The Public Face of Male Feminism

Image Credit: Nikko Russano

I stayed up until 3am last night in an click-hole compulsively trawling through articles about a man called Hugo Schwyzer. Schwyzer was a professor of gender studies in the States and a wrote prolifically for various feminist media. Then, in a barrage of tweets in 2013, he admitted to being a “monstrous hypocrite” and to purposefully silencing women of colour.

A week earlier I had been in a different click-hole googling J4MB leader Mike Buchanan. About halfway through his Wikipedia page I came across two things he had said: “it’s a very well documented feminist objective of 40 years to destroy the nuclear family”; and “the idea [feminism is] a benign movement about gender equality is dangerous nonsense”. Over lunch I read these to my friends. It was bizarre to me that the misogynistic leader of an anti-feminist group – whose views were surely so disparate from my own – was so discerning in characterising mine. A lot of feminism isn’t benign. And deconstructing the nuclear family is a well-documented feminist objective!

Both stories bore witness to a scepticism I have about men who excessively advertise their feminist credentials. It was strange that the man who had more adequately characterised radical feminism’s agenda was the self-proclaimed anti-feminist. There was a definite irony to this. Through performing a public persona which he compromised in private – and with the help of exclusionary white feminists – Schwyzer was able to cement his voice in feminist spaces. Hugo had all the gear but no idea.

Legal critic Reva Siegal coined the phrase “preservation-through-transformation”. With it she referred to the way courts maintain status-based hierarchies just by re-ordering them. Superficial change lets institutions and individuals alike off the hook. Courts can abolish hierarchical law and supplement new social policy to deflect criticism without effecting any institutional change. When there is a demand for social change, empty rhetoric becomes a form of self-preservation. And online, empty rhetoric has its heyday. Men get social kudos from sharing blithe criticism of the alt-right misogyny instead of acknowledging their own complicity. It’s almost trite now to say that feminism has become a commodity. Men can invoke it for profit without conceding any real territory. The pseudo-philosophical language some men use to engage – appeals to the “rationality” or “logic” of feminism – is a giveaway. It works more to invoke a gendered and racialised ideal of intellectual virtue (see: “Angry Feminist Schooled By Jordan B Peterson Logic!”) than to make any substantial contribution to social change.

And so ends my click-hole. I finish trawling through the Schwyzer tweets. Turns out he “loved being the most notorious bad boy male feminist out there”, but was “just craving attention”. Don’t be like him.