Please Stop Fighting Straw Feminists (they’re not real)

As a feminist who is interested in one day having a family, I tend to spend a decent amount of time thinking about the values my husband and I will teach our future children, and the ways in which our ingrained ideas about gender will or won’t affect the natural expressions of our kids’ personalities.

So I was naturally curious about a blog post I came across recently, called,  “I’m a Mother of 2 Boys, and I Can’t (and Won’t) Support Feminism” by Tara Kennedy-Kline. Of course, my heart sank the minute I read the title of the post, but I have recently been having an interior conversation with myself about NOT disengaging from those who disagree with me, so I clicked on the link and read through to the end.

Not being a parent myself, and not knowing Ms. Kennedy-Kline and her children personally, it is fair to critique ONLY her views on feminism and otherwise assume that Ms. Kennedy-Kline’s two children are well-cared-for and loved. I have no reason to believe this is not the case. The author’s parenting abilities are not what I am taking issue with here.

What discourages, and frustrates, and occasionally enrages me, is the number of otherwise educated and well-meaning people out there who argue against and thereby continue to perpetuate the view the of sinister, man-hating feminism that doesn’t exist. As TC commented to me after reading Kennedy-Kline’s post, “Good thing no one has a lighted match because there are a LOT of straw men in there.” [Of course, perhaps as a spooky angry  feminist I should take offense to this and call them “straw persons“. But I digress.]

Throughout her post, Kennedy-Kline insists that she is raising her sons to be “gentlemen”, to be “dedicated providers”, and to tell the women in their lives that they are beautiful. She also insists that feminism would punish, label as predatory, and otherwise be offended by her boys for doing these things. These fears are overblown and misguided. Alyssa Rose, writing at the Good Men Project, has a thoughtful and logically laid-out response detailing exactly why Kennedy-Kline’s arguments are irrational. I’m not going to repeat her work here, but I am going to point out two things:

  1. Ms. Kennedy-Kline’s fears that feminism will punish her sons for being stereotypically manly assumes her sons want to grow up to be stereotypically manly. How does she know? What does “stereotypically manly” even mean in this day and age, where households containing two working adults are the norm? How does she even know her sons will want to date the “princesses” she encourages her sons to provide for?
  2. When Kennedy-Kline posits that it is not only her sons’ right, but that it is normal and good for them to grab a woman’s hand or tell a woman she’s beautiful because they’re gentlemen, she completely ignores context (how would she feel if, say, a strange man grabbed her hand in a shopping mall or on a dark street?). Some women might not WANT to be touched, or might not appreciate being told they’re beautiful if they aren’t interested in talking to her sons (see my post on how to meet women without being a creep). True gentlemen care not about their gestures, but about the intended recipient of those gestures. If there is any indication that their mother’s so-called chivalrous act will make a woman uncomfortable or even afraid, they shouldn’t do it (alternatively, if it seems that the woman in question would appreciate the gesture, go for it). This is a principle we all learn as kids–it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and if your playmate says they don’t like what you’re doing, even if you’re having fun, you stop doing it. It’s not feminist ideology. It’s just being a decent human being and respecting other peoples’ boundaries.

The post is not the worst take-down of feminism I’ve ever read, or even the worst written by a woman (MRA sites enjoy waving around posts by women who, it seems, hate other women, or at the very least hate feminist women). So why did it bother me?

It bothered me because Ms. Kennedy-Kline is obviously not some wingnut, and it’s distressing that a rational, loving parent can believe such silly things about a movement that, as Alyssa Rose points out, can only benefit boys and men as it improves the lives of girls and women. Her argument is not only misguided (because she’s arguing against something that doesn’t really exist)–it’s harmful. The more feminism is painted as something a “normal” parent, or a woman who loves her sons or husband, could not, in good conscience, ascribe to, the more these completely false myths equating feminism with hating, harming, or revoking the rights of men are perpetuated. And when people believe these myths they stop believing in the things feminism really stands for, like equal pay, and the rights of people to have their physical boundaries respected, and the rights of both women and men to be whoever they want to be, regardless of whether their identity is traditionally considered the purview of one gender or the other.

