The Feminist Gadfly

Discussing the problems of feminist identification in the context of gender egalitarianism

Category: Identification

So It Turns Out I’m Not Straight

by EddyNorthwind

My name is Eddy, and I am…well, that’s the issue.

When I hit puberty and was suddenly feeling all sorts of strange feelings in my pants, my parents gave me a book about the birds and the bees which, relative to what some of my peers were getting, was pretty damn progressive. It didn’t give instructions for condoms, but it at least told me that they existed. It hit important topics like the subjectivity of cultural notions of attractiveness — complete with pictures of male and female paragons of beauty from different cultures. It even mentioned homosexuality, something that, comparing notes with my peers who had received similar talks or books, was not touched on by most parents in my social group.

The problem: the book tried it’s damnedest to remain “neutral” about homosexuality. With great quotes like “some religions believe that homosexuality is a sin. Others believe it is perfectly natural and no better or worse than heterosexuality. If you think you might be homosexual, talk to your parents and religious leaders for guidance” (paraphrased), the book did an excellent job of pleasing precisely nobody, liberal or conservative, to the extent that I seriously wonder how my parents found it.

One of the “neutral” positions taken would have a pretty large effect on my life. “Many boys and girls in adolescence experience same sex attraction, but later go on to be heterosexual. Sexual attraction may not be ‘fixed’ until adulthood, so don’t worry too much if you do experience homosexual attraction and don’t want to. It may be just a phase” (Again paraphrased). It seemed possible, and I had no reason to doubt it, so I took it for truth. Then the attractions came.

Going through puberty, there was never any doubt that I liked girls. Less clear was how I felt about guys. Periodically, I’d look at a guy and think, “Damn.” Thing is, it never happened so often that I was unable to write it off as “I just wish I could be him” or “it’s just a phase”. Homophobia was a very real thing in my community, and I had internalized some of it. A combination of that prejudice and fear of becoming an outcast pushed me to convince myself that I wasn’t attracted to men — I just thought some were pretty.

That self-deception held pretty strongly until I went off to college and was suddenly free from home’s shackles. At this point, I had befriended enough queer folk that the internalized homophobia was long gone, washed away by positive experiences with members of the feared group. There was, though, still a very real fear of being rejected by my family and peers if I were to come out as more than just an ally. There also weren’t that many hot guys around — I tend to go for guys with beards, something rare in my high school and delightfully common in college.

Things started off pretty slow and alcohol-induced. I’d drunkenly cuddle with another man, I’d look at a guy after a couple drinks and think a little more than “I wish I looked like that”, or some assdrip at a party would not-quite-enough-to-call-campus-police-but-definitely-lacking-enthusiastic-consent kiss me, and I would think about how I would’ve responded had he just fucking asked to avoid thinking about what had actually happened. Then, midway through last year, I sent the following text to AJ, in my typical can’t-walk-straight-but-dammit-I-can-spell style:

“Remind me in the morning that if I kinda sorta like guys while drunk, I probably kinda sorta like guys while sober.”

Amazingly, I ended up not needing reminding, but AJ obliged anyways. Then came the identity issue.

Straight was out — I knew I was way too into dudes for that. But bisexual didn’t seem quite right, either. I definitely have a preference: I find a little over half of the women I meet physically attractive, but only about one in ten guys. I also don’t like anal with either gender, which seemed to lessen credibility the homosexual attraction. I felt like, if I called myself bi, that would be cheapening the label for people who are “more bi” than I am, as silly as that sounds.

So I like men, just not as much as women. AJ, in his pedantry, thinks that I should just call myself bi and explain the specifics only when asked. And, after writing this out, I’m inclined to agree with him. I like both men and women. If that isn’t the definition of bisexuality, then what is?

~Eddy

Word Order

by aronjerrison

Before I get to the body of this post, I should like to, as much as I hate both the word and the concept, indulge in a bit of “blogsplaining”.

Finals are upon us here at Midwestern liberal arts university, and conscientious students that we are, Naomi, Eddy, and I have let this blog sit on the back burner as we move academics to the front.

That being said, I will be putting my work aside for a short while so as to write about something which has been on my mind for a while.

As I have made my way through the feminist blog-o-sphere, particularly the more radical areas of it, I have repeatedly come across the phrase “feminist man”. Because no disclaimer that I could write would be enough to convince everyone that I am not attempting to “correct”, “educate”, or “fix” feminists and feminism, I am hoping that this meta-disclaimer will make some progress towards that end.

