Some of you may remember this picture that went viral last year, and caused girls and women everywhere to denounce the feminist movement on social media:
This is Lauren Southern, proud anti-feminist. She recently released a video for Rebel Media, which was promoted by Facebook pages drowning in toxic masculinity, boasting that she completely destroys feminism in just three minutes.
Except that she doesn’t. Like, at all.
She makes several points that seem like interesting, thoughtful critiques of the feminist movement and includes official sounding statistics as back up.
Unfortunately, most of these “critiques” are based on long-standing misconceptions of feminism that could be easily disproved with a quick Google search, not to mention most of her statistics are either veiled misinformation, or complete bullshit.
The heart of Southern’s assertion that she is not a feminist is that she believes “both genders should be treated equally.” Setting aside the false assumption that gender can be reduced to a simple male/female binary, that is literally the definition of feminism. If you believe people should be treated equally regardless of their gender, congratulations! You’re a feminist!
You can’t claim to support the main goal of a social justice movement, but refuse the label because you don’t like the connotations; that’s not how words work. To paraphrase Aziz Ansari, it would be like a physician who primarily focuses on the epidermis, but rejects the term “dermatologist” for being too harsh of a word. It doesn’t work that way.
However, Southern is adamant that she is not a feminist, so let’s break down why.
“Why don’t we see equal representation [by feminists] of both gender’s issues?”
I had to pause the video at this because my eyes rolled so far back into my head I could actually see my own brain cells dying.
Once again side stepping her ignorance when it comes to the number of genders that exist, is she really asking this question? Feminism was born from the women’s rights movements – the ones that gave us the right to vote and own property (rather than be property) – so the roots of feminist activism come from a challenge to the inequality of women.
Modern feminism exists as a conglomerate of past and present efforts to address forms of inequality and inequity facing women, including:
- The inability of women to be recognized as full citizens
- Women’s lack of protection from violence in their homes and on the streets
- Women’s lack of rights over their own bodies
- Women’s unique experiences of violence in times of war
- The restriction of women to pursue the same opportunities as men
- The gendered norms that constrain women from freely expressing their genders, personalities, and bodies
- The lack of attention and respect given to women’s voices and experiences
- The devaluation of women’s labor
- The assumption of female heterosexuality
- The absence of women in arenas of power that make decisions about the lives of women
- The pervasive inequalities shaped by race, ethnicity, colonialism, citizenship, gender identity, sexuality, ability, language, religion, body type, etc., that work alongside gender
- The fact that it is 2015 and there is an actual need for me to write this article
I could go on. These issues remain persistent sources of inequality for women; therefore, addressing how they operate in the lives of women remains at the center of the feminist movement.
None of this means that feminists hate men, or that we don’t care when men are harmed, or that we’re somehow sexist towards men (which, again, isn’t actually possible). There are serious inequalities that women continue to face, and it isn’t unreasonable for a movement for gender equality to focus on those problems.
For perspective, would you go to a charity event for Alzheimer’s and be upset they weren’t raising money for diabetes research? They’re both important issues that need attention, but a venue that’s specific to one of them doesn’t take away from the importance of the other.
That being said, feminists actually focus quite a bit on issues that impact men. Gender regimes that create adversity for women also negatively affect men, and feminism offers a variety of tools to challenge them together.
However, this doesn’t mean that feminism is only important and legitimate when it is also useful to men. There are very serious issues of security, freedom, and equality that uniquely affect women, and if you are only willing to support these movements when they also benefit men, you’re completely missing the point.
“There are more men raped in prison than women, but feminists remain silent on the issue.”
Sorry, false. Actually, not sorry, do your research.
First of all, feminists fought at the forefront to change the federal definition of rape to include male victims (as well as other forms of rape like statutory and marital). The Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine launched the Rape is Rape campaign that culminated in changes to the old definition (which completely excluded men).
