About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several literary projects in Dutch.

This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The women who could be allies but are not (yet)

The recent surge of female groups against feminism is a curious thing, and one that leaves a lot of feminists and their allies befuddled, especially if the women behind antifeminist statements do not seem to be overly religious or motivated by a conservative agenda. Microtrends like this invariably open up old sores for me, too.

Hook, line and sinker

See, I totally understand why most men are apathetic at best towards feminism, and consequently don't spend a lot of time thinking about it, making it easy for them to become misinformed. I also don't lay the responsibility to be feminist at the feet of every woman. I understand that women who have been raised by conservative values will sometimes buy these hook, line and sinker, or that they might be simply misinformed as well.

But what raises my hackles is when I see or hear women speak out against feminism who, by all rights, already espouse and live by a lot of what feminism stands for. I'm talking about women who have struggled against sexual conservatism to express themselves, women who value having a career and resist the pressure to settle down and have babies, women who are unafraid to speak up and make their opinion known - women who have no qualms competing with men and who fight for their personal freedom.

Not some think piece

This is not some think piece where I will berate these women for not reading feminist theory, because it would be especially presumptuous of me - a man - to tell these women how they should be feminist. In fact, what has set some of these women against feminism is probably that they catalog conservative pressures to be a certain type of woman right along with the pressure they feel from some feminists to be a certain type of woman. Let me get back to that in my final points.

For the sake of argument, I'll try to explore three typical anti-feminist arguments that you hear from this particular type of woman who has a feeling of hostility towards feminists.

1. "I'm not against feminism per se, but..."

Let's get this one out of the way first. The assumption usually here is that feminism is a thing that has already served its purpose. This assumption is much more widespread among men, but it's a little myopic to say the least: it's not because you personally have rarely had experiences with street harrassment of haven't experienced sexual coercion or misogyny, that nobody else does, or worse, that it's victims' own fault.

2. "I don't need feminism because I love men"

Obviously feminism doesn't hate men, but wants to bring down patriarchy - a pervasive system that systematically and disproportionally empowers straight men, usually to the expense of everybody else.

I'm sure that women who say this have had great individual experiences with men, might have had caring fathers or cool brothers, and so on. But there's something that's nagging about this statement, which leads me to the next one:

3. "I'm not like those women"

In 'The Gender Delusion', neuroscientist Cordelia Fine noted research that the more women rise in a typically male hierarchy, the more they will start adopting values traditionally associated with masculinity. In a very recent article, Soraya Chemaly has noted this as well.

A perverse side effect of these masculine values - that ulimtately root in patriarchy - is that they relegate women to second tier status. So by adopting the dominant discourse of power, they start seeing (some) other women, or men seen as not conforming enough, as weak and less worthy.

Individual vs social

There is something disingenuous about this. It's one thing to say "I'm not interested in feminism because I don't believe women should be equal to men" (as religious conservatives would say), which is at least a consistent position. It's another thing to - often consciously - put feminism to practice as an individual but work against it on a social level.

So yeah, I feel slightly despondent when I see the next celebrity, accomplished woman or powerful role model express her preference for 'Real Men', pity her own gender as typically weak and emotional (or dabble in the old 'men are like this and women like that' fairytale), and generally use feminist accomplishments as a launching pad to perpetuate a status quo.

You mean they owe other women something?

To be owed something is a very thorny subject in feminism because it is reminiscent of some men who feel that women owe them sex, love or attention for no reason other than that these men want it, the woman's opinions be damned.

So no, this particular type of anti-feminist women doesn't owe feminism anything, but it would be nice if they could turn around to see the flaw in their thinking. Note that this is not me saying: "here's how you should behave", but "here's why I think you're wrong". Those are two different things.

Consistency is hard!

In a broader sense, it's a frank conversation that anyone should be having with themselves, including self-avowed feminists and progressives. Another good example is the generation of Baby Boomers who's built its career and fortune on the institutions they and their parents worked to make more meritocratic, yet is now shutting the door for everyone else. Or how some radical Islamic groups demand respect for their right to wear the headscarf (which is fine), yet deride any woman who doesn't as a slut.

