Stop sign, photo by Clover Autrey

I’ve written before about sexism before, particularly as it relates to contemporary occulture,1 but systemic sexism is something that affects all of us, pretty much all the time.

This essay arose out of a desire to respond to another blog’s post on the recent Isla Vista killings which sought to downplay the roles and attitudes displayed by certain misogynist communities. The original author of the piece engaged at first, but as one of my comments has been under moderation for more than a week now, and lengthy hate-filled screeds2 dominate the comment stream, I decided my time might be better served addressing these issues here.

Pick-Up Artists are a problem

Pick-Up Artists, for those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the term, are men who hunt women for sex. It’s all in the language: women aren’t people, they’re “targets,” to be judged and rated on a scale of how attractive they’re perceived to be, further dehumanizing women. The goal? “ONS” (one night stand) or “SNL” (same night lay).

When PUA gatherings are announced, social media heats up with warnings to avoid places they congregate, and for good reason. The pick-up techniques involve street harassment; “negging” or insulting women with the intention of putting women in a more vulnerable state, more receptive to compliments; to “kino” or more physical tacks such as sexual assault and sometimes even attempted (or successful) rape.

Elliot Rodger felt cheated by the PUA community, and the PUA community’s response has been vitriolic, both towards Rodger for being a “beta” and not the “true alpha” he claimed to be, and to women, who are blamed and vilified, and in various ways denied agency for not “giving it up” and solving everyone’s problem.

PUAs aren’t groups of lonely guys trying to get up the confidence to talk to women — to do that, all you have to do is believe women are human beings, and, you know, tak to them. Instead, PUAs are frustrated, angry, and driven by the myth of the “nice guy” who’s relegated to the equally mythical “friendzone.”

It is not a woman’s responsibility to have sex with some dude just because he’s interested, flirts with her, buys her a drink, and is (strategically) “nice” to her. Women are people with their own thoughts, feelings, desires and right to (in)action. It’s just that simple.

Men’s Rights Activists are a problem

On the surface Men’s Rights Activism seems like a good thing: men concerned with changing the way men are stereotypically perceived, for instance, in showing that men can cry, and fathers can be primary caregivers. If that’s what most MRAs actively championed for, there’d be no cause for concern.

It’s worth noting that MRAs aren’t looking for equality. They aren’t desperate to be leading stars in commercials for cleaning products or yougurt. They don’t want their wages docked by 23% to become equal with what women earn.3 MRAs aren’t looking corner in on the market for stock photos of orgasmic food or laughing alone with salad, never mind equal naked time on film or bizarrely posed in popular culture.4 They’re not looking to adopt their wives’ surnames at marriage as a demonstration of their commitment. Sounds glib, but it’s true. MRAs see even these small challenges feminism makes as a threat, and they want to climb back on top — metaphorically and physically — even though men as a group are still, you know, the default position from which society views itself.

Oddly, the very problems MRAs do complain about — social permission to cry, equal opportunity at custody hearings — are things feminism has challenging for nearly a century. These are problems with the patriarchy. Ok, I know that term seems old-fashioned, and that shows progress, but let’s face it, we’re not out of it yet.

It’s the patriarchal ideal that suggests crying isn’t “manly.” Dude cries in public? He’s told to “man up.” Only “pussies” cry. Crying is “girly.” Don’t be a “woman.” See the problem here? These words shouldn’t be seen as synonyms for “weak.” Likewise, it’s a patriarchal ideal that holds women responsible for childcare. If we can break down the barriers that suggest dolls aren’t meant for boys, that babysitting is something that can be done by anyone competent and foolish enough to want to do it, and that paternity leave is just as important as maternity leave — then we might begin to approach something resembling equal opportunity. The thing is, it’s not feminists who are blocking these ideas from becoming mainstream. It’s men. “Not all men,” yeah, I know. But enough of them to cause a stink.

Even more oddly, MRAs believe that these problems are caused by women — feminists especially. They believe society has been “feminized,” and want to claim back their territory. Yet, at no point in history have men been treated as second-class citizens because of women.

MRAs, rather than actively challenging the patriarchal cultural institutions that stigmatize them, instead tend to focus on misogynist pursuits such as challenging the criminalization of marital rape and women’s reproductive health,5 while some groups go further and say that pretty much all the rights women have (finally) been granted over the past few decades should be revoked. Others outright denying that gender inequality even exists.

You see this all the time when women share their experiences of street harassment or sexual violence — which most women experience at some level nearly every time they enter a public space — some MRA immediately jumps in with “not all men,” or “men suffer too.” This only serves to both derail the conversation and silences women. It is possible to discuss these issues without resorting to a defensive position.

If Men’s Rights Activists were actually concerned with equality, they’d be feminists. As it is, they’re just another hate group.

Spiral Nature is a feminist website

Let’s get something straight: feminism seeks political, social, and economic equality with men. Intersectional feminism, a logical extension introduced in third-wave feminism, also seeks equality across class, race, sexuality, body shape, and ablest divides. Equality. That’s the secret agenda, folks. Feminism isn’t about women first, it’s about women too.

Yet, for some reason some people still see “feminism” as a scary word, and will go at pains to deny affiliation. But if you believe that men, women, and other gender categories should have equal opportunity, I hate to break it to you, but you’re a feminist.

So, what does it mean when I say that Spiral Nature is a feminist website? It means that, as editor, I work to ensure that women, men, and other gender categories are fairly represented, and that the articles, essays and reviews we publish don’t discriminate based on class, race, sexuality, gender, body shape, or abelism.

Slips can happen even among thoughtful, intelligent people. In reviewing a piece for publication, I found that one writer referred to a generic magician as “he.” I requested that he change this to a neutral pronoun. A simple fix, no fuss. Another essay, which touched on political themes, referred to “gay marriage” rather than marriage equality. Political framing matters.

People slip. It happens. What we can do is recognize when we’ve made an error and learn from it. We’re better served by becoming attentive to our word choices and ensuring that we’re saying what we really mean, rather than what comes easiest.

This why in my most recent call, I specifically asked to hear from writers who were women and people of colour. We have quite a few wonderful men writing for us, and I’m always open to hearing more pitches from dudes, but I’d also like to see greater diversity in who and what we publish. Representation matters.

Magick is about change

There are structural issues within society and within ourselves that need to be challenged, but it’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s never going to happen if we keep silent.

A future piece will look at ways we can ensure we’re creating a safe and equitable space for all members of our community.

Further reading

Image credit: Clover Autrey

  1. Additionally, see these two posts from my personal journal: “Rant: Things are not ok,” and “Sexual harassment and rape culture.” []
  2. Double standards, dismissive posts which assumed I was young, uninformed, and which demonstrated an unhealthy desire to try to “put me in my place.” []
  3. See “Gender pay gap,” with links to sources and further resources for more on why this is. []
  4. When they do, rather than use this as an opportunity to challenge gendered poses, it’s widely seen as a joke. []
  5. Anyone see a problem with the fact that men’s rights to Viagra are never challenged, but a woman seeking birth control is suspect? []