A friend of mine pointed out that she’d been seeing a lot of articles on lady-blogs with titles like “I Kidnapped A Child – WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING OF IT?”
I replied that if I encountered such an article, I would, indeed, probably make something of it, and maybe call Child Protective Services, if it seemed appropriate. I’d drop them an e-mail. With a link. Or tweet it to them! That’s what I’d do.
“But you can’t get upset with the article itself,” my friend replied.
“You never saw the The Face on the Milk Carton, huh?” I retorted.
“No,” she said, “but by opening the article you’re already agreeing to the premise that kidnapping children is cool.”
Or that cheating on your spouse is awesome, or that you fuck your neighbor’s dog because you’re a kook. Just title any article and follow it up with the phrase “SO WHAT?” In caps. So people know you’re feeling it and, particularly if you’re a female writer, it seems like a bundle of appreciative comments will follow you applauding you for being “true to yourself”. That’s not nearly as bothersome as the ones the tell you you’re “a feminist.”
Just so we’re clear, the definition of feminism is: “The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”
There’s nothing in there about how “you should totally do stuff that would be deemed socially distasteful in a person of either gender, grrrrrlll-friend!”
Now, I would never suggest that horrible people can’t be feminists. They absolutely can be. But “doing something awful and feeling proud of it” is not the feminist secret handshake. If you want to write a post entitled “I got all my co-workers fired for things outside of their control, then went and volunteered. I tutor underprivileged women. We’re reading Machiavelli” I would say 1) you are both a horrible person and a terrific feminist, actively working to help other women advance socially, economically and, ultimately, politically 2) The contradictions in your nature would are startling and intriguing 3) Thanks for not ending that post with “SO WHAT?,” but the title is a little long.
But equating ‘being a bad person” with “being a feminist”, well, let’s try to keep those separate.
For obvious reasons.
And because the whole preemptive defense thing? That behavior was already mastered by every bro in college. You remember him, right? That guy who would do something in-arguably awful like crush a beer can on a puppy, and then say “yeah, I can be an asshole,” and then shrug his shoulders and say “whatever.” See how he beat you to the punch there? After which you were expected to laugh and have a good time! Because it was somehow understood that if he possessed a sense of self-awareness, the horrible nature of the deed was forgotten. You’d nod and he’d feel absolved. By continuing to hang out with that guy, you were accepting “this is someone who I have now given a free asshole pass to” and who will behave accordingly because “you guys know I’m an asshole!”
Which is why you should always reply “dude. You crushed a beer can on a puppy.” And then you should walk away because that’s not the kind of pact you’re going to enter into.
Except this is worse. That bro in college may have decided that you’d probably let him get away with bad behavior if he acknowledged it, because you valued people being “real,” which is another way of saying “behaving terribly.” Anyone who begins a statement “you want to make something of my French kissing your labradoodle!?” wants something different. If it was the equivalent, the title and tenor of the posts would be “I’m fucking my neighbor’s dog – I’m pretty much the worst! You guys know me, I’m a terrible person!” These people aren’t looking to be excused or absolved for their bad behavior, they’re looking to be applauded for it.
I realize that men are often permitted to be more selfish than women. But even that Bro with the beer can wouldn’t have said “I crush cans on dogs – high five!” He certainly wouldn’t have said “WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING OF IT?” because you’d look at him like he was a serial killer and report him to campus security.
It’s a bit of an odd commentary on society that men who did that would be perceived as legitimately threatening and scary, whereas women doing the same thing are perceived as “spunky!” Maybe that’s partly because of how closely with align virtues like nurturing and selflessness with female sex, so that when a woman does something horrible it seems like she’s deviating from the norm so wildly that’s just comic.
Which is insane. Don’t applaud people for behaving badly. Don’t giggle at their jokes and fetch them another beer can to see how Fido responds. Especially don’t do it just because someone has a vagina.
Being a decent person and being a feminist aren’t mutually exclusive – they actually quite often seem to work hand in hand. And, as we’ve established, horrible people can be feminists, too. But being proud of misdeeds doesn’t make you anything – except kind of a jerk.