I’ve had a few commenters balk at the suggestion (which I hadn’t made) that men can’t be feminists. I have yet to really weigh in on the subject because a) there are very few men who try to identify as feminists, and b) I never really gave a shit. That last one changed today.
I once discussed the idea of male feminists with a friend, and he agreed with my suggestion that men who call themselves feminists are a little weird. He’s as feminist as a dude can be without arousing my suspicion. What does that mean? He thinks a lot about gender issues, he recognizes male privilege and misogyny when he sees their manifestations, he’s open to discussing and considering anything having to do with gender (no matter how seemingly bizarre — Deuce’s Law arose out of a discussion with him), and he calls out the overtly and implicitly sexist behavior and assumptions of the people he talks to. He even asks people to reconsider their belief that there’s no harm in watching a little porn. He does not, however, call himself a feminist, nor does he try to tell me or anyone else what feminism is or should be about (though he’s not afraid to argue with me if he thinks I’m advancing something that doesn’t make sense). I’d call dudes like this cool.
Then there are the dudes who will agree with everything I say about the subject, deferring to any opinion I might express on gender issues because they’re not confident enough in their intellectual positions to be sure that any objections they may have aren’t arising from some sort of residual undetected male privilege (that’s fine — it’s vastly better than being a presumptuous boor). They make a point of discussing feminism and gender issues with people, and they are generally a benefit to the cause as they tend to be thoughtful dudes who people will listen to. These types may call themselves allies, sympathizers, or even feminists (though most of them, having read arguments that men cannot actually be feminists, would probably hesitate to appropriate that label). I’d call dudes like this allies of the movement.
I know a few dudes who are for the most part good guys who are sympathetic to the cause, but who will argue with me about some of my more radical opinions, not because my opinions don’t make sense, but because the implications of my opinions make them uncomfortable. I’d call dudes like this sympathizers.
There’s another type, though. There are dudes who call themselves feminists or feminist advocates and who argue vociferously for what they think are feminist causes, who attempt to place themselves at the center of the movement and to speak for women as “protectors.” I’d call dudes like this assholes.
Kyle Payne is an asshole. Feminists may sometimes overlook the little red flags in the writings of guys like Kyle Payne. We’re happy to have men on board, happy to have a few agents on the inside to help us out, because we know that there are some men who will never listen to us but might listen to a fellow dude. We overlook the warning signs and assume these guys are allies, taking whatever crumbs we can get from the beneficiaries of patriarchy, who we ultimately know we will need in order to succeed. I’m embarrassed to even type that.
I had Kyle Payne on my blogroll until today, when Genevieve, one of my frequent commenters, sent me an e-mail tipping me off to the fact that he’d been charged with possession of child pornography and sexual assault and has admitted to the assault. He was an RA at the school he went to, Buena Vista University, and apparently took advantage of a drunk girl, taking photos of himself assaulting her while she was passed out. A college RA accused of taking advantage of a passed out girl? Shocking, I know. But this one was a FEMINIST ACTIVIST. He has a “radical feminist” blog. He’s been linked to by several of the radical feminist bloggers I respect most.
I’ll admit, I barely read half a post on his site before I linked to him. I’m busy, I’m lazy, and I fucked up. I was so excited to find a radical feminist blog written by a dude that I forgot to turn on my asshole meter. Now that I look back at his site, it’s tremendously obvious that he’s a self-important blowhard. If I was more careful, if I had read the fucking about page, I’d have noticed that he seems more concerned with aggrandizing himself than with women’s lives. His incessant references to himself as an “activist” and an “advocate” for women should have tipped me off to the fact that there was something beyond empathy motivating this guy. Had I noticed the tack he was taking, I might have picked up on the fact that he had ulterior motives or that there was something wrong with him. That he calls himself an advocate for women should have told me something about his attitude toward us. Fuck, if I had paid more attention I’d have seen that he’s a horrible writer, a trait I cannot abide. I’ll be more careful in the future.
Maybe the guy got into feminism as a result of his extreme guilt over doing something he knew was wrong. Maybe he’s like the gay preacher who rails against gays because he hates himself. I don’t really give a fuck. All I know is that I allowed myself to be taken in by a dude claiming to be an “advocate” for the feminist movement who turned out to be a fucking pervert, and that I’m now questioning the motives of every self-proclaimed male feminist in the world. This villainous motherfucker used one of the things I hold most dear in the world as a cover, as a tool, as a way to connive his way into women’s lives and as a way to wield power over vulnerable women. He used the name of a movement designed to free women from the abuses men perpetrate against us to control and manipulate women, and to deflect suspicion from himself because he’s a motherfucking miscreant who hurts women and uses images of women and children being hurt for sexual enjoyment. He used a position of authority to abuse a helpless woman, all while claiming to be a fucking advocate for purportedly helpless women. FUCK Kyle Payne and the horse he rode in on.
Why do men need to be directly involved in feminist activism? Why do men need to participate in the formulation of feminist theory? Can a man be a “feminist” activist without some kind of hidden selfish agenda? Why do men need to be allowed to call themselves feminists? Why do I need to be forced to trust men’s motives (against my better judgment) when they want to be a part of the movement or fear being accused of exclusionism? Why can’t these motherfuckers let a movement exist without trying to insinuate themselves into a leadership role within it? Where do they get the idea that we need their goddamned advice?
Even the most well-meaning of men who call themselves feminists evince some pretty strange assumptions. Men know we need them to get on board with our cause in order to get anywhere, and they come to our discussions with that in mind. And it always shows. I don’t know how fair it is of me to expect men to completely do away with a lifetime of gender conditioning, but I frankly don’t want to hear men’s opinions on feminism until they’ve confronted or are at least willing to confront their own gender issues, and even then I don’t want to hear their opinions on what feminism’s goals should be. Men can learn from feminists, they can discuss things with us, they can disagree with us, and they can fight with us. What they can’t do is tell us what our movement is about or take a leadership role within it. I know that this is hard for some of these guys to deal with, but it’s a fact: we don’t need male leadership or guidance. Know what else we don’t need? Your fucking advocacy. An advocate speaks on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves. I can speak for myself, and I can do so with much more accuracy and style than Kyle Payne or any other dude.
Here’s what all this means: I’m not praising or associating with men who presume to call themselves feminists anymore, and I’m going to be looking at men who come to this site with a bit more jaundice in my eye. You can be down with my cause, you can think sexism sucks, you can do your part to combat it, but you can’t be a feminist. You don’t get to take on my movement’s label or represent me. Quit being such a presumptuous pud, shut your fucking mouth, and learn something, then go tell other men what you’ve learned. Argue with me if you want to, but only if you’re willing to consider the possibility that you might be wrong. If you aren’t, I’ll concede, but if you are, be ready to admit it or go fuck yourself. If you want to write a “feminist” blog, write one about how you are taking concrete measures to confront sexism in your daily life, write one about what you’ve learned from feminists, but don’t write one telling me what feminism is about, because you don’t know. If you want to do something to help out the cause, examine your own assumptions, think about what society has taught you about gender and about women, and change what you think needs changing, then be an example to other men. Treat women like human beings and tell other men they should, too. You can be a force for good, but you can’t be in charge, and you aren’t getting hired as a consultant. We don’t need your bullshit advice. Take it or leave it.
I suggest that Kyle Payne ought to get the fuck off the internet. He claims he cares about women, about the feminist movement, and about rape victims. That his blog continues to exist is an affront to all three. He ought to have the decency to disappear. If you want to tell him so, I got your back. I already did.
** If you are on his blogroll and want off, you’ll have to tell him so. It took me four nasty comments to get him to remove me.