All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Feminism isn't Just for Women - Really!

If you have engaged in any way with Feminism in the last decade you've likely come across the term intersectionality. As a huge part of the newest wave of Feminism, intersectionality takes on the reality that no issue occurs in a vacuum. Nobody has only one identity and they all interact and overlap, but this idea still has many who are less involved in Feminism baffled. Thus, all too often you hear claims from MRAs that Feminism only cares about women. The recent Russell Tovey controversy presents an opportune moment to debunk this defeatist attitude.

Openly gay actor, Russell Tovey, did an interview with The Guardian and made a few comments which sparked some outrage. In a nutshell, he's glad he isn't effeminate. The comments came up in response to his sudden muscle gain and his rare acceptability as an actor to play both straight and gay roles.

Recounting being attacked at age 18, Russell claimed the attack helped spur his desire to build up muscle. Hearing this, it struck me how deeply-rooted this issue can be. "I was wearing a cardigan. At that time you never wore a cardigan in Romford."

The cardigan served to mark Tovey as different and not masculine enough to be worthy of respect; gay. The goal wasn't money but only to cause pain and hurt him, punishing his lack of conformity. This seems to be an extremely straightforward hate crime.

Gay men are constantly ridiculed, stigmatized, and stereotyped as non-masculine. The desire to fight the stereotypes and to keep oneself safe drives many go to great lengths to hide these things in public.  From dressing a certain way, to actually training how to speak, the fear of being too feminine and not 'passing' runs deep.

This shame of the feminine gay man severs ties to the community's past. It was the Stonewall riots that launched our movement into the spotlight and acted as a springboard so these men could be openly gay, but who were the ones at Stonewall? Oh yea, the queens. The fear and shame of all things feminine plays into heteronormativity as well. Many have been critical of feminine and flamboyant gays as 'faking it', and showboating - asking, "why can't you just be normal?" In this attempt to whitewash the movement, the discouraging of diversity serves to make the LGBT community more palatable to those who already hold all the power.

Underlying the attacker's disgust for Tovey lies deep-rooted animosity towards femininity. They may have attacked him because he was gay (or perceived to be), but the clue wasn't a kiss or any other act with a man, but rather that he didn't meet their manly standards. Because he was too feminine.

How is femininity a reason to attack someone unless femininity is wrong? Maybe they don't think its wrong; just for him, or, more accurately, men. Because men should never be like women, that's 'inappropriate'. Men and women are so different that we can't emulate qualities of the other. Even our brains are hardwired to be different so obviously you're broken if you aren't conforming to your programming. Because women are the weaker half of humanity and who would want to be like the weak? Sound familiar?

Feminism, challenging these rather ridiculous views, encourages the idea that men can and should be empathetic and not disregard their emotions, without which men become almost pathologically apathetic. Allowing men to have a full spectrum of emotion can lead to a more stable mental health overall, which might help with the common MRA talking point that is the higher suicide rates for men (which is a bit misleading as women still attempt suicide more often). Feminism has looked at science and noted the plasticity of the brain, questioning the fundamental "biological" differences between men and women. This challenges the common rhetoric of inherent and fundamental differences which serves to damage and invalidate trans* and gender nonconforming narratives and communities.

When it comes to respecting, dismantling, or bending femininity Feminism has been there. These are the same messages that women see when they were told to stay home and not to work, that they are just not suited for a career in the hard sciences. When society says their stories are only interesting to other women, when they are told they are unfit for being on the front lines, or that the government will cover viagra but not birth control.

Tovey's sentiment is not unfamiliar to the gay community. Spend five minutes on any gay dating site and you'll see a swarm of profiles that want nothing to do with effeminacy. Masculinity has invaded the gay male culture and it has a pretty tight grip. Can we really blame Tovey and others for valuing self-preservation when we live in world so hostile? We should be fighting for a safer world where we don't tell our daughters, sisters, wives, and friends that they are inferior and we don't have to fear being feminine. Who better to help us with that than Feminism?

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