New feature: Ask a feminist – The F Word problem page

// 5 April 2008

What can you do if your crush is sexist and homophobic? How can you channel righteous feminist anger into something positive? In our second installment of the new ‘Ask a Feminist’ feature, we field these questions and more

Answers will be written by regular F Word contributors, and represent only their own potentially fallible opinions. In the spirit of pluralism, we will try and work in more than one response if we can. There is no definitive ‘F Word line’ or ‘feminist line’, and our answers are given in that spirit.

Of course, we will never publish anyone’s name or identifying details. If you want to ask us something, please just use the comment link at the bottom of this page.

Dear Feminist(s),

There is a boy who I’m interested in, he’s charming, funny and highly intelligent and considerably nicer than people who I’ve been involved with in previous relationships. However, the problem is the less desirable aspects of his personality; for all his intelligence, wit and charm, he is also fairly sexist and homophobic, although I wouldn’t consider him a misogynist. He watches and is an open advocate of porn, is a self confessed homophobe – in spite of his gay brother and bisexual friends – and, whilst in the past I have been open in my criticisms of this and open about my feminism, I have received heavy criticism of feminist attitudes and my opinions in return.

I have found myself trying to down-play my feminism in his presence, much to the disgust of my close friend, also a self proclaimed feminist. However, despite the fact that I am fully aware of my hypocrisy, I am concerned that for him to ever reciprocate my feelings I will have to compromise myself, something I am not especially willing to do. Equally however, nobody is perfect and I am wondering whether I am simply highlighting his flaws especially because they clash so radically with my personal beliefs. Whilst I understand this is probably an email of considerably little importance or significance in comparison to many of the others you receive, I would greatly appreciate an outsiders perspective, especially one of someone who understands feminism!

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

– Anon

Read on here

Comments From You

Feminist Avatar // Posted 5 April 2008 at 4:48 pm

Dear Anon,

I would advise you that a true, equal and fulfilling relationship would not be possible when you have to shut down some part of yourself. There is definitely a difference from having a partner with whom you do not always agree (my partner and I vote for different political parties for example), and not being able to be yourself. Having to downplay a part of yourself will just lead to frustration, anger and eventually hurt in the future. You are right that nobody is perfect, but this is more complex than that. In an equal relationship both men and women need to accept the ‘flaws’ of the other person- one person should not be making all the sacrifice- especially when that sacrifice means compromising what is important to you.

Dear Angry,

As a married feminist, I have too have found that I take my anger at the mistreatment of women in the world out on my spouse, who is actually a very supportive partner and feminist. This is very destructive and hurtful for both of you and you need to challenge yourself to direct your anger in the right direction. Louise is right to suggest activism as one means of chanelling that anger. But if that is not possible, you could try blogging about it- it’s a good way to get your fustration out- don’t worry that what you are saying isn’t novel or enlightening- it’s for your peace of mind. By vocalising your concerns they become more manageable and less frightening. You could try to remember that your partner is as much a victim of patriarchy as you- and try to see him as a fellow sympathiser and supporter- not a threat.

Finally, I think it is important to try and not let patriarchy harden us as people- don’t let your anger eat you up. We need to remain compassionate both to the victims and to the abusers-however hard that may seem- because if not we shut down a part of ourselves and we allow the patriarchy to destroy our humanity. This is not to say that righteous anger should not be part of feminism, but that anger should not blind us to our humanity but be rooted in it, because it is there we find strength.

I would recommend bell hooks ‘All About Love’ for a vision for a compassionate, feminist future.

Yours helpfully,

Feminist Avatar

Anne Onne // Posted 5 April 2008 at 7:31 pm

Anon, your email is as important as any other. It’s part of life as a feminist that we have to deal with the fact that not everybody shares our views.

