I’ve changed a lot in the past few years. I think most people would say that about themselves. We all are in a constant state of flux. Whoever tells you otherwise is just being pessimistic.
My Dad died abruptly when I was twelve years old. We were on family vacation and his heart gave out on him while he was swimming in a cold crater-lake on the top of a mountain in Tahoe, California. My Dad was a strong man, maybe too strong. His fortitude runs in the family, and to this day the members of my family have a strong inclination towards ignoring intense pain. My Mom has it too; she has virtually no cartilage in her knees and is constantly in pain, yet she’s one of the happiest most energetic people you’d ever meet. My sister lost an obscene amount of blood and should have been in a coma, but instead went to the doctor for “light-headedness and cramps” only to discover she had a tumor the size of a softball obstructing her bowels. So, yeah, being out of tune with what your body is trying to tell you is kind of a theme in my family— and it all started with my Dad. The entire back wall of his heart was completely dead, the autopsy would later show. My Dad had sleep apnea, which puts a ton of stress on your heart. On top of that, he did regular cardio which only compounded the damage done to his heart. When he jumped into that frigid-cold water, it was a death-sentence that only could have been foreseen if he’d been regularly attending the doctor.
Losing your Dad is rough at any stage in your life, but at twelve-years old I wasn’t really able to handle what I was feeling. I was just beginning to go through puberty, and the grief of losing my Father pitched me into darkness. I became severely depressed, self-destructive, cynical, and cold-hearted. I still remember the anger I felt at the thought of not having my pain understood by my peers. I had a close-friend tell me, six months after my Dad passed, that my mood swings were too erratic and I was no fun to be around. She said something to the effect of, “It’s been six months, it’s time to get over it.” Oh, the wisdom of middle-school children.
This sickness of the mind only grew as I got older. My Mom saw it in me, my sister saw it in me— and my Mom took the appropriate measures to remove me from a toxic environment. Looking back, it was the best decision she could have made, but I resented her for it at the time. Moving to Brentwood may have saved my life, but things had to get worse first.
I latched on to the first people who showed any interest toward friendship with me. Little did I know, these kids had about as much emotional baggage as I did— but for different reasons. The person who I considered to be my best friend at the time had an abusive-pain-killer-addicted step father, and an absentee mother. He was prone to drug and alcohol abuse, and he was an angry, bitter person. And we got along great, because I was miserable. Together we fueled a nasty mental disease that grew to consume the both of us. Looking back at myself now, I don’t like the person that I was— and still to this day, the the thought of my old self is an affliction that interferes with my self-esteem.
But this story is not about dealing with depression or low self-esteem. This story is called “The Male Feminist,” and I haven’t yet said a single thing about feminism. What I want to establish is that circumstances of my formative years drove me toward being an isolated, asocial, person. That combined with the fact that I come from a family of stubborn-intelligent people gave me a pretty severe know-it-all complex. I’m not proud of the sheer amount of arguments I can recall making from ignorance. I’m not proud of how many people I’ve brow-beaten with seemingly-strong opinions I formed on the spot about complex issues.
I don’t think this whole idea is unique to me. I think people in general are uncomfortable not having an opinion on something, so they tend to strongly state an opinion based on personal experience. At a basic level, this shouldn’t be a problem. People know what they like, and what they dislike— and hopefully they know why they dislike something based on firsthand experience, but I think that is a demonstrably false notion.
People are capable of forming opinions that aren’t based on personal experiences. Some more antagonistic types will form perspectives with the express intention of going against popular opinion. Others will form opinions based on the environment they’re raised in. I’m guilty of it, and if you’re being honest with yourself, you probably are too. There are all sorts of external factors that can sway our judgement, it’s just that some are easier to identify than others. In my own case, my tendency toward asocial behavior made me quite the contrarian when I was a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a vigorous debater. If I disagree with someone, they’ll know it, and they’ll generally like me a little less once I’m done making it known. So, believe me when I say that I’m not easily swayed by the the thoughts of others— and I have virtually no empathy for other humans when I disagree with them. Seriously, it’s bad and I’m working on it.
