Due to the high readership, commentary on, and sharing of “Faux Feminist Men and Other Figments (Real and Imagined)” by TFW collective member Heather Talley, we have included an addendum at the request of the author. The Feminist Wire remains “unapologetically committed to radically constructive and productive criticism for the sake of human flourishing” and thus, stands in solidarity with Dr. Talley.
As someone who writes things and sends them out into the world as an ongoing part of my job, I have never experienced anything like the response I’ve had about “Faux Feminist Men and Other Figments (Real and Imagined).” I’ve been refreshed to hear from folks who resonate with the ideas, but I am startled by some of the emails I’ve received and comments that have been posted on The Feminist Wire and in other online spaces.
Most bothersome to me are responses that suggest that the article was “at worst…an angry commentary about an ex” or a “passive aggressive” attack on a “bad ex-boyfriend.” Let me clarify two things for the record. One, my ex is not bad. He’s human. Secondly, characterizing the piece as “passive aggressive” implies that the writing was aimed at harming a particular person. I have multiple ex-es all of whom identify as feminist, which for me is on the must have list. Many do feminist work in the world, a commitment I find compelling on a professional and personal level. That being said, “Faux Feminist Men and Other Figments (Real and Imagined)” could be about any number of people from my past, and it was specifically crafted to conceal any identifying details because I agree that wielding information to publicly denigrate a person is resolutely un-feminist. This was not the point.
Ultimately, I find it critically important to clarify that at its very core this article is not about an ex. It is about the cycle of violence. It’s about how men and women experience the same kinds of physical, emotional and psychological abuse that are a byproduct of traditional forms of masculinity. This was what I was trying to suggest when I wrote:
“Why then didn’t my ex embody feminism in an authentic way? Why was his feminism “faux” and not simply just feminist? Because as much as he wanted to embrace feminism, his toolbox for coping with everyday life was chock full of anti-feminist strategies.”
In providing this explanation for why some men are faux-feminist, my hope was to establish a compassionate framework with which to move forward. If we understand the vexed effects of abuse, we can, hopefully, craft a kind of feminism that is responsive to women and to men.
More importantly, I wrote this piece as an attempt to begin a dialogue about the unexpected and often hidden dynamics through which abuse affects our lives, even the lives of feminist women. Talking about where we come from is essential in terms of crafting feminist futures. In fact, we have an established history that demonstrates the feminist promise implicit in storytelling. From second-wave consciousness raising groups to contemporary “Take Back the Night” events, telling stories is a way that women (and men both) garner a sense of personal power and connect with one another in order to develop strategies for social change.
These stories, like mine, are often told at some personal expense. It is a vulnerable act, and frankly, storytelling can be humiliating. I have never before told the story I shared in this piece publicly because the facts are not simply unbecoming to the faux-feminist at hand but they are embarrassing to me. I, along with many other feminists, have struggled with the assumptions that that we are supposed to be “better,” more evolved, resolutely empowered. But I’ve also wrestled with the feeling that by not naming experiences that contradict these expectations feminists give up on a precious opportunity to admit that we are not immune to the dynamics we describe, analyze and challenge. In many instances, the opposite is true. We are feminist because we have been and may continue to be embedded in these dynamics. Thus, sharing this story was also intended to help counter the shame that I and other feminist women experience when our personal lives do not reflect the feminist vision that we are so deeply compelled by.
Responses that find me at fault for my decision to reveal this story are ultimately aimed at shaming me. These critiques call me out for not playing by the rules. If you boiled down, their underlying message it would amount to— “Be nice.” At its most basic level, this phrase operates as a reminder to be kind in our dealings with each other. But perhaps more often than not, statements like this one are used to insinuate that one should not talk about certain things. Women and girls disproportionately receive the “Be nice” message. It’s a core method for policing women and enforcing gender norms. Ironically, silence motivated by the desire to “be nice” perpetuates ugly behaviors. The fact that so many of us receive this message on such a regular basis explains why we don’t talk about things like sexual violence, domestic abuse and sexual harassment. Ultimately, the message that women are supposed to “be nice” is part and parcel to creating silence.
As feminists, we have to challenge the notion that naming our experiences is “not nice.” Naming experiences, even ones that point to those ugly things that we wish we could ignore away, is always how social transformation begins. The real question then is how can we share our stories in feminist ways? How can we mobilize our experiences in the service of social change without perpetuating harm?
It’s true. We have to proceed with kind intentions, but we also have to be brave. Feminists have to do risky truth telling. Some will inevitably see that moment as not being nice. But my hope is that feminist, real ones, can celebrate bringing the ugly to light because there is much to be gained by that kind of storytelling.