Second, feminists led the broad coalition advocating for the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which works to protect all prisoners from sexual assault – the majority of whom are men. On a related note, women and feminists have also fought front and center to challenge rape in the military, which also affects many men.
Prison rape remains a serious issue that affects thousands of people, and deserves more attention than it receives, including from feminists. However, among those who are fighting the issue, feminists are there and we are not silent.
“Almost half of all domestic violence victims in the U.S. and Canada are men.”
Southern didn’t cite her source for this one, so I’m not entirely sure where she came up with that statistic. That being said, depending on where you look, the numbers may differ dramatically. Some studies show what Southern describes, a near symmetry between men and women. Others show that it is largely women experiencing intimate partner violence.
The reason behind the different numbers is based largely on the samples and measures used to collect the data, as well as the recognition that different types of intimate partner violence exist in our society and are reflected in these samples. Based on hundreds of different studies, it is apparent that both men and women are violent in intimate partner relationships, but the type of violence perpetuated by men and women differs greatly.
There are a few important, but different, types of intimate partner violence:
- Coercive Controlling Violence:
This is what most people envision when they think of domestic abuse. CCV is used to control the partner through multiple forms of coercion (economic threats, leveraging children, blaming, isolation, sexual violence, emotional abuse, intimidation, and physical violence).
This type of violence is more likely to result in serious physical injury or death, and while men can be victims of this type of violence, it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by heterosexual men against their female partners.
- Violent Resistance:
This type of intimate partner violence accounts for some people responding to CCV with violent resistance (akin to “self-defense”, but different in legal context). The vast majority of violent resistance is done by women against male coercive controlling partners, but charges are sometimes filed in these cases and contribute to the patterns in the statistics. Unlike the coercive controlling partner, violent resistance is reactive and the intention is not to control.
- Situational Couple Violence:
This is by far the most common type of intimate partner violence, and is perpetrated by men and women nearly equally, though male perpetration is still slightly higher. SCV generally results from the escalation of an argument between partners, but is not representative of chronic violence, intimidation, stalking, or other symptoms of CCV. While SCV is serious and can be lethal, it tends to involve more minor forms of violence (pushing, grabbing), and is less likely to result in serious injury.
So, yes, Southern was right that men are also victims of intimate partner violence. Men and women commit violence in heterosexual and same sex relationships (and any variation thereupon). All of this violence matters, but in the context of systematic violence rooted in fear and control that results in serious injury, the vast majority of assailants are men and the vast majority of victims are women.
At least one third of all female homicide victims in the United States are killed by male intimate partners, compared to just 2.5% for men.
Gender symmetry in intimate partner violence tends to be at lower levels of violence, and Southern’s statistics don’t distinguish severity, frequency, whether an attack was in self-defense, or if it was part of a pattern of fear and coercive behavior. It should also be noted that men are more likely to call the police on their partner, more likely to press charges, and less likely to drop charges.
It’s not that feminists don’t care when intimate partner violence happens to men, or that we don’t want men to be protected – we do. That being said, given the realities taking place when you examine the numbers closely, it shouldn’t be surprising that most feminist energy aimed at intimate partner violence is focused on women facing controlling coercive violence.
Additionally, consider the ways that intimate partner violence is still shaped by systematic, legally-enshrined patriarchy in this country. It wasn’t long ago that men had the legal right to beat their wives, and as recently as the 1980s police would delay responding to domestic violence calls. Wives often had no legal recourse to demand protection from the state, as well.
It is also important to add that Southern’s claim of men not having access to victim services is incorrect. The Violence Against Women Act, which was championed by feminists in 1994, legally protects women and men (in heterosexual and same sex relationships) who are victims of domestic violence, and offers male victims all of the same services and protections that are available to women.
“Feminists remain silent on the issues of male suicide, male workplace deaths, male combat deaths, and male homicide deaths.”
Ah, actually, nope, nope, nope, and nope.
