Last night I had the opportunity to engage in one of those Feminist Discussions. "I'm going to get across to him," you think to yourself. "I'm going to make a difference. I'll going to be the one to change him." You know what I'm talking about. You talk for three hours over whiskey (and salvia? Sure, why not). You think you're making progress, but by the end you you have not made progress slurs like "you sound like a right wing fanatic" get tossed with impunity, and you the conversation's aftermath will surely destroy whatever friendship you had with this individual in the first place. In short, it was like a lot of the conversations I have on the topic.
This particular conversation was with a new male friend whom we'll call Ralph. Now, before I go any further, let me say that I, a cisgay white man, talking about feminism with Ralph, a cishet white man, is not an ideal forum for discussing women's issues. I think that having feminist viewpoints come from women is not only more appropriate, it's more powerful. I also firmly believe, however, that men who understand and support feminism need to speak up to dudes who don't. (Emma Watson agrees, for whatever that's worth.) It makes sense to me. I've had straight allies stand up to their conservative friends and family for me behind the scenes and bring about change in LGBT issues when I can't be there to provide my points of view. So although I'm not a woman, I'd hope I could stand in as a proxy when discussions on feminism arise.
Now then, back to the conversation.
Ralph and I covered a lot of ground: from the merits of unflinchingly supporting victims of sexual abuse prior to a conviction, to whether fashion critiques of bikinis can ever truly be separated from female objectification. Ralph is a well-read individual—more so than some of the discussion partners I find at bars and online—but although we would both unequivocally say we support women's rights, we don't see eye-to-eye on our approach. In particular, he's an advocate of moderate, palatable feminism while I prefer the brand that infuriates and stirs up chaos. What can I say? I'm a delightful human being.
This is obviously not a meaningless distinction. With a more moderate, tempered brand of feminism, Ralph claimed, writers and activists would be able to extend further across the political spectrum (presumably from left to right) and reach more of the holdouts of an antiquated patriarchal culture. If thought leaders handled the flow of discussions more strictly to the fundamental causes, Ralph continued, feminist forums would produce arguments that are more tenable as well as fewer excuses for misogynists to point to as reasons for why they do not support women.
My side-eye game was strong that night.
This is certainly not a new conflict, but it's one that I really feel strongly about. So let me tell you why I think this is a bad idea.
Let's say these hypothetical feminist websites and publications existed. In Ralph's world, they'd be devoted solely to irreproachable topics (equal pay and access to contraception for example). Can you imagine reading article after article on those topics (in a non-academic way) with no levity, humor, or controversy in between? They would quickly get insanely boring, appealing only to readers who process the world in a purely studious way. Women (and those who support them) are more fun than that.
Along with these politically moderate topics that any sentient individual should be able to understand after some gentle coaxing, the feminist mindset can be adapted to find problems where others may not find anything. That's where I think some of the most exciting discussions are held, and what keeps me coming back here.
For example, consider the conversation held on the recent weight loss finale of The Biggest Loser. Not only were articles written and conversations had on the shocking lengths the show pushed the winner, Rachel Frederickson, but a reaction conversation arose saying that this woman was in complete control of her body and skinny shaming her was just as bad as fat shaming. The back-and-forth covered questions of body image, the fitness industry, reality television, using visual appearances as a proxy for judging health, and many others. None of these issues were cut and dried feminist issues that had an easy answer, but they were very important and allowed the community to openly discuss a sensitive topic. Writers took a risk commenting on the ordeal, and some were reprimanded for getting it wrong. That doesn't mean it was a faulty endeavor.
Or what about the Amanda Knox legal saga? Here is a woman in a situation wherein realistically, the public will never know all of the details. So should feminist writers simply not write on her plight because, hey we don't have anything to add? Should we let the Italian legal system do its best and let the mainstream media handle the narrative? I simply don't think so.
Though feminists may not have any additional pieces of evidence to contribute to the story, we have a responsibility to act as advocates for women who are unjustly vilified, even if they might turn out to be guilty. Why? Because we know that left alone, the male-dominated mindset will veer towards shaming and demonizing women such as Knox. Does this open up feminists to charges of biased reporting? Probably, yes! If another piece of evidence comes forward condemning Knox, will misogynists attack the feminist support stories? Absolutely! But that's what we're called to do in situations of ambiguity: support the women who are undeniably oppressed by a patriarchal system. Because even if we don't have all the evidence in crimes such as this, we do have all the evidence that we need to know that she will undoubtedly be treated unfairly.
I get tired of reading endless stories that comport with straight white male sympathies. It's not the only mindset, and I think it goes without saying it's wrong... a lot. So yes, I like going beyond the feminist issues that politicians are willing to talk about and analyzing current events—even ones seemingly entirely divorced from women's rights— through a feminist filter and seeing if there's a different interpretation that is both original and defensible.
Left with Ralph's hypothetical milquetoast feminist forums, these kinds of bold, daring stories would simply not be written. Do they always pan out perfectly for the authors and constituent readers? Of course not. Can they be used by petulant opponents as reasons to dismiss the feminist movement altogether? Sure, but that's not our responsibility. Many of these people will never agree with the tenets of feminism and will constantly search for any reason to invalidate the entire movement. I feel perfectly comfortable saying that I do not try to reach those people.
I thrive off the influx of radical viewpoints that I cannot find elsewhere. I like engaging in the nuanced conversations more than the ones that seem open-close cases. If writers and forums limited themselves to only these kinds of stories, they might be more "respected," but, really, isn't being unpredictable and trailblazing more fun than dependable? As readers can also correct arguments that aren't perfect, which in turn strengthens all of our voices. By creating a dialogue between writers and readers, filled with fresh, provocative stances we don't have to compromise our stories for a mainstream or even antagonistic audience. And we can have a lot of fun dissecting the world's most integral issues with some of the more unique ones.
Image via Roomva.
Kevin Zimmerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Brooklyn. He goes by Clio while on Kinja, is shopping a YA novel, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.