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: Misogynist tropes and slurs; intersection of misogyny and disablism.]
Here is a question I get by email (and see posed online) not infrequently: What does it take to really be a nice guy (as opposed to a Nice Guy)?
Well, it takes being nice, for a start. But it also takes making a habit of liking women.
What I Don't Mean by Liking Women: Being sexually attracted to women. Liking women monolithically and treating them as above criticism and/or putting them on a pedestal which is dehumanizing. Liking them with expectations. Liking them with ulterior motives, even if it's just the cookies men who don't hate women tend to get.
What I Do Mean by Liking Women: Regarding women generally with good faith, and not as a collection of grim stereotypes. Treating women as individuals. Respecting diversity in expressions of womanhood. Never obliging a woman to speak for all women, or treating her as an exception to her gender. Building friendships with women.
And primarily: Thinking of women as likable.
We live in a profoundly misogynist culture. Everyone is taught to hate women. Women are socialized to hate each other (and ourselves), to think of ourselves and one another as less than.
Even most feminist women have to make a habit of liking women, of rewriting that entrainment to reflexively see other women in negative terms, and replacing it with a spirit of sisterhood. A lot of women exceptionalize the women in their lives in the same way men do. My group of female friends having fun at this bar is awesome; that other group of female friends having fun at this bar is a bunch of skanks. That is the way we are all socialized to view women—their individual value determined by proximity and affiliation, rather than merit.
The point is: Even feminist women have to make a habit of liking women. So do you.
One of the most basic and insidious and intractable pieces of systemic misogyny is that women are simply unlikeable, as a rule. Difficult. Catty. Competitive. Vain. Bitches be crazy.
And the only way to break that down, and to form a new habit, is to think instead about the things you like about women you've known: Maybe it's kindness, or loyalty, or creativity, or competency, or truthfulness, or empathy, or whatever. It's taking time to explore, consciously and purposefully, what you have liked about women, what you do like about women, what makes women likable.
It's taking time to explore, consciously and purposefully, what it means that we live in a culture in which Good Guys are THE BEST! and even Bad Guys are roguishly likeable, but Good Girls are pathetic and contemptible, indicting everyone else's imperfections with their intolerable mere existence, and Bad Girls are only good for one thing. Most men are axiomatically afforded the assumption of likability; women have to earn it person by person.
It's taking time to explore, consciously and purposefully, what the difference really is between flippantly saying, "Oh, sure, I like women," and really finding women likeable. There are a lot of men who can respect women, and still cannot bring themselves to like us.
This isn't an easy subject, because it's hard to write and talk about these sorts of nuances, and because everyone except the most shamelessly vile misogynists fancy themselves a person who doesn't hate women. But there is a difference between not hating women and thinking of them as likable. I have crossed that bridge. And once you are on the other side, you realize how cavernous the space between the shores really is.
Thinking of women as likeable in a misogynist culture is truly a radical act.
Wanting to fuck women is not. Objectifying women is not. Hurting women is not. Marginalizing women is not.
But liking them is.
If you want to be a nice guy, first be a radical guy.
[Related Reading: An Observation.]