Feminazis! Or, When Did I Invade Poland?
What is a feminazi?
This week has had the question churning in my head a lot: am I feminazi? And should I care whether or not I am?
This last week, the feminist blogosphere exploded when a popular liberal blogger posted a bulleted list titled “You Might be a Feminazi if…”. The author, a gay white male, (whom we'll call Mr. X) seemed to think that passion and anger on the part of women in striving for equal rights is something to be discouraged, and enough to merit characterization as a Feminazi. Problematic use of the word “nazi” aside (I’m of the opinion that, unless you’re invading Poland or killing millions of Jews, you’re probably not a Nazi and shouldn’t be called such), Mr. X raised a number of quite common objections to Feminism and feminist work. Rather than give him more clicks and traffic by linking to him, I have copied his list, and will reproduce it here with my own rebuttals.
There are fourteen points on his “Feminazi” list, so I will cover two points per post. It’s a week of Feminazis! I’ll also link to helpful articles and thoughts from other feminist bloggers on the phrase and the characterization of radical feminism.
We’ll start today with two complex and interesting bullet points (they get progressively less well-thought as the list goes on, by the way).
My rebuttals for points 1 and 2 begin after the jump.
…you discount a man’s opinion/case on an issue solely because of his gender, without even dealing with the merits (or deficits) of his argument.
This is a zinger and involves a lot of complex issues that go into a debate. Mainly, the problem here is that our blogger, Mr. X, is drawing a general principle from likely specific encounters. I don’t deny that there have been times I have discounted an argument because it was coming from a man, but those situations were very specific and situational. I do not know a single feminist (and I know a lot of feminists) who does this wholesale, and I’m willing to bet Mr. X doesn’t either.
What are those situations in which specific arguments would be dismissed on the basis of the gender of the speaker? I can only, at this point, speak from my own experience, but these are the arguments that involve discussions about what it is like to be a woman. For example, if a man responds to my tales of cat-calling by saying “You should be flattered,” I am going to dismiss his argument off the bat because he does not have the same experience as a woman. There are a number of issues in which a man’s argument is just as valid as a woman’s, but there are many areas in which the gender experiencing the situation is ultimately more qualified to discuss an issue.
I cannot speak from experience about the pressures to be a manly man and the concept of being masculine. If I deigned to tell one of my male friends how they should respond to a situation in which they are called to fit into a gender stereotype or harassed on the basis of gender, I am not doing my best to be an intellectually honest debater or friend. In the same manner, if a man deems it necessary to explain to me how I should react to a situation that happened specifically because I’m a woman, I am going to ignore his argument on the basis that he, ultimately, cannot relate because he is a man. This is a legitimate method of argumentation that happens to both genders at some time or another.
In explaining more specific examples, take the experience of workplace harassment. If a coworker is sending me emails that are friendlier than the nature of our work relationship suggests, I should be able to make an argument about how it makes me feel uncomfortable, especially if that coworker is male and appears to have amorous intent. Men, on the whole, do not have to deal with harassment on the large scale that women do – while workplace harassment does happen to men and men should not be discounted from telling about and getting justice for their experiences, women are much more at risk to be on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior. For a man (especially one who has never had to experience the fear and confusion that comes from unwelcome advances from a coworker in an environment that does not always support the victim in sexual harassment cases) to tell me how I should react to such an issue is inappropriate, based mostly on the fact that he is a man. This is an example of a proper dismissal of an argument based on the gender of the participants and is in no way a general principle denoting how feminists do or should behave in all instances.
…you constantly accuse a man of “derailing” or “mansplaining” (a gender-specific and therefore sexist insult, by the way) when he’s trying to explain why he disagrees with you about a gender issue. Or any issue.
There are a number of different issues with this point, specifically centered around the issue of the language used. Who, for one, determines what “constantly” means? And who decided that “mansplaining” – a specific phrase developed to explain a specific phenomenon – is a sexist term? Clearly, Mr. X, feels so, but it is not inherently so. “Mansplaining,” for those of you don’t know, is not a morphing of the Ricky Ricardo joke, but rather a simple and quick way of dismissing a man’s argument based on his gender in situations as denoted in point number 1.
Derailing, I’ll quickly explain, is when a person in a position of power or one who lives within the social norm (in male/female relationships, the man is considered the norm and the woman the aberration, the weaker sex) distracts the argument from the purpose by accusing the marginalized person of not reacting in a form that is acceptable to the one in power. It's another way of saying "red herring." Examples of this include: “You’re getting too emotional.” “How am I supposed to know about this if you don’t educate me?” “You’re just looking to be offended!” “You’re taking things too personally” “Don’t you have more important issues to think about?” and so on. Everyone has heard and made these arguments at some point in their life (don’t pretend you haven’t!). The important thing to remember is that derailing is an argument tactic meant to tell a marginalized person how they should interpret their experience and how they should argue, instead of listening to the actual argument or experience being presented.
Mansplaining, in a related form, is a quick phrase that, yes, is meant partially as an insult, but partially as a reminder to a male that he is not the primary actor concerned in an argument. If a man attempts to explain to me how I should feel about being cat called while ignoring the situation for me as a woman, that is mansplaining. If a man tells me how to respond to workplace harassment by being flattered and not taking into account the power relationships between men and women in an office environment, that is mansplaining. It is a simple, quick invective that allows women to give the men in their lives a quick reminder that something they’re saying does not acknowledge the fact that his experience as a man and my experience as a woman are two different things.
And there’s that “constantly” thing. I’ve yet to see a single feminist who engages in dismissing arguments because of ‘mansplaining’ on a “constant” basis, especially based on the dictionary definition:
fixed and invariable; unchanging / continual or continuous; incessant: constant interruptions / resolute in mind, purpose, or affection; loyal (Collins English Dictionary, 2009).
I’m not even sure what “constantly” accusing a man of derailing would look like – basically, one would have to respond to every single argument in the exact same manner … and I’m pretty sure that person doesn’t exist…unless they’re a toddler and that response is “MINE!”
So that’s it for today. In future entries later on this week, you can expect to see more of Mr. X’s condescension, mischaracterizations of feminism, and examples over and over of making a general principle out of a specific case.