Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down

Last week I wrote an article for The Atlantic about feminism’s PR problem. Within a day or two, a rundown of my article popped up on The Spearhead, a publication with ties to the MRA (men’s rights activist) movement.  (If you’re unfamiliar with MRAs, feel free to read several different takes from The Good Men Projecthere and here and here.)

misogyny —> sad face.

The MRA movement has a fairly significant online presence and their antifeminism tends to manifest as blatant, hateful misogyny on the so-called “manosphere.” The Spearhead article itself, to be fair, is pretty straightforward and neutral in tone. While the author clearly hates feminism, he takes no potshots at me personally, even discussing his own parallel discomfort with the MRA label, which was interesting to read.

The comment thread, however, quickly derailed into an ad feminem feeding frenzy, exhibiting the woman-hating rhetoric that is so characteristic of the men’s rights movement.

I came across all this for the first time while breastfeeding Julian to sleep—he is a leisurely eater at night, so I sometimes resort to perusing the web on my iPhone. Being in this peaceful, banal setting made it all the more bizarre to suddenly stumble upon a slew of hateful words about me from a bunch of strangers. Here is a sampling, for your viewing pleasure (warning — strong language ahead):

Seriously, what type of mangina would want to marry a woman like this?

Never underestimate the cunning of women. To see women as children, unlikely to accept responsibility, is wise.

She’s an attention whore.

PR problem? Honey, you ain’t seen a thing, yet. Wait ’till MGTOW [Men Going Their Own Way – an MRA separatist movement] starts to really bite, and all those cock carousel riders with their worthless “wimmen’s studies” degrees not only can’t find a beta to wife them up, but thanks to the economy they can’t find a job, either… It will only hurt more in the years to come. Squeal, you pigs, squeal…

Most men now know what a bunch male hating parasites women have always been … Seriously women, you didnt know have to burn your underwear to let us know how useless women are …

[Her students] are just sissies who have to put on their big girl panties. They are only seeking attention because once they left high school and got into the real world, they suddenly find out they can’t always have it all and their own way.

My take is that she’s just another fucked up idiot.

One commenter appeared oddly fascinated with me personally and linked to this blog for more fodder. He quoted extensive excerpts from my most recent entry, imposing a bizarre narrative onto the snapshot of my life I discussed. My husband became “Mikey, the poor schlub,” a “beta schmuck” who I married, because I couldn’t keep around an “Alpha bad-boy.” He attempts to paint me simultaneously as a feminist extremist and a right-wing religious “Churchian” who would pal around with the likes of Mark Driscoll and Glenn Stanton. (I’m sure Driscoll would be surprised hear that we are compatriots!) When I step back, it is actually fascinating to see him flounder to bring these two facile stereotypes into anything resembling a coherent narrative.

Initially—I’ll be honest—I was thrown off-balance after reading all this venom targeted toward me. I felt particularly disconcerted by the blog invasion, as if some weirdo with a grudge had broken into my house and taken a big shit on my couch. Of course, it was completely naïve for me to harbor the illusion (even subconsciously) that my blog is a private, personal space – it might be personal, but it’s online and open to any reader, including my charming MRA fanbase, and it’s been good for me to realize the full ramifications of that.

As I read these comments, my feeling of disorientation soon gave way to righteous indignation. I could feel my passion for feminism being rekindled, an irony that amused me. Like Dostoevsky’s underground man, the malicious MRA types are often their own worst enemies. Their very existence fans the flames of what they most despise (feminism), while their overt hatred keeps them mostly on the fringes of culture, in an online “underground.”

manginas

manginas, plotting

That night, some of my dear friends and colleagues, who happen to be men, came over to hang out with Michael and me (sorry, guys, but being my friends probably means you are “manginas,” too). We spent a good portion of the evening brainstorming an epic blog entry that would skewer the MRAs! and rally the troops against sexism! We came up with some great ideas, and I sat down tonight intending to write that post.

Now that I’m here, however, I’m finding myself writing in another direction. While perusing various MRA articles and blogs over the past couple of days, I’ve come across some of the stories of these men, which typically involve broken marriages and families being torn apart, like, for example, the story of W.F. Price, the guy who wrote The Spearhead piece (who, again, wasn’t malicious toward me, although he does lapse into misogynist rhetoric elsewhere). For some of these men, perhaps many of them, their rage springs from deep pain. Feminism, painted in broad, clumsy strokes, gives them an adversary, something they can blame, something that can explain the implosion of their personal lives. And apparently, for many, the rage goes beyond feminism to womankind writ large.

