Against Lisa Millbank on Separatism and Men

[note to Lisa Millbank, who might or might not get a notification that I’ve linked to her blog on this post: linking to your blog is not intended as interaction; if you find this post, please note that I am transmasculine/male and therefore you probably don’t want to interact with me]

[Also, I sincerely hope that you are not harmed by this post, and if you object to my links I will take them down; this is not intended to harm you and I hope that you are all right]

While I do not have an extensive knowledge of lesbian separatist cultures, I have read some blogs, such as The Radical Transfeminist and the associated Tumblr, which appear adjacent to the concept.

When I first encountered the Radical Transfeminist blog, I found it extremely interesting and indeed insightful. I retain this opinion today, but I also believe that, after reading further into Millbank’s blog and opinions, political separatism from men is a harmful practice based on incorrect assumptions about the nature of power.

From her FAQ here:


Q: I’m a trans/cis man.

A: My time and energy is not for you. Please don’t bother me.


When I first read this several years ago, this made me profoundly sad on behalf of men. (I didn’t think I was bigender yet.)

But I figured that this was completely fair as a policy, right? She’s a feminist and she gets to determine how to use her own time. Men don’t deserve her time.

And now I’m reading back and I realize that, no, this is legitimately really upsetting and I was completely valid in my offense.

To be absolutely clear, as a personal policy, trying to avoid men is fine. “I don’t feel comfortable talking to men due to past trauma” or “I just don’t want to talk to men and I don’t find it very fun” is a fine sentiment, and it’s fine to enforce this boundary by saying things like “Please don’t talk to me or interact with me if you’re a man or male-aligned. This is a personal preference.”

However, even as a personal policy, it could be stated more kindly. Millbank writes, “Please don’t bother me”, as if a man talking to her ought to know that it’s bothersome or was trying to bother her. In the heat of the moment, someone might say something like this; I expect someone’s FAQ answer to be kinder.

So please let me be clear: I am fine with people not wanting to interact with men and I am pleased if they state this neutrally in their FAQs.

But this is clearly not a personal statement, as least in the sense that it’s acknowledged as a preference and not an act of resistance, etc. It’s a political statement; it’s on her political blog, and stated in a political way.

Insofar as personal actions are political actions, they can be critiqued.


So what reasons does Millbank have for not wanting to spend her time on men? A cursory search of her Tumblr reveals that she practices separatism. A search for “separatist” on her wordpress doesn’t give any information – other than a few quotes from lesbian separatists in different contexts -. So let’s look at the available information and try to figure out why she might think that men don’t deserve her time, effort, etc., in the political sense.

  • Her time is better spent helping women (etc.) because they are the primary victims of oppression.

This reason might be inferred from Millbank’s initial statement that her “time and energy” are not for men, e.g. that they are better used somewhere else, for someone else.

I disagree with this reason.

For one, this rather seems like assuming the hypothesis. The hypothesis is that women are the primary victims of oppression. However, this doesn’t take into account male perspectives on violence, patriarchy, and kyriarchy in general; what of war, what of homicide rates, what of the rate of men in prison? What of the way that misandry affects people of all genders across various intersections? What of the way that misandry harms men?

Secondly, intersectionality theory as well as holistic intersectionality contradict Millbank’s perspective. As a class, men might not be as oppressed as women. Each individual man and each individual woman who might address Millbank is likely to be affected by various different factors.

While Millbank does appear to be genuine in her devotion to intersectionality, the fact that her division line is between men and women, rather than between cis or trans, or abled and disabled, etc., makes me wonder if she has fully questioned the implications of her lesbian separatist source material.

After all, male/female is not necessarily the most important axis of oppression; it certainly shouldn’t be given especial attention above all the others. The female separatist perspective assumes a solidarity between women, rather than between e.g. black people or between neurodivergent people. The mere framing of “primary victims of oppression” claims that female/male is the most significant axis of oppression.

It’s important to listen to men’s perspectives for the same reason that it’s important to listen to e.g. white women’s perspectives: while they may be coming from a place of privilege (in the case of men, in relation to women; in the case of white women, in relation to black people), they still possess information vital to a complete theory of gender relations.

