The male feminists of Portlandia
There was the guy I dated briefly who told me, when we met, that it was so cool I was a feminist – that he'd never date a girl who wasn't. After it ended, he bitterly spat, "I felt like I could never be myself around you because I had to watch what I said about race or gender." Dudebro translation: "How dare you stop me from being racist and sexist!"
There was the boyfriend who charmed me on our first date with his extensive knowledge of riot grrl bands and told me some of his best friends were feminists. As our relationship continued, though, it became littered with gaslighting and contrarian arguments on feminism, gender and race. He would bait me, wind me up until I exploded, and then accuse me of misrepresenting his opinions and overreacting.
There was my friend's ex, who proclaimed that he was no longer a feminist when accused of mansplaining.
The more feminist friends I asked, the more similar stories I heard.
Gone are the days when self-identifying male feminists were as rare as unicorns. Look at any online dating site and, amongst the gym and drugged tiger selfies, you'll see them in the thousands. The brogressives – typically straight, white, cisgender, middle-class and well-educated – are totally on board with feminism until it threatens or challenges them – and suddenly you're a bitch who's always picking a fight.
While the more sinister, predatory types deliberately adopt seemingly progressive identity politics to lure left-leaning women into romantic or sexual relationships before revealing their true colours, men like my exes sincerely believe that calling themselves feminists is enough, as though basic decency deserves a gold star. They talk the talk, but walking the walk? Nah, too much effort.
Whatever the motive, one thing is clear – for these men, it's feminism their way or the highway.
tbh too many men are a feminist in the tweets but a sexist on the streets— pilota (@pilotbacon) October 6, 2015
Like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl before her, the Manic Pixie Dream Feminist is every brogressive's fantasy – an intelligent, socially aware woman whose liberal sexual politics mean she's also a freak in the sack. The MPDF is passionate, but not too passionate – she will never call you out on your shit, but patiently and gently hold your hand through the tricky maze of social justice, a human search engine with bottomless emotional labour available at your disposal.
This slimy fetishisation is a reconstitution of the male gaze for self-congratulating leftist men who loudly proclaim that they love smart, opinionated women, but are intimidated as hell when push comes to shove. Having their problematic views challenged or their offensive jokes called out tips the power balance scales away from the smug, comfortable patriarchal throne they've been sitting on all their lives – and boy, do they hate it.
But as laughable as this fragile masculinity is, this phenomenon is also dangerous because its inherent dishonesty compromises women's emotional safety. When I allowed myself to be vulnerable with these partners, it was under the impression that they shared my beliefs and that the relationships would be safe havens from the bigotry I, as a woman of colour, experience in the world at large.
Having to constantly defend and justify my beliefs was emotionally draining, but more pressingly, "debates" around topics like rape culture and racism made me feel unheard, my lived experiences dismissed for hypotheticals like we were in a philosophy classroom, not a relationship.
They told me I couldn't hack other people having different opinions, that I was a caustic proselytiser – but while playing devil's advocate is a fun game for cis men, from which they can easily disengage, for women, the privilege to opt out does not exist. The effects of damaging beliefs surround us in everyday life – and when those beliefs are being peddled by the people we place the most intimate trust in, it feels like the ultimate betrayal and turns a relationship into an unsafe space.
Feminism does not exist to appease male sensitivities. To call yourself a feminist but only champion the cause if it fits into the narrow scope of your comfort zone is misogynistic in itself – you are still expecting women to perform on your terms.
I was a dreamlike presence to these men until they realised that my feminism would only ever be performed on my own terms. They claimed to believe in my rights until I pointed out flaws in their arguments, and then I was too emotional, too passionate, too furious.
But I am emotional and passionate and furious because the world we live in is not one that is kind to marginalised groups. And I will keep being emotional and passionate and furious until big changes happen, and if that means that men who are supposed to support and love me don't want to support and love me anymore?
I'd rather be alone.