The in-tray keeps getting flooded with feedback on this subject:
Here is my take, as a long-time reader, on the reason so many of my fellow Dishheads have written in to express disappointment with the coverage of feminist issues on the Dish. I read articles such as the recent expose of the culture of silence and tacit acceptance of rape at UVA in Rolling Stone and am outraged but also moved and emboldened by the recent attention that sexual violence has gotten in the media.
Then I go to the Dish, my daily source for news and analysis, and read that the real pressing issue is the “demand that men be gentlemen, rather than something other than men,” as presumably you believe feminists do.
I can’t help but feel that you have your priorities way off. We’re living through a major shift in the way our culture deals with gender, rape, and sexuality, in large part led by a new generation of feminists (men and women), and the impression one gets from the Dish on this is a sense of annoyance and a worry that masculinity as a whole is being unfairly indicted. This strikes me as an analysis not worth my time to read – something I rarely feel about the blog, even (or especially) when I disagree.
Thanks so much for your work. I hope to see more coverage of issues that actually matter when it comes to gender politics today, such as the sea change in how we address rape as a culture.
Andrew, your stances in the Gender Wars threads are disheartening. As passionately as you’ve argued your causes, surely you must know there is not “always a debate to be had,” and that sometimes debates get good answers on questions that are essentially settled. The endless “debate to be had” is one thing that frustrates feminism and its good cause, because it constantly has to solve the same problems over and over for every new person who comes to the table. Frankly, every feminist contradiction you’ve covered in this thread has been debated within feminism since its beginning. It’s not feminism’s burden to educate.
If I may share an anecdote: in my very first job at an entertainment news TV show, I was endlessly harassed. By men. I’m a cis-gendered straight white male.
My ass was grabbed, my nipples were tweaked, and “playful” advances were a constant. It helped me see that sexual harassment really is a problem with men, of any orientation, and gave me some meaningful context for when feminist women describe an inescapable environment of harassment. It’s real. I believe them. If “feminist bullies” always seem to “make everything about gender,” it’s probably because the world treats their gender as everything about them.
Love the Dish, but the conservative mean streak to irrationally hate old canards (The Clintons! Those Damned Feminists! Cigarette Police!) still runs strong in you, and it’s a shame. Feminism’s core values and goals are so much in line with yours.
Another reader quotes a previous one:
You are not a woman, you will never understand what it is like to grow up as a female, work as a female, experience life culturally, interpersonally, electronically as a female. Perhaps it is time you learn to defer a bit on those topics to those that do.
Oh give me a freaking break. Well guess what? I’m a woman (born that way!). I’m damned successful at my job, I’m the breadwinner of my family of four (by a wide margin) and I’ve worked in a male dominated field for 15+ years. I “understand” what it’s like. You want to know how I got where I am? Not by crying about how victimized I’ve always been or blaming men for getting in my way or by buying into the myth that every man just wants to either sleep with me or ignore me. I got to where I am by actually buying the argument that men and women are equal and then comported myself accordingly. I don’t get walked on at work. I don’t get talked down to or ignored or sexually harassed. I demand respect and I get it, from men and women.
Feminists don’t care about equality for women. They want domination for women. Feminists don’t want to have an open and honest discussion about how men and women really ARE different and they can’t always be the same – they want to lambast people for daring to say that testosterone matters. They don’t want girls to have choices about what to be when they grow up; they want to make sure that girls never want to be the things that feminists don’t approve of. They don’t want men to have opinions that haven’t been vetted by a feminist and they sure don’t have a sense of humor about ANYTHING. Feminists make a conscious choice to take everything as an insult and to find the man’s fault in every situation. Why on earth any reasonable person would want to be labeled a feminist is beyond me.
There are legitimate problems for women in our society, violence against women being the top of that list. But the solutions are not going to come from feminists telling every man that he is at heart a rapist or telling every woman that they cannot trust a man. The sooner they get beyond spewing bile at 50 percent of the human race the sooner they might actually make some helpful contributions to the problems.