The phrase “feminist man” poses for me, a couple of problems.

The first, and most trivial, of them is that I dislike the double use of ‘feminist’ as both a noun and an adjective. I would much prefer that the term ‘feministic’ see a rise in usage.

The second is its gendered implications. If we accept this terminology, we are implicitly accepting gender as our identifier, with feminist as a mere modifier. I have written before about what a feminist is, but I feel a need to reiterate my point here.

A feminist is, asThe American Heritage Dictionary tells us, “a person whose beliefs and behaviour are based on feminism.” This definition has no gendered implications, and adding them seems counter-productive.

I will not deny that gender is an important thing to take into account when considering feministic (see? it works–right?) discourse, but having it as our primary identifier doesn’t help. When I am discussing an issue and feminism comes up, the fact that I identify as a feminist is much more relevant than the fact that I identify, however marginally, as a man.

This is why, when the issue of identification comes up, I call myself a male feminist. My gender is indicated, but it is not my primary identifier. Men are not monolithic. If I am identified as a man, nothing can be divined about me, the fact that I am a feminist is significantly more telling. This is not to say that feminism is monolithic, merely that having a similar goal provides more of an association than having a similar sex or gender.

I would like to continue this post, but it’s nearly 5.00 AM, and I have papers to write.

-AJ

“As a Feminist”

by aronjerrison

Although I would like to keep my record pristinely clear of on-topic posts, I have mentioned today’s post multiple times in the past two weeks to both Naomi and Eddy, and I thought that I really ought to write it up to share with you.

As I go about my life, both on the internet and out in the big bad world, I am confronted with far too much anti-feminist rhetoric. I have found that the image of the “humourless feminist” is still a popular one, much to my chagrin. As much as I would love to point the people who accept this stereotype to a link to Jo Brand, in the real world, due to the socio-economic (primarily economic) barriers keeping me from smartphone ownership,  I do not always have that option.

The result of this is me finding myself attempting to break that stereotype by describing myself as having both a sense of humour and feminist convictions often uttering that unfortunate phrase: “well, as a feminist, I…”

My problem with the phrase is not the unhesitating allegiance to feminism to which it seems to pledge me. I have no problem with that. Instead, I fear that I am committing some grievous breach of etiquette for a male feminist (more on the syntax of “male feminist” in a later post). Having seen so many straw-feminists formed out of a misunderstanding and generalising of one feminist’s comments, I do not want to allow my elucidation of my own feminist ideology to reflect in a potentially negative manner on such an important movement.

This may seem presumptuous to even say, but I would hate to see my thoughts pasted around the internet as an example of why feminists are evil and wrong.

What I need to do is find a more convenient shorthand for “this is what I, being informed by my feminist convictions, think about the topic under discussion. Please do not take this as the view any feminists other than those who state it.” Until I find that shorthand, I would like to, as a feminist, say good bye.

-AJ

The Fake Geek Girl Myth

by EddyNorthwind

So, I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet in the blog, but I’m a pretty huge geek. Like, I’m the computer-science/zoology-double-major-vice-president-of-the-school’s-Magic-the-Gathering-club-playing-in-two-Pathfinder-games-while-GMing-one-takes-MIT’s-free-online-courses-for-fun kind of geek. So it shouldn’t be too much of a shock that I would want to talk about a recent, very-gendered Forbes article that has the nerdosphere arguing with itself.

Dear Fake Geek Girls: Please Go Away – Forbes

I was originally going to talk about the layer of sexism badly hidden beneath the geekier-than-thou, get-off-my-lawn mentality in the article, but a friend of mine linked me to an article on The Mary Sue that already did that way better than I could. So, instead, I’m going to talk a little about the myth itself, and the assumptions thereof. And it will be in list form!

Fake Geek Girl Assumption #1: Fake Geek Girls Exist
This is the obvious one. So, a girl (really, anyone) claims to love Dr. Who but hasn’t seen anyone but Matt Smith play the Doctor. Let’s look at some possibilities:

a) She absolutely loves the show, but only got into it a month ago, and wants to finish series 6 before going back to watch David Tennant or some classic Who.
b) She’s a “real geek” in some other area — say, Tolkein. Like the rest of us, there are parts of geek culture that she genuinely enjoys, but has only dabbled in. Dr. Who is one of them.
c) She, like many of us, is broke as fuck, and chose a healthy diet or an okayish apartment over Netflix. She’s also a musician with an ethical objection to piracy, so torrents aren’t an option. Sure, she could ask her friend to borrow her collection on DVD, but then her friend might remember that she still has her copy of the complete original series of Battlestar Gallactica!
d) She’s waiting for a friend or two to get some free time so they can watch the whole new series together, from the beginning.

