Disclaimer 1: I count Darren McGarvey as a friend, and at other times as an ally. I both respect and admire the majority of his writing to date, and thus this response is neither a character assassination, in any way a personal attack, and nor is it designed to sling mud at everything he ever writes.
Disclaimer 2: I hate that this even needs said, because any reasonable reading of what follows and what has preceded publishing this shouldn’t require such a helluva lot of caveats from women seeking to respond to an article. That so many feel the need to caveat, myself included, speaks volumes about what women expect when they speak out online.
Disclaimer 3: Darren, alongside Harry Giles and Laura Waddell were three people who encouraged me to publish this, which started as a very long status update on a private Facebook page. They pointed out that perhaps I have something worth saying to a wider audience. I’ll let others be the judge of that, but I do often note with interest my willingness to self-censor at times due either to fear – real or imagined – about inviting the kind of stick I often faced during the independencence referendum for speaking and writing about the Yes movement. I know this to be something I share with several other women, so aye. Maybe it is time to challenge that inner fear! Anyway. On to the blog…
There’s been a lot of chatter the last few days, mainly sparked by a long-read essay on Bella Caledonia by Darren McGarvey, otherwise known as Loki, which was written to argue that the left (taken to mean those who campaign for social justice and equality) have become so insular and obsessed about terminology that their campaigning fails to actually make change in a real, practical way with real people. The article furthermore asserts that feminism – which, while it is not to focus of the article in entirety, is used to highlight this failure throughout the essay – is part of this movement that has helped spark the new and dangerous neo-libertarian ‘free speechers’ who are reacting to things like trigger warnings, safe space policies and the like by using examples of them to encourage disenfranchised men into their ideology.
When women talk about ‘privilege,’ in an attempt to talk about power structures, men, many of whom feel far from privileged, throw the baby out with the bathwater and turn from leftish ideas entirely, feeling attacked and alienated. Darren calls for this to change, for us to be able to debate better, to perhaps say the un-sayable, because too much of our focus is on silencing bad opinions and not trying to empathise or relate to those who find the lexicon of ‘our’ movement alienating.
There’s a helluva lot in the essay and it’s well worth reading. Taking aside the feminist angles – it’s in the tradition of Orwell’s critique of the left when he said that socialism alienates the very people it proposes to help due to the obfuscating language used by its followers – and also the ‘crank’ like nature of the majority of its proponents. Orwell was highly critical of feminism too, of course, but Darren has written elsewhere that a critique solely of feminism was not his intention.
But it’s also worth reading the two responses in long-form I’ve seen, both of which (as is the original article) are available on the Bella Caledonia website. Focusing in on the elements of the article that were quite obviously directed at feminism, if only using it as examples of what Darren states is a wider problem, the first is a blistering and at times pretty insulting rebuttal from Mhairi McAlpine, while the other, from Kirsty Strickland just uses this recent online debate to highlight that it’s pretty common for men to tell women how to do feminism better. The latter is a really short read – but both are worth yer while. What is also worth yer while is seeing and reading the comments and responses to both these women’s writing, and the responses to Darren’s article too. I am advocating heavy procrastination and being glued to the internet, I admit, so if ye’d rather frog-march yerself into the sunshine, do that instead, of course…. Mhairi in particular has faced furious criticism for highlighting what she sees as sexism and misogyny at the heart of Darren’s article, and has written on Facebook that she was very much writing from a place of anger at the backlash against feminism. This is an anger I share, while not wholly convinced of everything Mhairi has written.
My main critique of Darren’s original piece is that while I could hardly disagree that the left often tangles itself and eats itself through internal division at times, and that there is a worrying growth of followers for people like Roosh V and his charismatic leadership, Darren’s artice appeared to link the latter to some kind of failure of the left to enfranchise angry, young men, particularly those from deprived backgrounds. I’ve been reading about the Men’s Rights Movement for quite some time, including reading these blogs, trying to unearth the logic and finding it all repellant and fascinating in equal measure, and, as Darren advocates, actually listening to these voices is important if you want to understand them.
These men – angry, of course – are listening to and engaging with an ideology that explains to them their powerlessness. That is done not by critiquing the state, governance or global capital, but by attacking – not feminists – but women. Not feminists, I repeat, but WOMEN.
