Tales of a Former “Edge Lord”, or, “I Went to Anti-Feminism and All I Got Was This Crappy T-Shirt”

It feels like a lifetime ago that I was supporting my best friend in leaving an abusive relationship.  It had honestly never occurred to me that the battle would begin after she had moved out. I should clarify, though, that she was the abuser, and he was the abused.

Prior to that point, my feminism had already been waning. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I had been misinformed in my feminism from the start, to the point where my beliefs and actions had begun to feel quite extremist. There was another part, though, that was rooted in the fact that my male friends had started to consider me a sort of safe space, and an overwhelming number of them had been approaching me to describe relationship situations that were causing them significant harm. With these revelations, I became more and more disillusioned with what it meant to be a feminist. I started to notice the way domestic violence helplines were gendered, so that the only helplines targeted to men had already assumed their only role was the abuser. White Ribbon Day popped up again, and I was suddenly acutely aware of how specifically men’s violence against women was being given the spotlight, but nobody seemed to be offering a safe space or awareness platform for men in a similar situation.

The real nail in the coffin came, though, when my best friend returned from an appointment with a therapist that I had requested he see, feeling uncomfortable and entirely invalidated. He had tried to discuss his circumstances with this woman, and she actually responded to him with the following:

        Why didn’t you leave? What was in this relationship for you?
        I find it interesting that you feel like you were abused. Men aren’t victims of abuse. (Apparently being raped and told that you were going to be murdered in your sleep is an everyday relationship activity, nothing to be too concerned about.)

As you can imagine, this was…not the kind of thing one wishes to hear when seeking help. And it was this exact thing that led me to spend a great deal of time on men’s rights forums, and eventually establishing myself as a member of an anti-feminist community. Yep, even bought the Meninist t-shirt.
(I know you can only see the top of it, but it’s very obviously there. Oh past me, what were you doing?!)

I spent a couple of years in this community, engaging in what I thought was debate (that really turned out to be a massive circle jerk), and what I took away from it ended up very significantly informing the feminism I would later find my way back to. For the most part, I never considered myself, or the people I surrounded myself with, to be hateful. They were – for the most part - intelligent, kind, and compassionate human beings that were legitimately concerned with gender equality, but who did not want the “Feminist” label forced upon them and wanted to explore what this meant on their own terms.

What I thought I might try to address are some common criticisms and misunderstandings, and where these disconnects are coming from.

Misconception: “I don’t disagree with Feminism overall, but ‘modern’ feminism misses the point, and is ultimately socially damaging.”

Part of the issue here rests in the fact that Feminism does not align itself under a single, clear, and recognisable goal. Let’s be frank, it never has, but the beauty of hindsight is that all of the achievements made by Feminists in the past appear to have been as a result of specific and targeted resistance. Being in the thick of things as we are now means that these outcomes are yet to be determined, and as such, cannot be sourced as a means to “validate” what feminism aims to achieve.

The other part of the issue is that the description of Feminism as something that happens in waves is deeply flawed, and assumes that Feminism only pops its head up when certain issues become pressing and in need of attention. The reality is that Feminism has existed as a consistent social undercurrent for a very long time, and the peaks of these supposed “waves” are, again, outcomes that can only really be viewed in hindsight.

Misconception: “But the battle has already been won! Feminism isn’t relevant anymore, and at this point is only around to suck the fun out of everything.”

Typically, this boils down to not only not understanding the issues Feminists are addressing, but also not being aware of the fact that these issues

  1. have always been part of what Feminists have been rebelling against
  2. are still very real issues, but are typically expressed in way more insidious ways as a result of laws passed to combat these issues.

Being able to address these issues in a way that is not necessarily rooted in personal anecdote and is widely observable can actually go a long way towards communicating the ongoing relevance of Feminism. Personally, I would LOVE for Feminism to no longer be relevant. Nothing would give me more pleasure than being able to kick back and see that the fight is over. Sadly, I don’t foresee this being a reality within my lifetime.

