The Infinite Hypocrisy of Fake Feminist Men

Posted on
Aug 28, 2017
Posted in: Random Musings

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I am at my book reading in Portland. Though the room is small, it is packed. The audience is mostly friends, though there is a large cluster of people I have never met before. It is, without hyperbole, one of the highlights of my career, the sort of thing I dreamed about when I was 13, when I was 26, when I was 35.

I am flustered because I care very much about what the crowd thinks of me. I am flustered because, before my reading begins, I have misplaced my cell phone. I am flustered because halfway through my reading, a boy I kissed decades ago walks in and stands at the back of the room, directly in my line of sight.

A short time later, he will slut-shame me as he is holding my book, a sort of bemused smile on his face as he references sex acts I supposedly performed on someone else after we broke up.

It is not out of character, this misogyny under the guise of teasing, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen him that I’m taken off-guard. If I get angry, I’ll be accused of “taking it the wrong way.” According to him, I always took everything the wrong way, due to my inherent oversensitivity and inclination for melodrama.

Seed the belief in a young woman that her very legitimate feelings are irrational or unreasonable and it’s amazing what you will be able to do to her.

I am happy to leave this all in the past, where it belongs. But he dredges it up, proclaiming without provocation that he “wasn’t that bad” to me. I say nothing, and simply offer my best You fucking kidding me? face. (For those wondering – yes, he was that bad.)

Unnerved, he follows up with a comment about sexual kindnesses I bestowed on someone else, couched in a way to make himself seem enlightened.

I never did this to you, he tells me. I stare, blankly. His copy of my book is in my hand. If I write what I want to write in it – a brief but direct “Fuck you” – I know it will appear on Facebook with a caption like “Some people never change.”

I’m oversensitive. I’m melodramatic.

Instead, I write simply, “Life is weird.”

He’s a misogynist. He’s an expert gaslighter. And according to him, he’s a proud feminist. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to be alone.

Last week, Joss Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, wrote a post describing his repeated infidelity during their marriage, along with a litany of sexist comments he’s made about women he’s worked with.

For many Whedon fans, it was a tough blow (the long-running fansite Whedonesque shut down shortly after the news came to light). Whedon proudly proclaimed himself a feminist, and wrote seemingly strong, smart, complicated female characters who dealt with a shocking amount of bullshit, whether it be supernatural, extraterrestrial, or run-of-the-mill workplace misogyny. But even as he was supposedly critiquing sexism, there were times it felt like he was perpetuating it. Those strong female characters were objectified and demeaned by male protagonists who had so much tacit authority, many never stopped to question it.

I could never pinpoint that this was the problem. If Whedon was a vocal feminist, then my failure to appreciate his work had to be a lack of enlightenment on my part, and not any wrongdoing on his. When misogynists take on the feminist mantle and then attack women, we internalize it on a different level. The gaslighting is baked into the premise, and the problem must be us. An SNL sketch recently skewered men who posed as feminists in order to hit on women. They eventually reveal themselves to be raging misogynists. It’s funny. But it’s not as absurd as you’d think. 

Over lunch, my friend tells me that these fake feminist men bother her perhaps most of all, because they are so much harder to identify.

“At least with the out and proud misogynists, I know who to avoid,” she says.

The bullshit of simply trying to exist as a woman can be exhausting – add the additional label of feminist, and it can feel like there’s a target on your back. The attacks can feel insurmountable. (And I say this as a white woman who enjoys plenty of categories of privilege.)

So seeing men willfully sacrifice their own security and take on the title of feminist means that I’ve historically given them the benefit of the doubt. If you use your podium of male privilege to speak out against sexism, I don’t want to question you.

But if your personal actions and behaviors don’t align with the politics that you spout, I should question you. We all should. Because being a feminist isn’t an irrevocable status. You don’t get to self-identify as one and think that the story’s over. It’s something you work towards constantly. It’s a battle every damn day – not just against all those institutions that reinforce the patriarchy but against the damn voices in your head that reinforce it, too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at the bullshit misogyny around me and wondered how much of it I’m perpetuating – yet I quickly make excuses for men like Whedon or my ex simply because they’ve claimed to share my ideology.

That’s not enough. Their actions need to match their rhetoric.

If you’re a feminist, you don’t have to like every damn woman you meet. But you do have to treat women like human beings whether you like them or not. You don’t get to take your wife’s last name and then drag your ex through the dirt because things didn’t work out between you. You don’t get to march in a pussy hat and think that gives you a free pass to vituperate a woman every now and then. You sure as fuck don’t get to try to slut-shame me because the awesomeness of my life makes you feel badly.