But as I read these stories, my anger dissipated. I treasure my son’s close bond with his father; I can fathom the agony of being separated from one’s children and, not knowing whether these separations are justified or not, this gives me a point of connection with these men – one they would no doubt deny, but one that’s nonetheless hard for me to overlook. I began to realize that their nasty comments aren’t really about me at all. They have no idea who I am or how I really view the world. I was just their rhetorical punching bag of the moment, some faceless feminist on which to project their own fury and pain.

As I’ve processed this through writing, the power of the hate-fueled words has vanished. I don’t feel the need to skewer the MRAs – instead, I mostly just want to leave them alone, to let them stew in their manosphere and blow off steam. And another part of me wishes I could somehow dialogue with them, if I could find one or two willing to actually talk to me. I’m not trying to justify or exonerate the displays of misogynist words or attitudes, or play into the woman-bashing victim mentality. I’m just trying to remember that human beings are complex, and although it would be very easy for me to impose my own simplistic narrative onto all MRAs, and to attempt to dehumanize them, I don’t want to return the favor. Weird as it may sound, I want to humanize them. I want to see them as people.

More than that, I don’t want to unwittingly play a part in their “war of the sexes” script. Increasingly I am convinced that a primary hurdle to gender equality is the pervasive, entrenched notion that gender is a “zero sum game,” that men and women are perpetually at odds, that if one is winning the other is losing, that if one has power, the other is a victim. The “men’s rights” mentality feeds this dynamic, as do some of the more divisive and vitriolic camps of feminism  – which, by the way, is a fragmented rather than monolithic entity.

For me, feminism has never been about tearing men down. I first encountered feminism in the classroom of a male professor, and I’ve always known men who are proud feminists. Moreover, the two most precious beings in my life happen to be male. I want my son to live in a world where he is encouraged and allowed to reach his full potential; I just don’t believe that has to happen at the expense of girls and women.

Sometimes the best reminder of something is to encounter its inverse, to be shown its absence. My little foray into the MRA world has, somewhat paradoxically, given me a renewed sense of gratitude for the men in my life. While it’s important to be aware that this sort of blatant hatred of exists, it is also nice to be reminded that that’s not where I live; those aren’t the men that I know.

The men I know are real men. Strong and good men. Men who love and respect the women in their lives, and who are loved and respected in return. And they certainly don’t fit the facile “beta-male” straw man the MRAs love to construct. The men in my life are a diverse bunch: some are atheists and skeptics, some are conservative Christians and Mormons, some have high-powered careers, some are at-home dads, some are wealthy, most are not; introverts, extroverts, pacifists, sports fanatics, fathers, husbands, bachelors, gay men, straight men, liberals, republicans, vegans, hunters – these are not cookie cutter men. But there is one trait they do share: these men aren’t threatened by women’s success; their sense of identity and power is not dependent upon mastery or dominance. They don’t hide out on the Internet and take potshots at mommy bloggers.

Their masculinity is not so precarious, so fragile, that they must tear down women to feel like men.

I won’t let these bastards grind me down, because, honestly, they are doing a good job of grinding themselves down. And the good men in my life overshadow them.

Even if some MRAs find this blog post and, reading it through their misogynist filters, proceed to throw Molotov cocktails in the comments – that’s okay. Because I get to shut my laptop and revel in a life that is filled with love. An ordinary life, but one with an undercurrent of quiet joy. When I finish this post I will go into the bedroom to nurse my baby boy, to enter a perfect moment that is played over again each night. Right now, he’s sleeping next to his father, and I will get to curl up between their warm bodies and sleep, too. And that reality is something that no online thread can touch.

fatherhood is beautiful.

good men.

About these ads

29 comments

  1. Kristy Thornton

    Oh Abby, you are a blessing in my life. Thanks for sharing such a positive and mature process for dealing with the haters. You’re amazing.