As for Feminists “sucking the fun out of everything” or “not being able to take a joke”…well…unfortunately a lot of people who whine about society becoming “more P.C.” don’t tend to understand that the people that constituted the butt of these particular jokes were mostly being polite when they laughed along, and never really found it funny. It’s best to give these people the tried and true Greta Garbo blank and move on.

Image Source: http://nosmokingintheskullcave.blogspot.com/2006/11/great-movie-icons-greta-garbo.html

Misconception: “Feminists just want to play the victim.”
Female edition: “I don’t consider myself a victim, therefore Feminism doesn’t apply to me.”

This particular misconception is one of the most disheartening of the bunch, as it speaks to the way in which women’s very real problems are consistently devalued. Often, within the anti-feminist community, what constitutes victimhood tends to be rooted in one of two things:

  1. A general lack of belief that what women are revolting against are actual prevalent social issues, or that the real issue lies in a woman’s approach to her own trauma, essentially meaning that “victimhood” is a choice;
  2. The stand-out examples are often either sourced from feminists who are not as well versed in feminist theory and aren’t able to articulate themselves as well as they will be able to one day, or are pulled from highly sensationalised examples – often from college campuses – of students protesting gender issues and seeking to carve out safe spaces for themselves. (What a safe space represents to an anti-feminist is in itself an issue, and is more likely than not a problem that stems from a distinct lack of empathy, but can also arise from just not fully understanding the purpose of such a space,)

As far as anti-feminist women are concerned, a lot of this argument comes from a reasonably legitimate fear that being identified as a victim has the potential to undermine their strength or their achievements. This is a difficult thought pattern to break, and certainly isn’t helped by the ongoing perception of high profile Feminists as “professional victims”.

Misconception: “But you’re referring to men so generally, and I, a man, have never done these things, therefore Feminism is garbage.”

Apparently the same people who would refer to Feminists generally with no consideration of nuance don’t apply this same logic to themselves. Personally, I have a saved (and reasonably detailed) script that I send to people that argue “not all men”, because the required answer is almost always something that can be cut-and-paste with no alteration, but it’s really up to you if you can be bothered with this. I will say that providing a sufficient answer to this particular complaint can actually go a long way in maintaining the attention of someone offering their criticism of Feminist discourse, but I also understand that not everyone can be arsed explaining something that really should not require such an explanation.

Misconception: “Feminists don’t do anything to support men.”
Bonus Round: “Toxic Masculinity is really just another way to say ‘everything it means to be a man is bad.’”

I’ve saved this one for last, because it’s soooooo mind-numbingly common, and is really the basis for the majority of anti-feminist arguments.

For some reason, a movement designed to bolster women’s status by campaigning for gender equality is supposed to simultaneously coddle and boost men’s sense of self-worth. There’s no denying that the advent of Feminism has had the side effect of men’s primary social roles becoming displaced and unnecessary, and there hasn’t really been a significant movement that aided men in finding where they belong socially, and that empowered them to establish a new role for themselves now that they are no longer able to reasonably fit the role of “provider”. This has resulted in a visible backlash against moves to empower women, and as more and more historically male roles are now being shared across the genders, men are more or less being left stagnate.

That’s not to say that Feminism is wrong in its ambitions, as it’s certainly not. I’ve made this point to illustrate that there is a sense that men are being rendered unnecessary, which I’m sure you can imagine might be a little bit scary for them.

Compounding this, the components of the Feminist movement that have been developed to empower men in tandem with women’s empowerment are largely misunderstood. One such concept is that of Toxic Masculinity, which seeks to address and hopefully remedy the unfair expectations placed on men by pointing out aspects of traditional masculinity that might be damaging to men. In theory, this should address a number of issues experienced by men, including (but not limited to):

        High male suicide rates
        Poor treatment of men’s health (both physical and mental)
        Men’s unwillingness to speak up against sexual, physical, and emotional violence perpetrated against them

Where this falls apart is twofold. Not only is what Toxic Masculinity represents often poorly communicated, like much of the language fairly specific to Feminists, it’s also inaccessible to anyone that isn’t deeply familiar with Feminist theory. (Patriarchy also suffers from this inaccessibility, as anyone who has ever tried to explain Patriarchy to someone that has had limited-to-no exposure to Feminist theory will no doubt understand.)