Feminism is challenging as fuck. If you are up for it, then welcome to the fight (all the cool people are on our side). But it’s not an absolution. It’s not a label you can hide behind. And if you think that claiming you’re a feminist will somehow get you special treatment or offer you a free pass next time you act like a sexist asshole, then you’ve missed the whole fucking point.

Also published on Medium.

Leave a Comment

  • First of all, I realize it’s totally weird to say you miss someone you’ve never met, but I’ve missed your writing in this space!

    I had to re-read part of this just to try to comprehend what happened at your book reading because it just seems so unfathomable and ridiculous. You’re clearly much better off, since he had nothing better to do than drag up old history and you WROTE A BOOK. It’s so easy to get caught up in your frustrations (I wish there was a switch to shut off anxiety), but just know these people are not worth your time since they clearly don’t care about yours.

  • A Life Less Traveled

    Thank you for writing this. You just put into words feelings I’ve been struggling with for a lifetime. I grew up in a rural, traditional community & went on to school thousands of miles away in a rural, traditional community. I learned this treatment of women as normal, & I assume so many men learned the same. I continue to struggle to find the words to stick up for myself without being cast a sensitive or “making a mountain out of a molehill”. I’m tired of men being oblivious of their actions & casting me away, especially when it comes directly from the man who made me. Keep fighting the good fight.

  • ruthburr

    Thanks for calling out that feminism is something you have to keep working on all the time! It’s not a binary – there’s no on/off switch. It’s not like “Now I am a feminist, I get my Feminism Trophy, now nothing I do or say can be sexist or misogynistic.” It’s entirely possible to genuinely believe that, for example, women deserve equal pay for equal work, but still have a lot of other inherent biases and ugly, misogynistic attitudes that play out in your life. It’s almost like people are more complicated than that! Anyone (but again, especially CHWM) who claims that they are totally free from bias and don’t have anything more to work on gets a massive side-eye from me. The air is poison and we’re all breathing it all the time.

  • So, if you are a feminist you can’t criticise anyone for anything?
    I thought feminism is about equality, not about censorship.

    I don’t get why you go so offended by something so little, was the guy lying?If yes, you should have slapped him, if not that’s it, you did it and he was bothered by it, big deal.

    Some people find sluts downright disgusting, some people like only sluts.Get used to it #diversity.

    • Everywhereist

      Oh my god. I … I can’t believe how profoundly you misunderstood this post.

    • Is this… is this a real person? I am having trouble believing a real person read this post and then produced this ostensibly real response.

      Everyone is allowed to criticize you about anything they want, you snowflake! On the other hand, slap anyone who might deserve it! Something something sluts = diversity!

      …i just. wow.

      You know, Geraldine, I admire you for SO much, but having the mental and emotional fortitude to deal with this constant barrage of weird personal attacks is super high up on the list.

      • Weird personal attacks?
        Shit, can you read?

    • nowathriver

      Gotta love people who comment just to rile up others to get a reaction. I remember doing that in middle school too.

      Of course, the other option is you’re that obtuse.

    • Aaron Janes

      A woman enjoying consensual sex with a partner of her choosing is NOT a slut and should not be as labeled one!

      • What is a slut?
        I mean, the term comes from the Bible, is not what you think it is.

        • Aaron Janes

          The Biblical definition of “slut” is not really relevant in this case as I seriously doubt either party in the story subscribes to Biblical standards and because the man’s accusation could equally be levelled at himself prompting the refrain “Woe unto you hypocrite”.

  • Aye. I’ve found that I generally can’t tell who is really with us until I’ve told them no. A few weeks ago, it was a friend of a friend who I had already shot down, telling me that “We both have needs.” I’ll never understand how a “feminist” guy who barely knows me has the stones to mansplain to me what my “needs” are AFTER I’ve already given him an unambiguous no.

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  • Rachel Sullivan

    SO awful, so true: “Seed the belief in a young woman that her very legitimate feelings are irrational or unreasonable and it’s amazing what you will be able to do to her.”

  • Dara D

    He made YOUR event and YOUR book about HIM . . . not exactly an example of feminism.

  • itstoospicy

    Sincerely missed your writing over the last month, and am happy to have you back. I’m also very grateful to you for using your platform to talk about the beauty of the world, farts, diversity, love, struggle, women, feminism and baked goods. You’re a treasure.


  • Char Mac

    I relate to this story. People like to attach trendy labels to themselves without realizing hat it means. When a man claims to be a feminist, I red-flag, and hold him with suspicion him more quickly than I would otherwise. The most respectful men I’ve ever met have never had to claim feminism or “good guy” as a credential. They live, you observe, and you are the one who gives the credential/label as a feminist.

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