Diary

Here's to the Bad Feminists

There are plenty of good traits in a Bad Feminist, and here are two: She likes (1) due process and (2) men. On the due process side, there’s Margaret Atwood, best known for writing The Handmaid’s Tale, and she refers to herself as a Bad Feminist.

It seems that I am a “Bad Feminist.” I can add that to the other things I’ve been accused of since 1972, such as climbing to fame up a pyramid of decapitated men’s heads (a leftie journal), of being a dominatrix bent on the subjugation of men (a rightie one, complete with an illustration of me in leather boots and a whip) and of being an awful person who can annihilate – with her magic White Witch powers – anyone critical of her at Toronto dinner tables. I’m so scary! And now, it seems, I am conducting a War on Women, like the misogynistic, rape-enabling Bad Feminist that I am.

What would a Good Feminist look like, in the eyes of my accusers?

My fundamental position is that women are human beings, with the full range of saintly and demonic behaviours this entails, including criminal ones. They’re not angels, incapable of wrongdoing. If they were, we wouldn’t need a legal system.

Nor do I believe that women are children, incapable of agency or of making moral decisions. If they were, we’re back to the 19th century, and women should not own property, have credit cards, have access to higher education, control their own reproduction or vote. There are powerful groups in North America pushing this agenda, but they are not usually considered feminists.

Furthermore, I believe that in order to have civil and human rights for women there have to be civil and human rights, period, including the right to fundamental justice, just as for women to have the vote, there has to be a vote. Do Good Feminists believe that only women should have such rights? Surely not. That would be to flip the coin on the old state of affairs in which only men had such rights.

You can like or not like her books, but she’s clearly a good writer. What put her in the “bad” category was her signature on a petition, urging University of British Columbia (UBC) authorities to exercise appropriate due process (not exoneration) involving a professor accused of sexual assault. Under a cloud of sealed records and a gag order on the professor, a judge ruled that there was no sexual assault, yet the man was fired from his job regardless.

As an example of a feminist who doesn’t hate men, I give you Bari Weiss, a lone voice at the New York Times who has encountered blowback before. Here’s what she said about the Aziz Ansari kerfuffle, after she recounts the events between Mr. Ansari and his anonymous young female accuser.

If you are wondering what about this evening constituted the “worst night” of Grace’s life, or why it is being framed as a #MeToo story by a feminist website, you probably feel as confused as Mr. Ansari did the next day. “It was fun meeting you last night,” he texted.

“Last night might’ve been fun for you, but it wasn’t for me,” she responded. “You ignored clear nonverbal cues; you kept going with advances. You had to have noticed I was uncomfortable.” He replied with an apology.

Read Grace’s text message again.

Put in other words: I am angry that you weren’t able to read my mind.

It is worth carefully studying Grace’s story. Encoded in it are new yet deeply retrograde ideas about what constitutes consent — and what constitutes sexual violence.

We are told by the reporter that Grace “says she used verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was.” She adds that “whether Ansari didn’t notice Grace’s reticence or knowingly ignored it is impossible for her to say.” We are told that “he wouldn’t let her move away from him,” in the encounter.

Yet Mr. Ansari, in a statement responding to Grace’s story, said that “by all indications” the encounter was “completely consensual.”

I am a proud feminist, and this is what I thought while reading Grace’s story:

If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you.

If the inability to choose a pinot noir over a pinot grigio offends you, you can leave right then and there.

If you don’t like the way your date hustles through paying the check, you can say, “I’ve had a lovely evening and I’m going home now.”

If you go home with him and discover he’s a terrible kisser, say “I’m out.”

If you start to hook up and don’t like the way he smells or the way he talks (or doesn’t talk), end it.

If he pressures you to do something you don’t want to do, use a four-letter word, stand up on your two legs and walk out his door.

Aziz Ansari sounds like he was aggressive and selfish and obnoxious that night. Isn’t it heartbreaking and depressing that men — especially ones who present themselves publicly as feminists — so often act this way in private? Shouldn’t we try to change our broken sexual culture? And isn’t it enraging that women are socialized to be docile and accommodating and to put men’s desires before their own? Yes. Yes. Yes.

But the solution to these problems does not begin with women torching men for failing to understand their “nonverbal cues.” It is for women to be more verbal. It’s to say: “This is what turns me on.” It’s to say “I don’t want to do that.” And, yes, sometimes it means saying piss off.

The single most distressing thing to me about Grace’s story is that the only person with any agency in the story seems to be Aziz Ansari. Grace is merely acted upon.

Caitlin Flanagan at The Atlantic has a similar perspective.

Those magazines didn’t prepare teenage girls for sports or stem or huge careers; the kind of world-conquering, taking-numbers strength that is the common language of the most-middle-of-the road cultural products aimed at today’s girls was totally absent. But in one essential aspect they reminded us that we were strong in a way that so many modern girls are weak. They told us over and over again that if a man tried to push you into anything you didn’t want, even just a kiss, you told him flat out you weren’t doing it. If he kept going, you got away from him. You were always to have “mad money” with you: cab fare in case he got “fresh” and then refused to drive you home. They told you to slap him if you had to; they told you to get out of the car and start wailing if you had to. They told you to do whatever it took to stop him from using your body in any way you didn’t want, and under no circumstances to go down without a fight. In so many ways, compared with today’s young women, we were weak; we were being prepared for being wives and mothers, not occupants of the C-Suite. But as far as getting away from a man who was trying to pressure us into sex we didn’t want, we were strong.

Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. He wasn’t interested. What she felt afterward—rejected yet another time, by yet another man—was regret. And what she and the writer who told her story created was 3,000 words of revenge porn. The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari. Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.

Twenty-four hours ago—this is the speed at which we are now operating—Aziz Ansari was a man whom many people admired and whose work, although very well paid, also performed a social good. He was the first exposure many young Americans had to a Muslim man who was aspirational, funny, immersed in the same culture that they are. Now he has been—in a professional sense—assassinated, on the basis of one woman’s anonymous account. Many of the college-educated white women who so vocally support this movement are entirely on her side. The feminist writer and speaker Jessica Valenti tweeted, “A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”

I thought it would take a little longer for the hit squad of privileged young white women to open fire on brown-skinned men. I had assumed that on the basis of intersectionality and all that, they’d stay laser focused on college-educated white men for another few months. But we’re at warp speed now, and the revolution—in many ways so good and so important—is starting to sweep up all sorts of people into its conflagration: the monstrous, the cruel, and the simply unlucky. Apparently there is a whole country full of young women who don’t know how to call a cab, and who have spent a lot of time picking out pretty outfits for dates they hoped would be nights to remember. They’re angry and temporarily powerful, and last night they destroyed a man who didn’t deserve it.

If there was a moment where the #MeToo movement overplayed its hand, the story of the bad date with Aziz Ansari may have been it, and it detracts from all the legitimate allegations of actual sexual assault by the rich and famous. More Bad Feminists are needed to call out the Good Feminists who bypass due process or hide behind a curtain of anonymity to engage in smearing a guy for the “crime” of an awkward sexual encounter.