Most people know the old saying, “You can’t have your cake, and eat it too.” The saying is a way of expressing that when one possible choice makes a condition impossible, you can’t expect to make that choice while retaining that condition. If you eat your cake, it’s gone. You can’t therefore also still have it.
What does that have to do with feminism?
When men’s rights activists advocate for legal reform, feminists attempt to counter our advocacy by blaming bad laws on “Patriarchy” and claiming that reforms should originate within the feminist movement. The hardships men face, we’re told, are all because of gender roles, and feminists are fighting to eliminate those, so we should stop our own activism and allow our movement to be absorbed into theirs.
The answer to that is no, and the reason is feminism’s academic and lobbying history. As our reason for rejecting the movement, antifeminists and men’s rights activists both have cited deliberately biased feminist research, the lobbying movement which used it, and the anti-male discriminatory law and policy it was used to promote.
Feminism’s history is one of falsely gendering human rights issues. They then advocate as if only women’s experience of those issues matters, and only women deserve relief from the conditions which cause those issues, while only men bear culpability for them. This has been the reasoning feminists have used to advocate “reforms” which create benefits for their movement and some women at the expense of male obligation and sacrifice, and of men’s families.
Feminism’s rape culture theory is based on the work of women like Susan Brownmiller, who in 1978, joined several of her comrades in the movement in lying to the U.S. congress about the scope, prevalence, and gender demographics of domestic violence as part of a decades-long push for discriminatory family violence law. Contributing to that push was Gloria Steinem, an icon of the movement, whose promotion of Mary P Koss’s faulty survey method (via publication) paved the way for it to become standard fare in research on sexual violence. Ms. Magazine sponsored a survey using Koss’s method and published the results in 1987. Koss’s published survey results figured prominently in efforts to replace the gender-neutral Family Violence Services and Protection act of 1984 with a then-new, gender-discriminatory version: The Violence Against Women act, signed in 1994. That law has led to terrible abuses in both criminal and family court.
When confronted with this and other criticism of the 2nd wave’s anti-male legal lobby, modern feminists all make the same argument: “Those aren’t real feminists!” Ignoring the fact that their critics are talking about the mothers of theory they reference when telling us how they believe men’s issues are really feminist issues, they point to feminism’s dictionary definition as the One True Feminism and insist that those embarrassments to the modern feminist movement must be radical feminists, therefore not representative. This, they seem to believe, exempts feminism from responsibility for its entire anti-male legal lobbying history. Real feminists, they insist, only advocate for equality for everyone, like the suffragettes.
There’s only one problem with this.
The suffragettes were no better than the second wave.
To begin with, western suffrage history is not as starkly divided as most folks are taught in school. When U.K. suffragettes began agitating, only about a quarter of U.K. men could vote, and that number had only been achieved after decades of effort at reform. During much of that time, economic standards such as property ownership, income level, and poll fees were used to limit voting to the wealthiest members of society… and although fewer of them met these standards, women weren’t originally barred from voting. In the U.S., class and ethnic background were both barriers which kept many men from having or exercising the right to vote.
Further, these violent provocateurs were not all about equality for everyone. They did not advocate for women to face the same responsibilities as men, and in fact had to reassure women opposed to their activities that women’s suffrage would not result in women becoming subject to being drafted for war, like men. This, despite suffragette involvement in white feather campaigns to shame men and boys and even veterans into enlisting during wartime. Also among the suffragettes were a significant contingent of racial bigots, whose rhetoric included opposition to minority citizenship and objection to the possibility that minority men might help to elect legislators whose decisions would affect nonvoting white women.
Given that as an example of feminism, the suffragettes display the same embarrassing combination of hypocrisy and sexism as the movement’s oft-denied second wave, by the standards of the One True Feminism argument, they must also be radfems. By that standard, they can be no more representative of the movement than the likes of Brownmiller, Steinem, and Koss. Of course, this does leave feminism with very little history, especially in the way of real-world activism. There’s not a change in law or policy made at the behest of feminists that wasn’t advocated for by the very women whom dictionary feminists would excommunicate from the movement; either the violent, racist, gynocentric suffragettes or the sexist, rapacious (and also sometimes racist) second wave.
This leaves dictionary feminists, initiates of the One True Feminism, with a rather unpalatable choice. They can have their cake, their claim that feminism is all advocacy for equality, advocacy for whole equality, and nothing but advocacy for equality, but it will mean that feminism is nothing but theory and rhetoric, with no real world impact… or they can choke that cake down, and feminism can have its history, its victories tainted by the attitudes and prejudices of its foremothers, and its rhetoric called into question by biases in the research on which it is based, to be potentially countered by nonfeminist arguments.
To do the former, the One True Feminism’s dictionary disciples will have to knowingly, unabashedly lie about their cake, telling everyone it’s a proven fact and anyone who doesn’t believe it just doesn’t understand feminism. To do the latter, they’ll have to admit the obvious: The cake is a lie, and it’s not so easy to dismiss criticism of historical feminists as simply denying who – and what – they were.
Nonfeminists are not persuaded by dictionary definitions and hasty denials of recorded history, and schoolyard counterarguments are not going to silence our criticism of the feminist movement. Or, as Fidelbogen’s compilation puts it:
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