The Feminist Gadfly

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

Category: Third-Wave Feminism

I Welcome the Coming Polyamorous Revolution, and You Should Too

by EddyNorthwind

[Content Note: Polyamory, discussion of homophobia and anti-poly sentiment*]

Over on Role / Reboot, an article said something that got me thinking.

My son told me that as much as he enjoyed it, he did not plan to do multiple partner sex again. He thought it was great as an introduction, but now he wanted to go back to a single heterosexual partner. As I audibly sighed with relief, he reminded me gently, “Mom, poly is the new gay.” If I wanted to keep my cred as a liberal parent I would need to accept it. This set me back for a second. I thought about how quick I was to judge other parents who refused to accept their adult children’s homosexual relationships. Poly is the outpost on the sex positive frontier that my children’s generation has reached.

Poly is the new gay. The similarities are definitely real. The Christian Right believes our “lifestyle choices” are abominations, and would rather us not exist. Poly marriage is as illegal as gay marriage, and has even less popular support. We’re both extremely othered by mainstream culture — gays with archetypes like the gay male pedophile or the scary man-hating lesbian, and poly people with images of philandering jerks and religious cults. I can easily imagine the same battles we’re fighting now over gay rights being repeated 50 years down the road over polyamory, with one key difference.

Polyamory actually is a lifestyle choice. And that’s awesome.

We’re making progress on the gay rights frontier, but that progress has mainly come about by changing how society views homosexuality, and not by changing how society views sex. I’m fine with this. All the same, it does leave much to be desired.

While it’s possible that poly rights will follow a similar route — normalizing polyamory rather than promoting sex positivity, that seems unlikely to me. There is no “born this way” for polyamory; it’s a choice. To win this one, we’re going to have to convince people that poly lifestyles are no better or worse than mono lifestyles; it’s simply a matter of preference. To do that, we’re going to have to convince people that sex is fundamentally private and personal, and that good consent, safety, and honesty are the only issues society has any business regulating or stigmatizing.

Read that last sentence again, because those two propositions are the absolute core of sex positivity. If we win poly rights, we win the culture war, at least about sex. There will be no need to worry about de-stigmatizing (safe, consensual) BDSM, because it will fall under the umbrella ideal of “your sex is not my business.”

I want to live in that future, and applaud those who are making it possible. Keep kicking ass.


*After reading AJ’s recent post and a ton of Shakesville, I decided to personally adopt the Shakesville policy of putting content notes on everything instead of trigger warnings on potentially volatile stuff. I haven’t talked to the other Gadflies about this yet, but if you see them doing it it’s because we’ve agreed to all start doing it.


Facebook and casual sexism

by EddyNorthwind

First, an image:

As you can probably guess, I made this after seeing one too many of the “As’ rules for Bs'” Facebook memes, and figured I’d share it in hopes that someone will find it useful. This phenomena deserves more than just a 92 word response, though, so I figured I’d comment on it here in a more extended manner.  But first, some source material:

…and you get the gist. (content copy/pased after the jump for non-Facebookers and in case links break)

This stuff is pretty obviously sexist, but for the sake of completeness, I’ll go over why:

1) It makes a hugely general claims about classes of people (men and women) that vary widely; many of these claims don’t even apply to a majority of people in the given class. Example: It’s pretty hard to get statistics on “sports fans”, since the term is so loosely defined, but Super Bowl XLV had 111.3 million viewers. Given that the United States currently has 310 million people, less than 72% of US men watched the most-watched game of the year, even if we assume that literally every person watching is a US male. More realistically, the figure is something like 48%, which is what it is if 2/3 of the viewers are male. Sunday is not sports day for me, or, apparently, for the majority of men, and claiming that it is universally so erases the existence of a huge swath of the population. This particular example is relatively benign, but some of the claims made by these memes, like “all women are unapologetically horrendous while on their period” and “all men are cheating pigs” are genuinely harmful, because they encourage such poor behavior as a means of gender performance. These ideas also make it easier to make excuses for poor behavior, i.e. “Boys will be boys.”

