Ideology, just like religion, is very much about telling stories. It is a matter of creating a narrative with heroes and villains, forces of good and of evil. It is common for a True Believer (of any faction) to do what I like to call narrativism: To disregard all facts and perspectives that does not fit the narrative.
Last week, a certain narrative about feminism was shared on facebook. The basic story was that all feminists are evil, and that everything good feminism has done doesn’t count because that was a different and better kind of feminists. The author claims to not be an MRA, and we can assume that s/he honestly does not identify as MRA. Nevertheless, s/he is parroting MRA narratives as if they were gospel. Repeating the classic MRA talking points about how all feminists/women are evil and only live to hurt and harm innocent men. And for no good reason at that, since misogyny and rape culture never even existed in the first place… because we said so.
For those who are not familiar with the MRA, they are what Hannibal The Victor on Youtube has named “the male supremacy movement”. Personally, I find this term far more accurate than their own self-styled identity as “Men’s Rights Activists”, just like groups who fight for the Aryan Race are usually white supremacist movements no matter how much they prefer to call their struggle “white rights activism”.
It is generally accepted that feminism has developed in three main phases, called waves. With the “feminist sex-wars” between the second and third phase. The first wave was about winning basic rights like the right to vote, the second wave about fighting patriarchy and structural oppression of women, and the third wave about becoming wider and more inclusive.
There are many kinds of feminism. Liberal feminism developed as a part of the first wave, radical feminism as part of the second, and queer feminism as part of the third. Personally, I am in favor of queer feminism as well as liberal feminism, but like so many others I consider radical feminism to be obsolete and highly problematic.
Radical Feminism is a faith that combines a modified version of communism’s class-war with a modified version of American Conservative Christianity’s hatred of sexuality.
In the communist faith, everything revolves around the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeois. Built on a strict dichotomy between men as the oppressors and women as victims, radical feminism imported this analytical model and narrative structure – simply replacing class with gender.
In American Conservative Christianity, sex is something filthy that men does to women. Radical feminism adopted this narrative, replacing the notion that women are filthy sluts who are defiled by sexuality with the notion that women are victims who are harmed by men. Thus changing the narrative role of men from being entitled to consume and destroy women to being vicious predators who are to blame for what they according to both versions of the narrative does to women.
Radical feminism is a core part of second wave feminism, and it is unlikely that the second wave would have succeeded without it. It was a strong counter-narrative to the misogynistic narratives of conservative Christianity, and it provided a simple platform for political struggle. It was, of course, also a deeply problematic construct. Digging mental trenches, spreading bigotry against GSM (Gender and Sexual Minorities) and against sexuality as such.
As for bigotry against men, that has certainly been a problem for some individual men and boys trapped in situations where radical feminists have had power over them. But men as a group was never truly threatened, unlike the gender and sexual minorities. Bigotry against trans people, sadomasochists and sex workers was often disastrous for these groups. And a civilization so deeply saturated in shaming of sexuality, did it really need even more of that burden?
Thus the feminist sex-wars, with sex-positive feminists revolting against the radical feminist hegemony.
Gender identity and Sexuality was not the only problematic issues within the second wave. There was also a lot of racism, classism and so on, with a “sisterhood” that claimed to be universal but which many felt was only ever for those women who happened to be white and so on.
With the third wave, any notion of one single unified feminist movement is long gone. Feminism is a diverse field, and the sex-wars were never truly resolved. The worst kinds of sex-negative feminism is becoming marginalized, it is no longer “in” to hate GSM. “Radical Feminism” in general and “TERF” (Trans Excluding Radical Feminism) in particular are dirty words within much of contemporary feminism. Instead, intersectionality is in. This is the notion that each person belong to many categories, not just one. While white people and men are privileged categories in mainstream western society, a white man who is gay, disabled or socially marginalized is still underprivileged (or even oppressed) in those regards.
Getting gradually pushed out of academia and feminist activism, radical feminism is making an absurd comeback in the form of the so called Men’s Rights Movement. Which, as far as I am concerned, is radical feminism all over again – only gender inverted, and with a pinch of Ayn Rand style rightwing extremism thrown in to make it even more absurd. Based in the fantasy that having to pay taxes is the one true oppression and that everyone who can’t work (including those who are forbidden to work) are parasites who oppress the rich and powerful, prominent MRA activist Karen Straughan will even argue that Afghanistan under the Taliban regime is an example of how women are always the privileged gender and that men are oppressed by these women.
