Welcome to Ban Week, in which Splinter writers build a case for burning it all down.
There are the men you picture when you think about the really bad ones: the woman-haters who blame “feminism” as the reason they’re not getting laid, the ones who joyfully tweet “cunt” back at every women with a platform and an opinion on the internet. There’s something perversely comforting about this old school, bold-faced brand of misogyny: They’re not hiding anything, and they most likely want nothing to do with you in the real, flesh-and-blood sense.
The men who fall short of that particularly repugnant classification are far more insidious because they’re much more difficult to pick out, and their camouflage is a survival mechanism. These are the men who can worm their way into welcoming feminist and leftist spaces under the guise of allyship only to later be unmasked as another abuser in a “the Future is Female” crew neck. As Irin Carmon wryly put it in The Washington Post: “At least the [Steve] Bannons of the world stab you in the front,” cold comfort for any woman who’s still left metaphorically bleeding to death.
Before the relentless, demoralizing churn of the last few weeks, where it’s felt like nearly every woman I know in my real or online life shared their stories of being raped, harassed, assaulted, or abused by the men in their lives, this Ban Week post had felt like a lower-stakes piece to write. It’s funny to skewer the hapless white guys (in particular) who gush about feminism while interrupting their coffee shop Tinder date to recommend they read Bukowski.
But as my colleague Nona Willis Aronowitz previously observed, there can be a razor-thin margin between the largely harmless, t-shirt-wearing male feminists-in-name-only and the men she dubbed “woke misogynists,” the political progressives and Margaret Atwood-reading men who claim to respect women but still exert their unearned patriarchal powers in interpersonal relationships with women, to coercive or even violent ends. These men have led a lot of us to a mostly no-fail truism: the louder a man is about being a feminist ally to women everywhere, the less you should trust him.
Now, after Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Leon Wieseltier, Woody Allen, Kevin Spacey, the tech bros, the Shitty Media Men, Louis C.K., and too many others to name and keep neatly organized and filed away for future reference, it feels like we’re at war. Women are under siege everywhere you look; it’s not only no longer advantageous for us to trust and welcome self-identifying male allies into our ranks, it’s unsafe. We’re living in a moment where it feels appropriate to revisit the words of Andrea Dworkin, the radical feminist who was, and still is, maligned by critics on both the left and the right:
If you are afraid of the ascendancy of fascism in this country—and you would be very foolish not to be right now—then you had better understand that the root issue here has to do with male supremacy and the control of women; sexual access to women; women as reproductive slaves; private ownership of women. That is the program of the right. That is the morality they talk about. That is what they mean. That is what they want. And the only opposition to them that matters is an opposition to men owning women.
Until men hold each other to a higher standard and make tangible progress on breaking down the systems of power that protect and empower abusers, the solution is clear: We must ban those who call themselves male feminists.
Too many of them—the “allies” who claim to practice all they preach and distance themselves from other less “enlightened” men—have revealed themselves to be misogynists in sheep’s clothing. Every week seems to bring a new example: The latest is C.K., a comedian who’s for years been dogged by rumors that he habitually exposed himself and masturbated in front of up-and-coming female comedians, even as his stand-up comedy was being hailed as refreshingly feminist (when he wasn’t offering what now feel a lot like thinly veiled admissions of misconduct).
There was also Richard Dreyfuss, who tweeted a touching, righteous note of support when his son Harry spoke out against Kevin Spacey—then promptly got accused of sexual harassment himself.
Our desire to bring male allies into the feminist struggle has too often been thrown back in our faces by men who center themselves in the movement or, even worse, use feminist spaces to perpetuate misogyny. Eject men from your radical activist circles now and hold them at arm’s length until, as our commander-in-chief is so fond of saying, we can figure out what the hell is going on.
Those who protest this action the loudest are very likely worth further scrutiny, if you see fit. If a man’s feminism falls away the moment you strip him of the label, it was always worthless; only those who care to act like feminists—without shoving to the front of the line to be praised for doing the bare minimum to support their fellow humans—are worth our time and, perhaps, our cautious trust.