It is commendable to focus your activism on one area, but if she wants to focus on e.g. trans women as a class, then why doesn’t she also exclude cis women? Why doesn’t she exclude non-queer women?

The obvious reason to include various types of women in your feminism, even if you want to focus on a a specific type, is because you all share a common interest: that of advancing your lot as women. Additionally, they can all lend insight on their experiences that allows for a more holistic and inclusive vision of patriarchy.

The same reasons apply to e.g. including trans men and gender nonconforming men in your transfeminism; trans men and trans women have obvious interests in common and it is useful to form coalitions for political benefit, as do gnc cis men. Trans men and gender nonconforming cis men have different perspectives on gender than do trans women.

  • Men are extremely dangerous and will hurt women if they can.

This point of view might be inferred from this post here, reblogged without disagreement, which states:


man roulette is a game where there are fucking THOUSANDS of chambers and a few – a very very few – of them hold closeted trans women. the rest are men, though, and if you pull the trigger and get “man” you are well and truly fucked


It is certainly true that men tend to abuse transfeminine/female people disproportionately, and it is good to be cautious.

However, a blanket ban on men – including online interaction! – is extremely overzealous. The majority of men don’t kill or abuse people. I think this is a fairly uncontroversial position to take. There exist many good, interesting men, all of whom are not inherent threats to activism and who may be valuable allies.

In addition – and this post was clearly put forth as a theory of gender relations, so it is valid ground for critique -, the concept of men as inherently murderous (unless they are actually secretly trans) Others men as a hyperagentified threat to women, which is not acceptable gender theory.

It’s unfortunately kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy; the fact that this boundary of not-interacting-with-men has been set means that all of the men who you encounter are boundary-violating jackasses, because the boundary-respecting men have all decided to respect your boundaries and are not interacting with you.

The framing of this perspective sets people up to think that all women are actually totally safe and trustworthy, while in actuality it is important to remain aware that anyone might be an abuser.

If you accidentally become close friends with a man, then you have lent your support and friendship to a man, who has in turn lent his support and friendship to you. This is great! It is mutually profitable. Maybe it is not optimal, since he’s not a woman, but it is very far from “fucked”.

Why Should Millbank Care?

Millbank’s deliberate shutting-out of the experiences and perspectives of men and male-aligned people as well as afabs has had numerous reverberations, most notably on the axis of transness. It promotes ideas which erase and injure nonbinary people of varous asabs due to its basing in separatism.

Thereby it hinders the establishment of broad coalitions based on axes other than gender, such as the LGBTQ coalition or a broader trans coalition focused around trans solidarity. See for example this post and this post, which characterize afab trans people as illegitimate, and which are both easily findable after a few minutes of scrolling on her Tumblr.

Regarding the first post:


A lot of trans men choose to identify as non-binary or genderqueer or something of that nature so that they can maintain access to queer women’s spaces (and queer women’s bodies, especially lesbian bodies) while still freely accessing as much male privilege as they can elsewhere.

They know they will always be viewed by larger society as “lesser men”, so many of them would prefer to simply be the only men who have consistent access to women’s spaces, which we should all recognize as a longstanding straight male predation fantasy (being the only male infiltrating a female space – which is something that cafab men actively do).


While I am absolutely sympathetic to the problem of cis lesbian and trans afab desexualization of and exclusion of trans women, this is a remarkably invalidating argument to make.

For one, the author specifically points out “trans men” who “choose to identify as nonbinary or genderqueer or something of that nature”. She never considers that these “trans men” might actually in fact be nonbinary or genderqueer. She never considers that afab trans people might have a valid reason – e.g. rampant cissexism – to present as male outside of lesbian spaces.

She also relies on transphobic narratives of deception and infiltration, but this time arrayed against trans men rather than trans women.

That post continues on in the same vein:


This is why some trans women view all trans men and cafab trans masc folks as part of the same class (since most cafab trans non-binary people seem to either be trans men dodging accountability for maleness, or cis women with a lot of internalized transmisogyny and misogyny who are trying to appropriate trans identity while distancing themselves from womanhood, making both groups people who are simply trying to use identity to obscure their position in relation to gendered power structures), with a great many trans mascs functioning and interacting with women in a way that is indistinguishable from men in general, simply more insidious.


