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I've said it before. I am not ashamed to say it. But noone understands it. I think there is a lot of wisdom in feminism. I do not generally disagree with feminism when practiced. But I am not a feminist. Some readers might think that this has something to do with the false notion that men can't be feminists. It does not. Some readers more familiar with my multifarious interest in gender and sexuality may think perhaps that is why I am drawn to queer theory and its ilk rather than to feminism. It is not.

Many friends of mine, however, both here on the internet and in my daily life, are themselves feminists. And I do have, as I mentioned, quite an interest in gender and sexuality and the ways in which they interact with the social, political, economic, cultural, linguistic, and psychological spheres of the world, as well as how we can go about disentangling this menagerie of thousand-dollar words in order to say something meaningful about what is a central facet of most people's lives and how we can use that knowledge to strive for greater equality. So some have found it curious that I eschew the title.

While some of my feminist friends follow in the traditional molds of second-wave or radical feminism, many take a more modern generalist approach. While the generalists pick some of the best authors from feminism, queer theory, women's studies, english lit, philosophy, and other related fields in constructing their own views and theories, it is feminism they quite pointedly refer to in labeling their interest. Indeed, more than one has written on why they feel "feminism" is the only proper term to use for generally encompassing the whole world of gender/sexuality studies. An opinion I disagree with and have often argued —perhaps at times too vehemently— against.

One of the problems with using "feminism" to refer to the whole of gender/sexuality studies is that it debases what feminism sets out to be. Feminism is a collection of analyses which are, definitionally, about women and sociopolitics. Not "about people, including women, and sociopolitics". Not "about the effects of gender, particularly women's, on sociopolitics". No, feminism is about women. Full stop. When people include ideas like queer theory —which focuses on disentangling gender, biological sex, and sexual desire to better discuss homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism— under "feminism" as an umbrella term, I cannot help but feel that the whole point of feminism, of women as the subject and topic of inquiry to counterpoint the hetero-patriarchal discourse privileging men as the sole subject of inquiry which society tacitly adopts— I cannot help but feel that when "feminism" is used as an umbrella term, the whole point of feminism is lost.

But the reasons I do not accept "feminist" as a label for myself extend beyond the fact that my interest in gender/sexuality studies is broader than feminism itself and that I disapprove of using "feminism" as a general term. That does, however, cut to the quick of it. Feminism is about (hetero[1], cisgendered[2], white middle-class[3]) women. It is not about men, it is not about bisexuals (pansexuals, sapiosexuals,...), it is not about transgendered (third gendered, bi-gendered,...) folks, it is not about polyamory, it is not about kink or pain/sensation or body modification, it is not about being child-free. Feminism is not, in short, about me.

Nor should I expect it to be. It is not the point of feminism to delve into the many identities and ideologies this one particular person may entertain. Richard Jeffrey Newman puts it quite well in his opening post for a discussion about male survivors of child sexual abuse and our relationship to feminism. If you wish to skip the preamble about why he wrote that opening for discussion, the heart of the article is outlined in the three embolded points at the end (and also in the last paragraph of comment #2 by "name withheld to respect his privacy" for more complications about why feminism is not the proper venue for male survivors).

Not identifying with feminism, that post took me aback at first. It is a connection I had never thought to have made, that male survivors of sexual abuse should seek for support among feminists, the most active and salient group for discussing sexual violence. As I read through the comments and followed links, I could not help but feel the sense of outrage by those men who did once seek for shelter with feminists. A rage not unlike the rage of trans folk, particularly MTF transwomen, who have sought such stormy refuge.

For me the sexual abuse, like the psychological abuse, did not have to do with sex. It had to do with power, with control, though it sounds clichéd to say. It had to do with the cycle of abuse in all families of alcoholics, addicts, molesters, and violence. The specific nature of the abuse itself is all too often unimportant, every abusive family is described in the same litany of little things. By the time I reached middle school I had found many friends who were also survivors, all of them women. The first thing you learn in a family of abuse is that you do not talk about what goes on within the family to outsiders, you don't even admit within the family. The second thing you learn is how to spot people like you. Every one has a different story, every one has the same mantra of secret signals and unspoken histories. For me, sexual abuse is about being crazy, about dissociation and depression and obsession; and to deal with it I sought my allies accordingly.

What set me aback is that that's not the case for other men. In retrospect, it makes a certain amount of sense I suppose. While the adolescence of delving into the insanity of ourselves and others was common in my circle of friends, I've known that's not the normal case. And while I've thought it would be normal for others with issues like ours, men aren't allowed to have those issues. Society allows men to have psychoses, to have delusions, to be serial killers— to have violent mental issues; it does not permit them to admit depression, mania, anxiety, cutting, eating disorders, multiple personalities— to being "moody": those are the exclusive domain of women. So while I sought refuge with women, others sought it in feminism. Which is itself a gender statement. Women are expected to find fulfillment in social relationships; men are expected to find it in intellectualism. So it makes sense for men, their gender identity already under assault, to look for ways of nursing their wounds without taking further damage to their masculinity.

But even beyond my expansive interests, the fact that feminism is not about me, and any reluctant issues there may be regarding my upbringing, there is a final reason I do not accept the label "feminist". In short, I believe feminism is wrong. Women certainly deserve equal opportunities, equal treatment, and safe spaces. But I am not comfortable saying that only women deserve these things. As I alluded to earlier, the scope of feminism is limited. But even more than being limited, feminism seems more interested in inverting the current gender–power system than it does in dismantling the whole thing entirely. And from where I stand, not within the gender order but not without it, I cannot help but see the injustice in that proposition. Women deserve justice, not because of what's between their legs, women deserve justice because they are human. But feminism at its very core, before one gets into waves or theories or analyses, is definitionally invested in furthering the idea of "women", of women as separate and differentiable from other people, of women as an exclusive category with wants and desires unique to themselves and deserving of equality with other exclusive groups.

Maybe it is simply because I was born American and so have been raised with the doctrine of deep distrust for "separate but equal". Maybe it is because I am ever part of the group excluded: not man enough, not born-woman, not gay enough, not straight, not trans enough or all too queer depending who you ask. But from where I stand, in order to end injustice to end discrimination to end hatred, while one must focus on those who suffer worst one must also be certain that in offering what help they can they are not perpetuating or exacerbating what they seek to remedy. But then, while I'm not accepted to the standard order, I'm also never wholly rejected. To look at me on the street my skin is white, I'm dressed well enough, I have facial hair and generally wear trousers, I'm taller than most, taller even than those who call themselves tall. I've been excluded from restaurants, but never in this country. I've had people avoid sitting near me, but never been told where to sit on the bus. We can't all be beautiful unique snowflakes, but I cannot speak for anyone in any of the number of groups I affiliate with, my experience is not theirs, they do not accept all my allegiances. I can only speak for myself, and I am not a feminist.

[1] That is, people whose 'natural' desire is heterosexual, even if they have decided to become lesbian for political (read: feminist) reasons.

[2] While individual feminists may extend their politics beyond cisgendered folks, as many of my friends do, I have so far seen no movement within feminism as a paradigm for accepting transwomen. There are, however, numerous examples of the two groups clashing.

[3] Though third-wave feminism and womanism both seek to address this particular shortcoming.

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June 2017

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