Dear feminist men:
I am writing to you specifically for the first time. Hitherto, when I have addressed feminists, I have been speaking mostly to my fellow women. I did this because, when I was still a feminist, I began to be concerned that the movement was going off track and I felt it was women’s responsibility to fix this. I saw feminism shifting from a movement for female empowerment and universal human rights which accepted all people as having equal worth regardless of their gender, race, or sexuality to one dominated by victim-mentality, identity politics, and a return to evaluating people by their gender, race, and sexuality. I urged my fellow feminist women not to let this happen. Later, I abandoned feminism because this ideological shift had so clearly happened, and I couldn’t continue to be a part of such a movement.
Even after I left feminism, I still addressed myself mostly to women as a woman and advocated resistance to the resurgence of the old, ugly stereotype of women as weak, fragile, hysterical, and entirely unsuited to roles within the public sphere. I urged other women to insist that we don’t need to be protected from ideas we don’t like and that we can cope perfectly well with men explaining things, disagreeing with us, being assertive, or even being boorish without suffering some nonmaterial “violence,” categorizing ourselves as “oppressed,” succumbing to a nervous collapse, or being scarred for life. Most importantly, I urged women to remember that we can do so on equal terms and in ways that honor and forward our human dignity.
Recently, I have been hearing a lot more from feminist men, so now I’m writing to you. You don’t mean to — in fact, you mean quite the opposite — but, with your words to and about me and other women, you repeatedly insist that because I am a woman I am widely regarded as worthless; that I am seen as an object or possession if young and beautiful or irrelevant if older or less attractive. You tell me, believing you’re helping, that the general consensus of society is that I am weak, incompetent, exploitable, unprofessional, and unintelligent and that I need to be directed, talked over, and explained simple things to. Because you believe the current version of feminism which holds that women are victims and need “feminist” protection and allyship, you are promoting sexism against me, and I do not appreciate it.
For years and years now, by men claiming to speak on my behalf from a platform of feminism, I have been directly and inferentially informed that I can be victimized by men’s shirts, advertisements with slim models, and ideas I don’t like. I am then told which ideas I should not like and which I must support. I receive explanations that I am incapable of dealing with the occasional asshole and will be traumatized if someone is mean to me. Your “feminism” would have me believe that I must fear male violence at all times and experience men as intimidating. Thanks to your softer bigotry, I apparently need speaking to softly and kindly and never being disagreed with lest my lived experience be denied, because, as a woman, I’m to understand I can so easily be erased. (It is, however, evidently just fine to disagree with me that its OK to disagree with me and to patronize me with explanations that “mansplaining” is a real thing.) You tell me I cannot be heard on my own terms, that I need men to be quiet on social media for my message to rise above the din and to give me their platforms and amplify my voice, or else people won’t know I exist. Very commonly you tell me this, completely unironically, whilst completely lacking any kind of platform or significant readership because you do not have anything intelligent or interesting to say.
My instinctive reaction to your patronizing sexism is indignation bordering on rage. I do not live in this anti-female dark-fantasy world you describe. I live in London in 2018. I cannot agree that there remains a societal norm to regard women as generally inadequate and inferior to men. Instead, I see this troubling perception of women as belonging to the male feminist himself. I find myself becoming convinced that it is he who thinks women this weak, incompetent, and passive, and I frequently wonder if some deep personal insecurity leads him to need to see women like this. Perhaps he needs to feel that society recognizes him as superior to me because he is afraid he is not? Perhaps it is a similar mentality to the white supremacists who so seldom have any personal qualities they can feel proud of and so resort to racism to feel superior to at least some segment of society? In my least charitable moments, I suspect he knows full well that women are competent adults fully engaged in the public sphere but dislikes this about us and wishes to make us doubt it. I think the rather disgusting word for this is “negging.”
These concerns about you mostly go on in the back of my mind, though they occasionally reveal themselves when I finally lose my patience. I try not to say this out loud because my better self knows it is not true. I know that the majority of male feminists genuinely like and respect women, that they perceive a world which does not like and respect women, and that they want to help. Nevertheless, this perception is false, and you could discover this by looking more broadly at the world than is allowed by contemporary feminist ideology and by listening to more women’s experiences than women who are feminists. Many of us will tell you what I will now tell you:
If you really want to help women, stop assuming we need men to step back if we are to achieve anything in this world. Stop asserting, implicitly or explicitly, that the whole of society sees us as weak, incapable, ignorant, and generally inferior. When you encounter women who don’t find that society is a hostile and dangerous place for them where no-one respects them or takes them seriously, consider not insisting to them that it is. Most importantly, don’t tell your daughters it is. If you believe that social conditioning can discourage girls from being confident and seeking access to male dominated professions and leadership roles generally, don’t condition them into believing that this is how society sees them. Above all, stop treating women like fragile victims of everything who need to be protected from the harsh realities of life. We’ve been there. It wasn’t great. We’re not going back, even if you call it “feminism.”
Consider not being a feminist but supporting gender equality consistently. You’ll still get to call out sexism against women when you see it, and you might even start to notice sexism against men. If you still want to be a feminist, be one who empowers women, celebrates what we have achieved and accepts us as influential and respected members of society. If you have ever said that feminism is the radical idea that women are people, consider acting like you believe that.