I hate repeating this, but I feel I have to: FEMINISM IS NOT MISANDRY. Just like being Christian doesn’t automatically mean you’re a member of the hate-mongering Westboro Baptist Church, being a feminist does NOT mean you ascribe to the views of those extreme but rare persons who DO hate men and use the feminist label as their justification (my dear friend, performance artist Frankie Vandellous, has written a beautiful post about some of the various, and even the harmful, interpretations of feminism that are out there). Just as the Westboro Baptist Church does not speak for Christians (and cant’ really, considering they seem to have completely missed that “love thy neighbour” bit), misandrists do not speak for feminists.

Contrary to the belief of many, feminism doesn’t mean you have to “tow the line” either. I don’t expect Ms. Kennedy-Kline to be a feminist just because she’s a woman. I don’t expect people who believe in equal pay and equal rights to control over one’s own body to call themselves feminists if they don’t want to. And I don’t expect every woman to want what I want. But that doesn’t make smearing feminism appropriate, and it doesn’t mean that women who don’t want certain rights for themselves have the right to prevent me, or any other woman, from accessing these rights, nor do these women have the right to tell their sons, or anyone else, that certain behaviours are appropriate only for certain genders.

As feminists (and other like-minded people) work hard to change perceptions about gender and about what is and isn’t appropriate for human beings living together in a society, there will be, as Kennedy-Kline’s post makes clear, some discomfort. It’s awkward to have to change the way you’ve always treated or spoken to/about certain people. It’s uncomfortable when familiar tropes are demonstrated to be false or hurtful (I’m sure many folks in past generations were a little confused when racial slurs became not okay anymore). You know you’re not trying to be hurtful with your choice of words/actions/opinions, and you’re not out there assaulting anyone, so what’s the big damn deal? Isn’t everything fine the way it is?

Well, it may be fine for you, but when 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, it’s obvious that things are NOT fine for a LOT of people. Just because I personally haven’t been raped (and hopefully never will be), that doesn’t mean I should prevent rape victims from seeking justice, or should willfully perpetuate rape culture.

When you say, “I think things are fine the way they are,” what you’re really saying is, “It’s never happened to me, so I’ve chosen not to care about it.”

When you say, “Why should I have to experience change just because SOME people don’t like the way things are working?” you’re really saying, “Being comfortable is more important to me than the physical and emotional pain experienced by a very large number of people.”

And when you go out of your way to say, “I can’t (and won’t) support feminism,” you are saying, “It’s okay with me that half of the population have less rights than the other half.”

If you don’t want to be a feminist that is 100% your choice. But please, PLEASE, don’t actively work against feminism by spreading false perceptions about it. Humanity has nothing, absolutely NOTHING to lose by the success of feminism. The only “rights” which could be lost by men would be the ones they never actually legally had in the first place (like the right to touch another person without their permission, or the right to make more money than someone else doing the same job). Feminism is inclusive, egalitarian, and ultimately freeing. Isn’t that the kind of environment a parent would want for their children?

8 thoughts on “Please Stop Fighting Straw Feminists (they’re not real)

  1. I only made it to point 2 before I stopped reading. You just lost me there.

    How is a suitor going to know if a woman wants her hand kissed or to be told she’s beautiful if he never even tries? How will relationship dynamics work if men are only allowed to approch women who’s minds can be read to determine if that’s what they want? Feminists get called all sorts of names because of stuff like your point 2, I’m going to call you one now. anti-family.

    If men don’t approch women, women must approch men. Given that women don’t approch men, relationships and families don’t happen. Your point 2 is effectively arguing that no new relationships should start, I’m sure you can see how this is anti-family.

  2. I hate the assumption that all women want to be treated like a “princess”. I went on a creepy date a long time ago in my single days, with a guy a met on the subway (note to self: maybe don’t go on dates with guys you meet on the subway) and he really liked using the word “princess”. When I first met him, he seemed fine, we just chatted and he seemed like an ok dude and I didn’t mind getting to know him more. But when we met up for drinks, he was sooo forward, and it was not romantic or “gentlemanly” at all… it was just plain creepy. He seemed to think that by saying yes to a date with him, that I was giving him permission to do pretty much anything. WRONG.