There is nothing about maleness that ought to be held to accountability inherently, since there is nothing wrong with being male.

Secondly, notice how this post promotes the transphobic narrative that trans men are “cis women with a lot of internalized misogyny”. It quickly and eagerly jumps on the transphobic bandwagon of people who “use identity to obscure their position in relation to gendered power structures”.  Notice also how it makes mention of afabs trying to “appropriate” trans identity.

This is offensive in the extreme.

Finally, the post makes inaccurate assumptions about transmasculine/male positionality within kyriarchy:


We’re both seen in many ways as embodying aspects of both male and female, but rather than cis people seeing both of us as simply “in between,” trans men and cafab trans people in general tend to be seen as somehow possessing the better qualities of men and women, while trans women are seen as abominations embodying the worst of both genders. 


I absolutely don’t deny that transmisogyny is real, and that trans women are often treated more harshly than trans men for complicated reasons.

But I take umbrage at the writer’s portrayal of society’s “general” view of trans men and afabs as “possessing the better qualities of men and women”. That may be true in lesbian spaces, but it is not true in general society. Trans men and afab trans people have been assaulted and invalidated for our genders, and I do not appreciate the flippant erasure of these experiences.

While Millbank did not write this post, she reblogged without critical comment and added appreciation. This reveals a structural flaw in her feminism. While afab trans people might have valuable clarifications, Millbank has cut herself off from our voices and our experiences. She has neglected men’s rights to the point that she promotes and upholds misgendering and transphobia- which I am sure that she would be horrified at!

But she likely won’t ever realize differently, because her time is not for trans men.

Regarding the second post, here is a copy-paste of the relevant comments:


I wanna see someone write something about the gross proliferation of ‘afab nb femme’
Cuz it is gross and u can’t claim to be a lesbian while also rejecting womanhood


It’s always worth mentioning Leslie Feinberg was transmisogynist but otherwise everything her is fantastic- especially the addition about afab NB femme.


Wasn’t Leslie Feinberg like….not cis? As in, didn’t use she/her pronouns? And a massive fuck you to @spacedyke because you don’t get to have any say on my afab, nonbinary femme identity.


not cis people who are afab can be transmisogynists. you’re providing an excellent example here of afab nb transmisogyny


So in the above sequence, we see, again, blatant transphobia and transmisandry. “Afab nb femme” is denounced as “gross”, without respect for any personal factors that might cause a trans person to identify as femme – such as, say, being genderqueer or genderfluid, or being partially female some of the time.

There is also no analysis of what femme means and has meant to different people throughout history. The concept of gendered appropriation has been and continues to be used against trans people, and I contest the idea that femme belongs to anyone in particular. Serano’s statement on appropriation here is highly relevant.

There is also no awareness of what Feinberg has meant not only to the lesbian community, but also to the transmasculine community. Feinberg used male pronouns in trans spaces, and female ones in non-trans spaces, because he believed that in non-trans spaces female pronouns accentuated his butch identity. Stone Butch Blues is and has been regarded as something for lesbians, butches, transmasculines, and an immensely wide variety of people. It is incredibly disrespectful to claim his legacy for one group and one group only.

It is also disrespectful to police people’s identities, particularly the words they use for their genders.

This is coming from transfeminists, and it is deeply disappointing. This is true all the more because it is the kind of horizontal conflict that Lorde and the other feminists did not want to see. Trans people are turning against each other instead of uniting in solidarity against oppressive power structures.

Separatism is Still Not Nonbinary-Friendly

The separatists’ error here is also in their treatment of nonbinaries of different asabs. — That is, afab nonbinaries are routinely held up as examples of male privilege and misgendered as male appropriators, whereas amab nonbinaries are lumped into “women” for the purpose of separatism, as in this post.

Amab nonbinaries who do not identify as women are not, in fact, women, any more than afab nonbinaries who do not identify as women are, and it is incoherent to accept nonbinaries of one asab over nonbinaries of another. You might even say that it’s transphobic.