Okay, so I think I’ve done a pretty good job of establishing that I’m a hard-headed individual who faces some difficulty changing his own opinion and seeing someone else’s perspective in a heated debate. Being the misguided teenager I was, I of course loved getting political with people and challenging their notions. I was liberal. I hated George Bush. Republicans were idiots. Except I wasn’t liberal. I was nothing. I was a shithead contrarian who enjoyed being subversive, and knew how to bullshit. I grew up in a predominantly white-traditional suburb, and that reflected in the things that I said. I had some progressive views. I definitely strongly felt that LGBTQ people deserved equal human rights; I even remember standing next to a guy holding a “Honk for traditional marriage: Yes on Prop 8” sign, with my own sign that said “Honk if you think that guy sucks.” Yes. Much political. Very protesting.
I’ve come to realize that this is not a very controversial view for my generation. It’s not even really all that progressive anymore. Even far-right republicans say they’re “okay with gay people” these days, even if they don’t think they should get married.
I also vividly remember some very non-progressive things I did at this stage in my life. I remember learning about the female progressive movement in my High School history class, and later that day telling some poor girl in the theater auditorium that women were not fit be in government. My reasoning? I said that female-centric progressive movement of the 1920’s directly caused the great depression. Saying that now, I cringe. What I said was so mean-spirited, and such an obvious load of bullshit. I have lots of things like this that haunt me to this day.
I used racial slurs for shock value. There was a kid in my science class (he’s a close friend of mine still, to this day, which is pretty surprising to me), whose ear I’d whisper the N-word into on a daily basis because I thought it was funny when he’d say, “Oh my god, that’s terrible.” I was a kid, and kids do awful shit, and this thing was particularly awful— but I don’t think I was a statistical outlier. I think this behavior was a direct result of my environment, and plenty of children in the same circumstances have probably done similar things. Suburbs are a bubble filled with people just like you, and it’s easy to pick up on these habits and think them to be completely socially acceptable.
Look at a game like Cards Against Humanity, it is a game that capitalizes upon the idea that people say horrible disparaging things behind closed-doors and giggle about them. The tagline of the game is “a game for horrible people” yet it’s an extremely popular game. To the extent that the company that makes the game has their own island.
I think it would be morally and intellectually dishonest to say I’m a rare case of a suburban child. To this day, returning to the suburbs reminds me just how judgmental people can be purely because of their surroundings.
It doesn’t stop there. In fact, it gets worse before it gets better. I moved to another city, and brought this mindset with me. I took college courses that spoke about the endemic racism and sexism permeates our culture. I sat in my seat feeling bitter and defensive, because there’s no way those teachers could know my personal struggle. Besides, aren’t words just words, and didn’t we solve racism with the abolition of slavery? And didn’t we solve gender inequalities with the women’s suffrage movement? Come on, college teachers, my high school curriculum taught me that this shit is no longer an issue — and my peers validated it for me.
I even dated a girl who was majoring in sociology, with a minor in women-gender studies, and when she showed me the stuff she was reading I treated it like it was utter bullshit. Nobody can tell me about systemic oppression without realizing that I’m oppressed! I’m really not, but my persecution complex was pretty overpowering.
To be fair, I think a lot of men can probably relate to what I’m talking about. Nobody likes when their own soul is called into question. And to agree with feminist notions in the first place is akin to admitting that you may hold some problematic views that inadvertently affect people you care about. It’s a difficult pill to swallow.
I wish I could say that I was finally swayed by ex-girlfriend to become a feminist, but that’s unfortunately not the case. I ruined that relationship in many ways, not short of constantly disagreeing with everything she had to say about social issues and driving her to the point of tears. We remain awkward friends to this day, but I don’t think I ever formally apologized for the stubborn asshole I was.
No, the first thing that chipped away at me was this thing that is now referred to as #gamergate. Maybe you’ve heard of it? If you haven’t, you probably don’t spend as much time on the internet as me, and good on you for that.
To give you a little background, Gamergate is an internet “movement” that started on two fronts. The first catalyst of the movement centers around a woman named Zoe Quinn, an indie game developer who made a game called Depression Quest. After a recent break-up, Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend starts a website called “The Zoe Post” dedicated to sharing his and Zoe’s emotionally abusive relationship with the world. The website is comprised of chat logs and commentary by said ex. It’s all very bitter and, if you ask me, a little immature. That being said, their relationship was very emotionally abusive, and it is apparent that Zoe Quinn has some emotional issues. I think that’s beside the point, though, because no matter how emotionally fucked up you are you still don’t deserve to have intimate details of your relationship posted in such a public fashion.