    As soon as we met up, he tried to make out with me! In greeting! I should have left right then and there. I wasn’t sure how to extract myself from the situation, so I suffered through an awkward evening, during which he told me about ten times that I was “so beautiful, like a princess”, and he grabbed my hand a lot. He bragged about how much money he made and said he would “take me to his place in California” (ummm I just met you). He tried to sit beside me in a seat that was only intended for one person. So he was like, right beside me (yo, get out of my hula-hoop space!). I even told him that he was being too forward and it made me uncomfortable (so no mind reading was necessary, I just came out and said it). It didn’t deter him.

    This was on a date… so it is not as as bad or as unexpected as a total random on the street grabbing your hand. And sure, some people might actually want a guy to behave like that on a first date and be super forward and they might even think it is romantic. But I did not, and I told him that. Yet he was so convinced that his behaviour was what I wanted, even when I told him it wasn’t. I let him know that there were boundaries, and he ignored him. Talk about disrespectful. I wonder if he had a mother who told him that all girls want to be treated that way… All I had wanted was to have a drink and talk and get to know the guy. Instead I was just completely freaked out.

    He said he had a hotel room and we should go to it… NOPE.

    In the past, any guy who, like this guy, was super forward and overly-complimentary and overly touchy-feely has immediately scared me away. But obviously that does not mean that I am “anti-family” or “anti-relationship” like the comment above suggests. All it means is that I’d like to get to know a guy before he grabs my hand or calls me Princess!

    Anyway, just thought I’d share my awkward date story. 🙂

  3. It’s called ASKING, genderneutrallanguage. You can still be gentlemanly and respect someone’s personal space at the same time with a simple, “may i hold your hand?” Actually I think that’s how it operated back when families weren’t the smoking ruins that they are now.

  4. “a movement that, as Alyssa Rose points out, can only benefit boys and men as it improves the lives of girls and women.”

    Uh huh. Mm hmm.

    So can you please explain millennial women poncing around in sweatshop-made “male tearz” and “men smell funny especially when they’re on fire” T-Shirts?

    Can you explain why issues such as working class boys in education are met by feminists with patronising sneering? Can you explain why attempts to tackle issues such as female-on-male abuse (the sort that blighted my own life) are followed by hysterical outrage from feminists if anything is attempted to deal with the (e.g. comparing male victims with all lives matter for speaking up)? All this followed by accusations of people wantonly attacking feminism to spite women?

    Or perhaps you might like to explain the women and feminist men who respond to male abuse victims by telling us that our traumatic experiences are just desserts for what happens to women? (While millenial women treat their boyfriends like servants on the same grounds as my first girlfriend – my abuser – did.)

    Where the hell is your conscience?

    Sorry Lauren, not good enough.

  5. You are essentially proving my point exactly. You have equated feminists with misandrists, just as some have equated Christianity with hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church. The actions you describe above are misandry, not feminism.

    You may also find men’s issues are met with less sympathy if they are only being mentioned in reaction to women speaking or taking up space. All of the issues you mention are important, but none are caused by feminism, that as, equality/equity between all genders. The fact that instead of spending time solving these issues or putting them forth in your own space you are bringing them onto a woman’s blog suggests perhaps you are less interested in solving these problems than blaming feminism.

    I am very sorry you were abused. That should not have happened. But that is not feminism’s fault. The core values of feminism do not encourage abuse of men. There will always be bad people of both genders. The difference is that we live in a culture that promotes and rewards male violence, and makes female violence invisible. Feminism and the dismantling of this culture would, in its ideal, help people who are being abused, regardless of the gender of the abuser. I don’t know where you are, so I don’t know what your local men’s resources or crisis resources would be, but I suggest you look to them for support in the challenges you’re going through.

    I do not accept responsibility for every bad experience you’ve had at the hands of women. Feminism does not perpetuate the culture that is hurting you; misandry and patriarchy do, and I do not support either.

