Friday, August 20, 2010

The Masquerade: I call myself a feminist, therefore I am a feminist.

(cross-posted from Feministe - wording edited slightly to reflect being posted here)

There’s this guy at my college who calls himself a feminist and, well, I just wouldn’t feel right calling him anything remotely close to a feminist.

I blogged about this student after he attended his first meeting of the feminist organization on my college campus (Students Against Sexism in Society, or SASS), tried to tell its largely female membership how to best run the organization, dominated the conversation, displayed an alarming lack of concern about triggering survivors of sexual assault, told stories of assault experiences that were not his to tell, then called out, by name, people he believed to be rapists.

As someone who has taken on several leaderships within this organization, I had to deal with the aftermath of this situation in which this student (let’s call him Mike) decided to make himself out to be a more involved pro-feminist guy the following term. I was co-president of SASS, but due to class scheduling conflicts, I was unable to attend SASS meetings, so my co-president ran them.

SASS’s major event that term was Take Back The Night and Mike first showed his disrespect for the organization he claimed to want to be a part of when he, on his own initiative, created flyers advertising TBTN as a march “against anti-LGBT violence” (he explained later that he was attempting to attract a larger crowd, not seeming to care that he was doing so by misrepresenting our event). He sent electronic copies of these and several other flyers out to the SASS e-mail list, instructing people to hang them up. I was forced to counter his e-mail, telling the group that those were not the flyers that were meant to be hung up, that Mike was not in charge of publicity, and members would be notified when the correct flyers were ready to be hung up.

I got an angry e-mail from Mike about this. He called me rude, stupidly hostile, “an immature insecure leader intent on doing nothing but touting her title around and impeding progress” and ended on this note:

Are you going to do ANYTHING for Take Back the Night? Or are you just going to impede the progress of smarter, more political members of the club you are a tyrant of?
Interestingly, the language Mike utilized in his e-mail was very similar to language in e-mails I had received earlier in the year from a female SASS member who fundamentally disagreed with my leadership style. I felt that both e-mail attacks were unwarranted, as they took place after I exercised due responsibility as an elected officer of SASS. The difference lies in the fact that the female SASS member who criticized me (however harshly or unjustly) could clearly be viewed as acting in what she felt was the best interest of SASS as a feminist organization that she cared about. Mike, however, could not be said to have had the same motives.

He showed a worrisome disregard for survivors of sexual assault (the same people he claimed to want to help by taking part in TBTN), disrespected SASS (by misrepresenting one of its events), and insulted an elected leader of an organization that is legitimately concerned about the interests of women after that leader took measures to ensure the integrity of the group. He made it clear that his interest lied not with SASS or even helping women.

The worst part is that in three separate e-mails that Mike sent me, none of which offered a fair critique and which seemed to be nothing more than a backlash against me acting as an officer, he insinuated time and time again that he was a better feminist than I am.

I’ve been trying to write this post for months now, but I’ve found this situation incredibly difficult to deal with. Being insulted is never easy, but when it comes from someone who claims to be an ally it’s not only confusing but incredibly hurtful. It stings to be called a bad feminist by a guy who doesn’t even seem to understand what feminism is and who showed little respect for women, some of the people that he should have been interested in fighting for.

I know I should just brush off these insults. I usually can. But it really bothers me when someone like Mike takes on the label of feminist, a label I wear with pride, when it just doesn’t apply to the type of actions he has undertaken. This is the kind of thing that undermines the work of people who actually want to make the world a better place for women and other oppressed groups. When people like Mike can call themselves feminists, I usually end up going to bed frustrated and a little hurt.


Victoria said...

This seems like yet another instance of someone calling themselves a feminist because it makes them look good without actually holding feminist values. In this case, it sounds like this guy might have just wanted to put on his resume that he worked with SASS or be able to brag to people on campus that he is oh-so-enlightened. It is the same mindset as Sarah Palin calling herself a feminist to cover up her women-hating policies.

I guess the silver lining here is at least people want to call themselves a feminist now, even though the term is grossly misused.

Amelia said...

Knowing this guy personally, the wanting to seem enlightened issue may be at play. But something I didn't mention in this post was how he seemed to have his eye on SASS's budget - we weren't radical enough (read: we don't engage in enough street protests), but we had lots of money for him to try to get his hands on so he could do better "activist" things with.