So, here's something interesting that happened after "Terrible Bargain" was published at The Guardian's CifA yesterday: I started getting emails from men.
All the emails from non-Shakers I've gotten in response to that piece since it went up yesterday have, in fact, been from men.
And all of them have been supportive.
Which is awesome—and yet also speaks to a fundamental problem inextricably related to the piece itself: Feminist men who do the right thing often do it quietly, while misogynist men spew their rubbish at incredible volumes.
See: The comments thread at CifA. In which, btw, I do not want to discount the valuable and valued voices of male feminist allies like Richard Adams and Flewellyn, who were and are total champions, nor the voices of the men who speak up regularly in contentious feminist threads in this space (and others).
The few, the proud, the vocal allies.
But anyone who's spent a lot of time in those sorts of threads knows that the dynamic is almost always a bunch of women (and a couple of male allies, if any) fighting against an onslaught of faugressive dudebros and/or MRAs (and the occasional Exceptional Woman who denies other women's experiences in exchange for cookies from anti-feminist men).
I can certainly understand why men don't want to get involved in the rage-making timesucks that are threads about feminist women's lived experiences. Aside from the crushing feeling of futility such participation inspires, men who engage on the side of feminist women inevitably face a barrage of intense vitriol. In return for allowing me merely to publish his response to the piece, Iain has been resoundingly pitied by misogynists across the blogosphere for his lamentable fate to be married to such a gruesome harridan.
(He has also been deemed a "saint," for, let's recall, demonstrating a basic willingness to give a shit when he hurts me. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. And I'm the alleged man-hater…!)
Getting involved pretty much sucks rocks. You're forced to deal with people who, on the best end, are deliberately obtuse bullies and, on the worst end, leave comments like the ones quickly moderated from yesterday's CifA thread contending I must have been lying about being raped because I am so ugly. These are not pleasant folks, and I'd like to avoid them myself.
Unfortunately, that would necessitate closing up shop, putting down my teaspoon, and going silent.
And then, somehow, magically not being a woman who lives in a patriarchy anymore.
This is the hard truth for progressive men who care about gender-based inequalities: When you leave the public fight to others, you're leaving it mostly to women—which, I don't guess I need to point out to the intelligent and thoughtful men reading this site, is itself a perpetuation of gender-based inequality.
I'll give you a moment to contemplate the many ways in which treating feminism as "woman's work" is some fucked-up irony, right there.
Now here's the other thing about leaving the rectification of gender-based inequalities to the ladies: Misogynist men don't respect women. They don't listen to women; they won't acknowledge a woman's authority on her own lived experiences; they're not going to learn anything from women, and certainly not feminist women.
Men who think women are less than need to hear that they're terribly, infuriatingly, and demonstrably wrong from other men. Publicly. Passionately. As loud as the loud, so very loud, voices on the other side. One of the ways their self-reassuring bullshit works is via the effective void of male dissension, which supports their erroneous belief that they are the "objective" arbiters of womanhood. Well, if we're so wrong, where are the other people [men] to say so? they wonder smugly.
They count on feminist men never showing up en masse for the main event.
Recently, we've had a couple of threads about trans issues get nasty, and, in each case, I've dived in and gone ten rounds of virtual fisticuffs. I was pissed (PISSED, BROOTHA!!!), because I categorically do not consider the legitimacy of trans lives up for debate, and it infuriates me that there exist people who do. But I was pissed in a different way than I get pissed when it's a thread in which, for example, the legitimacy of my perceptions of my lived experiences as a woman are being debated, because being pissed on behalf of other people doesn't make my heart pound and my teeth grind the way being forced to defend my own goddamned consciousness does.
During those nasty threads, on the other side of the series of tubes connecting our respective inboxes, CaitieCat's heart was pounding and her teeth were grinding, because it was personal to her in a way it's not to me. I wasn't the one being attacked; my life wasn't being treated like a tetherball. My empathy allows me to be a tenacious ally, but my cis privilege insulates me from the resonant ache of being a lifelong target of transphobia. What is galling to me in a trans thread gone off the rails, can be not merely galling but triggering to CaitieCat, because it plucks the strings of her history.
And even though Maude knows CaitieCat can hold her own in any thread in the multiverse, as can the rest of the trans Shakers, my role as an ally is to make sure that they don't have to carry that burden on their own—that they aren't expected, in the middle of a personal attack, to swallow down ten metric fucktons of rising bile in order to face off against and/or try to educate someone who's hurting them, especially on the occasions when that hurt is deliberate.
Often the most important thing an ally can do is just be willing to stand in front of a friend and take a few arrows in the armor made thicker by degrees of distance, to give the priceless gift of: "I got this one."
If, my esteemed male feminist allies, you don't want to be part of the problem, these fights have got to be your province, too. Giving yourselves the permission to not get publicly involved, or to get publicly involved only when it's convenient and not all that risky and not all that hard, is the ultimate expression of privilege.
And, hence, counter to precisely the principles with which you're ostensibly allied.
Let's get loud together, shall we?
[Terrible Bargain: One, Two, Three, Four, Five.]