  6. OK, just back from a late night shift so I might not be that lucid.

    You tell me that what I’ve described is not feminism, and OK, I can see that there’s some truth in that. It’s not so much the ideals of equity in feminism, rather this aggressive thread of ideologue people in the movement that behaves in this way, and ring-fences itself by hiding behind feminism in positions of power (my country’s government, journalism, media, etc), while celebrities pretty much parrot what they say when it suits them.

    It’s also right that if I was speaking out about these issues in areas where women were speaking up, it’d be wrong of me. Unfortunately, these ideologues are often wading in and doing damage to these issues and if they’re doing it while proclaiming the banner of feminism, the feminist movement has a responsibility to not only disown them, but discourage them. I don’t say this as an anti-female thing, in fact male feminists are much worse at this. Female feminists have a better track record of empathy for male victims (e.g. Tarana Burke) while male feminists in late 2017 compared us to “All Lives Matter”, which is pretty damaging as I’m sure you can imagine.

    Truth be told, the reason I came here is because the article described as ‘straw feminists who are not real’ and it touched a bit of a nerve, so suddenly I think “hang on, I’ve seen these people before, I’ve even encountered them”. For example, just as I was recovering from my abuse experiences, one such girl – an outspoken feminist – actually slapped me across the face because, and I kid you not, it was her birthday and she wanted to do it to a man. I was pretty shocked, frozen to the spot, and it left me with a bad impression that “these people are dangerous, they want to hurt me and do me harm disguised by a moral gloss”.

    Moving from personal experience to the bigger picture, this toxicity is something seen in our parliament where two female politicians were revealed to have assaulted their significant others, and the response from d.v. victim advocates was muted to say the least, and another female politician who mocked the idea of male suicide being taken seriously back in 2015 (she claimed to be attacked y online trolls, which if true is unacceptable, but doesn’t excuse her). This attitude really should have no place in the feminist movement, and needs to be driven out.

    Having said that, I’m admittedly probably not going to make much difference blathering on here so you do have a point. I actually work on these issues in my day job because I work with vulnerable kids, including teenage boys caught up in drugs gangs, I was planning some activism on the subject this year, but due to COVID I had to postpone it, so likely it’ll be next year.

    You also say “The core values of feminism do not encourage abuse of men.” and sure, I can see that, rather that I’m knackered by prominent feminists who have plenty of power and influence and not only aren’t living up to these ideals (quite the opposite), but if I’m wrong and patriarchy is real then these toxic men and women are kissing up to it like there’s no tomorrow.

    “The difference is that we live in a culture that promotes and rewards male violence, and makes female violence invisible.”

    Sort of, I guess it depends on what type of violence (certainly sporting violence, self defence or movie action heroes I’d agree with this definitely). Assuming though that we’re referring to domestic violence and sexual abuse, I’d say that it’s less about a patriarchal theory (because the “great and the good” aren’t competent enough for that) and more about societal ineptitude and ignorance in responding to the issue. It seems that both men and women have similar, even identical, issues in some ways when faced with abuse, but also wildly different issues in other ways.

    “Feminism and the dismantling of this culture would, in its ideal, help people who are being abused, regardless of the gender of the abuser.”

    I hope you’re right. And that would be ideal.

    “I don’t know where you are, so I don’t know what your local men’s resources or crisis resources would be, but I suggest you look to them for support in the challenges you’re going through.”

    Not a bad idea. To be honest I’m going to work this year on a few new ambitions to improve my lot in life regarding my career, relationships, etc, but it might be good to do. Admittedly I don’t want people to feel that I’m a hopeless cause and that I’ll be a mess forever.

    I admit that I’ve been a bit sharp-tongued to start off with, so I apologise for that. It’s not all about my problems, but a larger picture, and I’d be happy to just see positive change made in that respect. If the feminist movement doesn’t want to contribute to these issues, that’s actually fine, but it needs to allow other people to freely tackle these issues on their own terms, and rein in parts of the movement who behave irresponsibly like this.

