On hating the straight white male
Susan B Anthony wasn’t the only woman who led the fight for women’s suffrage in the 1800s, but her partner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, is the women’s rights hero that no one cares to celebrate these days.
Stanton was cut out of feminist history because she lost sight of the real goal of feminism. She was so engrossed in women’s rights that when black men were given the vote before women of any ethnicity she lobbied for educational requirements for suffrage—requirements that would have disqualified most black men from voting as well as a lot of women and other groups without access, including the large immigrant population of the United States. Her elitism is all the more shocking when considered in light of the fact that she was an abolitionist before she was a feminist.
Though an important figure in US history, Stanton is barely known today. She’s the shameful secret of feminism in this country, but her legacy lives on in surprising ways. Countless present-day feminists follow in her footsteps.
I can think of so many examples of Stanton-like behavior that it nauseates me, but three of the more colorful and personal examples of it that come to mind are these:
- Just this week, I ran across this blog post, a rant about how society forces women to shave their body hair while seeing the same hair “as sexy on men.” I commented on the post, simultaneously trying to show solidarity for letting body hair grow and attempting to point out that society forces men to shave too. In fact, for men it’s arguably worse. It’s to the point that we forget that males actually have a lot of facial hair since so few of them wear full beards. What’s more, those that do are often thought of as hiding something. And, these days, some men shave not only their faces but much of their bodies as well. Neither men nor women got the better end of the shaving deal: the makers of disposable razors are the only winners in the body hair wars.
- About a year ago, a review was written about a showing of this series of mine. In it, one of the subjects of one of the portraits was described as having a “scrawny chest” and a “slowly receding hairline.” I’ve had some strange things said about my work in the public forum and I know how to react to them professionally, but this was different. Instead of directing the critical words at the work, the writer was commenting about one of the subjects’ physiques. When I expressed on Facebook my disgust with the critic, two female artists admonished me, saying that criticism is part of the art game and that I had best get used to it. I couldn’t help but think that they would have been as angry as I was about the word choice if the subject described had been one of the female ones.
- Recently, my partner received his graduate degree, but it was a struggle for him to do so for all the wrong reasons. During his time at the school, he had his genitals referred to in a demeaning manner by another student, had his person touched inappropriately by a faculty member, and was told on several occasions that his discomfort at having his boundaries crossed was a good lesson for him. Every time he tried to stand up for himself, the institution’s Stantonites knocked him down, even going so far as to redefine discrimination as something that could not be done to straight white males. (Read a full account of his experiences here.) This ended up being a really good lesson for me: I learned that I don’t even speak the same language as certain feminists.
When last I checked, men are people too, and it angers me when women can’t see this.
For Elizabeth Cady Stanton and feminists like her, the double standards come easily. These women make excuses, acknowledging that men feel societal pressures but still have more of a choice. They are unable to see people as individuals if these people happen to fit the traditional profile of the oppressor—if they happen to be male and especially straight white ones. And an offense that they would never tolerate if a female was the victim suddenly becomes “no big deal” when a male is the victim.
But these double standards are like all double standards: they are wrong.
Oppressing someone because he is a straight white male is the same as oppressing someone because she-he is not. Believing that someone is less deserving of respect because of his sexual orientation, ethnicity, and sex is always wrong no matter the sexual orientation, ethnicity, and sex of the parties involved in the exchange. Oppression is never okay.
I can understand the frustration of Stanton and her followers: it is hard to live in a world still so full of inequalities. But while I sympathize with them, I don’t condone their actions. Their lack of empathy makes all feminists look bad. It makes people think that we’re all that way even though we are not. Most of us remember that feminism is first and foremost about equality.