’t fail to poison the discussion.

Often, a feminist will accuse a certain piece of media of promoting rape culture, and I often disagree; I think that the way fiction portrays human interaction is not a 1/1 ratio with reality, meaning that a work may depict something without endorsing it in any way — so, I don’t necessarily consider a fictional scene with questionable consent dynamics to be harmful to society. It really depends on what the writers are trying to say with the scene, as far as I can determine, and yes, this is all extremely subjective. But by using the term “rape culture,” when I disagree that a given scene promotes it, the implicit (and sometimes explicit, when dealing with the more irate breed of feminist) assumption is that I’m part of the problem; after all, if you can’t see rape culture, it’s because it’s so insidious that it’s already inside you, right?

What if I just have a legitimately different view of what a scene is communicating — without my mind being polluted by an evil I cannot control? The term “rape culture” doesn’t allow for that. To use another feminist-approved word, the whole idea of rape culture takes away my agency. If I can’t see that the scene promotes rape culture, it’s because my mind has already been affected by the ubiquity of said culture — the prevalence of which is demonstrated by the very scene we’re debating. Of course, I don’t think the scene is an example of rape culture, but my opinion on the matter can’t be trusted…because rape culture. Circular reasoning at its finest.

“Rape culture” is the most egregious example for me, but most terms that pop up commonly in feminist discourse frame the discussion in ways that I think are counter-productive — and the fact that there’s some truth to them doesn’t change that fact. “Patriarchy” is another irritating one, yet I can’t deny there’s truth to it; there are a series of networks made up of mostly (though not exclusively) wealthy males that wields a lot of power; denying that is just being naive. But to then extend that to all males — assuming they’re part of the Patriarchy until proven otherwise, as some feminists do — is disingenuous to the extreme. Is my little brother part of the Patriarchy just because he’s male? I really can’t see it. Is my Dad part of the Patriarchy? Maybe more so than my brother just by virtue of being from an older generation, but still, no; if he has that kind of power, he’s hiding it extraordinarily well. Is my husband part of the, LOL no I can’t even finish that sentence. And if I know that the men in my life aren’t “the Patriarchy,” how can I glibly assume that of other men?

Finally, there’s the feminist habit of making men defensive, then using that defensiveness as proof that feminists are right about everything. Example: feminist writes a piece that points out that a given scene is horrible because rape culture (see above.) Men say, “hey, wait a minute, I think rape is a horrible crime, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t see this scene that way at all.” Feminist says, “The very fact that you’re so defensive about this is all the proof I need that I’M RIGHT!” (bonus points if several others chime in with saying “Yeah, these comments totally prove that you’re right about everything you have ever said.”)

No. The fact that men are defensive isn’t proof that you’re right, it’s proof that you made them defensive through the use of loaded, manipulative language (see above), and it’s actually a kind of entrapment, really. Circular reasoning plus confirmation bias: the one-two punch that undermines most feminist arguments for me.

And yeah; some men are sexist idiots. Some men say dumb things online, and make dumb comments on articles that women have written. That does not make a feminist commenter right about everything she’s saying; that’s nonsense logic. What it means is that some men are sexist idiots, because some people are idiots in general. We knew this already; it’s not proving what it’s often purported to prove.

Now, all that said, does that mean that feminists are all dumb and always wrong? No, of course not! Sometimes their concerns with sexism and/or misogyny are entirely justified, and stem from the genuine, noble desire to work to make the world a better, fairer place for both men and women; I get that. I really do. And the importance of that — the fact that some women call themselves feminists for the right reasons, even if I disagree with some of their logic — is something I need to respect, lest I become myopic and confused myself.

So, just because I can’t call myself a feminist, that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with feminists at times, or that I won’t support people who identify as feminists if it’s warranted. But don’t ask me to call myself one — or else you’re going to have to be able to explain to me what “gender equality” really means in practice, and at what point the status of women will have risen enough in the world that we no longer need the “fem-” prefix affixed to our gender-equality movement name, and by what metric(s) we would measure that progress…and that conversation will never, ever end. I’d like to think we both have better things to do with the limited time on Earth remaining to us; I mean, I certainly hope that I do.