Someone might argue that the purpose of separatism is not to separate men from women, but instead to connect amab trans people, but then the contact with cis women is unjustifiable.

Meanwhile, the entire framework erases polygender nonbinaries who identify with both maleness and femaleness. I can either be misgendered by talking with Millbank, or I can be misgendered by being refused an audience with Millbank.

The male and female parts of my identity are not separable. (This is because of something mysterious called “intersectionality”.) Millbank’s framework requires setting up a binary of male against female, or rather female against male; it upholds rather then explodes oppositional sexism and the old radfem overemphasis on male-female relations over other axes of oppression.

Moreover, what of amab nonbinaries who retain a connection to maleness? Are they excluded if they still identify with and as men sometimes or partially? What degree of maleness and what degree of femaleness are acceptable? — And are polygender amabs held to a different standard than polygender afabs? Why is this so?

Understand this: asab doesn’t and shouldn’t be used to divide nonbinaries for the purpose of gender-identity-based separatism. It undermines our solidarity and denies our genders, treating amab nonbinary genders as somehow fundamentally different from afab nonbinary genders. You are undermining nonbinary solidarity and working against nonbinary coalition-building.

Dividing nonbinaries by asab in an absolutist separatist way makes an implicit statement about the importance of asab as an axis of oppression, ignoring and working against the very real ways in which nonbinary trans people of all asabs can come together and support each other, and the commonalities of oppression which nonbinaries of different asabs face.

It is useful to have amab nonbinary spaces and afab nonbinary spaces, separate from each other, but it is not politically or intellectually coherent to place afab nonbinaries with “men” and amab nonbinaries with “women” for the purpose of separatism as Millbank appears to practice it.

The Separatist Framework Disadvantages Detransitioners and Closeted Trans Men

Separatism appears to advance the idea the women and female-aligned people ought to have sisterhood together and to rely on each other for support, while also cutting off other connections to e.g. men and male-aligned people.

This creates an immense amount of coercive power. What happens when someone wants to become a man? They lose their entire support system, and are never able to talk to anyone they used to know ever again, and they are now the violent and threatening Other of maleness, which must be constantly feared, denounced, and made to answer for patriarchy.

So much for questioning their gender in a safe space.


If Millbank (&c) had adopted a more holistic feminism – one in which men’s perspectives were valuable and male/female was not in practice treated as the most significant axis of kyriarchal oppression – then they would have successfully avoided these transphobic and transmisandrist statements, or at least they would have been able to remedy them. But she and her fellow transfeminists did not, and they have reaped the foul rewards.

I hope that Millbank reads this. But I doubt she will.

Girlfags Again: Reflection and Response

Having given more thought to the issue, a somewhat concerning aspect of my work has occurred to me. I don’t know if I’ve been properly inclusive of detransitioners, and I hope that I have not urged transition too strongly. Every individual should take things gradually, evaluating based on empirical evidence and their personal reactions whether or not to continue transitioning. Transitioning is not the right choice for everyone, and I hope that that was clear.

Detransitioners are welcome in any trans community I want to be part of, as are chasers and admirers, but I am not sure how to effect this.

If anyone wants to contact me regarding how I can represent and perhaps provide resources for detransitioners more effectively, I encourage them to contact me at silver.ivory.and.bone@gmail.com. I am also willing to try to give advice concerning people’s gender trouble.


So it seems that Jack Molay of Crossdreamers has responded to my girlfags post with some interesting constructive criticism here:


Silver and Ivory argues that we have to get rid of the girlfag term and replace it with something else. I am not sure the alternative, “gaymale woman” is much better (as it excludes male-identifying MTF people and contradicts their argument that girlfags are not always attracted to gay men), but I agree with the overall message.


This is an excellent point; I don’t think my post included male-identifying MtF girlfags at all, and I apologize for that omission. I don’t know much about male-identifying MtF girlfags, but I hope I didn’t make any of them feel illegitimate or so on. I am not sure what Molay is referring to here, but I think that he means that I don’t include transfeminine girlfags.

