In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle tackles the rage-inducing “#Meninism” that’s begun to seep from the ignorant corners of the internet into the ignorant corners of reality.
When I used to tutor for Women’s Studies classes, I always started with the same question. I would look each student in the eye and ask, “Do you believe that men and women are equal?” With the exception of one notable and soul crushing case I’d rather not discuss, the answer was always yes. “Congratulations, you’re a feminist!” They never looked as happy as I thought they should. But the basic notion would get through to them, despite all of the fearmongering that has pervaded our culture about the “f word.” Once they passed the litmus test of believing humans are equal to one another, I could explain the idea of different kinds of feminism, or different goals of feminism. I always tried to emphasize that many of the things that hurt men as well (unrealistic body standards, patriarchal emphasis on aggression and strength, old-fashioned relationship norms, etc.) were things that feminism was striving to fix. We were just focusing on women primarily because of, you know, the millennia of oppression. We have some catching up to do.
Which is why when something like “meninism” comes to my attention, there’s a little vein in my forehead that starts to throb. Apparently the practice of “misunderstanding feminism on the internet” has a name (I always just thought it was called “whining from a position of privilege”). “#Meninism” has been around for at least a year, and like most things on the internet, seems to be a mix between people earnestly complaining about legitimate problems, people earnestly complaining about things that aren’t problems or are stupid problems, people making fun of and/or hating feminists, and people making fun of the original #Meninism hashtag by posting ironically.
One of their biggest grievances appears to be what they see as the inherent unfairness of a woman being able to ask a man how tall he is, without the man being able to ask how heavy the woman is or how big her breasts are, without seeming to understand that while both relate to body image they aren’t exactly direct correlations (strangely, the men never seem to respond with “well how tall are YOU?” which is the most obvious rejoinder that is actually relevant). Others are complaining about the expectations placed on them in a relationship—opening doors, paying for meals, and the like. Again, issues like “body image and objectification” and “gender expectations in relationships” are things that feminists are already trying to address. And as vlogger Kat Blaque points out, a lot of these grievances are actually the direct result of the patriarchy, and the fact that women had to expect this from men. There was this whole thing where we weren’t allowed to get jobs that paid a living wage, or control household funds. We’re still trying to work our way towards pay parity with men so that we can say “Hey baby, let me cover this for you” (at which point cue the same person who is complaining about paying for dinner suddenly feeling emasculated when they aren’t allowed to pay for their own meal. You can’t win them all.).
I can excuse the basic misunderstandings of feminism, as well as the complaining about problems that are, in fact, legitimate (if not exactly comparable to the quantity/type of issues that women face). A patient friend and/or an “Intro to Women’s Studies” class can solve those kinds of problem. The ones that really infuriate me are the ones that “complain” through hatred, attack, and the deliberate dissemination of misinformation. Like the picture of a woman being tossed down the stairs with the label “Plan C” and a note about how men deserve rights in abortion decisions. Like the retweet of a man “giving away” his girlfriend who “requires too much patience” but is “slightly used but really good in bed” and was “brand new when he got her” (and of course with the added canine comparison “authentic Mexican has all her shots”). The good news is, this charmer is even willing to deliver! I was only able to browse the main #Meninist Twitter account, Everyday MENinism, for about ten minutes before I found so many examples of misogyny, hatred towards women (and especially towards feminists), and complaints about the “Friend Zone” that I had to go look at pictures of kittens for a while in order to suppress the urge to start my own account just so I could get into an internet fight with sexist idiots (I tried that once on reddit. It didn’t make my day any better). Look: nothing about that page is about equality. Nothing about that page is about fairness. The entire page is just butthurt men ignoring their privilege and spreading hatred. It’s nothing to be proud of.
Which is why I’m really, really confused about why people seem to be super proud of #Meninism. As in, making a t-shirt proud. On the bright side, Meninists are now branding themselves for our ease of avoidance, like a Scarlet Letter for idiocy. On the not-bright side, way too many people (even women) are wearing these t-shirts and sweatshirts non-ironically. The #Meninist movement is crowing about the fact that people seem to be upset about it, even proclaiming “If a tee shirt design is that threatening of [sic] your agenda, you should probably rethink your agenda.” People are, of course, responding with humor, photoshopping the hashtag to read “Knobhead” or other identifying qualities. But a lot of the reaction seems to avoid what is, to me, the terrifying core of the problem: the internet is becoming real life, and not in the favor of feminism.
I admit to not going through the trouble of creating a timeline, but I’d say that the trend towards publicly identifying oneself as a feminist, online or otherwise, has had a dramatic upsurge in the last five years or so. “Are you a feminist?” is now a question we ask female celebrities, the “I Need Feminism Because” meme swept Facebook for a while, and retailers are starting to cash in by creating apparel that mixes feminism and humor, like “Pro-Choice Pro-Feminism Pro-Cats” shirts. But the progression from “Feminism being a thing” to “Feminism being a thing that people talk about on the internet” to “Feminism being a thing that people are willing to declare off of the internet/wear T-shirts about” seemed to me to be a slow one. Whereas with the #Meninist hashtag, “being a thing” and “being a thing people talk about on the internet” happened instantaneously, while “being a thing people are willing to declare off of the internet/wear a T-shirt about” happened within a year. Which in a way, is a dramatic escalation of aggression towards the ideals of feminism.
For a long time, those who troll feminists or attack them on the internet have hidden behind shields of anonymity, separating their opinions from their identity so that their putrid thoughts couldn’t be held against them. While annoying and occasionally dangerous, there is at least something comforting about the implications of shame that accompany this secrecy—these men are remaining anonymous because they understand that their thoughts are not acceptable in polite society. They understand that their opinions are wrong enough that they could face negative consequences if they put their names to their thoughts. The non-ironic wearing of a #Meninist T-shirt strips away that anonymity, and the ability to believe either in the self-awareness of the wearer or the social unacceptability of their thoughts. These men (and women) are proud to misunderstand feminism, proud to think that men’s issues once again trump women’s issues, and proud to associate themselves with patently absurd comparisons like “Black people and women got their rights. Now, it’s the turn for men. This is *our* civil rights movement.” And while those who have posted photos of themselves wearing the shirts are receiving a lot of ridicule, they’re also getting a lot of support. They’re getting confirmation that their ideas are acceptable, that they should be proud to have the opinions that they do. They’re exposing themselves as misogynists, as confused people who don’t understand the things that they’re talking about, and they’re getting rewarded for it. That’s not funny. That’s dangerous.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week in Tomorrow. When she’s not being sarcastic on the Internet she studies gender in popular culture.