“I don’t quite get why so many men (the men who comment on this blog, for instance) get so angry at, and feel so oppressed by, feminism. I grew up around feminists, I’m married to a feminist. I live in one of America’s epicenters of feminism, and it never seems to me as though feminists, as a group, exert much power in our society…
“Where are these awful encounters with feminists, or feminism, happening?”–Dan Oppenheimer
As many of you know, I would very much like to see more direct interaction between women’s advocates and men’s advocates. There seems to be little civil debate between the two, particularly on the Internet.
When His Side with Glenn Sacks ran in a syndicated format, I often had feminist guests on the show in an effort to promote civil debate. Some of those guests included: Martha Burk, Helen Grieco [head of California NOW], Gloria Allred, Lynn Gold-Bikin [feminist family law attorney], Michael Kimmel, child support advocate Debbie Kline, Amanda Marcotte, and Donnalee Sarda of the anti-father advocacy group Justice for Children.
Someday men and women are going to have to come together on gender issues. With this in mind, I’ve decided to launch ”The Feminist Dissident” on my blog.
The purpose of “The Feminist Dissident” is to give feminists a chance to speak directly to my audience, and my audience to debate the issues with them in a civil manner. The first two contributors to this are male feminist bloggers Dan Oppenheimer and Jamie Berger of the blog Masculinity and its Discontents.
I am also open to other feminists–female or male–to provide or participate in “The Dissident Feminist” postings. If you are interested in submitting something for this purpose, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why did I choose Dan and Jamie? Dan wrote a blog post several months ago in which he labeled me a “misogynist.” As I’ve done with many feminist critics, I asked for evidence of this. The surprise? In all my years of doing this, Dan was the only one who ever gave me a substantive answer. He was wrong, but he made an honest, credible effort at it, something no other feminist who I’ve challenged on this has ever done. As such, he earned my respect. I met Jamie because he is Dan’s blog partner
I know that many of you will have opinions on whether I should have agreed to publish “The Feminist Dissident” here. This is a fair question, but I will ask that you wait on it. After a few postings, I will have a thread which allows readers to express their views on whether they like this idea. It makes little sense to discuss that question now, since “The Dissident Feminist” has not had a chance to post. For now, please make sure to keep your comments confined to the content of “The Dissident Feminist.”
Below is Dan and Jamie’s introduction.
The Feminist Dissident: An Introduction
When Jamie and I started our blog, “Masculinity and it’s Discontents,” about a year ago, there were two kinds of arguments that I hoped to have. One was with men (and women, but mostly men) who were against feminism. The other was with other feminists. I wanted to offer a feminist perspective on masculinity that wasn’t driven, as I believe a lot of such views are driven, by the perceived demands of feminist ideology or movement-building. I wanted to err on the side of sympathy for how hard it can be, for a man, to live up to all the demands that his spouse, his kids, his friends, his politics, and his culture place on him. Marriage, parenthood, friendship, romance, career–these are hard things. Getting by is hard. And when you throw in a barrage of ideas about being a man, and about relating to women, coming at you at high velocity from feminists, anti-feminists, MRAs, conservatives, radicals, etc., it gets harder.
Then there’s pop culture, which sometimes tells us to be all McDreamy–sensitive and ready for commitment and emotionally vulnerable–and at other times to be all Russell Crowe, Gladiator-ish and stoic and emotionally inaccessible (not to mention when it’s telling us to be a pimp-playa hybrid of James Bond and Jay-Z). So my reaction to the general tone and content of a lot of feminist writing, which focuses a lot of attention on the wrongs done to women by men and by the patriarchy, isn’t that it’s wrong, but that it’s not intended to speak sympathetically to men. It tends to be oppositional, for the reasons that all movement-based activity tends that way. I think that this orientation makes sense (for the most part) from the perspective of building and sustaining a movement. But there are consequences to an oppositional perspective, one of which is that the people you’re opposing, as well as the people who fear that you’re opposing them, tend to feel attacked and maligned. And reading feminist bloggers can sometimes leave me with the sense that feminists think that all of women’s complaints against men are justified and that all of men’s complaints against women are expressions of sexism.
As one of the commenters on this blog wrote to me, recently, “it is unfortunate IMO that you still associate with the term “feminist.” … If you are someone who advocates equal rights and responsibilities for women, then, by today’s standards, you are no feminist. By today’s standards, any male ‘feminist’ is required, in my opinion, to hate themselves for being a guilty part of the oppressive “patriarchy” (the bedrock concept of feminism of any stripe). You seem like a reasonable, thoughtful person, and I hope you will not take offense at my comment. I am truly interested in why you see value in continuing to identify with the “feminist” label, when it is now so laden with negativity. Wouldn’t you be better off, and perhaps be more accurate, if you simply described yourself as ‘non-misogynist’?”
I get this (I don’t agree, but I understand). I understand how one could, from reading feminist blogs or ‘zines or magazines or books, arrive at these conclusions, even though it’s not my experience of feminism. I rarely come away from reading feminists feeling like they want me to hate myself, or anything like that. Then again, I come from the same world that they do. I went to the same kinds of fancy schools, and have lived in the same kinds of liberal communities, that produce the most visible feminists. We speak the same language, and there are all sorts of things I can take for granted about feminists–the biggest being that they’re just regular folks–that maybe isn’t so obvious to people who come from different backgrounds.