However, Molay’s argument that it doesn’t include these two groups doesn’t hold up. “Fag” means “gay man” and connotes effeminacy; “girlfag” combines “girl” (female-identifying person) with “fag” to get “girl who is also like an effeminate gay man”.

By changing “girlfag” to “gaymale girl” or “gaymale woman”, we do a number of things. First, we lose the connotation of effeminacy, which makes the word more inclusive, not less- after all, we also have the butch and unaligned gaymale girls to think about as well! Secondly, we lose the homophobic/transmisogynistic/misandristic slur. This is aesthetically and politically preferable to me.

Otherwise, we have exactly the same result: “girl who is also like a gay man”.

Addressing Molay’s issues with my post: with this usage we still include male-identifying MtF girlfags. These people already identified with a word including “girl” and “[slur for effeminate gay man]”; I doubt that eliminating the “effeminate” connotation and the slur aspect does not include them.

Some MtF people might end up using “fag” in a reclamatory fashion. I of course support this, but it’s a somewhat separate usage than the issue at hand, which is the issue of girlfags as Molay and I both define it. The girlfags that we’re talking about aren’t girls who have been called fags; they’re girls who crossdream and identify partially with gay men.

If MtF spectrum people want to use “girlfag” in a reclamatory fashion for “girl who has been misgendered and attacked as fags”, then I welcome them and encourage this usage.

If Molay wishes to clarify his meaning here, I would be happy to respond.

Also, Molay states that my term contradicts my statement about gaymale girls’ attraction to gay men or lack thereof. I don’t think it does so more than the word “girlfag”, which includes a word that literally means “effeminate gay man”! The “gay” part leaves it extremely ambiguous as to whether the person concerned is attracted to men, women, or somewhere in between.

As I am not a girlfag anymore, I encourage girlfags to choose their own method identification.

Finally, I am pleased with the audience the post has reached and wish well to all of you.

But What About Teh Menz? — an Intersectional Analysis of Misandry, Men’s Rights, and Feminism

[epistemic status: wholeheartedly endorsed, but more informal than usual as it’s a slightly edited speech I gave]

In my social circles, both in real life and online, I’ve noticed something quite odd. It’s become common for my friends to make derogatory comments about straight white cis men – to refer sneeringly to how violent they are, how much they lack emotional depth, or just as this sort of all-encompassing figure of evil.

My knee-jerk reaction here is to object to generalizations and stereotypes in general. But at the same time, though, I don’t know how many of my friends have actually been seriously hurt by straight white cis men, or how much of it is actually directed against the structures that give straight white cis males more power, or whatever.

And I also think it’s true, that straight white cis males are given more power by society.

And so I haven’t really spoken up much.

But in spite of all these valid objections, I think that in the aggregate it’s still a problem. Let’s look at the content of these statements a bit more closely.


I.

The first argument made by this type of statement is its denigration of male weakness. For example: “#masculinity so fragile”.

Fragile masculinity is part of a patriarchal gender role. It says that, in order to be seen as “real men”, men have to do all this crazy shit. They’re not supposed to not wear dresses or to be emotionally vulnerable and in general not be feminine. And they’re all straight, very very straight, and definitely not gay; and they have to make sure that everyone around them is very very straight and definitely not gay as well. They’ve got to have large penises, because God forbid that they are intersex or something shameful like that.

(And they’ve also got to buy hair shampoos that smell like log cabins for some reason.)

And all in all it’s a quite oppressive structure. Gender conformity is enforced by peers, by parents, by teachers, by both men and women (and probably nonbinaries too). Sometimes it’s just through social ostracism, but at the worst extremes it’s through assault, through hate crimes, or through abuse.

Naturally this seems like a classical issue that feminism should really be concerned with! Like, destroying gender roles is literally one of the keystone parts of feminism.

But what you see happening instead is that some, perhaps a large number of, feminists see these men being forced into oppressive gender roles, which of course don’t fit perfectly, which are hard to fit in, and you see them pointing and laughing. This was something that I fell into at one point, actually, and I think it’s hard to realize that this is what you’re doing from the inside.