Feminism has a long history of gender analysis, which gives us some pretty profound insight into a lot of these male deaths. Particularly, feminists demonstrate how norms of femininity and masculinity enforce ideas about appropriate male and female behavior, which deeply shapes the condition of these male deaths.
Take combat deaths, for example. There are extensive feminist writings about gender and war pointing to how norms of masculinity are deeply implicated in producing a society in which men are expected to embody sacrificial stoicism, physical strength, and masculine virility. Women, meanwhile, are expected to be weak, passive, and in need of (male!) protection.
One feminist author, Iris Marion Young, called this “the logic of masculine protection,” writing, “In this patriarchal logic, the role of the masculine protector puts those protected, paradigmatically women and children, in a subordinate position of dependence and obedience.” Feminists have long challenged this logic of protection in multiple contexts, point both to how this robs women of independence, as well as how it shapes male participation in war, and their subsequent injuries and deaths. Another feminist author, Cynthia Daniel, wrote extensively about the way male soldiers handle injury — specifically injury of their reproductive health — and shows how ideas of masculinity contribute to the lack of medical help men seek for such injuries.
A final note on Southern’s comment toward male combat deaths: part of the reason combat deaths are disproportionately male is due to the sexist policies of the United States military; women soldiers have historically been barred from combat roles. Equality in the military has been debated and written about in great detail by feminists like Megan MacKenzie and Carol Cohn (among others), who dismiss the myth that women can’t fight and challenge the exclusion of women from combat positions.
As for Southern’s other examples of male death — workplace death, suicide, murder — feminists are talking about those, too.
A graduate student at Penn State, has examined masculinity’s effect on worker safety in the (mainly male) natural gas workforce of Pennsylvania, illuminating how notions of masculinity shape labor forces and the willingness of workers to use safety equipment and follow procedures.
Miles Groth describes in his book, Boys to Men: The Science of Masculinity and Manhood, how stereotypes about what it means to “be a man” impacts high suicide rates among young men. Groth argues that feminist efforts to abolish restrictive gender norms offer vital pathways to address this problem, and several other studies agree.
Stereotypes of masculinity also lend themselves to gang culture and crime rates. Dr. Melissa Wright wrote about gang murders of both men and women in Mexico while illustrating ways feminism is helpful in understanding male murder statistics.
“Feminists place a blanket statement on all men that they are privileged, and that all women are oppressed.”
Yeah, if you read feminist doctrine through a fun house mirror; this is a completely warped characterization of what feminists argue.
Feminists do argue that being a male in a male-dominated society has certain privileges — whether it’s being paid more, having greater representation in seats of power, having your voice privileged in many spaces, etc. — but feminists do not assume that all men equally benefit from these systems of privilege, nor do they assume that all women are equally marginalized.
The complexity of privilege and oppression is exactly why feminists use the notion of intersectionality. Most feminists realize and understand that not all women are marginalized in the same ways, and the privileges that come with being white or wealthy can play a huge part in how or whether someone might feel oppressed due to their gender.
The assertion that all women are oppressed is one of the very issues that galvanized postcolonial feminists and feminists of color in their critique of second wave feminism. There has always been a tendency by white feminists to characterize women of color and Third World Women as universally oppressed by their cultures and men, and were therefore in need of white feminists to rescue them or to speak out for them. Obviously this is not, nor ever has been the case. Having insights into that now is a cornerstone of what is generally considered Third Wave Feminism, which Southern claims is only about universal oppression.
Yes, feminists talk about the way that patriarchy and sexism overlap with other structures of race, class, sexuality, and nationality to produce unique challenges in women’s lives, but it’s far from Southern’s characterization that we believe all men are natural aggressors and all women are natural victims — a view that is inherently anti-feminist by nature.
“As a woman, I will almost always win custody in a divorce case.”
Except you can’t claim this is oppressive towards men without recognizing that the reason for this is the gender norms enforced by our society that assume women (not men) are natural caregivers and naturally nurturing. The issue of women being more likely to be granted custody is the same issue that asserts women’s primary and most important role is motherhood. By contrast, men in our society have historically been thought of as the breadwinners and the productive citizens.