I don’t feel attacked by feminism, but I have a sense of how, for men who don’t speak the language in the way I do, feminist rhetoric might seem vindictive and man-hating.
At the same time, though, I don’t quite get why so many men (the men who comment on this blog, for instance) get so angry at and feel so oppressed by feminism. I grew up around feminists, I’m married to a feminist. I live in one of America’s epicenters of feminism, and it never seems to me as though feminists, as a group, exert much power in our society. It seems even less like the hardcore feminists I know are walking around trying to use feminist rhetoric to exert power over anyone in the name of feminism. Mostly they’re concerned with getting by–paying their bills, working on their relationships, raising their kids, doing well at their jobs.
Where are these awful encounters with feminists, or feminism, happening? Is it divorces? Custody battles? Bad break-ups? And are they really encounters with feminism and feminists, or are they instead (as I suspect) mostly encounters with women who sometimes use feminist rhetoric to score points. Or are they (as I also suspect) often encounters with women who don’t even consider themselves feminists but who use insults and criticisms that sound vaguely feminist to the men who are the objects of them.
I understand anger at women. I have a lot of it myself. Parts of me are angry at my mother, at my wife, at Hillary Clinton, at all the women throughout my life who in various ways have made me feel badly about myself. Anger is a pretty natural emotion, and it’s also the way that men, in general, are able to experience all sorts of other emotions–like hurt, sadness, vulnerability, self-doubt–that are too unmanly to experience firsthand. And we live in a culture (and surely this is true of many cultures; I’m not picking on America) that makes it very hard to be angry at particular women without generalizing that anger to womankind.
I get it, at least in part. For me, though, feminism is an answer to that anger, not a source of it. It’s one way for me to begin to disentangle my anger at particular people who happen to be women from my generalized anger at womankind. I want to achieve some clarity, to figure out who I am and what I feel, apart from all the convoluted messages about men and women that I’ve gotten from the culture, my family, my friends, the television, the blogosphere, and, sometimes, from other feminists, who don’t always see so clearly either.
I’m a feminist for a few reasons. Feminist ideas (not all of them, of course, but in general) have been a source of insight, consolation, and useful provocation to me in my struggle to become a better, happier person. I agree with the basic feminist critique of society–that there’s a presumption of female inferiority that radiates into all the nooks of crannies of how we live and relate to each other–and with the assessment that such a state of political and cultural inequality is unjust. I think that the feminist movement, by and large, has the best interests of our society at heart; they’re the good guys. And when I read feminist writers, more often than not I find that what they say rings true.
Feminism isn’t perfect. If it were, I’d be writing about something else. So far, though, it seems like the story that best explains where we are these days, with men and women, and also the one that offers the most appealing and realistic vision of how to go forward. If it doesn’t speak to men with the same resonance, sympathy or empathy with which it speaks to women, then that’s too bad, and it should do a better job. But it’s not a reason to give up on the dream of a more meaningful and complex equality that mediates the conflicts between men and women with compassion, intelligence, humor and good will.–Dan Oppenheimer
Hi, I’m Jamie, Dan’s other half over at M.A.I.D. While I agree with most of what Dan writes, above, I consider myself a feminist-sympathizer more than an actual feminist. I don’t spend my life as enough of an activist to be an anything-ist, and I think that the term belongs to women – to call myself a feminist would feel a lot like calling myself a black nationalist (I’m a white guy). But I was raised by a feminist mom, and, at 43, still find that most of her values are mine.
On the phone with Glenn the other day, I summarized my position on men’s rights advocacy by saying that I think that men (especially white men) have a long way to go before they have much to complain about.
Glenn, fairly (and sarcastically) enough, said something akin to “Gosh, I’ve never heard that one before.” Be that as it may, it’s where I stand, but I’m willing to listen. Not that I don’t think that individual men haven’t been mistreated by individual women, don’t get me wrong, and I’ve certainly taken my lumps, but a movement that, from what I’ve seen, is largely based on men’s fury at women in general, is just something I can’t get behind, to say the least. But I hope that I will learn, from posting here and reading your responses, that there’s more to it than that.
Also, by the way, we’re not always nearly so dang serious as we may seem in this here debut post. We’ve commented on everything and everyone from Stephen Colbert to Barack Obama’s underwear to Sarah Silverman’s comedy to, yes Hillary Clinton and the viciousness of her bashers, to porn and strippers, to men’s fashion, to Charles Barkley’s efforts against homophobia, and back. We post goofy videos of things like clichéd commercial portrayals of masculinity. But right now I just came back from having an MRI for what’s probably a herniated disc in my neck and am all doped up on vicodin, so I’m not at my wittiest.
P.S. While our blog lacks, for now, a keyword index, you can search posts via the “find it here” search function of our host site, The Valley Advocate (which is not to be confused with the national magazine The Advocate, not that there’s anything wrong with that.)–Jamie Berger