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.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Space invaders

For about three years now, I've part of a discussion group on Facebook about (mostly) feminism. I'm the only man in its moderation team, for what it's worth. For some time now, I've been fascinated with a peculiar phenomenon: men who I'll call space invaders. Men who enter the group, demanding to be listened to while obviously rather ignorant about feminist theory and practice. I'm not talking here about misogynists, undercover MRAs or people with other garden variety reactionary agendas. The specific subset of men I'm referring to would probably say they are proponents of gender equality, progressives to a degree, and not wholly uneducated.

The thing with reactionaries, trolls and MRAs is that they expect or may even thrive on conflicts. The 'space invader' doesn't even expect to be disagreed with. Of course, it's hardly a new thing that self-proclaimed progressives are sometimes absurdly blind to their own privilege and ignorance. Merely saying "I'm one of the good guys" doesn't magically make you a Good Person (tm). But the thing that fascinates me is that some of these guys simply can't let it go. Time and again, the discussion group has seen men come in who put their shallow ideas on full display*, get criticised for it, leave in a huff (or get kicked out if they make too much trouble), then come back, refusing to let it go and give it a rest.

I'm not a psychologist but I wonder about what goes on in these minds. It's easy to point to the fact that many men are simply so accustomed to be deferred to, that the simple fact a mostly female audience doesn't and combats them with facts (and facts of life) somehow triggers a firestorm in their heads. It's probably part of all of this, but my personal take is that their refusal to let it go comes from a place of wanting their egos to be reassured. That yes, they are one of the "good men", that indeed, feminists will go out of their way to personally tell him that all this talk of harassment, exclusion and rape doesn't concern him, and so on.

It's not an exclusively male thing. I've seen female activists sometimes descend down the same rabbit hole, where their activism seems to be something they hold onto to define themselves as a person or to gain some form of self-worth. But, in the majority of cases, it's dudes. Dudes with demands. That their ideas be taken seriously, although their understanding of feminism is shallow. That feminists be nice to them or that they'll risk losing their precious support. Or that feminism better focus on issues they think are more deserving of attention.

In a similar vein, this is agnostic or Christian people upset at the notion of Muslim holidays getting attention, or guys who open fake accounts on dating sites for lesbians. It's about spaces that weren't designed for them that they want to make about them, too. The thought of getting excluded from these spaces seems unbearable to them.

The earliest example I can think of of this type of behaviour is the Greek myth about Pentheus, who is curious about the women-only rituals of the Maenads (an all-female cult devoted to the god Dionysus). He goes to spy on their rituals, gets caught and is gruesomely dismembered and partially eaten. I believe this story and its modern-day variants tie into the recent hashtag of #masculinitysofragile. Indeed, masculinity so fragile it can't deal with the thought of not being particularly wanted in some space. The desire to be validated by or to seek domination in areas where they think they ought to belong.

Of course, all of this could be read as rich in irony from a man who helps moderate a feminist space. After all, I too talk and discuss in this space and even help enforce its rules and etiquette. But I never did it for validation (nor for the nookie, as some sleazelords have suggested). I'm on this journey to better understand things, to learn things. And I've certainly been called out on badly supported viewpoints or hackneyed statements. Again - ironically - I had the confidence in my intellectual achievements built up enough that I can stand the dent in my ego when I'm proven wrong. These other men, these space invaders, have never had that confidence. It's all bluster.

It's all rather sad, in a way. Self-proclaimed progressives who don't agree with the ideas of toxic masculinity are potential allies to gender equality movements indeed. But at the same time, their failure to realise how it has shaped and informed their biases, too, makes them one of feminism's most annoying detractors.

* Usually incredibly ham-fisted but fully earnest notions such as "did feminists ever consider X?", "we should all work towards a better world", "#notallmen", etc.