Feminists have challenged these ideas for decades, as they profoundly restrict the options available to women. These views also make contributions towards stigmatizing women who don’t want or cannot have children, the devaluation of work inside the home such that it need not be treated as productive, lower pay for women working outside the home (since their income is simply supplemental to their husbands’), and the characterization of women who don’t embody the “norms” of caretaking as “pushy”, “overly assertive”, or “bitchy”.
Men who are invested in reshaping ideas about their male parental rights may be surprised to find that gendered assumptions about women’s inherent nurturing also translate into how society perceives men as parents. In terms of changing gendered expectations about child rearing, feminist goals include advocating for many policy changes that benefit men, including the Family and Medical Leave Act and paternal leave policies.
“As a woman, I will actually have my rape and assault claims taken seriously.”
So not only does Southern not know how to Google simple things, she’s also apparently never seen how rape cases are treated in this country.
Women are consistently blamed for their own rapes.
“What were you wearing?”
“You shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
“You drank too much, you should have been more responsible.”
“You led him on, what did you expect?”
“Are you sure you’re not just being dramatic?“
This is particularly true for women of color, who are even less likely to be taken seriously, and often face the risk of being accused of prostitution by police.
There is such an incredible amount of documentation of women’s rape allegations not being believed that Southern’s claim here goes well beyond ignorant and lands smack in the middle of super disturbing.
As is the fact that she has another video titled “The Falsely Accused are the real Victims” which, no. Okay? No. The odds of a man being falsely accused of rape is 2.7 million to 1. Because 1 in 33 men will be raped in his lifetime, an American man is 82,000 times more likely to be raped than be falsely accused of rape. Stop derailing the conversation with your victim blaming bullshit.
In the United States, feminists have fought for Title IX legislation on college campuses, which offers protection from sexual harassment and assault for all students, including men.
“As a woman, I won’t be laughed at for not being manly enough.”
This begs the question of whether or not Southern is actually too naive to think that she wouldn’t, as a woman, be laughed at for not being feminine enough, or for being too feminine.
Crossing borders of acceptable gender behavior can be difficult for both men and women, and there are a ton of feminist resources that will help with the language, strategies, and support needed to confront and challenge the harms experienced by both men and women due to gender norms.
Additionally, there’s the glaring fact that while it’s acceptable for women to adopt some masculine characteristics, such as clothing (flannels, hoodies, etc.), a man wearing a dress in public is seen as a joke or disgrace. It’s almost like femininity is considered shameful and beneath men.
As a parting note to Southern, though I can’t really understand why, if she truly believes she doesn’t need feminism, that’s fine. But before you go, here’s what I think she and any other anti-feminist woman need to know:
You’re insulting every woman who was forcibly restrained in a jail cell with a feeding tube down her throat for your right to vote, less than 100 years ago.
You’re degrading every woman who has accessed a rape crisis center, which wouldn’t exist without the feminist movement.
You’re undermining every woman who fought to make marital rape a crime (it was legal until 1993).
You’re spitting on the legacy of every woman who fought to be allowed to own property (1848). For the abolition of slavery and the rise of the labor union. For the right to divorce. For women to be allowed to have access to birth control (Comstock laws). For middle and upper class women to be allowed to work outside the home (poor women have always worked outside the home). To make domestic violence a crime in the US (it is very much legal in many parts of the world). To make workplace sexual harassment a crime.
In short, you know not what you speak of. You reap the reward of these women’s sacrifices every day of your life. When you grin with your cutesy sign about how you’re not a feminist, you ignorantly spit on the sacred struggle of the past 200 years. You bite the hand that has fed you freedom, safety, and a voice.
In short, kiss my ass, you ignorant little jerks.
– Libby Anne Bruce
Sorry it took me more than three minutes.
Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!