Fighting with the Sky

Feminist Anger Scares Men – Really? Never Would Have Guessed

Posted on: August 6, 2009

I have been thinking a lot lately about how female feminists react to men’s feelings about feminism, whether it is supportive of feminism or anti-feminist. Do women try to make men understand their viewpoints? Do women sometimes concede to men’s opinions? So I was really excited when my friend sent me this old post from the blog Hugo Schwyzer – “Words are not fists: some thoughts on how men work to defuse feminist anger.”

This blog is written by a history and gender studies professor, and in this post he reflects on how men in women’s studies courses preface statements (when they make them) with phrases along the lines of “I know I’m going to get killed for saying this, but…” The author sees this as a way for men to control women’s feminist anger (which women have every right to have).

By equating feminist anger with physical violence (“I’m going to get killed”), women might have the tendency to make the man feel safe and tone down their anger as a response.

Joking about getting beaten up (or putting on the football helmet) sends a message to young women in the classroom: “Tone it down. Take care of the men and their feelings. Don’t scare them off, because too much impassioned feminism is scary for guys.”

Many of these men might not be conscious of the fact that they do this and women might not be conscious that they are diffusing their feminist anger as a response.

Even men who are pro-feminist do this. And it’s a classic anti-feminist technique to silence women…

it forces women students to become conscious caretakers of their male peers by subduing their own frustration and anger. It reminds young women that they should strive to avoid being one of those “angry feminists” who (literally) scares men off and drives them away.

I have seen this technique used both in classrooms and in daily conversations. And I have to admit that they usually work. I want to make sure that everyone’s opinion is heard, that no one’s feelings get too hurt in the process, and that everyone feels “safe” in the conversation. And this usually results in me toning down my actual opinions. And it seems like I’m not the only one who does this.

But why do men do this? I understand anti-feminist men’s desire to silence feminist anger – strong, confident, feminist women are who they are fighting against. But why would pro-feminist men want to do this? The author of this post claims that it is because of men’s fear of be challenged and confronted, especially by a woman. But do all men have this intrinsic fear? I know many men who can hold a conversation about feminism and listen to the thoughts of women in this context. But when I was having those conversations, I wasn’t necessarily aware of this technique, so maybe they were doing it as well.

So as a feminist woman, I have to be aware of this silencing technique and try to not let it affect me. I have to stand by my opinions while still promoting a “safe” environment for conversation. And…

The first task of the pro-feminist male in this situation is to accept the reality and the legitimacy of the frustration and disappointment and anger that so many women have with men, and to accept it without making light of it or trying to defuse it or trying to soothe it. Pro-feminist men must work to confront their own fears about being the target of those feelings.

A conversation is a two-way street. It’s not entirely men’s fault, women have to not back down. But men have to listen to the real anger and frustration of women. It is important to look out for this technique, as both women and men.

As long as women’s voices are silenced, whether those voices are feminist or not, society will never have a chance of being equal. Everyone has to have a say. Equating verbal feminist anger with physical violence is just not an acceptable way of silencing women. Feminist anger and frustration has the right to be heard…especially in Women’s Studies classrooms, where this type of silencing technique has a tendancy to appear.

What are your experiences (both of men and women) of someone trying to diffuse your feminist anger? Do these techniques really work? How can we “fight back” against associating verbal disagreement with physical violence?

4 Responses to "Feminist Anger Scares Men – Really? Never Would Have Guessed"

This type of silencing does happen a lot. It's so subtle sometimes that no one in the discussion/debate notices. "I know I'm going to get killed but…" and prefaces like it are so common we kind of just adapt to them and move on. We defer to this "what about teh menz!" mentality and soften our statements. And if we don't defer, we end up derailing from the original topic by debating whether or not our anger is justified and appropriate. And I agree, it is especially upsetting when this happens in women's studies classrooms or other safe spaces, like on feminist blogs.Hugo really said it best. I would add that not only do men need to accept the reality and the legitimacy of the anger, women need to refuse to soften that anger, and call out anyone who tries to silence them.Great post, Laura. 🙂

I think it may be important to point out that if "pro-feminist" men are saying stuff that might get them "killed" (even metaphorically) by feminists, perhaps they are not such great allies after all. The phrase might as well be replaced with, "WARNING: I'm about to say something blatantly anti-feminist!" It's like when people start with "No offense, but…", you know something insulting is coming.

Might some of these responses simply come from being the odd person out in a group? (Since it seems in general that, in groups that tend to share a particular opinion, disagreeing tends to create issues socially, so people with such an opinion will try to soften it somewhat to get it across better?)

Pickly,I know how it feels to be in the minority in the situation and speak up about your values. Oh do I. And no one really WANTS to be criticized for their beliefs. But equating verbal criticism with a physical attack (i.e. "I know I'm going to get killed for this, but…"), makes the person or people on the other end of the conversation back down from their beliefs; their beliefs that they have every right to hold and express.I'm sure there have been instances when I have used this silencing technique. I think most people have at some point in their life (or at least something similar). But that doesn't make it ok. Silencing anyone, but a minority group in particular, is oppressive. Even if the person doing the silencing did not consciously mean it that way. Feminists should be able to voice their opinions and their anger safely anywhere, but particularly in Women's Studies classes, where I have seen this silencing technique a lot (and it usually works!).

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