13 thoughts on “Why I Am Not A Feminist”

  1. You bring up some legitimate points, and I understand your stance. Well articulated.

    I don’t see anything wrong with people who call themselves feminists and believe strongly in gender equality in a sensible way, but it’s a term with a lot of baggage these days. The cheap arguments I see online use the exact structure you lay out, and it’s disheartening to see a potentially interesting discussion get cut short because they want to win the debate using any means.

    The feminist movement is certainly doing good, but has its ignorant lackeys like everything else.

    1. I question the “good” the movement is supposedly doing, though. For example, some feminists think it’s very important to have “girls-only” technology classes to try to bridge the gender gap in the tech field. What this means in practice is that young boys aren’t allowed to take tech classes on the assumption that the girls will be cowed and submissive if there are boys in the class. Not only is it insulting to the girls to assume they will automatically pipe down if there’s a boy in the class, but in some cases, this tactic is putting a “girls are bad at tech” idea in the heads of young kids who actually hadn’t heard it before.

      Things like giving humanitarian aid to women in extremely poor and war-torn areas seems like a much more clear cut positive, but I tend to wonder…what about the men in those areas? Are we supposed to think that they’re having a much better time living in poverty, just because they’re male? Is giving aid on a gendered basis really such a great idea?

      I mean, I wish I could say that the whole of feminism as a movement is doing good, and it’s just a few bad apples that are harming the cause…but I’m not confident that’s what’s really going on. I think the whole movement may be misguided by trying to cure the problem of sexism with yet more sexism.

      1. Have to agree with you there, holding events and charities that exclude a gender in support of their own is really just a terrible, misguided idea, barring rare exceptions that must exist for it.

        While the likely solution, where discrimination fizzles out because old people die and newer people who know better take their place, is going to make the feminist movement redundant, I think it’s sort of a necessary organization to spread awareness of something that’s still prevalent in the world. I certainly don’t agree with everything they’re doing because a lot of their efforts ironically support everything they’re against, I want to see it as a good idea at the very core.

      2. Things like giving humanitarian aid to women in extremely poor and war-torn areas seems like a much more clear cut positive, but I tend to wonder…what about the men in those areas? Are we supposed to think that they’re having a much better time living in poverty, just because they’re male? Is giving aid on a gendered basis really such a great idea?

        It’s good that you think about it, but take a step further–do some actual research.

        From what I can gather, yeah, women does have it a lot worse than men, especially in the third world. But now we’re getting into that situation where everyone is a poster child for UN aid marketing and you don’t even know where to begin. So the pragmatic thing to do is invite everyone to do whatever they can. If some feminists want to do it for women, who are we to say no?

        1. I’m pretty sure living in poverty and/or constant fear for your life is really unpleasant no matter what gender you are. Women in those situations do generally have it worse due to the constant threat of sexual violence, but the point still stands.

          1. I don’t think your point is good because it comes from a perspective of a false dichotomy, to rephrase what I’m saying.

          2. Let me expand on it some more.

            The progressive feminist view is that generally a just treatment of women in society generally translate a better quality of life for all people in society. It’s actually crystal clear in the 3rd world/disaster aid use cases because when you take care the needs of the women in the area, that’s one less person for a husband or father or a foreign aid worker (helping all people regardless of gender) to worry about. It is not a dichotomy that somehow you help the women, the men are worse off or it’s unfair to them. It is no way a zero-sum game when the baseline in those kind of environment are so far below the norm.

  2. Props for trying to put it into words. You went through a lot of different issues so I don’t think I can comment on the whole thing but I probably generally agree.

    As such, words/labeling is a common thing that gets worse in an echo chamber (hi tumblr/internet culture). Once devoid of the original context often times these things are only useful in the abstract. It’s easy for me to write a madlib of this post and s/feminist lingo/moe lingo.