The second catalyst of the movement was a woman named Anita Sarkeesian, who created the feminist frequency blog. Sarkeesian successfully funded a project on Kickstarter entitled “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games,” meant to serve as an empirical examination of common female stereotypes in video games.
Sarkeesian and Quinn were both targeted for seemingly different reasons. As more people read The Zoe Post, internet conspiracy theories started to sprout up about how Zoe Quinn was sleeping around for positive reviews for her game, Depression Quest. On the other side, “gamers” viewed Anita Sarkeesian’s critical views of video games as an “attack on video game culture.” Both women have received an ungodly amount of hate mail and death threats.
Next come the radical conservatives. All of a sudden, these two individual instances of deplorable internet hatred became intrinsically connected under an umbrella called Gamergate. Suddenly, conservative pundits care a whole lot about gaming— and do a whole lot of work to politicize it even further. What we’re left with is a deplorable subculture of hateful individuals who believe that political correctness, social awareness, and challenging the status quo is akin to censorship. Constant allusions are drawn to 1984 in which Social Justice Warriors (a pejorative for anyone who holds a basic level of respect for other humans) are a totalitarian organization with the intention of persecuting those who speak freely.
All of this is when my bullshit meter really starts to go off. I’ve played video games my whole life, I’ve always considered myself a gamer, but reading about this stuff in the news and seeing the disproportionate and irrational response of “gamers” is the first time I ever wanted to distance myself from the culture. I think that if this had been high school, I probably would have been all for gamergate— because my attitude as a teenager very much aligned with the ideals of the gamergate movement. Basically the idea is that the world is fine, and nothing has to change. Yeah, maybe we don’t always depict women three-dimensionally in pop-culture— but sometimes we do, so that’s fine, right? Yeah, stereotypes exist, but only because they’re reinforced by reality. Amirite?
At this point in my life, my viewpoint had already been radically challenged by an awesome college course I took called “Social Geography.” It worked on me because I really respected the teacher. One activity in particular that he did really stood out to me. He had us write down what we considered to be an unsafe neighborhood on a piece of paper, and then without looking at any submissions he wrote of the board what he thought we’d all say. He then proceeded to explain how this entire viewpoint came from where we were raised. The reason we associated nice houses and cleanliness with safety is because everyone in the class room came from The Suburbs. He even went on to say that we probably chose to attend Sonoma State because the campus was designed to mimic The Suburbs. He was an incredibly analytical guy, and his knowledge was so logical to me that it completely bypassed my hard-headedness. I fought it at first, but eventually he turned my reality on its head. It convinced me that I needed to make an effort to hear the other side of everything I stood against. What had I been missing this whole time?
It was a gradual shift in thinking over a few years, but when gamergate came about— when I saw all of the nasty things these people were saying, out of seemingly unwarranted anger, about people they barely knew and concepts they barely grasped— that was it. At that point I decided I needed to change. And then I watched this video:
And it clicked. Suddenly, I realized that feminism was something that was missing from my life.
So, why did I need feminism? I mean, I can now acknowledge that women face a lot of hardship in life. But how does that benefit me, a white middle-class male?
First of all, it has improved my relationships with women and men. Accepting that maybe women face genuine hardship in life got rid of the chip on my shoulder that was left over from feeling misunderstood after my dad died. I thought I had it hard. I’ve had a few tragedies in my life, and I’m not going to discount them, but I’ve never had anyone tell me that what I experienced wasn’t hard— or worse, wasn’t real. Think about it, how often has a woman in your life told you about an encounter they’ve had with a male who felt entitled to invade their personal space? Now, how many people can you think of that would interpret that encounter as a “compliment”. How many people do you know that would blame the scenario on the woman, suggesting that she was dressed provocatively or provoked it in some other way? The most revolutionary thing about getting interested in feminism is I gained the ability to listen, instead of just wait to speak. Think of how frustrating it is to tell someone close to you about something that upset you, and for them to not feel a shred of empathy because they can’t picture that thing happening to them. That’s what happens every time we rationalize a complete stranger’s creepy advances. Being able to listen to someone and empathize is a universal skill, but it’s hard to do when you aren’t willing to listen to half the people in your life.