If you feel you want to work at this relationship, I don’t think you’ll ultimately be happy if you have to downplay feminism for the rest of your life (assuming that you want a long-term relationship), so perhaps trying to approach

Whilst I believe it is possible to persuade people to look at things from a different point of view, an element of curiosity and fairness is essential in the person. I’ve gotten fairly kind, but misguided people to think things through, but it depends on them theoretically being moved by an explanation of how sexism and homophobia personally harms people. But if he is incapable with empathising, even when you ask him how is brother must feel being hated by him (or other questions in which you try and get him to see things from women’s or an LGBTQ person’s point of view) and he refuses to even think about it, or if he isn’t at all swayed by any facts you can provide that contradict his baseless assumptions, you may not make much progress. It’s up to you how long you want to try and silence yourself to meet his expectations. For a lot of women, this works in the short term, but we tend to build up a resentment as we feel we are being held back, and I wonder if, his opinions being the opposite of yours, you might find him a lot less appealing when the initial attraction wears off.

We may manage to keep friendships where our friends think things we abhor, or vehemently disagree with, but when it comes to somebody you expect a much closer relationship with, I don’t personally think compromising makes for happiness. How can one ultimately be happy with a partner who doesn’t see them, or treat them as an equal? I just don’t think you’re likely to be happy in the long run, and breaking up will be more painful later down the line. Though of course it’s your decision.

We women get so much more pressure than men to accept the faults of a potential partner, to hold out because we won’t find anybody better, and we love them, and shouldn’t love conquer all? Women are taught to accept inappropriate behaviour from men because they love them, but if it makes you miserable, mightn’t it be better in the long run to be single, and have the chance to meet men you may share more in common with?

I’m not blaming you for being attracted to him, or for wanting to have a relationship with someone, even if we see very real faults in them. It’s the hardest thing to seal with as a feminist, and affects all of your relationships. It’s painful, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision, and women should not be penalised by other feminists for capitulating to the patriarchy, because we do it tall the time, to some extent. We need to in order to survive and maintain some minimum level of social acceptance. In the end, we each have to make our own decisions, and I wish you the best of luck with yours.

Angry, I hear you. It gets so much, sometimes you just wanna AAARGH! Personally, I find a healthy dose of internet and feminist blogs to be just the ticket, as well as ranting to whoever is unlucky enough to be in my path. When in a patient mood, I try to engage peopel who haven’t really thought about it in discussion, which helps me refine my arguments, and feel like I’m doing something. It could be that larger scale activism is your thing (in which case the internet is a really good source of groups you can join to get involved), but if it’s not what you feel ready for, doing anything, no matter how small might help you deal with it. I don’t know much about individual resources, so hopefully somoen else will suggest lots of good things. Best wishes!

WMF, I’m sure other people will put this better, but it’s not antifeminist or a crime to be attracted by members of the opposite sex (or one’s own sex, for that matter). There’s nothing wrong with feeling that any random woman you see is sexy.

The key to being a considerate man (feminist) is that you make a consious effort to remind yourself of your programming, and keep telling yourself that, contrary to your social programming, women aren’t made for your delectation. So, whilst looking at a woman on the street is fine, staring and making ehr feel uncomfortable is not. Remember that you can look, but women have no obligation to take your looking as a compliment, or to give you anything in return (I know you know this, but seeing as how programming is so darn sneaky and in your brain, everybody needs to remind themselves what they believe in).

For the friends’ tops issue, complementing them is fine. They take it as a compliment, and don’t get freaked out. They don’t seem to feel like you are leching on them. A monogamous relationship involves an understanding that both partners do have libidos, and will find other people attractive, but will be able to draw the line between thinking somebody is a attractive and making their partner feel uncomfortable by their actions. You have the power to not take things further from compliments into flirting, if you wish.