    As for the substantive topic, feminism really just has to do with social justice. It’s not really meant to be a banner for people with a chip to play on all gendered issues. So basically the biggest critique about all these handwringling in terms of talking about rape culture or whatever is that it doesn’t or it may not improve the actual situation of women in society. Because of the issues you pointed out, among others.

    In that sense you can think of it as two different groups: the bullhorn types that just makes all this as juicy and difficult and poisonous as possible in order to get the most attention, since a lot of social issues faces awareness problems. Or engage it on a more personal level when you talk to people.

    In the end true feminists (or any sort of activism) will care about tangible results. It isn’t the only thing that matters but it matters the most.

    1. Replying to this comment since WordPress isn’t letting me reply to those above for some reason.

      I understand that it’s not a zero-sum situation, and if I were someone in need of help in the third world, I certainly wouldn’t care what political motivations my benefactors had for helping me.

  3. The main problem I have with the term “feminist” is the modern political movement it is attached to on the internet. The feminism I come into contact with on a regular basis lacks visible goals beyond wrist slapping anyone who doesn’t subscribe and damning things I enjoy spending my time on. I’ve seen feminists compare themselves to Martin Luther King while talking about rape culture and the treatment of anyone who isn’t a white male. The analogy irritates me greatly. He had a clear vision for the future that he shared with the world. Feminists can’t even agree on what discrimination and equality mean. Personally I’ve come to see the attitude of many people who hold feminism holy as a form of chuunibyo. Social justice not for sake of equal rights, or even some other goal of equality, but one to make the people who subscribe feel special and better about their lives. People fantasizing about being a hero like Martin Luther King instead of becoming a real champion for the cause. Want evidence of that? Ask the next feminist who is blaming men for getting defensive what their goals as a feminist are. Watch them become incredibly flustered when they can’t give you an answer that isn’t either ambiguous or vile.(Note: I haven’t done this with any women, but I have with men who call themselves feminist. If I’m arguing with a woman about feminism I usually just bow out. There isn’t any place for men in a feminist argument against something men have supposedly done wrong.)

    Don’t even get me started on the logical fallacies within the common arguments… I’ve seen feminist arguments use every logical fallacy I know all in one debate. I hate the question “are you a feminist?” Because the answer is that yes I support equal rights, but no I’m not part of the political movement because I understand critical thinking and don’t want to be associated with the mass of feminists(many of which are male) who clearly don’t. The people who want to hate me for that are going to hate me. It’s not that I don’t want to support feminism. Just that I would rather be hated on the internet than betray my own intelligence.

    1. Yeah, I think a lot of people are attracted to the idea of being feminist warriors for justice, because it’s an easy way to rack up self-esteem points. Find something in media that could be considered regressive from some angle (perhaps the easiest thing in the world to do), say “I won’t stand for this!” and feel like you’re really speaking out against evil and oppression…even though you haven’t actually done anything.

      Even typing that, I know a lot of people would call bullshit on me and say that feminists really care about “holding media to a higher standard” and making the world a better place…and maybe they do. But I can’t overlook the “See how righteous I am?” appeal for a lot of people, since it’s just basic psychology. Asking me to accept their sincerity is like asking me to ignore everything I know about human nature.

  4. I want you to know that, while I expect Twitter and many other parts of the internet to jump on you and attack you for this, this is a great post. You’re one of the most rational voices I’ve encountered on the internet, and one of my favourite writers full stop. I’m glad you’ve written this where many others would be (understandably) scared of the inevitable backlash.

    1. Thanks so much for saying that.

      The truth is though that I probably won’t get attacked much, just because the internet at large doesn’t seem to care about what I say all that much. Which is kind of a blessing, because if more people cared, I would be getting a lot of hate. To the extent that I have a reputation at all (which may be overstating things), I think I’m seen as too eccentric to be capable of saying anything dangerous. So, errr… a mixed blessing, I guess?

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