Another female reader:
While I may agree in principle that the politically correct/language police in our society has gotten out of hand on many fronts, I think you are missing the point behind many complaints. While the language used by many is very absolute and unforgiving, it is simply true that there’s a long way to go until men and women are treated equally by society. Rather than focusing on the unfairness of the language police and lamenting about how rigid feminists are in their definitions, or how they “eat their own,” I think it would move the conversation forward to focus on those who are trying to redefine the word and the movement to include everyone. I’ll point to two things that happened this summer while you were on vacation.
First, the discussion about feminism on your blog that was started by your guest blogger, Elizabeth Nolan Brown. She wrote a post called “This is why men need feminism,” where she pointed to a response that Joseph Gordon Levitt stated when asked about calling himself a feminist. I think his response is perfect, and Elizabeth’s response to it equally perfect. He first states that his idea of the word means that you don’t let gender define who you are. He then follows by acknowledging the long history of abuse of women in societies throughout history. Elizabeth wrapped up the post by stating:
What’s great about Gordon-Levitt’s definition is that it shows why feminism is directly relevant to men’s lives as well as women’s. We’re all in this mess of gender expectations together. Feminism isn’t just about raising women up but helping us all – men, women, cis, trans, whatever – get to a place where we’re a bit more free.
This is important because gender equality is not just a fight for women, but for anyone interested in a freer, more equal society.
But the anger and absolutist attitude held by some in the feminist movement wasn’t formed out of thin air, but in response to thousands of years of oppression. While women’s liberation has made important strides in the past 100+ years, it in no way has eliminated the structural and institutional imbalances in society that perpetuate that inequality. I’d like to argue that the problem of gender inequality has been enshrined in our institutions similar to the institutionalized racism many refuse to recognize. These structural imbalances place women at an automatic disadvantage, even though our society has attempted fixes here and there. It’s important to acknowledge that, even if you disagree with the tactics and language of the feminist movement in its current form, which I know you do.
You point to the balance of security of women from assault and rape against due process of those accused. Yes, there’s a portion of those accused falsely. There’s so many more who have been raped who have not received due process under the law due to the structural imbalances I point to, whether it be a policeman who didn’t believe her story, or the prosecutor more concerned with their track record than prosecuting a crime, or the college that protects the boy while leaving the girl vulnerable to attack and exposure, or the high school sports team that won’t bench their players after gang-rape accusations. You fail to recognize that the recent, and seemingly extreme, action on college campuses is perhaps a response to 30+ years of incremental steps that have not curbed the problem of rape anywhere in our society.
If you want to argue that we should be worrying about this small percentage affected by this problem, tell me how we do that without displacing the thousands of women who have had no ally in prosecuting the crime against them, i.e. the massive storage warehouses throughout the country that are holding backlogged and untested rape kits? To me, worrying about the smaller percentage of those falsely accused displaces the massive amount of women who have been violated twice, first by her rapist, followed by the societal institutions that should be protecting her.
Second, I’d like to point to a UN speech given by Emma Watson this summer in launching her initiative “HeForShe.” Her speech discusses gender stereotypes that both girls and boys suffer from. It’s her task to get as many as possible to recognize that these stereotypes of BOTH boys and girls inhibit society from moving forward towards greater gender equality. It’s a great speech, and it also asks all people to buy in to the feminist idea that no matter who you are, you deserve equal treatment under the law and in society. It asks all of us to fight towards this goal, not just one half.
Here is a link to the full speech for you to read, but one of my favorite sections is the following:
I was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women six months ago. And, the more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes. I started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago. When I was 8, I was confused for being called bossy because I wanted to direct the plays that we would put on for our parents, but the boys were not. When at 14, I started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media. When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of sports teams because they didn’t want to appear muscly. When at 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings.
What I appreciate about this part of her speech is that it highlights that gender discrimination flows both ways. It’s not just a problem for girls, it’s a problem for everyone.
My main point is that rather than harping on the “feminist left” and their rigid ideology, why don’t you focus the attention of this blog towards those who are trying to move this conversation forward in a new and meaningful way? It’s simply true that we have a long way to go on this front and we all can participate in moving gender equality forward, or we can sit on the sidelines and bitch about the tactics and language. Your choice.