I’ve never actually met a Fake Geek Girl, but I’ve met plenty of geek girls (I know, anecdotal evidence. Shoot me). Maybe it’s because I’m not immediately dismissing someone as fake when I find out that they’re not as invested in one particular aspect of geek culture as I am? I’m not saying that there has never-ever-in-the-history-of-the-universe, been a real Fake Geek Girl, but I am saying that such people are not nearly common enough for a magazine that isn’t even actually about geek culture to be publishing on it as if it is A Thing.

Fake Geek Girl Assumption #2: Geek Girls Want The Attention That Geek Guys Pour Over Them
Obviously, this varies from person to person. Some girls love having guys fawn, even obsess, over them; others find it annoying as fuck. Guess which one I hear about more often?

Fellow straight geek guys: Would you like it if every time you walked into your FLGS, one of the most socially awkward, annoying, and unhygenic girls there rushed you and followed you around the store unless explicitly told to leave you alone? (and sometimes, not even then?) That, with genders reversed, is more often than not what the “attention” that Fake Geek Girls supposedly want means for actual geek girls.

As more girls have entered the community, our problem of some guys fawning over them has waned, but it is definitely not a thing of the past. We, geek guys, have a lot to do as a community if we want to actually be the cool, welcoming, accepting group of folks we like to think we are.

(Also, geek girls: please, please, please call us out if we’re making you uncomfortable. Social awkwardness and coming from a male-dominated community can lead to some shitty, creepy behavior, but many of us just don’t know better. See the entire Captain Awkward blog for examples.)

Fake Geek Girl Assumption #3: Getting Into Something Through Your Significant Other Means You’re Doing For Attention (Or Sex)
Eventually, if a Fake Geek Girl fakes around long enough, she evolves into a Fake Geek Girlfriend (or so I’m told). Such women commit such heinous crimes as partaking in mutually enjoyable activities with their significant other, trying new things, and *gasp* trying to at least understand something that their boyfriend has put his heart and soul into, even if it seems silly!! Sometimes, they even continue the activity after the relationship has ended!!!!11111111

Despite what some may say, geek is still definitely a Guy Thing. Even as the numbers in our community shift closer to 50/50, women playing online games are forced to take male avatars and stay out of voice chat to avoid “TITS OR GTFO.” Companies continue to hire booth babes to garner attention at cons and expos. Bikini mail is still a thing. In such a male-dominated community, is it really all that surprising that a decent chunk of the girls there were first brought to the community by a boyfriend?

Directly because of former significant others, I currently:
– Listen to Flaming Lips, The Postal Service, Regina Spektor, and probably a few other bands that I’m forgetting
– Watch Dr. Who
– Frequent local coffee shops
– Know how to set up and work in a darkroom (Though I haven’t done so recently. I miss photography…)
– Go to art museums
– Know the owners of my local LAN center

When one is in a romantic relationship, one often does things with their partner that make them happy, because they like seeing their partner happy. Sometimes, one discovers that they enjoy an activity that they do with their partner in its own right. Why do we question only motives when this happens to girls, with geeky things?

For that matter, why do we have this myth at all?

~Eddy

Pedantic Feminist cont’d

by aronjerrison

For those of you who have seen the comments on my last post, a regular topic of disagreement with Eddy once again reared its head. Although I will be responding to his latest comment eventually, I thought that I ought to finish this post first.

When we last left our blogger, he was discussing how we need to reclaim ‘man’ as gender neutral. What he had yet to truly discuss, was why.

I have, in my short time on this planet studied a great number of languages. Despite never achieving more than a very very basic grounding in most of them, there was a trend that I noticed. A large percentage of languages, when addressed a mixed gendered group, will prefer masculine forms. This goes so far that even if there is only one male in a large group, one would use masculine collective nouns.

For the first fifteen years of my life, I attended a small private school on the east coast. There were no more than 150 students enrolled in the school at any time and that included four kindergartens and first through eighth grade. (an astute observer will notice that I seem to have finished middle school at the comparatively advanced age of fifteen. This is something which I may discuss at a later date.) In the grade above mine, there was a class composed of ten students, of whom only one was male. Despite this gender ratio, the Hebrew teacher referred to the students as talmidim, the Spanish teacher as los estudiantes, and the German teacher as die studenten (seemingly in contrast to the others, but one must remember that all German plurals use the feminine article).

