community: perspectives: I Am Not a Feminist, But I’ve Got a Match and Kerosene and Patriarchy’s Splinters Smell Dry Tonight

Kuntsrule asked Brandon from Progressive Paradox to write a guest piece. Really thought provoking stuff about why the difference between identity and action is important. We thank you, Brandon, for your words.

Read on, friends:

I want to think in terms, not of what I think I “am,” but of what I do. Three reasons:

First, treating feminism as an identity turns it into a good, into capital. Once the title “feminist” becomes something that I can lose or affirm, then I become a mercenary. By that I mean: whoever fights in a war they don’t “have” to fight in—white anti-racists, for example—still looks for recompense: gratitude, affirmation that they’re “one of the good ones,” affirmation that they are a feminist, even deferential treatment. (Think of the casually heterosexist Nice Guy™ who bemoans how “all women” go after “assholes” and “douchebags,” because, after all, assholes and douchebags aren’t the ones who’re doing the “right thing”—so why do they get all this sex from the people I find desirable? They owe me!) A mercenary’s loyalty isn’t to the cause; it’s to their payment. The same moment someone with a thicker checkbook comes along, they will be bought.

So, can’t be a mercenary.

Second, even bracketing the question of thanks and rewards, “being” a feminist remains a narcissistic belief. The mercenary, above, believed themselves to be fighting a war they didn’t have to fight in. If that’s so, then what about the people who did “have” to—women under patriarchy, for example? These rank-and-file footsoldiers are reduced to acting out of simple self-interest. If I sincerely am not fighting for the promsie of thanks and rewards, then still, in my own mind, I am elevated to the status of altruistic angel, because I know I’m not someone who’s just trying to save their own skin. After all, if I, a white-cis-straight-able-bodied-upper-SES-the-list-goes-on-forever male am in it to win it even though I have nothing to gain, then I must be doing it just because it’s the right thing to do! And that makes me better than all the rest; that makes me fundamentally better.

So: not an angel, either.

Third, insisting that I “am” a feminist allows me to distance myself from my actions. Insisting on the identity allows me to believe that, in my worse moments, those failures are just a blemish hiding the “real” me; even if the gap is as a mask again-st a face, insisting on the identity introduces some distance between what I’m doing in this moment and who I am:

I may not be calling out this sexist joke right now, but really I do on-campus activism related to sexual assault and I am a feminist.

I may not be stopping this friend from slut-shaming his very-recent ex, but really I’ve written essays about this for my feminist philosophy class and I am a feminist.

I may well know that my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit but I almost wrote this entire post without ever mentioning intersectionality, though really I think about this stuff all the time because I am a feminist.

I may be getting pretty handsy with this friend, but really I would never even dream of doing anything without enthusiastic consent, and anyone who really knows me knows that too, because I am a feminist.

To say “I am a feminist” becomes a lie I tell myself about who I am, so that I don’t have to come face-to-face with what I’m doing. That encounter brings with it the knowledge that what I’m doing does nothing, absolutely nothing, to interrupt patriarchy; in fact, this insistence on the difference between my acts and my identity maintains patriarchy. To insist on the identity beneath the act makes it easier for me to serve patriarchy’s ends: if I’m lost in the fantasy of all the tire-spikes I’ve thrown, then I don’t have to think about how I’m digging a spare out of the trunk right now.

So: I can’t be a feminist, either.

There are moments fleeting and far-flung, though, in which I interrupt the daily run of microaggressions I was about to repeat; moments in which I interrupt someone’s sexist behavior even though it comes at a risk to our relationship; moments in which I don’t realize, even in retrospect, that I just committed an act of anti-patriarchy—moments that I can’t even use to later brag about how I’m willing to do “thankless” acts for strangers who will never see me again.

This allows us to change the question from how do I keep being a feminist into how do I commit acts of anti-patriarchy? Patriarchy should see me as an arsonist and a saboteur (though because those are identities too, really what I should say is: “I should commit arson and sabotage against patriarchy.”)

To think of what I am against (anti-patriarchy) instead of what I want to be (pro-feminist) demands a different kind of motivation. Again, three reasons come to mind.

One, I no longer may take “credit” for what I do, because acts of anti-patriarchy don’t collect interest in my Good Guy checking account; they do not add up to proof of how I’m one of the “good” ones. Instead, I am always responsible for this moment, now, and no matter how many past moments were better, none of them excuses a failure now. Instead of the past-oriented narcissism of the mercenary, angel, and feminist I described above, who constantly appeal to what they’ve done; and instead of the future-oriented work of the idealist who sees liberation and utopia ahead; to commit anti-patriarchy means to be solely and infinitely concerned with the present moment.

Two, to think of anti-patriarchy in this way prevents me from constantly telling others about my feminist altruism [see Tupac Shakur at age 17 on being nice to women. – YouTube]; it prevents me from nostalgically returning to the misogynistic past I’m obsessed with confessing to anyone who will listen—“see how far I’ve come! congratulate me!” To be anti-patriarchal means that I am no longer pro-me; the question ceases to be about me, at all; ceases to be about some identity or reputation I have to protect, because I am no longer focused on myself—to hell with myself, so long as my body interrupts the gears of the infernal machine! My ears hear no applause, but wait for the sirens; my eyes see no audience, only where to spill the flammables.

And three, this present-focus acts of anti-patriarchy come with no promises of a better tomorrow: I have a demolition crew, but I brought no blueprints, I drafted no zoning laws for the new city. An act of anti-patriarchy can clear space, but it cannot build; it isn’t for building. Anti-patriarchy comes in the form of horsemen singing apocalypse, who never breathe a word about the hereafter.

I want to light the purely destructive, strictly negative, holy dancing bonfire of patriarchy going up in flames; I want to become a pyromaniac, because only the love of the fire itself will keep me motivated.

So don’t look to the man with a match. Get a flint, feed a spark, and let the little hell breathe.

to read more like this, visit Brandon at Progressive Paradox.

{Kuntsrule stories are written by our readers. Share your own at Kuntsrule Submission.}

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