For example, there are these stupid ass shampoos that they sell that smell like log cabins, remember.

And so it was a proud moment for me when some “feminist” accounts posted them with the comments, “lol can’t believe men need this to shore up their fragile masculinities haha”.

Such a proud moment; I can’t tell you how proud I was.

Let’s look at people who’ve been forced into an oppressive gender role from literally the moment they’ve been born – or sometimes later – and let’s point and laugh, because it’s fragile and pathetic that they’re trying to avoid being physically abused and socially ostracised. Let’s look at products that people actually buy because it makes them feel more comfortable in their identified gender, and let’s point and laugh, at the people buying it! Let’s look at stupid ass products made up by the media, constructed by corporations, and created by sexism; and blame it on men! Despite the fact that similar stupid ass products are marketed to women!

And by the way, I don’t mean “reverse sexism” or something. This is sexism bona fide, traditional sexism that has forced everyone into incredibly narrow gender roles. And it’s also ableism to make fun of weakness, to treat “fragile man tears” as blood in the water, and it’s ableism that’s related to misogyny- because crying and weakness, remember, are often associated with femininity.

And guess who else is often hurt by trying to fit into the oppressive male gender role? Oh, that’s right. Trans people assigned male at birth. Completely slipped my mind. I’m going to make fun of people struggling desperately to fit into the male gender role because there is no one except for Evil Shitlord Cishet White Men who could possibly be hurt by it. Yes, cishet. Because it’s not like trans men or nonbinaries assigned female at birth could be influenced by male gender roles or anything like that, right?

And who gives a shit about the precious fee-fees of Evil Shitlord Oppressor Men, anyway? Not me!

Look, yeah, gender policing or homophobia or whatever because of fragile masculinity is shit, and it sucks, and in that context I don’t mind complaining about it. But otherwise, you should think long and hard about whether you want to talk about fragile masculinity.

II.

The second argument made by this type of statement is its assumption of inherent male violence. When I look up “male violence”, on the first page of results, I find a charming little article, on a prominent feminist site, all about how “men don’t like being reminded of the fact that their sex class is demonstrably, undeniably, indisputably… more violent than ours”. The article then started talking about how “they do this shit, … and then they have the nerve to get offended when women are suspicious of them”.

And holy fuck, no.

The author tries to play it off as “regardless of race, religion, or class”. But you do not get to de-racialize, de-religionize, and de-class an issue that is intrinsically related to race, religion, and class.

The idea of men as these inherently violent, white woman-abusing class is racial. The worst lynchings and murders in American history are based on “defending” white women from “inherently violent” black men. The fear of nonwhite men, particularly Latinos, defiling the white women and attacking law-abiding white citizens, is the core of Trump’s case against immigrants and the core of the abusive and brutal policing of racial minorities. And let’s not even get into the way that Arab and Muslim men are seen by society as this evil terrorist threat, who keep white women in harems and attack white Americans.

Let’s not get into the way that seeing men as inherently violent was used to keep (white) women indoors, cloistered virgins protected by their fathers against the brutish poor men, who must be kept away from them at all costs.

Let’s not address the fact that neurodivergent men are routinely painted as monstrous threats, who therefore must be placed in institutions against their will or forcibly medicated because they are psychotic and freaks and dangerous to society [1], because they stand too close and walk too oddly or because they have hallucinations and delusions, and this must make them the next school shooter. Let’s ignore that physically disabled men and disabled people are by turns degendered or constructed as monsters by this analysis.

Let’s not address the way that this narrative of men as inherently violent, combined with transphobia, oppresses trans people assigned male at birth, who must therefore be prevented from infiltrating cis women’s bathrooms and cis women’s feminism and cis women’s spaces. Let’s ignore the way that this shames and guilts trans men and nonbinaries of any asab. Let’s ignore the way that these direct aggressive attacks on men and masculinity exacerbate scrupulosity.

No, let’s ignore all of that and focus on how oppressed neurotypical cisgender white women are. By men. #Yes All Men.

