“I’m all for equality for women and everything, but Jesus, those feminists are crazy.”
My suspicion is that I am not the only person who has frequently heard (or voiced) statements similar to this one. I see it everywhere on the internet and hear it from classmates, people on maintenance crews I’ve worked on, and people from the camps I’ve worked at. I hear it from women and men, those who proudly identify themselves as “liberal” and the people they call “conservative,” the very educated and the less educated. It seems to be a nearly universal sentiment (excusing the crazy people of course). What is meant by “crazy” is also fairly universally understood: Both academic and everyday feminists (besides maybe a handful, who aren’t even really feminists) are overly emotional and irrational (the two go together), have no sense of humor, reduce all matters back to the repression of women, hate men, and are given to tasteless demonstrations. In general, they are a drag to those of us trying to have a good time in the post-feminist world. These descriptions are usually then accompanied by a few horror stories: of the feminist professor, the feminist essay, or the feminist student group. As a result, feminism has, at least where my eyes and ears travel, attracted quite a negative stigma.
And here is where the confession comes in. I once gave voice to such opinions. To the extent of, along with more than half of the class, not raising my hand when a professor asked which of us identified as feminists. Even when he defined feminism as striving for equality and nothing more I had to fight a certain reluctance in order to raise my hand.
However, I was fortunate. Then and now I was and am fortunate to be good friends with a number of strong feminists. They fit with none of the pejoratives above. After a while, it dawned on me that it maybe didn’t make sense to label feminists as crazy when the only ones I knew made intelligent arguments, laughed at my good jokes and tolerated my bad ones, and were generally fun to be around. This naturally coincided with me exploring feminism more thoroughly, first on the internet and then in more academic circles. In these explorations I found (and am still finding) more of the same, namely, excellent arguments that forced me first to acknowledge that we are not living in a world that has no need of feminism and then to realize that we live very far away indeed from a world in no need of feminism.
This leads to the title of my post. Where are the crazy feminists? Besides being completely crazy myself, there are, as I see it, two possibilities. The first is that I live in a sheltered bubble of that minority voice of “good” feminism. I suppose this is possible. I have heard the countless horror stories. I would not be terribly surprised if there was one crazy feminist, and there probably is some less good feminist philosophy/theology. But this should not make an entire discipline illegitimate. What field doesn’t have stuff that is “less good?” The bubble theory is simply a bit hard to swallow. (And, I want to point out, much of my “exploring” has been on the internet – and if there’s anything that calls forth craziness it’s the internet.)
The other, much more likely, possibility is that this refusal to recognize the legitimacy and importance of feminism is a part of a system that with or without design functions to crush women. While I have yet to encounter a crazy feminist, I have on many occasion seen otherwise intelligent men and women (mostly men) turn into shockingly superior and closed-minded idiots when dealing with anything feminist. If this is correct, the question becomes: Why are so many of us unable to recognize intelligence and reason when confronted with a feminist/feminism? One answer could be that our society fears strong women. This is undoubtedly true, and is probably part of the answer. But I think there is something more going on.
A few months ago, in a review of the Hunger Games, the Last Psychiatrist rightly noted that the systemic marginalization of women is on autopilot. What this means is that if we are going to make any headway whatsoever we not only have a lot of work to do, but that the work cut out for us is, to put it bluntly, not at all glamorous. Gone (at least in the western world) are the days of explicit patriarchy and fighting for suffrage. Instead, there is a lot of slow, frustrating work that will meet with dismissal from every corner. Given this, just as it makes life a lot easier to deny the reality of climate change, it sure does sound a lot more appealing to close our eyes and repeat to ourselves that we live in a world that has no need for feminism.