  2. Dominique

    Wow – so many things I want to say about this post, your Atlantic article and feminism as a label. First off, your post is beautifully written and I think does a wonderful job of calling out the women-hating rhetoric used in the comments, neutralizing those comments and then understanding where they might be coming from. Your Atlantic article echoes an argument my husband and I have been having for years. I want to hold onto the “feminism” label because it was so important for me in college and defining myself at that time. It gave me a language to express and process all of the injustices I saw and felt in my family, in the Catholic church, in my classes, and in the world around me. Him telling me the label should be discarded is like him trying to take away that language, that structure and that understanding of the world. In many ways, I don’t want to let it go because sometimes I still need it. For example, I’m at a conference in Chicago this week focused on the wind energy industry because I’m presenting a poster. I have been invited to a Women of Wind Energy lunch tomorrow and I was discussing with another women at the conference the merits of having this separate lunch versus not having it. Several times over the last three days I have been reminded of how much this industry is not set up for me to be a part of it. I’ve seen five panel sessions and only one woman was of any of them. Many of the exhibition booths have women in heels and short skirts standing in front of the booths to get conference participants to notice the booth and then the guys who can talk about the technical stuff are in the back. The conference is promoting next years show, which is going to be in Las Vegas, by taking participant’s picture with a showgirl. I am volunteering and was taking lunch tickets today and two older men who did not have lunch tickets tried for an overly long time to flirt their way into lunch and then made fun of me when I started blushing. I know none of these things in isolation are a big deal but I also know that all together they are signs of a systemic problem. This systemic problem is not going to resolve itself and the overall solution is not for women to be separate but I do think it is a short term fix, as is the label feminism. I think it keeps women coming to events like this conference and helps them deal with this space where they are not catered to in the same way as the men are. Having that space to connect with other women can be incredibly rewarding just like having the language and framework that feminism brings can be very rewarding. Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate the need for feminism and for Women of Wind Energy but for now those stepping stones are needed to bring women to fuller participation.

    • Abigail

      I resonate with so much of what you are saying. Especially the idea that the goal of feminism should be to eventually make feminism obsolete. Obviously I feel some ambivalence with the label; sometimes I wonder if now is the time to begin using different language and address issues in ways that involve both men and women, rather than women only. (Feminism, as I define it, *should* be able to do that, but practically speaking, I’m not sure that’s the case.) I think the ideal of “equality” is now mainstream, but I’m not sure “feminism,” with its brand problem, can adequately capitalize on that and rally men and women together to better realize that ideal. But then, like you, I’ll have experiences that revitalize the label for me and start to second-guess this train of thought. More and more, though, I do think that partnering with men in pursuing equality is essential, whether we find a new label or not.

  3. Déjà

    First, congrats on the Atlantic article. No, really, holy cow, CONGRATS. And I wish you could just swim around in the glory of that win instead of processing these ridiculous gentlemen and their hate. But you did it so generously and so wisely. So congrats on that win, too.

  4. Mommy V

    GRACE! This, right here, is grace… Remembering the humanity of those who seek your destruction without drinking of their poison.

  5. Michelle at The Green Study

    The real kernel of truth here is that humanizing people beyond their rhetoric is very freeing. Humans are complex, which means our thinking cannot be simplistic – an us vs. them mentality. Life is often hard and at times, unfair (this presupposes that there is some universal degree of fairness) and how we deal with that varies wildly. The language of hate and divisiveness gives rise to more of the same unless we listen to each others stories and appreciate our own. This post was well-written and thoughtful – I’ll be sure to read your article in The Atlantic.

    • Abigail

      I could not agree more. As we Quakers like to say, “this Friend speaks my mind.” It has definitely been freeing to try and humanize MRAs. And I’m experiencing an increasing hunger in my life for civil dialogue, for seeking to understand other perspectives — and not simply as a prerequisite for convincing them of my own. We need more stories. We need more people who are willing to listen to one another.

  6. The Travelling Chopsticks

    I too loved yor article – and thought you handled it brilliantly. I think everyone’s initial reaction to something like this is to get even, but ultimately it brings you down to their level. What I find increasinly upsetting in the internet/blogging world is the amount of angry people out there, who seems to enjoy hiding behind their computer and sprouting out rubbish no matter how hurtful. People should be held accountable for what they write and the words they choose!

    • Abigail

      Yes, I, too, am disheartened by the level of discourse I typically find on the internet — everywhere from facebook to comments on articles at The Atlantic to blogs, etc. I think, in this faceless and sometimes nameless medium, it’s hard to humanize the people we’re speaking with, and things escalate quickly. It’s easy to write something anonymously online that you would NEVER actually say to someone’s face. I wonder if that’s especially true of MRA forums, which is another reason I wonder if that rhetoric is mostly them venting and blowing off steam. I wonder how many of them actually speak that way in real life. Still, whether online or not, the words are still damaging and divisive.

  7. kristiellkay

    Wow! I never knew such hate still existed in the world; I would’ve been completely floored. You handled this so admirably and gracefully, and really rose above the pettiness. In so doing, you lifted up us above it, as well; I was ready to hate the haters, and you made them human enough to understand (albeit briefly). Bravo!!

  8. Lillian @ Seize the Latte

    This. This is one of the most brilliant and gracious articles/posts I’ve ever read. I completely agree with everything you say here, and I give you immense credit for choosing to humanize the people who said such hurtful things instead of throwing vitriol back at them. Human beings are incredibly complex, exactly as you said, and making gender a zero-sum game undermines that complexity. Thank you for *not* making it a zero-sum game, and thank you for writing this.