And this isn’t just one article! In articles in this vein, it’s routinely stated that men are creepy, that assault against (white) women is just this huge huge problem that is all the fault of men, that sexual assault is inherently a gendered crime of a man against a woman, and that the violence primarily runs one way, man against woman.

And the thing is that, in addition to the other issues that seeing men as inherently violent has, it’s dangerous as well.

It’s dangerous because it allows for the erasure of male victims of abuse. The conversation around violent assault and domestic abuse is often explicitly focused on males as the abusers and women as the victims. This erases male victims, female abusers, and non-straight instances of abuse. By law, donations can only go to women’s domestic violence centers, not men’s. Women are less likely to be convicted of crimes than men. And the legal definition of rape requires penetration to “count”, excluding rape by envelopment and instances of non-straight rape.  Male survivors of domestic abuse are sometimes accused of “really” being the abusers themselves, and feminist movements rally around female abusers like Zoe Quinn.

This construction of men as inherently or even mostly violent plays into sexist gender roles and stereotypes.

Because it’s not a coincidence that people who society sees as male, that the ones who are oppressed on other axes are constructed as these threatening caricatures of violence. It’s because of race and ethnicity and class, it’s because of neurodiversity and not actually being a man; and it’s also because of the way that gender roles intersect with these oppressions.

The gendered construction [1] a man under patriarchy is that of violence. Masculinity and men are constructed as inherently violent and as inherently threats.

And this construction is part of what colors nonwhite men, poor men, neurodivergent men, and trans people assigned male at birth as violent aggressors. And making sure to specify that it’s not nonwhite men, poor men, or neurodivergent men doesn’t actually help any of those men! The ~feminist~ construction still feeds into stereotypes of trans people assigned male at birth as aggressive, invasive aggressors. The construction still reinforces patriarchy. And it does erase the straight white cis male victims of violence.

Men are not inherently or primarily violent. Power dynamics do not flow in one direction. We forget this at others’ peril.

III.

The third argument made by this type of statement is its construction of straight male sexuality as defilement. Like everything else here I’ve discussed here, the construction of male sexuality as defilement doesn’t originate in feminism. It originates in society. (White) women were encouraged to remain inside, prim and proper and pure and modest, away from the defiling gaze of men. The institution of marriage was created in part to “protect” women from onlookers. The famous Madonna-Whore complex describes a man who cannot see his beloved as sexual, for she is too pure for his dirty desires; and simultaneously he cannot see a prostitute as worthy of love, for she has been defiled.

The ways that these structures hurt women have been well-documented, and it is well that they have been. But their root lies not only in misogyny, but also in the patriarchal construction of maleness and masculinity as defilement.

The most recent manifestation of this has been the unending castigations of straight male sexuality: for looking at women, for enjoying books and video games with attractive nubile women, for undressing women in their minds. And these criticisms certainly have value; women aren’t public objects, to be gawked at and objectified, nor should the only female representation in media be a flat character with extremely nonflat breasts.

But sometimes the criticism has gone too far. Certain brands of feminist rhetoric denounce simultaneously the intrusiveness of ever being asked out by a (creepy) man and the entitlement of a (creepy) man waiting for women to ask him out, insisting that the only reason that a man might stand close to someone or talk too much is because he is creepy. The anti-objectification movement has at times decried the practice of ever looking at pictures of nubile women with large breasts.

It would be bad enough if only cishet straight white men were negatively affected by this; no one should feel ashamed of their sexuality in and of itself, nor should they be shamed for social awkwardness or shyness.

But, predictably, the reinforcement of negative stereotypes of “male” sexuality has negative effects for people who are oppressed on other axes.

Women who are attracted to other women, for example, or really anyone attracted to women, are shamed by this rhetoric if their sexualities are “male” and not properly pure and female. Trans and gender nonconforming people assigned male at birth have been attacked for their sexualities and genders as perverts and deceivers. Neurodivergent and socially awkward men in particular are shamed for their social behavior, and the overtly accusatory nature of this rhetoric exacerbates anxiety and depression. So-called “chasers” are constructed as monsters in this rhetoric, which of course has spillover effects on trans people.