Expecting total ideological consistency from an individual is probably unfair. It's very human to believe contradictory things or to act contrary to one's self-image and ethos. To demand perfection is to buy into the Nirvana fallacy. I'm just disappointed with a segment of women who would probably be great feminist role models (I'm not asking for activists) to be so vicious against the people who could be her natural allies.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Don't be 'That Guy'

I have always maintained that feminism must be both a theory and a practise. Practise without theory has no direction and may often end up doing feminism a disservice, while theory without practise accomplishes nothing but intellectual self-satisfaction.

How do you 'do' feminism then? Like, in daily life? And as a man? I've already written a few short tips (under the 'Minimal effort' title) that you can do to be a better ally even if you feel uncomfortable discussing or arguing in public.

Disregarding the question whether men can really be complete feminists because they are not women, there is much more that we can do to both help ourselves and help women. This includes a category of breaking with what I call 'That Guy'-behaviour that irritates me to no end among some men who claim to be supportive of feminism and its goals. So, don't be*:

That Guy who brushes off criticism by saying "but I mean well!"

Because he tries to be a good husband to Felicia and listens to the opinions of women around him moreso than his peers do, Patrick can't see what's wrong with advising women to not wear revealing outfits late at night in dodgy areas in the city. Instead of reflecting on what he might have done wrong, Patrick goes into defence mode, digs in his heels and keeps repeating he "means well" as if that is a magic mantra that will shield him from criticism.

That Guy who dismisses women's perspectives and feelings as part of the discussion.

George is a scientist with a keenly analytical mind. He enters a discussion on everyday sexism where a woman complains that salesmen always address her husband first or seem to assume that her husband will know more about the matter at hand. George launches into a discussion of why this salesman might assume that and will be frustrated about the 'anecdotism' of the woman with the story, completely ignoring his privilege of not having experienced any of her frustration on a personal level.

That Guy who thinks he's entitled to make sexist jokes because he "gets it".

Frank is abhorred by acid attacks on women in the Middle East and came out in support of stricter laws on sexual violence. He also realizes that in many ways, women still don't have it as good as most men. When someone then calls him out on casually referring to a celebrity as a "vacuous bimbo", he dismisses that criticism by saying that he can't possibly mean it that way.

That Guy who enters debates and wants to be heard despite not knowing a lot about the topic at hand.

In an ongoing discussion about underrepresentation of women in higher management, Robert pipes up with selfmade theories about how and why this is, despite never having really thought about this before. He disturbs the discussion and objects to being told to listen because he is very eager to share his opinion, although it is irrelevant.

That Guy who tells all the ladies to calm down.

A discussion is getting particularly heated, and Richard steps in to say that he finds the atmosphere too toxic and that people should calm down. Instead of trying to honestly understand why they are upset, he manages to turn the discussion against him, confirming his prejudice that feminism is being hijacked by "hysterical women".

That Guy who is "just asking questions".

James can't stay away from a good debate. In a discussion following a news story about sexual assault on a minor, he starts theorising about age of consent laws and bringing up the possibility that some minors might enjoy sex. In the outrage that follows, he fails to see that he's been acting pretty airily about a touchy subject that some may have personal histories with, and decides that feminists are bad at debating.

That Guy who lectures feminists about how to do feminism.

David is an experienced guy and socially progressive. He can't help but offering suggestions about the marketing strategy of feminism, its branding and its messaging, in ways that he believes would improve the movement, inevitably rousing anger in activists who have dedicated years to the cause, and ignoring that the root cause for the pushback against feminism is (usually) not their comm strategy, but society's sexist structures.

This list can be virtually endless, but I'll end on a few brief notes that extend beyond men who are already engaged in socially progressive movements in one way or another. As always, I'm aware that I may be preaching to the choir, but I want to demonstrate how easy it can really be to make a positive difference without becoming a full-blown activist.

So, allow me to present some quick parting shots. Don't be That Guy who:

... takes criticism of some male behaviour personally
... wants a cookie or a pat on the head for not being a horrible person
... pushes for sex although all physical, mental and even verbal cues say she doesn't want to
... decides to strike up random conversations with random women who are out alone at night - there are plenty of avenues to meet women where they don't already feel unsafe
... reduces gender to stupid stereotypes
... cat-calls, whistles, honks or jeers at women
... brings up issues that affect men only when the conversation is about women
... feels entitled to female attention
... calls other men gay, girls or pussies if they don't meet some arbitrary standard for masculinity
... is totally That Guy without realising it

* All of this may apply to some women as well, but I write mainly for men.