Following is a primer for men who are genuinely interested in learning about how to be a more feminist-friendly dude. Most of the information in this piece is, as always, generally applicable in terms of being decent to the people around you, but this has been written to be most accessible for men in keeping with the objective of the series, which is responding to commonly emailed questions from privileged men (here, generally meaning straight cis men) seeking advice on how to interact with the women in their lives.
[Content Note: Violence; harassment.]
Recently, a fellow feminist blogger emailed me about the bullshit that is men entering conversations with feminists by saying things like:
"I'm going to get clobbered for saying this, but..."
"I'm just going to say this and then run away...."
—and then claiming that these are reasonable things to say, because it's SO SCARY to engage with feminist women.
Here's the thing: If you want to engage in good faith with feminist women, don't start from a position of implying that we are hostile (and violently so, at that).
That is not to say that you don't have a right to feel intimidated. Feeling intimidated by engaging with a person to whom you have relative privilege and/or multiple privileges, especially when you're first examining that privilege, is natural—and a good sign you've arrived at a place where you consider that person an expert on hir own experiences.
It's also not to say that expressing intimidation is always a terrible thing. But if you want to express intimidation, the best way to do that is, "I feel intimidated right now as a result of my own lack of expertise," not to imply that the problem lies with the expert.
That reflexive assumption, casually and incessantly expressed, that feminists are hostile (and violently so!) is one of the reasons I inserted the "no bad faith" clause into Shakesville's commenting policy. If someone can't approach me, or another contributor, or a fellow commenter, without the implication that feminists are violent tyrants who react vengefully to any expression of disagreement, that is not engaging with good faith. To put it politely.
As any blanket generalization about an entire group, it is dehumanizing and gross, but there's an extra layer of fuckery in eliding that feminist women have faced actual, real-life, meaningful consequences for transgressive feminist thought before feminism even had a name.
Feminist/womanist/progressive women have sometimes faced punishment in the form of violence, including rape and murder; sometimes in the form of imprisonment; sometimes in the form of ostracization from family and/or community; sometimes in the form of lack of professional opportunities; sometimes in the form of harassment at or termination from work; sometimes in combinations thereof, and that is hardly a comprehensive list.
This isn't a Thing of the Past. This isn't a Thing That Happens in Those Countries. This is a thing that happens even to the most privileged feminist women, who identify as feminist and lead public lives as feminists, whether they are writing about reproductive rights, video games, race, literature, cooking, war, knitting, rape culture, or anything and everything in between.
There is a risk and there is a cost.
Even to a feminist woman who goes to her RPG group and asks them to stop using "rape" to mean anything but a sexual assault, there is a risk and there is a cost. Even in the best-case scenario, where everyone immediately says, "Oh gee, we're so sorry, Friend, and thank you for pointing that out!" and no one ever ever never ever keeps in the back of their minds that Friend is oversensitive and polices language and she is such a drag and political correctness blah blah, there is the emotional cost of having to ask in the first place, and the wondering, always wondering, if she's been forever labeled as The Hysteric.
A man entering into a feminist blog thread to leave a comment is not equivalent. Particularly if he's leaving a contrary comment, as most comments preceded by "I'm probably going to get hammered for this, but..." are, the entire rest of the culture has his back.
It is this lack of perspective, this pretense that it is feminists who are so aggressively intolerant of dissension that they are prone to react with actual violence to anti-feminist ideas, while anti-feminists are the tormented minority constantly in danger of undeserved retribution, that makes such salvos truly abhorrent.
The fear of being punished for an idea is really projection—a deliberate misrepresentation in precise opposite of what men and woman face, which effectively masks the truth of our world.
If you want to engage feminist women in good faith, you must start by respecting the realities of their lives.
And you must understand that approaching a feminist with the implication she will physically harm you does not invite a kind response. So don't be surprised if you fail to get one.
[Related Reading: Teaspoon vs. Dumptruck.]