When we learned this standard of pluralisation, I remember being surprised, and a bit shocked. Why were women being subordinated to men in language? I didn’t see them being subordinated in reality.

Why would men be “more important” in religious texts when the only Rabbi of whom I could think was female?

It was years before I realised what this implied. At the time, I thought that it was just a linguistic quirk. Now, having studied the history of western civilizations spanning millennia, I notice the pattern of dismissal of women, and the undercurrent of fear.

The current debate over reproductive rights is another in a long line of manifestations of wermen’s fear of wifmen’s reproductive abilities. There is no more sense in trying to mitigate an individual’s control of their generative abilities than there was in Zeus swallowing Metis for fear of her offspring.

Really, that’s why I call myself a feminist. Sure, there is a great deal more to it than that, but that is the Aristotelian first cause. In the nearly three thousand years since Hesiod wrote of Uranus stopping up Gaia’s womb so that she could bear no more children, we have stopped using amputation and blood-letting as panaceas, we have stopped leaving sickly children out to die of exposure, and we have stopped killing people to propitiate a plethora of gods, why then, do we continue to treat women with less care and respect than men?

Why do we still marginalise them in our language?

-AJ

Digression

by aronjerrison

I know that I had said that I would be finishing up my post on pedantic feminism, but I feel the need to make a minor digression in response to an image that my room mate showed me.

The image about which I shall be talking in this post can be found here.

He was browsing one of the multitude of “funny” image websites when he came across the photo, and, because it said feminist on it, he thought that I might be interested. He was right.

I am not going to discuss the elevator incident, because many people have already discussed it in great detail, and I feel that I could add nothing to the conversation. If you would like to know about it, I highly recommend Manboobz’ post on the topic.

What I want to discuss is what this indicates about the cultural associations that we seem to have with the word ‘feminist’. (Please note that I am well aware that this image came from a comedic site, I just happen to believe that our taste in comedy indicates something about our inner views).

Feminist bloggers the internet over have discussed time and time again how feminism is not an homogeneous thing. People with vastly differing views can still call themselves feminists and be entirely justified in that appellation. Pointing to these two very differing people and trying to draw the distinction between “women’s rights activist” and “feminist” is doomed to failure. Why? Because feminism is a word that refers to a loose set of affiliated political and social beliefs with the primary focus on improving the lot of the 51% of the population who are systematically oppressed and discriminated against on account of their gender.

The thing about this which strikes me as the most humorous is the description of Ayaan Hirsi Ali on her wikipedia page, in which she is described as “a Somali-Dutch feminist and atheist activist, writer and politician [emphasis mine]”.

I do not wish to belabour the point, because I know that my tendency towards pedantry might run away with me. I just wanted to point out that the two are not only mutually compatible, but feminism is a sine qua non for women’s rights activism.

-AJ

Straight, white, cis, male, and feminist

by EddyNorthwind

I’m an eagle scout, a member of a social fraternity, and a self-identifying masculist. Three strikes and I’m out on the whole “feminsim” thing, I guess.

…Except that’s horse shit. My mom was part of the first generation of women engineers to graduate from Duke, and is now the owner of two small businesses while still finding time to listen to me whine about whatever silly and transient problem is eating at me when we talk. My dad is Certified Nursing Assistant, which is like being a male nurse, only you also have to deal with the stereotype that you’re either too stupid or too poor to be a Real Nurse. The role of primary caregiver flipped between parents throughout my childhood depending on work schedule and barometric pressure. They didn’t raise me to be a bigot, and I like to think that I’m making them proud.

I am a loud proponent of Scouting For All, both within and outside the BSA. If you pass out drunk at my fraternity, we carry you to an extra bed, stay with you until you wake up, and offer to walk/drive you home, without even raping you once! I’m also one of those silly masculists who believes that masculism and feminism are complementary, i.e. that rigid gender roles and their enforcement hurt everyone, and that there is no way to deconstruct femininity without also deconstructing masculinity.

Oh, and I call myself a feminist. I do prefer the term gender egalitarian, but that’s unimportant (and more on that in a later post)

Something quiet and wonderful happened between the second and third wave: Feminism worked. If a straight white cis male from a well-off two-parent household in suburbia is arguing with his fraternity brothers about whether or not a particular nominee for a bid is conscious enough of personal boundaries to be admitted, someone did something very, very right.