    • Abigail

      Thanks so much. It’s encouraging to be affirmed in this — weirdly enough, I was a little worried about a potential backlash that I wasn’t being hard enough on the MRAs. I think a lot of people are ready for a more “humanizing” online discourse, especially about gender. Makes me want to press on! :)

  9. Paula Hampton

    Excellent post. Makes me ever-the-more-thankful for the good men in my life, and in the lives of my daughters. Thanks, Abby.

  10. Howard Macy

    Thanks for this fine post, Abby. I’m glad for the way you want to see us all as complex humans. And it reminds me how grateful I am for the amazing women who have been my mentors and friends.

  11. meaghan

    Good for you for having the grace and compassion to be able to let go of those stupid comments (I don’t know if I could!).

  12. David M. Green

    The problem with feminism isn’t so much a PR problem but the fact that our society at large is beginning to wake up to the fact that feminism is a hate movement that promotes both misandry – hatred of men and the “Financial Rape” of men.

    • Aaron Cooper Swor

      It sounds like you have had an unfortunate exposure to feminism. I am a man, and would consider myself a feminist (or pro-feminist, depending on one’s preferred vocabulary), and I have never once felt hated by the the women and men in my life who are feminists. If anything, I have felt more loved and empowered and inspired by these women and men who claim feminism. Abby being one of those.

      Feminism is not “We love women” & “We hate men” (I mean, Abby is married to a great guy). I see it more as “We love humankind, so let’s treat each other with the respect and love that we all deserve.”

  13. Susiemessmaker

    This post encourages me to be more appreciative and supportive of the men in my life! Thanks, Abby.

  14. Bruce

    Dear Abby,

    There are so many things I want to write!

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while. I love the way that you start from the perspective that liberation for women requires a similar liberation for men. It’s hugely refreshing, particularly given the zero sum game take that dominates so much of the discussion. You seem to recognize the fundamental truth that the trip to equality is long and difficult, and the only way we’ll make it is by working together.

    I’m sorry that so many male commenters were so awful; I’m also sad to admit that I understand their anger, if not the way that they expressed it or the fact that they directed it at you. As you noted, a lot of it has to do with broken homes. A lot, too, has to deal with a criminal justice system that often seems skewed against divorced fathers and brutalized husbands.

    A few years ago, I wrote a pair of pieces on domestic violence against men and the ways that custody courts treated husbands. These pieces were well-received and, thankfully, seemed to bring some very unpleasant trends to light. On the other hand, they also made me, for a short time at least, into a sort of hero to some very bitter and misogynistic men.

    Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time cringing at the criticism of my online commenters. After these pieces, I had the opposite experience — I was cringing at their support!

    But…

    It isn’t hard to see where a lot of this anger and frustration come from. I can only imagine how awful it would be to lose my daughter because of a societal perception that women are always better nurturers than men. I can only imagine how awful it would be to call the police after being brutalized by my wife, only to be mocked as “unmanly” and, perhaps, arrested as an abuser.

    And, when it comes to discussions of gender, I don’t have to imagine how awful it would be to walk into a conversation in which anti-male comments are common, and where I am regarded as a second class citizen simply by dint of my gender. I’ve been in those discussions. Moreover, I’ve seen a staggering number of tremendously offensive statements about men casually tossed off in the pages of The Atlantic, New York Magazine, and other mainstream publications. Over the past few years, I’ve been told that the end is nigh for my gender, that fathers are unnecessary, that women are fundamentally better at child-rearing, and so on.

    Like I said, it isn’t hard to see where a lot of this anger comes from.

    But here’s the thing: you’re one of a handful of writers on this topic who really seem to get that changing gender roles (I don’t want to use the term “battle of the genders”!) are not a zero sum game. In your blog, and in your Atlantic piece, I’ve enjoyed seeing the perspective that this is a time and environment in which we all have the potential to evolve. And, as someone who is doing his best to be an active and productive supporter of that evolution, your writing has been a real joy.

    Thank you so very much for all your work!

    • Abigail

      Bruce, thank you so much for this response. It’s encouraging to hear that my attempts to be nuanced and to advocate a more collaborative vision of gender equality are coming through. This makes me want to keep writing! What you describe needs to be part of the conversation, if we’re ever going to move beyond an “us vs. them” mentality — which I believe is vital. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  15. Pingback: The Wonderful Web | Lovely in the Everyday
  16. The Waiting

    This was wonderful. I’m trying to think of something to add to what you’ve said here but I’m coming up short because this post was breathtaking and extremely well-said.