More criticism from a reader, who sends along the above video:
At the end of that reader dissent you linked to, you pulled a paragraph from the post she was addressing and used it to defend yourself, as though the reader hadn’t acknowledged that you’d condemned misogyny. I don’t want to nitpick, but to say this dissent was totally unqualified isn’t quite accurate – you still had the last word.
And that post speaks the problem I’ve had (as a straight white male) reading a lot of your posts about #Gamergate, masculinity, and feminism the last few weeks – you repeatedly start with a paragraph or two saying something along the lines of, “Of course harassment and violent threats against women are wrong…”, but then spend the rest of the post explaining how you have sympathy for people that have been picked on or those who may feel their masculinity is under attack and how feminists have gone too far and are unfairly targeting certain individuals. You put an awful lot of energy into defending men and gamers from the “femi-left,” so I think it’s understandable why some readers think you just don’t get it when it comes to feminism and women’s issues and have suggested you defer on some of these issues just as you have with race.
I think they have a point. Is it too much to ask that you occasionally write a post that says nothing more than, “Catcalling is primitive behavior that objectifies and degrades women and it should be condemned,” and then leave it at that? Instead, you continue with a nuanced view of this behavior and end with something like this:
And so I think we just have to live with a certain amount of straight-very-male homophobia and sexism, and leave it be. Young men want to live out fantasies of rescuing big-boobed women while being encased in a steroidal muscle culture (precisely because, for so many, it is utterly beyond their actual day-to-day lives). And my inclination is simply: give them a break.
I’m sure you can see why a lot of women (and men) might find this sort of language dismissive, but in a weird way I think the problem is just the order in which you reveal your thoughts/opinions. I expect many of these posts have given readers the impression your loyalties lie first and foremost with men (or gamers) who believe their masculinity or identity is under attack. I’d bet that you wouldn’t have received so many angry responses if you began these posts acknowledging your sympathies with male culture (or whatever) first and then aggressively condemned the tactics used to silence and/or demean women. Because at the end of the day, the point that you end on is really all that matters.
And come on, Andrew, you are a feminist, right?
Lastly, a female reader looks back at my views on Hobby Lobby (full Dish coverage here):
I love reading the Dish and became a subscriber as soon as you offered your readers a way to support your work. As so often happens with the familiar people in our lives, I feel as if I can predict your response to issues centering on women’s experience, whether it is your response to Hobby Lobby or #Gamergate. I wouldn’t write if I didn’t think there were potential for you to treat women’s issues with the same nuanced, well-argued, and fundamental empathy that you bring to so many other subjects.
I am disappointed that your posts employ so much dismissive, glib, or minimizing language when you address events in the culture that center on women and women’s issues. These issues may have passed you by, both as a virtue of your gender and your sexual orientation, but that is a profoundly limiting lens and one that I do not see at play in your otherwise aggressive, curious, and serious coverage of issues that are not part of your autobiography.
As a woman living in the Deep South, many of the issues about women’s rights and status are not theoretical. The stakes are quite real for women’s autonomy over their bodies and women’s equality in professional and civic life. I would like you to consider the demoralizing effect you send your readers about women’s issues when you repeatedly use this language to introduce these subjects:
“The obvious damning answer is that I am a man and no one has taken anything away from me – indeed the all-male majority who upheld Hobby Lobby’s religious rights specifically barred any procedure other than female contraception. If they did that for prescriptions for Truvada, for example, I might react differently.”
“And so I think we just have to live with a certain amount of straight-very-male homophobia and sexism, and leave it be.”
My frustration as a reader is intensified when I see you tackle similar issues of straight-male homophobia and sexism when the instigating event does not center on women. You really bring it in the Alec Baldwin thread, for example. I do not ask for emotional identification, but for a professional, intellectual recognition that maybe Hobby Lobby is alarming for many and that perhaps women in tech or gamer culture do not deserve to be patted on the head and told “leave it be.”
I do not agree with a number of your positions, but, man, you are a great writer and thinker who pushes me and surprises me. To quote you: Know hope.