And male rape victims are sometimes dismissed with victim-blaming rhetoric that insists they must have wanted it, because of the construction of male sexuality as ever-present and all-wanting.

Gender essentialism and sexuality-shaming are never acceptable, and while feminist critiques of straight male behavior are entirely necessary and welcome, their negative implications and effects on non-straight males and non-straight non-males must be considered.

Typically, pretty much everyone would realize that making large generalizations about large groups of people, generalizations that use traditional prejudices structurally embedded in society, was kind of sketchy, and they’d stop. But that’s not what’s happening here.

And I think it’s because we’re encouraged to see straight white cis males as Literally the Most Privileged Shitlords, who we’re allowed to mock. It’s like they’ve become the Other, those outsiders who we identify against because we know that they can’t be hurt, or if they are hurt it is acceptable to mock them.

But the thing is that, yeah, straight white cis males are privileged as a class. But at the same time, there are real and true structural injuries against the Privileged Shitlords too, on account of and inseparable from their maleness and their straightness- and because of intersectionality, inseparable from their cisness and whiteness as well.

And insulting straight white cis men on gendered grounds can’t be separated from insulting all men, or all people seen as men, or all people who share that behavior or attribute. There is necessarily and inherently damage and hurt involved in sexist generalizations about men due to the way that maleness and masculinity intersect with other oppressions.

And the fact that people don’t seem to realize this, it makes me pretty damn uncomfortable.


We don’t teach our boys to love and yet they do, they do love and they are vulnerable and they are emotional; and that’s the thing, the entire thing of it, that patriarchy doesn’t make people inhuman and hollow and empty, because it can’t, even though it tries.

The feminism that I love, the feminism that I would love, knows this. It knows that people are people and that men are capable of love and vulnerability and legitimate hurt.

It knows that power doesn’t flow one way and that oppressions are myriad. It knows that it first and foremost it needs to do good, and only after does it need to look good.

It knows that activism doesn’t mean screaming at people or demanding ideological conformity. It knows that listening and caring and hearing others is important and valuable  and necessary.

It knows that men aren’t the enemy. It knows that misandry as a societal structure exists in both gender roles and in a hatred and disgust for men.

It knows that men are sometimes oppressed, and that women sometimes have privilege.

And this vision isn’t what feminism looks like now.


Related

I owe a lot of my thoughts here to these sources, especially the Unit of Caring.


[1] – These parts were edited based on Aapje’s comments here:


I would argue that the hyperagent role that is forced on men results in their behavior being far more often regarded as their own choice and/or indicative of their true character, while women are more often regarded as victims of circumstance. So when a man behaves in socially maladapted way, it is far more likely that he is classified as a ‘creep’. When a woman behaves similarly, people will look harder for explanations that do not reflect on her character (‘she is just drunk’). When no (somewhat reasonable) external explanation is available, she would most likely be called ‘crazy.’

The connotation of ‘creep’ is primarily that one is a threat to women, while ‘crazy’ is more neutral. So in the terms we also see the sexist assumption that socially maladapted men are a threat specifically to women, but not vice versa.

Note that feminism usually does address the other side of the same medal, for example that women are assumed to be less capable than men or that workplace successes are less likely to be credited to them.

Ironically, because the downsides to the male gender role are often downplayed, feminism quite often becomes male normative, where behavior that is forced on men is regarded as the endpoint of an equal society. For example, it is often assumed that an equal number of women would want climb the ladder to become CEO or high-level politician, even though society conditions men to work long hours, accept worse working conditions even if they don’t really need the money, accept not spending a lot of time with the kids, etc.

So where for many feminists a relative lack of female CEOs is considered to reflect oppression of women, I think that it primarily shows that men are strongly conditioned to sacrifice quality of life for rather useless status and money that they don’t have time to (meaningfully) spend.


I am a Trans Woman and I am Not Coming Out

The Unit of Caring

Sine Salvatorem

My Anti-SJ Write-Up on Thing of Things

Scrupulosity, Objectification, and Trans Obsession: Part 1

Urging Restraint and Social Justice Norms

Serano’s Why Myriad Oppressions

(Also Foucault.)