    • Hi there. I must say I was a bit nervous to read your reply as I have had some bad experiences with commenters on my blog. I do understand what you are saying, I think we are mostly agreeing though coming at these issues from different angles.

      Firstly, of course, I believe patriarchy is very real and very harmful, and that many women (including many women who claim to be feminists) are complicit in upholding it. Though I’m not a gender studies scholar or much of a theorist, I tend to think even misandry is more closely aligned to patriarchy than to feminism. Instead of equality, the casual misandry I see on the net seems to be more tit-for-tat (i.e. “Men commit violence against women so we should commit violence against men.”). Instead of rejecting patriarchal systems and modes of behaviour, a lot of misandry seems to reinforce them (simply swapping the gender with the greater power).

      That being said, not every instance where a man is not welcome or is being asked to give space/listen rather than speak is misandry. Sometimes it’s just a matter of this not being the appropriate venue/time for your issue. Unfortunately, there does seem to be a dearth of spaces for men to bring these issues forward. I understand the impulse to “piggyback” on women’s spaces or enter women’s conversations because finally someone is talking about something that you also need to talk about and women have spent more time setting up these spaces and having these conversations, but it just might not be the right place for you. This is why I firmly believe university campuses should have men’s centres as well as women’s centres (something I also blogged about in the past) and there should be, quite simply, more resources available to men. Having lost one male friend to suicide and watched several others tumble down the rabbit hole of alcoholism/addiction, I can say with certainty there isn’t as much out there to truly support men’s emotional and psychological health (heck, even their physical health), and that sucks.

      There will always be assholes who pretend to be feminists. Generally speaking, I do often see other feminists calling them out, but since feminism is a set of ideals rather than a structure with leadership, etc there is no way for the movement at large to condemn those who use it to be jerks. That doesn’t mean the ideals themselves are not worthy, which I think we both agree on.

      And of course—your (ex) partner should not have slapped you. What an appalling thing to do. That cruelty is on her.

      Lastly—thank you for your civil discussion. All the best.

      • “I must say I was a bit nervous to read your reply as I have had some bad experiences with commenters on my blog.”

        I understand. I think at some level we’re all tossers online to some degree (I’ve been so sometimes out of fear of being walked all over if not – twitter is really bad for that), and some of those bad experiences are from people who’d not have the guts to say in person. Sorry to hear about your bad experiences though!

        “I tend to think even misandry is more closely aligned to patriarchy than to feminism. Instead of equality, the casual misandry I see on the net seems to be more tit-for-tat (i.e. “Men commit violence against women so we should commit violence against men.”). Instead of rejecting patriarchal systems and modes of behaviour, a lot of misandry seems to reinforce them (simply swapping the gender with the greater power).”

        Certainly makes sense, considering people who talk like that like to pretend that they’re strong and independent, but once faced with actual difficulty they really show their true colours.

        “That being said, not every instance where a man is not welcome or is being asked to give space/listen rather than speak is misandry. Sometimes it’s just a matter of this not being the appropriate venue/time for your issue.”

        Of course. There’s a time and a place for these things. The misandrists like to pretend that any discussion of said issues is derailing women’s issues (while derailing men’s issues simultaneously), but as you point out, context is everything. I totally agree too, that uni campuses need both of these facilities.

        I’m sorry to hear about your friend, I lost a friend to suicide too, so I know how it feels. I’m optimistic though, that more resources for male mental and physical health will grow as time goes on.

        “There will always be assholes who pretend to be feminists.”

        True enough, and when it comes to male issues, you get idiots using it as a means to take it out on women (incels spring to mind, though I reckon they’re mostly mentally ill and need help). A lot of women turn that way after being mistreated by men (and vice versa), which I understand, though I don’t condone it of course.

        “And of course—your (ex) partner should not have slapped you. What an appalling thing to do. That cruelty is on her.”

        Thanks. Much appreciated. Needless to say, I don’t see her anymore these days.

        “Lastly—thank you for your civil discussion. All the best.”

        Not at all. You too! 🙂

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