I’m anti-feminist, if by “feminist” you mean…

This article is from 2014. You’ll notice I mention a friendship with Milo: This was written at a point where our friendship had been deteriorating for some time, but I still hadn’t “given up” on the idea that I could reform his thinking. It was also written at a time when my thinking about gender and social justice issues was simplistic and sexist.

I wouldn’t write this article today. It makes me cringe to see myself, in this article, lecturing feminists about how they “ought” to express things in order to better appeal to men. The biggest turning point in my attitudes about the particular issue of harassment and “flirting” can be seen in my Youtube interview with Nico Lang in 2016, which I recommend you check out if you are interested.

I am leaving my original words below, however, unedited. They are a reminder to myself of where I have come from intellectually and how I’ve grown, as well as a reminder to others that people change and mature over time, and that any life (your own or anyone else’s) should be judged by its trajectory and not by a snapshot.

Angry Feminist

My good friend and colleague Milo Yiannopoulos said in an interview about his views on GamerGate: “I’m anti-feminist, if by ‘feminist’ you mean shrieking misandrists.” He is not alone in his perception of feminism. Many people see feminists as hyperbolic mean-spirited angry people who think all flirtation is sexual harassment and all sex with men is rape. This common perception has prompted backlash movements, and lead to celebrity after celebrity separating herself from the term “feminist.”

To a progressive liberal like myself, the statement “I’m anti-feminist, if by ‘feminist’ you mean shrieking misandrists” sounds patently absurd. It’s the equivalent of saying: “I’m anti-Christian, if by ‘Christian’ you mean Ku Klux Klan member.” I simply don’t believe that most feminists, or even a significant number, fall into the “man-hating” category.

But I can understand why it seems that way to some people.

Take a look at “10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman“: a video that has recently gained a lot of attention on Youtube and across the media. It shows excerpts of a woman’s stroll through New York City, and highlights examples of strangers speaking to her on the street, complimenting her, telling her to have a nice day, asking for her phone number, sometimes even creepily following her for several blocks. The text on the final screen reads: “100+ instances of verbal street harassment took place within 10 hours, involving people of all backgrounds. This doesn’t include the countless winks, whistles, etc.”

Although it is well-intentioned, this video does serious damage to the cause of feminism. Why? Because it includes “how are you doing today?” and “What’s up beautiful?” as examples of harassment, with no explanation of why. It presents a truly creepy and stalkerish scene of a man following the woman for 5 minutes, and then sucks all of the power and impact out of that scene by mixing it in with a person saying “How you doing?” as if they are functionally the same. To most people this is patently absurd. As a result, most people viewing this video will come away from it with an even stronger belief that “feminism” means “stupid hyperbolic man-hating.”

Is it absurd to claim that “How you doing?” is harassment?

Maybe, maybe not. Once you get beyond the first glance, this is an incredibly nuanced issue. The key question is whether or not it makes the person being complimented feel unsafe and uncomfortable. Is it reasonable for a woman to feel unsafe when she is in broad daylight on a busy street just because someone says “Have a nice day?” In the abstract, probably not. But under certain circumstances, it might very well be. The question needs to be addressed in a broader scope, and with much more context. It is a conversation worth having.

But that is not what this video does. Even if it has the best of intentions (as I think it does), this video makes a terrible strategic error. By simply putting the idea out there, without qualification, that saying “Have a good day!” is an example of verbal harassment, the video automatically becomes face-value ridiculous to most casual viewers. And as a result, you get:

“I’m anti-feminist, if by ‘feminist’ you mean shrieking misandrists who believe that all flirtation is harassment.”

A friend of mine, a young man who is in college, once said to me that he is completely passive when it comes to dating, and simply hopes that women will approach him, because (in his words): “I’ve been told by my feminist allies that hitting on women in any way is misogynistic, and contributing to rape culture.” He, and others like him, might be coming into contact with radical feminists of the man-hating variety; but I think it is more likely that he is a victim of feminism’s messaging problem.

In an effort to point out that predatory masculinity is a real problem in our culture (which it is), too many memes, videos, posters, speeches and think-pieces that get published on the web jump right to listing out behaviors that are a problem without explaining why they are a problem.

