Joss Whedon took a risk that reeks of male entitlement: to claim feminism but not give up his abusive behavior toward women. Maybe he’s a faux-feminist or a woke misogynist. Maybe he’s a liar who wanted to cash in on feminism. Maybe he can’t make the connection between the political and the personal. Maybe he’s doing what more feminist-identifying men would do if they were given the opportunity. The fact that he decided to speak like a feminist and act like a dirtbag suggests to me that he wanted the benefits of both—for him to be celebrated by women and also for him to have power over them. Like lots of men, he sees the advantages that feminism has for him, but he doesn’t want to give up the perks of sexism. It’s rather nice to have the tools of sexism—firing women for getting pregnant, marital infidelity—in your toolbox, just in case you might want to use them one day.
Perhaps this is why so many good men, men who are, in practical ways, feminists, don’t embrace the term. Once you declare yourself a feminist, you have to live up to it. You secretly want to reserve your right to be a misogynist, just in case your wife asks you to do something really uncomfortable, like organize your family around her career trajectory or keep her own last name or just address the f@&*! Christmas cards this year. Better to be a misogynist than a hypocrite, seems to be the logic.
Of course, you don’t have to be either. You can be a consistently good man, which is to say, a man who consistently challenges male privilege and works to insure equitable treatment for those who are not men. You don’t have to be a perfect man, but you do have to be a man doing better and being better than he was before. This is what good people want in all areas of their lives—that their “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Becoming a better advocate for those who are vulnerable, including women, is part of that growth.
Sometimes, it’s easy to see misogyny and fight against it. Don’t cheat on your wife. Treat domestic violence like the crime that it is. Don’t laugh at sexist jokes. Intervene in sexual violence against women.
And, sometimes, men still have a lot to learn and, even harder, believe: about the wage gap, about the mental load, about emotional labor, about why putting your dishes IN the dishwasher or your clothes IN the hamper is a requirement for leveling up in feminism. (Many feminist men seem to struggle with prepositions. If there is a Bloom’s taxonomy for feminism, mastering the difference between in and next to is toward the top. I’m not making an easy joke about that, either. Recognizing inequality in the household workload is harder for most men, I think, than is seeing inequality elsewhere.)
In feminism, as in loading the dishwasher or diapering an infant, it’s not okay to throw up your hands and say, “I’ll never do it well enough to please you, so I’m just going to stop trying!” You have to keep trying, recognizing (as with the dishwasher or the baby) that there are a million ways to do this right and a few big ways to do it wrong and that, as an adult, you have to do it one of the right ways. And it’s not your wife’s job to teach you how—it was your father’s.
We can’t escape the culture we live in, including its sexism. But we can, over time, change it so that the sexist behaviors men today accept as the norm about will be ones that the men of the future can’t even fathom.
Above, a bumper sticker declares that “Men who change diapers change the world.” True, but I’m fairly sure that my children wouldn’t understand that, once upon a time, men needed to be celebrated for providing for the basic needs of a person they are, you know, responsible for. Just one way that I think the future is going to be different.
Glad we are doing it together,