Your fantasies are thoughts, which everyone is entitled to. I don’t think you can deliberately try and change fantasies. I do believe, however, that fantasies are the very real results of social conditioning and experiences (a kind of Pavlov’s dog response, if you will). So if you’re seriously concerned about your thoughts, I suggest focusing instead on unravelling social norms you’ve inbibed. I find that although I have held views, some deeply ingrained, in the past, the passage of time and thinking things through just makes them less interesting and relevant, and you drop them. It may be that if you work on deconstructing why people, in a general sense construe these power dynamics, and the very real results they have, thinking about the reality of it may make the fantasy less appealing.

Most importantly, remember that all of these problems are socdial constructs. We’ll never get rid of the fetters entirely, but by working on our ideas, we can greatly reduce the harmful programming we have been subject to.

You own your sexuality. You control it.

My favourite metaphor for this is, say, a maths teacher/coleague/boss you really hate. they irritate you to extreme ends, and you don’t punch their lights out. why, because although you are angry, you make the choice not to resort to violence. I believe that when people ‘lose control’ it’s not because they are compelled to do something (though they believe they are), but that their inhibition, their desire to not do it for fear of whatever, is decreased or absent;. If you punch someone, it’s because you want to. They make you really angry and you want to punish them. It’s an urge that shouldn’t be indulged, and the societal pressure not to acts as a deterrent, often.*

Likewise, you don’t have to do anything when it comes to sex. Men are brought up believing that sex is uncontrollable, when we all manage to control our urges all the time. Men don’t control their urges not because they can’t, but because they don’t want to. It means that to move on, you have to accept that you do have power. If you make a mistake, admit that you made it, take responsibility for it, and try harder next time. You’re not perfect, but what’s improtant is that you don’t blame somebody else for your failings or actions. You’re on the right track, so keep at it! :D

*I don’t mean to draw an equivalence between sex and violence, and the usefulness of this comparison is limited, but I find that many people seem more aware of the fact that feeling like punching someone is nowhere near good enough reason for doing something, unlike with sex or objectification.

Betsy // Posted 5 April 2008 at 10:33 pm

In short, I’ve never thought that changing yourself for a bloke is the right thing to do. If he’s not right, he’s not right.

And they’ll be another bicycle along soon…

E-Visible Woman // Posted 7 April 2008 at 2:30 pm

I am really surprised by how soft everyone has been on ‘Worried Male Feminist’!

At college recently, another (female) student I sometimes work with (who happens to be very attractive) thanked me for helping her with some work. My response was a smile, and a friendly “your absolutely welcome” but my brain was saying “you could thank me by…” well you can probably guess the rest.

Yes, it’s important to recognise that his response is due to his social conditioning as a male – that doesn’t make it any less unacceptable.

There is a great deal of difference between being sexually attracted to someone, and sexually objectifying someone. This is well beyond the line, and it is the kind of humiliating, degrading thing that women have to deal with every day, and it needs to stop.

This guy needs to take a long hard look at his own privilege. He does not have the right to ogle – women do have the right to go about their business without being sexually objectified by men.

Holly Combe // Posted 9 April 2008 at 4:34 pm

I agree with what you say about male privilege and, to be fair, both Louise and I addressed that issue in our answers. I’m also with you in terms of men not having the right to “ogle.” In principle, the absolute right to go about our daily business without being actively and persistently objectified by men is a given but can we really tell another person that they don’t have a right to *think* something? Indeed, it seemed to me that the thoughts this guy was having were fleeting and I didn’t get the impression that he was considering making some stupid comment about sexual favours to his classmate. IMO, deeming potentially traditional thoughts “unacceptable” could just make them seem alluring, forbidden and edgy when, actually, they could more easily be filed under “banal” and “old-fashioned.”

I would also argue that it’s very difficult for any of us (regardless of gender) to get by without sexually objectifying someone at some point in our lives. The key, for me, is not to let it completely take over my recognition of that person as an equally grasping, adventuring individual as myself (i.e a “self” as well as an “other”) and I expect the same in return. That said, society obviously still sees to it that we women are at far greater risk of being reduced to sex object status at the expense of all else and that’s why these discussions are so important.

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