Clickbait Minotaur; on liking “On Liking Women”
Letters from Issue 31
Andrea Long Chu’s essay “On Liking Women” put into words what I’ve been feeling for years, as a transfeminine person dissatisfied with most mainstream treatments of transness and trans politics. Popular discourse on trans identities usually essentializes identity as fixed, static, and often biological, or makes all genders equivalent without paying attention to the particular oppression that women and feminine people face. Chu’s articulation of being trans as simultaneously a choice and a form of desire — all while demonstrating a deep understanding of the particular context (and limitations) of second-wave feminism — was refreshing, not to mention bitingly funny. I cheered at times, clapped, and exclaimed how moved I was throughout reading it. This is a letter to express my endless gratitude to you, editors, for publishing the piece, and to Andrea for writing it. I look forward to the day when the ideas behind this intervention are commonsense enough that writing them down is no longer necessary.
— Sarah Pining
Reading Dayna Tortorici’s “In the Maze,” it occurred to me that there was another piece of the puzzle: the crisis in journalism. Many of the pieces that triggered the most vitriolic discussions on social media during the Long 2016 were published in the Atlantic, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and other publications that were in the midst of shifting from publishing more traditional magazine writing to inflammatory viral reporting as a way of staying alive in an era then dominated by Upworthy and BuzzFeed. The trigger-warning debate became the liberal version of the knockout game, a fake crisis fueled by exploitative online publishers seeking clicks at any cost. (Whether clickbait pushed its male targets further in the direction of misogyny or merely revealed the views already beneath the surface is a different question.) On this grim merry-go-round, the socially conscious humanities majors scapegoated by these pieces graduate to content-farm jobs where they become the producers as well as the consumers of endless new waves of exploitative content.
— Greg Afinogenov
While I have read many articles about the culture of male resentment, I have encountered very few as insightful as “In the Maze.” I consider myself a male feminist, whatever that term connotes these days. Still, I detect hints of the often involuntary negative reaction to cultural trends described in the article in myself. It is, and will likely remain, uncomfortable when you discover that things you consider normal are privileged and not at all self-evident. Moreover, when you learn that behaviors or lifestyles you considered normal, perhaps even desirable, are constructed on the backs of others.
Tortorici writes, “But just as true, and significantly less consoling, is the guarantee that some will find the world less comfortable in the process of making it habitable for others.” This is undeniably true and an important insight to keep in mind. However, I think the trauma of losing privilege should be discussed as a source of real emotional pain.
I have been struck, if not surprised, by the visceral anger these trends have inspired in self-described liberal, left-wing, and feminist men. Being one of those specimens myself — a straight, white, highly educated man — I often struggle to reconcile my emotions and reactions to feminist issues, and to weigh feminist issues against other issues I hold dear. Although this fight may never be my fight the way that it is Tortorici’s, I believe contemporary feminist debate would benefit from engaging seriously with the reactions and emotions that giving up male supremacy brings.
Now, these are the ruminations of someone who was raised (by) a feminist, who works as a PhD student at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich (an intersectional stronghold to be sure). In other words, of someone who has read and thought a lot about these issues, and has the tools to thoroughly reflect on his own privilege. If even I have these apprehensions, I find it unsurprising that others with less progressive backgrounds do too.
I fear no durable solution can be found without the support of men, white men. And I don’t just mean those like me; I mean the silent majority who, I suspect, still view feminism apprehensively at best. We are all inclined to envision structural progress, but the pendulum could swing the other way, too. We must engage men who have negative reactions, accept the reality of their pain, and acknowledge that, more often than not, they may not be prepared.
— Jeroen Oomen