I don’t claim clairvoyance and I work pretty hard to unpack the privilege I know I have as a white man. But I can also identify with a collective experience of being oppressed—and this is not unique to anyone reading, regardless of your biology or psyche.

I believe every inequality oppresses the oppressors as well as the oppressed because inequality erases opportunity and choice. As a man, I have privilege, but I’m also bound by strict social constraint. I’m not able to cuddle with acquaintances whether female, male, or intersex without being seen in a predatory light. I’m not able to express emotionality without fear of humiliation. And apparently, I learned painfully for the first time through this Femquake thing, some feminists believe I’m also not allowed to offer leadership in gender justice activism no matter how amorphous or self-empowering (as opposed to dogmatic) that leadership is intended to be.

Inequality is not the reality I want for humanity’s sons, nor its daughters, nor the rest of its children. That is why I call myself a feminist.

There are no truths without full and original context

Before I go any further, let me provide some background. On Sunday, April 25th, I witnessed a surprising amount of debate over whether Boobquake was essentially anti-feminist, and I learned that Brainquake was organized to counter it. Unhappy with this dichotomization, I created another Facebook page and event called Femquake in the name of unity and self-empowerment:

Everyone should have the right to do as one pleases, from showing off cleavage to showing off intellect—or both! The real issue is not a woman’s body or her mind, but her humanity. Empower one another to live the lives we want, free of coercion.

What seemed pretty simple and straightforward at first quickly became more complicated when a blogger by the handle Feminist Mom attributed the creation of Femquake to Feministing.com and I left a comment to correct the misinformation. Then, an anonymous commenter on Feminist Mom’s blog expressed disappointment that I am a man, as they had been hoping Femquake was started by a woman. Now that they knew a man started the page, they said the sentiment I had expressed through creating Femquake “means…less” to them, despite still being a good one.

When I questioned why this might be the case, Feminist Mom offered this explanation, which I understand and disagree with:

When men step up as leaders for the women’s movement, it looks like we can’t even lead ourselves.

Anyway, consider reading the full comment thread on my post, as well as on this followup post by Feminist Mom questioning, “Men as feminist leaders?. It’s Feminist Mom’s post and the anonymous commenter there that I’m responding to, below.

Ultimately, the conversation seems centered around two concepts: equality and leadership. To avoid any potential miscommunication or further conflations, I want to address both of them distinctly, and as succinctly as I can.

Leadership

Feminist Mom begins with a question:

What you said was, “for people to realize a desire to be independent, regardless of whether they are women or men, ‘following leaders’ is not the way to do it.” What is the way to do it then?

I thought I was pretty clear about my thoughts on leadership when I said this in an earlier comment:

All of us who started a “*quake” are leaders. But so are the many people who spread the word about the events. Jennifer McCreight could not possibly have done what she did without the leadership of her “followers”, which I count myself among.

What I am pointing to is the initiative of each person involved in collective action, such as the 160,000 people who wore “immodest” outfits on Boobquake, the several thousand who participated in Brainquake by showing off Iranian women’s intellectual achievements, and the several hundred who participated in Femquake by doing one, the other, or something else of their own choosing. In my view, many of these people could be considered leaders as well as followers. When I said that ‘following leaders’ is not the way to [achieve independence] after describing the ideal of self-empowerment that I tried to put forth in coining ‘femquake,’ what I meant was each individual can find independence through intentionality, but not through thoughtless action.

Independence is leadership of oneself, for oneself—but not necessarily by oneself. When someone has the freedom to choose their actions, they are no more followers than they are leaders. They may also be following the lead of one person while leading others themselves. To construe freely following a leader as being placed in a hierarchy in which there is no opportunity to move around is to misconstrue choice with force, and personal initiative with disempowerment.

So, the way to achieve independence is to acknowledge that you can both lead and follow at once, or you can do one or the other, and at your own volition. Otherwise, you are beholden to either your leaders or your followers. If you choose to follow a leader, do so with intent and without sacrificing skepticism. If you choose to lead, do so through example and without antipathy.

Equality

The Anonymous who I quoted in my last post left several more comments:

maymay is really misguided on how the infrastructure of feminism actually works. I can tell that simply by his disbelief in a feminism hierarchical…of course, I’m just reading off this page and hasn’t ventured into his blog yet. I imagine it’s a lot of RAH RAH YOU ROCK and I’m sorry that I can’t be the one, it’s a sweet effort and I appreciate that his heart is in the right place but nobody wants to hear from the white man on damn near anything to do with fucking equality, okay?

[…] get off my nuts b/c we’re talking about maymay here and not me.

Nobody wants to hear how a man lead us to unite our boobs and our brains and that is the long and short of it here. Men are NOT feminist leaders. They can be active participants in the movement, but they have to take a back seat in the charge and that’s just what it is. I’m sorry.

In regards to “how feminism actually works,” there is probably a lot of sociopolitical nuance that I have yet to learn. You are welcome to teach me, Anonymous, if you can do so without being mean to me. Otherwise, as should be elementarily obvious to you, I will simply refuse to listen.

Since you say you haven’t ventured into my blog yet, I can easily forgive your ignorance on the fact that I am a bisexual man. This instantly places me outside of the heterosexist viewpoint you seem to have already “imagine[d]” me in. Furthermore, I can forgive your ignorance on the fact that I am a sexually submissive man. Or that I am a Jewish man. Or that I am a non-monogomous man. Or that I am a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Or that I am a man without a high-school degree. Or that I am a man like many others who has faced any number of additional circumstances that would cost me certain privileges in one sense or another.

But should any of those things even matter in defining the value of Femquake? On the Femquake page, Ian Iverson said:

Part of gender equality is to not let gender be a basis for projecting motives onto others.

I think it does a severe disservice to any and all social justice causes to stand under a banner of equality and wave a flag of feminism while speaking assumptively about who someone else is due to either real or perceived privilege. I feel this is doubly true when one does this while admitting to indolence. It’s actions like the ones Anonymous demonstrates that retard the progress of gender justice because it alienates people who would otherwise easily identify themselves with feminist ideals.

I felt hurt—deeply hurt—that my gender would be the cause of a devaluation of the message of Femquake. I am left wondering: what role would Anonymous have men take as “active participants in the movement”? I, for one, do not advocate for equality so as to be told my place.

Later, Anonymous commented again and said this:

It annoyed me further to see that there is a wiki article about this now and the comments were all “I’m glad to see women discussing this, taking charge of this”.

YEAH, ABOUT THAT. The brainchild behind Femquake is a fucking man, so we don’t even have that glory hole, it’s his…and that’s why it means less to me.

As it should.

Feminism is about gender equality, and until we have gender equality, everyone of all genders will continue to pay a horrifically painful cost one way or another. In feeling that Femquake somehow belongs to men because a man started the page, Anonymous is playing a simplistic (and very sad) zero-sum game where the actions taken by people of one gender necessarily invalidates the value of another.

That is an old, ugly game that can never lead to equality. Feminists ought never to play it.

And that’s all I have to say to or about Anonymous.

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