Becoming a feminist also helped me to eliminate a great deal of insecurity. Like many men, I was pretty accustomed to the idea of being “friend zoned,” which many of you know is a term for when a woman has no romantic interest in you but is tricked into thinking that you may actually be interested in a platonic friendship with her. Being a feminist helped me realize that no woman owes me anything. If they don’t want to be more than just friends, then they don’t owe me a “chance.” I can’t recall a single time a male friend encouraged me to give a girl who was pursuing me a chance. In fact, I can recall pretty clearly a woman who basically stalked me my senior year of high school. Not a single one of my male friends told me I was obligated to give her a chance. But if you were to flip the tables, it’s almost certain someone is going to empathize with the male. “Poor guy, he just REALLY likes this girl and she probably lead him on at some point.” Here’s a nice depiction of what I’m talking about.
Suddenly, when I stopped thinking that women were obligated to give me a shot at romance, I realized that it was also okay to be rejected— and even though someone may not want to be romantically involved with you, it is still possible to have a wonderful, platonic, emotionally fulfilling relationship with a woman. It also helped me to realize that if my intention from the get go is to be romantically involved with a woman, then I need to be honest with them about my feelings from the get go. If they feel the same way, cool. If they don’t, that’s also okay because women are their own people and are capable of knowing how they feel about someone without pity-dating them. It’s actually a little ridiculous to think about. You become “friends” with a woman to demonstrate how clever and funny you are. It works, they actually think you’re friends, then you challenge what you established as a friendship because you had romantic intentions all along and were too spineless to say anything at the start. Then your pride is hurt, you get angry, and you give your friend the cold shoulder because you never really thought of them as a friend to begin with. I can’t recall a single time this has happened to me, but I can guarantee you that every woman in your life has experienced this before.
Finally, feminism gave me the ability to be a contrarian again (lol). I guess not again, as I established before I’ve always been a contrarian— but feminism really satisfies those urges because so much of the populace disagrees with it. I feed off it. It makes me young.
In the end, the reason I truly need feminism is because I’m not masculine. I never have been. My whole life, I’ve been into doing things that are stereotyped as “feminine”. I like romantic comedies, I cry fairly regularly, I don’t like/watch/relate to sports, I love to cook, I naturally gravitate towards children and love caring for them. I’m a big softy.
The problem with the way things are now is that the traditionalist perspective limits us all. Not only does that exclude women from doing things that are traditionally considered “male” activities, but it also keeps men from doing things that they want to do. Because if you are willing to say that women have a specific role that needs to be filled in society, then you also must accept that this casts men as the opposite. In other words, the patriarchy hurts everyone.
In terms of the whole 1984 free-speech-limitation perspective, all I have to say is this: I read 1984, and I can’t think of a point in that book where Big Brother asks the masses to consider the implications of the things they might say to their peers. What I remember about 1984 is NewSpeak. A powerful idea that changing the words you use to describe things either heightens or lessens their impact. There’s a litany of new words and phrases that came out of gamergate: SJWs, cry-bullies, and cultural marxism are just a few. And these were just words created by normal people. At a political level, word-changing for emotional impact has been a tool long utilized by the far right. I’m not saying that feminists don’t make up words, too. Everyone makes up words. My point is that these words are used manipulatively, to create an emotional response and solidify resolve over an issue. And that’s a problem. It further distorts and radicalizes a movement until all you’re left with is pure hatred and an absence of rational thinking.
This is all perpetuated and fueled by the idea of “offense.” A lot of feminist perspectives are written off by detractors as easily taking offense. Donald Trump has fostered a dialogue that we live in a “PC culture,” where the liberal agenda is “limiting free speech so people don’t get offended.”
I think that’s fucking ridiculous. As if casually racist and misogynist people never take offense to anything. In fact, they take offense to being called out on their bullshit. “It’s just a joke, why are you being so sensitive?”
I’ll tell you why I’m so sensitive. It’s fucking 2015, and you still have to remind people that they should be decent to other human beings. That’s why I’m so sensitive.