In defence of unattractive feminism

“I shape my body in ways that make me comfortable,” says Robin Eames.

Image via Eva the Weaver, Flickr.

“I’m a feminist – but not one of those hairy, man-hating, lesbian feminists.” How many times have we heard that phrase? I want to kill it with fire. It’s harmful on a number of levels: it assumes that there is something wrong with being hairy, man-hating, and lesbian; it reinforces the problematic notion that ‘true’ feminism belongs to cishet white abled feminists; and it assumes that we must qualify our feminism in order to be palatable.

It is worth noting that this idea of threatening and aggressive feminism derives from two sources: the Straw Feminist, a variation of ‘strawman argument’ who does not actually exist, and the second-wave radical feminist, who is part of an outdated structure that is notably transphobic and racist. I do not shape my body with the thought of being attractive to strange men; I shape it in ways that make me comfortable.

I am a queer feminist. I am attracted to my own kind as well as to those of different genders to my own. I do not excise cis men from my life. I derive comfort from surrounding myself with other, like-minded, queer people. I attempt to create a feminism that is inclusive of those with diverse sexualities and genders, a feminism that does not by nature exclude lesbians, or asexual people, or trans people, or gender diverse people.

I have even, at times, been a man-hating feminist. This is perhaps the most charged item on the list. The utterance is metonymic; when I say “I hate men” I do not mean “I hate all men who exist in the world”, I mean “I hate the structure that gives men power over me”, i.e. patriarchy – just as when I say “I hate the government” I am understood to mean the structure and not the individuals that comprise it.

We all have men that we love in our lives – brothers and fathers and colleagues and lovers and friends. When we say “I hate men” we mean “I hate the men who have hurt me”; “I hate the men who have denied me job opportunities and equal pay”; “I hate the strange men in the street who believe they deserve my attention”; “I hate the men who rape, assault, and harass me”. (Of course not all men are rapists – but statistically the overwhelming majority of rapists are men.) The phrase is delivered from a position of frustration and exhaustion, not from malice.

When I say “I hate men”, paradoxically, I do not mean that I do not care about men. Men’s issues are also feminist issues. Male rape victims deserve attention. Toxic masculinity must be addressed and confronted. Men should not be considered inept caregivers just because patriarchy enforces parenthood as feminine. There are plenty of problems with feminism, but being hairy, man-hating lesbians is not one of them.