Maybe I’m just a sourpuss, but I’m having a really hard time appreciating the new “Feminist Frank” meme, just like I had a hard time appreciating the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” meme. I guess it boils down to this for me: It’s a lot easier to say the right things and look like a feminist than it is to actually do the right things and be a feminist.
My definition of a feminist is someone who 1) understands the fact that women have been systematically oppressed for as long as anyone can remember, 2) understands that there are extensive and concrete consequences of that oppression for women, girls, men, and the GLBTQ community, and 3) actively works against that oppression every single day. If it sounds like a high bar, well, it is. I don’t think everyone should be able to be called a feminist just because they’ve learned to parrot the right phrases; I think that a nuanced understanding of sexism and its repercussions and the courage to recognize and speak up about it are more valuable than the ability to repeat buzzwords.
And repeating buzzwords is all that Feminist Frank does. He’s read up on Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and bell hooks; he might have taken a few gender studies classes. He’s willing to make a big show of his politics (“I’m gonna get loud — at the demonstration tonight. Take back the night!” “Watch me smack that ass — who suggested that you should get married and have children even an instant before you’re ready”), but doesn’t it just reek of wanting to impress someone? And does he really offer that nuanced of a critique?
I mean, take this one, for example: “Dang gurl that ass is — not a reflection of your worth as a person.” WOW. EYES OPENED. I wish Frank had gotten here earlier to tell me about my value as a human being because otherwise I might never have known!
Or this one: “That chick totally blew me — away with her courage in declining to participate in gender stereotypes.” I thought modern feminism accepted whatever choices women (or men!) wanted to make about their self-perception and self-presentation? This one looks to me like the same old story — a man telling women how we should act in order to get his approval. Gag me.
When I was hanging out with leftists last year, I became fond of these two terms: “Manarchist” and “brocialist.” These are men on the left who say that they’re feminists but who never act like it; who speak over women in discussions about women’s rights instead of listening to us. They’re guys who are sexist, but who cloak themselves in the language of leftist and feminist politics in order to claim that they’re not.
The most insidious and gross way that this manifests itself is when a guy would talk on and on about feminist politics and sexual liberation in order to get laid — and this happened all the time. It’s really difficult to see it coming because at first, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a man really knowing his literature and being knowledgeable about women’s issues in politics and culture. It makes you feel respected. But it’s a bait-and-switch. I got hoodwinked this way — a guy I was dating was very upfront about being “poly,” which I was open to if things went somewhere. But as time went on, it became clear that the personal, emotional respect accorded to partners in real polyamorous relationships was missing from him. In other words, he wasn’t looking for a polyamorous relationship, he was looking for a bunch of booty calls. In other other words, he lied to get laid. Gross.
You know what’s actually cool to me? Guys who don’t feel the need to be patted on the back for being feminists, who do it solely because they think it’s right, who don’t push their version of feminism on women. Guys who don’t co-opt the conversation or showboat their opinions. There are plenty of those guys out there, doing the hard work with us — and they deserve way more credit than Feminist Frank is getting.