What is often lost on people who make arguments of this nature is that not only do many Feminists absolutely give a shit about things that happen to men (you know, not being man-hating harpies and all), but often they are also big contributors to men’s causes. Unfortunately this does not quite fit the “Feminists just want to establish a matriarchy” narrative, so anti-feminists don’t tend to entertain the notion that this might be the case. Not much that can be done for wilful ignorance, I’m afraid.

There are ways in which Feminists do contribute to these misunderstandings, despite how understandable this might be. For one, after continuously beating your head into a wall trying to explain why Feminism is still relevant, it can be taxing to be placed in the position where you have to police your words, or educate someone on concepts they either don’t (or don’t want to) understand, or just plain bare your damn soul in an attempt to explain why Feminism matters to you.

On top of this, a lot of Feminist push back tends to be quite aggressive, and to someone who is of the mind that they have only asked a simple and reasonable question, the anger wrapped up in the response provided can be quite jarring. I’m not suggesting we sit down and be nice about what we have to say. Fuck no! We’ve been doing that for centuries. But I am saying that regularly engaging in self-care might address a lot of the burnout that accompanies ongoing participating in Feminist discussions, leaving you more capable of enduring these discussions. I would also recommend keeping notes on your phone that address and explain common points. I promise you, easy scripts make these discussions way less draining than constantly having to start from scratch.

Unfortunately, people outside of Feminism don’t seem to understand that the reason these issues are so tangled into our emotions is the fact that these issues comprise our personal, every day realities. Of course we’re upset/pissed off/worn out! We’re damn tired of having to explain to people that we are deserving of respect and equality, when such things should be a given.

So, how did I find my way back to Feminism?

Well, there’s no easy answer to that question. To some extent, Milo Yiannopoulos had something to do with it. Watching him “tear down Feminists” while not actually addressing their concerns made me realise that a lot of anti-feminists were doing much of the same. More to the point, this damaging, purposely contrary figure was actually being held up as a sort of icon within the community, and I found that more disturbing than I care to explain.

The realisation that every time I engaged with a Feminist in discussion of Feminist issues resulted in me constantly selling myself out as a woman, disregarding my own concerns and mistreatment, really drove me to explore what it was Feminism was fighting for. I started reading Feminist texts and writings, making a mockery of them as I engaged with other members of the anti-feminist community, but more and more it dawned on me that I agreed with the majority of the points being raised, and could not in good conscience continue to rip it to shreds. Instead, I allowed myself to absorb it, and forced myself to become better informed than I had been previously.

In addition to this, a girl I got along with that had been in the anti-feminist community as long as I had announced that she considered herself a Feminist after private, comprehensive research. Prior to this, I had honestly believed that this community did respect women, and did respect me, but the response to her admission was just so sexist and violent that I couldn’t view any of the people that I had considered “my people” in the same light. What she experienced really opened my eyes to the fact that these people did not care about me, the person, rather, they cared about me only as much as they could point to me and say: “See! Even women think Feminism is garbage!” I only mattered to these people to the extent that I was willing to degrade myself and deny the injustices I was becoming increasingly aware of. I couldn’t lie to myself that way anymore, and more to the point, I no longer felt safe around a lot of these people.

Finally, I no longer wanted to associate myself with a political statement that didn’t actually stand for anything. The fact is, anti-feminism doesn’t have any clear goals of its own. It has no platform on which it rests, and doesn’t seek to achieve a damn thing. While so many people that consider themselves anti-feminists are actually decent, kind, and compassionate beings (I’d like to think that my existence stands in testament to that), anti-feminism as a concept exists only to tear something else down. I’ve heard people refer to it as a movement, but in truth, I disagree. It’s not trying to enact change, it seeks only to perpetuate hatred against a legitimate movement that DOES want to work towards change, and DOES take steps to realise this change.  I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend my life fighting for the things I believe in and pushing to make the world better, than trying to destroy the people who do this.

By: Roxie Gray


  1. Hey Roxie - fascinating read! Thanks for sharing. Cheers - Michelle :-)


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