2) It erases homosexual and transgender people. These are universally voiced as one cisgendered individual addressing another cisgendered individual of the other gender. It’s easy to say, “well, yeah, these are specifically about cisgender, straight relationships, so of course they’re going to be cis and straight-centric. You don’t hear people complaining about how the Women’s rules for Men don’t directly address women, do you?”, but such an argument is flawed, because there are no (no widely shared, at least) “Men’s rules for Men”, or “Women’s rules for Women”. Sure, you can say they’re not widely shared because they don’t apply to as many people, but I for one have seen plenty of men sharing the women’s rules, and vice versa, even among people who I know have never been in a relationship. These memes aren’t about actual experiences in relationships, they’re about the kinds of relationships we see in TV and movies, which are almost universally cis and straight.

Casual sexism sucks, because it often feels like there isn’t much you can do about it. You don’t want to be labeled a “humorless feminist”, but at the same time you don’t want to just do nothing while people you know contribute to a shitty, sexist culture. What’s one to do?

Fight bad jokes with good ones, is what I’ve concluded. If someone is engaging in casual sexism, they’re probably not going to respond well to Shakesville links or Naomi Wolf quotes; direct confrontation without social backup is typically a losing proposition. An obviously fake laugh and some well-done sarcasm, on the other hand, provides negative feedback and expresses that you don’t find the joke funny, but does so without making you into a Captain Ahab, unable to see anything but the White Whale of sexism (even if, in reality, sexism is more like the matrix: the only reason people don’t see it is because it’s everywhere). Unless you’re literally surrounded by sexists, it’s pretty easy to come out of such an encounter ahead, which will teach the casual sexist that “hur hur sexism hur” is not going to make them any friends.

…and that’s pretty much the gist of it. The question of how best to engage a sexist world is a difficult one, but if the response I’ve gotten on Facebook is any indication, stuff like this seems to be pretty effective.

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On speaking out, and carpooling

by EddyNorthwind

I recently had the pleasure of carpooling home with Lucy for spring break, and she said some things that got on my nerves. Many of them have nothing to do with this blog (though if I hear one more person refer to the DDoS attack on as “Anonymous hacked the FBI”, I will rip my own ears off), but her views on marriage and men popped up and, well, they’re repugnant. Very briefly:

Lan, a friend of Lucy’s from a relatively well-off Vietnamese family who was staying with Lucy for the break, said something to the effect of, “My mother says I should find a nice American guy and marry him, but I don’t want to do that. I’d rather make enough money for myself and marry somebody who I love.”

Lucy responds, “Yeah, I agree, but I don’t want to marry anyone who is too poor. My standards aren’t that high, but I do have them.” (emphasis mine, un-emphasized part is paraphrased)

First, props to Lan. I have no idea what Vietnamese culture is like, but I imagine that it’s at least no easier to say something like that over there than it is here in the States, and likely harder.

Second, I don’t know where to begin with Lucy’s comment. It suggests a belief that a woman cannot be the primary earner in a household, and, equally bad, that a man’s value is determined solely by how much money he makes. In the context of previous comments she has made, it continues to spread the narrative that women trade sex for financial security, which contributes to rape culture. I’m sure there are other problematic aspects of this (including the obvious classism), but that’s actually not what I wanted to make this post about. Despite her bass-ackwards views on gender and sexuality, I actually like Lucy. She’s been pretty accepting of others and my quirks and idiosyncracies, and is really sweet. I don’t want to make this any more about her than it already is.

What I wanted to talk about is how, despite the wrongness of what she was saying, I didn’t say anything.

Maybe I was tired. Maybe I’m just a weak person. Despite rejecting what she was saying with every fiber of my being, I made a choice to stay quiet, only texting AJ about what I was hearing. Was I right to do so?

I have no problem arguing abstracts with people, but when it gets personal, I don’t know what to say. Lucy was not explicitly saying that This Is How All Relationships Are, and yet from previous conversations I know that is how she feels. Would it have been appropriate to call her out on that? If I had, would it have made a difference?

I believe that talking about gender is the single most effective way to get people thinking about it, and getting people thinking about gender is the single most important thing we can do to promote equality. At the same time, kyriarchy is fucking everywhere, and if you point it out every time it comes up, you’re going to lose friends pretty quickly, or else your only friends will be fellow egalitarians (in which case, you’re not accomplishing anything when you point out kyriarchy).

Was I right to stay quiet? Was I at least not wrong to stay quiet? I don’t know. And that’s what bothers me.


As always, names are changed to protect the innocent

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.


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.