When you explain why, you can open a dialogue. You can say: Sometimes, in certain contexts, a woman will feel unsafe when approached by a stranger even if it is simply to give a compliment. Then a discussion can follow. Why does she feel unsafe? What would make her feel safer? What can a man do differently to approach her in a way that doesn’t make her uncomfortable? And so on.

But simply telling men “DON’T EVER GIVE A WOMAN UNWANTED ATTENTION!” is like telling a chronic over-eater “JUST EAT LESS!” It may be good advice, in the abstract, but it will never work.

You have to explain how to do it. You have to help the person to understand why he is being asked to change his behavior, and what specific practical things he can do differently instead. Without that level of dialogue, “feminism” will never overcome its image of being all about “shrieking misandrists,” and will have a difficult time motivating productive change.

Of course, the responsibility doesn’t lie only with people who identify themselves as feminists. It would be nice if journalists and celebrities (and anyone, really) who identify themselves as anti-feminist would take the time to read up on the long and complex history of the feminist movement. They should actually know how diverse the term “feminist” has become over the years, and use that knowledge to inform the public discourse. There are many different types of feminist, after all, with many different approaches and views. More people who say they are “against feminism” should know that, and talk about it openly when they discuss the issue.

But self-identified feminists must also take responsibility for the failure of their messaging. It’s tough to have a nuanced and complex dialogue in a soundbyte Youtube universe, to be sure. But if the end result continues to be “10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman“, feminism will have a difficult time ever making progress.

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  1. Kate says:

    This is just…no. The context is given. It’s obvious that she feels uncomfortable BECAUSE of the AMOUNT of attention and any man with a brain can understand why she’d be nervous about any man because of the way the creepy ones act

    The only thing it doesn’t do is point out that
    it would be perfectly safe to say “have a nice day” if you couldn’t EASILY GET AWAY with harassing, threatening, and actively abusing women. Of course we’re afraid of any contact!

    • Greg Stevens says:

      I agree with you completely, Kate. And I thank you for your comment.

      Since this article is almost four years old now, I actually had to go back and re-read it just now to remind myself of exactly how I treated this subject matter. Even though I think this article has some interesting and thought-provoking points, I definitely would not have written this same article if I were writing it today.

      When it comes to this particular topic, I had a very specific kind of “ah ha” moment… and oddly enough I am lucky enough that it was captured on film.

      Two years ago (and two years after this article was written), I was interviewing my friend Nico on the topic of sexual harassment for my Youtube channel (the video is here is you want to take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV–T9IsxzM ), and he ended up completely turning me around on my position…. something that I now, looking back on it, am truly grateful for.

      I didn’t expect it to happen. I went into that interview figuring it would just be another “two people present two sides of an issue and the viewers will have to decide what they agree with” kind of video. In the interview we are going back and forth, and I am talking about my own experiences in the gay community and how giving and receiving compliments and sexual attention in different contexts seems to have different standards for what is acceptable. And at one point I am expressing the fact that I just don’t like the idea of existing in a cold, prickly world where people aren’t able to give each other compliments–even compliments about their appearance–without it being somehow negative.

      And Nico says (and I am paraphrasing from memory, I will have to go back and re-watch that video again): “If you really want to live in a world where it’s ok to just give any stranger any compliment you want, then you need to create a world where women are safe. That is how to make that world happen.”

      I can’t explain why, but something clicked… and I just “got it” then. I can’t explain why. I hope that other guys watching that interview might also gain something from hearing Nico and I “talk it out” from our different perspectives… although I can’t assume that what created that “aha” moment for me will do it for everyone. I am simply grateful that I had opportunities to have conversations like that one, with someone patiently talking me through the ideas to help me get out of my “bubble” and see things from another point of view, because without that my perspective probably would never have changed.

  2. Szebastian Onne says:

    It’s once again a case of Political Correctness going too far. In essence they want a man to never romance a woman again, never open the doors for her, never compliment her and never make her feel attractive, or else he is a rapist or rapist-to-be. And yet, the same women will then complain men are ignorant of their needs, do not love them enough, show no signs of affection and are possibly cheating on them. Gladly, the ladies I know in my life, most of them know the balance, when to ensure a woman is treated equal and with respect yet to take innocent, flattering flirtation in stride just like when they tell a man how handsome he looks. Because complimenting, greeting and flirting in elegant limits is not rape, it’s just is flattering. Don’t mind, if I do!

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