Feminism is the broad insult they attach to what they say is the problem, but it is women they loathe and find disgusting. Roosh V and others of his type look around the world, hate seeing women allowed to marry or be unmarried, hate their choices, hate the small gains in power women have made, fail to see any lack of power there – oh, and they hate homosexuality too. And they *really* hate ‘ugly’ (read: un-feminine) women.They hate that women have become ‘sluts’ but because they believe women *have* all become sluts, they advocate treating them as such, which to them means finding ways to ‘bang’ them and discard them in order to take back a little bit of power. It almost seems contradictory, but these men appear to long for traditional gender roles, but believe them impossible to attain, and so they advocate making the most of the situation they find themselves in and banging as many women as they can because it’s the only way they can take back a little of what has been stolen from them by the evil feminists and lesbians.
These are men from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of different concerns about the world; a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, and probably a variety of different levels of belief in such ideas. Some may be fuelled by a fear for their daughters in a post-Christian world; some pissed off at an ex who didn’t want to ‘submit’ (their words); some may genuinely believe that feminism has gone too far. Roosh himself says that men are deprived and that women and gays are handed everything on a plate.
I agree with Darren that understanding what fuels these men is important and that we should try to ensure men do not get beguiled by such ideas. As a woman who has dated men, I’m also aware that wee elements of the above can be present in who are otherwise thoroughly nice guys; that the backlash against women’s rights and equality has as expected produced anger and rage from those whose power and dominance is being challenged. Of course it would be.
‘Feminist’ becoming an insult is a massive part of this backlash. Using absurd examples of no-platforming OR making up ridiculous examples of ‘feminism going too far’ to further your agenda is also a massive part of it. Saying that women who care about trigger warnings, safe spaces and violence in the mainstream media are idiotic ‘feminazis’ is also a major part of it too. Which is why, I’d suggest, that Darren’s article led to an interesting situation where both critiques are from feminist women who chose to focus on the feminist angle rather than the many other things he was saying. As a feminist, it was these parts of the article that jarred with me too. As a woman who has often felt utterly dismissed and at times actively silenced as an activist, who has had sex used against me in a bid to damage my reputation and silence me further, along with just the general everyday sexism I face and at times probably perpetuate unknowingly, reading that it’s supposedly demands from feminists like myself that are leading to the new wave of misogynists is pretty hard reading. Mainly because it’s not true, but also because, as seen in many of the comments on Darren’s own facebook account, the usual suspects accusing those women who disagree with Darren of being a rabid band of feminazis has woven its way throughout the comment threads.
I accept that Darren’s article wasn’t solely about feminism at all, but as a feminist reading it – and also seeing the responses (not just Mhairi and Kirsty’s) it appears that he has tapped into something that a lot of men are feeling and he is being applauded for pointing it out. But, my worry is that for all the championing of no-nonsense clarity and a cry for nuance and open debate (who wouldn’t want that?) that, once again, important things are being lost. There’s a helluva lot of projection going on, and sometimes it’s best to hear it from the horses mouth, so to speak…
And so, below I link to a few of those angry men talking about what fuels them from the recent BBC3 programmed ‘Men At War.’
If you want to explore this further, Roosh V’s conspiracy theory response to the programme and also to the recent protests against him can be found here. As with most charismatic leaders, Roosh takes a legitimate distrust of the media and twists it to propose that there is a feminazi conspiracy to denigrate men and stop them from being free.
I cannot think of a better way to challenge this type of thinking than feminism – which I more than believe men can be allies in (and am thankful for those male pals of mine who are part of that too.) I’d suggest that class inequality, which I know is Darren’s main concern – he says elsewhere that he dislikes how class has been superseded by other leftist concerns and he thinks this is a bad thing – is in a major state of flux, and that we’re definitely going to have to find better ways of addressing and understanding that, not least to recognise that the old ways of discussing class are not particularly useful.
From what I can garner, these men are fuelled by a toxic mix of frustration, anger, a feeling of powerlessness which they feel they are owed as men, and quite blatant hatred of women (but not their mothers who, in many blogs, are painted as quasi-mystical saints of homeliness and godliness and nurturing like a ‘proper’ woman should be.)
I know quite a few men trying to explore masculinity and address this kind of ideology and that’s brilliant. I also understand Darren’s point about people being put off a lot of leftish causes because of a dominant narrative that, just as in Orwell’s day, says the left are a bunch of cranks who spend too much time talking about language and not enough time getting to action or talking to people. But I’d also argue that language determines action and that women have been fighting for a damn long time to even have any kind of a voice in the left and by necessity have had to focus at least some energy on creating spaces that recognise their importance. Aye, safe ones. Inadvertently, I see how parts of Darren’s essay seemed to denigrate that. I can see that while still agreeing with parts of it.
That’s what nuance is. I agree we need more of it, and that is why I found Darren’s article problematic.