Several prominent MRA:s has their background in second wave radical feminism. A classic example is their chief ideologue Warren Farrell himself. His is the author of “The Myth of Male Power”, which pretty much was THE book that got the MRA movement started. And he used to be a board member of National Organization for Women back in the most radical feminist days of that organization.
While all of the above is written from my own point of view and I encourage you to research the issues for yourself, I am quite confident that my narrative is compatible with all relevant facts. The same can not be said for a narrative that try to construct second wave feminism as all good and third wave feminism as all evil. Thus we return to the text I read last week. Titled “What Is Feminism?”, the text is a complete revision of history: Taking radical feminist ideas from the second wave and claim that the third wave invented them instead – up to and including the absurd claim that the idea that our culture is misogynistic and that women has been oppressed throughout the ages (a cornerstone of the second wave) was really invented by the third wave. While also claiming that misogyny and rape culture don’t exist (and never existed?), but simply was some kid of lie perpetuated by evil third wave feminists in order to harm innocent men. As well as spreading the propaganda that the wage gap is only a lie/myth/conspiracy.
Why pretend that “everything we disagree with in the second wave didn’t really happen then, it was instead invented by the third wave”? Well, my guess is that the author is simply misinformed… Relying on information from MRA:s who build their narratives for the purpose of depicting all feminists as evil. By letting the actual historical radical feminism of the hook, they can (falsely) exonerate their own movement’s radical feminist roots, but more importantly pretend that their hatred against all feminism doesn’t put them dangerously close to attacking the accomplishments of the first two waves of feminism. (In my experience with MRA propaganda, they are mostly against the achievements of the second wave, sometimes even the first. As for actual oppression against actual men, they don’t really care beyond using it as cheap talking points. As in complaining that some men are homeless, while also arguing that the taxes that fund goods such as homeless shelters should be removed – because such taxes are good for women and other parasites.)
Feminism is a wide field, containing many contradicting ideas. Some of them are indeed problematic. The text brings up notions that exist-but-are-very-marginalized within this field, such as the idea that all men are rapists. (However, the example used for this claim is actually a fictional example of the facts that rapists exist, that a woman can’t know for sure who is a rapist and who isn’t, as well as that women are to a large extent socialized to be afraid. Which is NOT in any way any claim about men in general.)
A final note on the absurdity of the text is how it refer to the so-called elevatorgate. Short story short, a woman at a conference spends the evening in the bar after holding a lecture about sexual harassment. At 4am she announces that she’s too tired to be social anymore, and just want to sleep. She says goodnight to everyone and leaves. But one of the guys follows her into the elevator, and once they are alone he ask her to come to his hotel room instead. She refuses, and later mentions in a youtube video that she would have preferred if he hadn’t done that. In a world of somewhat reasonable people, it would have ended there.
Instead, thousands of MRA boys at the internet decided that it was their holy duty to never forgive, never forget, and never ever allow anyone else to forget either. Years has passed, and these men are still howling with hysterical rage about the horrible oppression against men this girl committed by not wanting to be cornered in an elevator at 4am directly after she made clear that she don’t want to socialize anymore. Note that she never accused the guy of anything, but merely stated her preference for people to not do that. For that, she received thousands of threats that she would be murdered and raped and so on.
Of course, this perpetual rage over her and the elevator is part of the rape culture they pretend do not exist. To ask for a date at 4am is not to promote rape. But to try to make an example of the girl for daring to say no, that definitely is. In a just society, it is okay to want sex… but it is also okay to have boundaries and to express these boundaries.
While the text “What is feminism?” ridicule women for being nervous about men not respecting their boundaries, it also participates in spreading a clear message that women are not allowed to have boundaries. A message that men as a group has not only the right to ask for sex at any time (including right after the woman has made perfectly clear that she don’t want to interact with him anymore), but also the right to hunt her forever in their eternal quest for revenge if she refuses a man’s advances or even worse dares to say that she don’t want him to hit on her in that situation.
There are many feminist narratives, some of which are deeply problematic in one way or another. The MRA narratives, on the other hand, seem to almost always be deeply problematic. The worst of radical feminism – gender inverted and mixed with traditional misogyny, social darwinism and a deep sense of entitlement.