Trouble is, some of us — even us third-wavers — are still stuck in the 1960s mindset that everyone is against us. I don’t mean to say that there aren’t very real issues that we face today — rape and rape culture are serious business, women are still making $0.77 on the dollar, and the idea of the hegemonically masculine male as the norm and everything else as “other” is still insidious and everywhere, to name just a few. Still, “the radical notion that women are people” isn’t radical at all today.

What is radical is the idea that a guy who fits the mold of hegemonic masculinity okayishly enough to fool a passing glance is Not A Real Feminist (And Is Probably Just In This To Get Laid). And I don’t mean radical in the good way, here.

Certainly, not everyone who calls themselves feminist feels this way. I don’t, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the Gadfly doesn’t. I’d even go so far as to suggest that most self-identifying feminists don’t. That doesn’t make it any less shitty when someone does voice these opinions. In high school, the sentiment was enough to drive me away from my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (admittedly, a different movement, but we didn’t have an in-house feminist group), despite the fact that roughly 2/3 of my social group at the time was at least a little queer.

Now, imagine what that attitude does to someone who is generally sympathetic to the whole “women are people” thing, but has heard some nasty stuff about man-hating feminists from some people and doesn’t really know what to think about the group of girls and a gay guy passing out SlutWalk fliers.

If we want to change how society views people, we have to be confrontational about some things. However, it’s important to make sure that we’re attacking ideas, not people.

~Eddy

Edit: I suppose I should mention that I no longer identify as straight. At time of writing, I had been in denial of my own homosexual attractions for about 6 years and was in the process of getting honest with myself. For the whole story, see this post. The short version is that I am and have always been a 2 on the Kinsey scale (primarily heterosexual with more than incidental homosexual attraction) and that I am currently still closeted to my family and some groups of friends.

Rare On-Topic Post

by naomiparker

I am a 5’2’’ tuba player.  I am a woman studying math and physics.  I am a lesbian with a boyfriend.  It’s safe to say I’m not overly concerned with “fitting in”.

Except with the feminists.

I’m terrified of the feminists.

I know that the vast majority of feminists are reasonable people who support the ultimately docile goal of human equality.  The feminists I know are generally intelligent, thoughtful, and cautious.  Some are even men.  These people are not the unfortunately popular image of the man-hating, bra-burning feminazi.  I have no reason to feel uncomfortable around them, let alone terrified.

I was hesitant to enroll in our university’s introductory level Women and Gender Studies course.  I much prefer my neutrinos and dynamical systems, but being the least unattractive of the diversity requirements, the WGS course was a necessary boredom.  I was surprisingly comfortable there, interested even.  My classmates were reasonably insightful, and I generally had no protests against the ideas presented in class.

Eventually the day came when I had something to say.  Not the kind of something to say where you answer a question or contribute some small insight to reassure the professor that you deserve those ten “class participation” points.  I came to class that day with a carefully constructed rebuttal to one of the assigned readings that I found offensive and frustrating.  I just had to come to class and say it.  Easy enough.

As one of my classmates gave a summary of the reading, I realized, to my horror, that she was completely fair and neutral.  I realize that this is good summarizing technique, but I was honestly expecting at least a little outrage.  I tried to read people’s faces, to see if they agreed with the clearly biased and misguided points the girl was so calmly repeating.  Nothing.

It dawned on me that no one was talking.  She had opened the discussion up to the class.  My hand should have been in the air, but it wasn’t, and I couldn’t explain why not.  No one made a sound for what seemed like hours.  Worse, the professor, an older Second Wave feminist with a very noticeable presence, was silent, waiting to either enforce or tear down the argument no one was making.

Finally, the girl leading the discussion caved with a hesitant “I mean…I…didn’t agree with everything she [the author] said, but…you know…”

That was what I needed.  I needed assurance that the class of thirty young, enthusiastic feminists (and one old one) wasn’t going to rip me to bits for questioning the author, and if they did, at least this girl would be hesitant about it.  I made my point before I had time to doubt myself again, and most of my classmates were vocal in their support of my rebuttal.

I realized then to what extent the misinformed stereotype of the harsh and judgmental feminist was ingrained into my consciousness.  It had made a decision for me.  I’m positive that it keeps others (particularly men) from expressing their views as well.  Those repressed opinions generally aren’t even questioning the ideals of feminism as much as they are contrary to the assumed ideals of the stereotypical feminists.  At first I thought the debate over the connotation of “feminist” and the movement to abolish the stereotype were minor concerns.  Now I believe they are the biggest obstacles we face while expanding the feminist movement.

-Naomi