Photos via Confused Cats Against Feminism
A little over a week ago, the Women Against Feminism Tumblr rose to national prominence. While the concept of posting selfies with hand-written signs to make a political statement is certainly not new, neither is this particular anti-feminist iteration. A similar effort had started over a year ago following the Duke University “Who Needs Feminism?”.
As Jenny Lawson observed, these pictures show confusion about what feminism actually is. David Futrelle, the owner of We Hunted The Mammoth—a site that has tracked and mocked online misogyny and sexism since 2010—is certainly no stranger to people misrepresenting feminism. Sharing Lawson’s frustration, he decided to launch “Confused Cats Against Feminism” since as he writes “cats need a place where they can post pictures of themselves holding signs denouncing feminism for assorted weird reasons that don’t seem to have anything to do with what feminism is actually about.”
It apparently struck a chord with a lot of people. Due in no small part to the media blitz that cropped up, Futrelle says the Tumblr picked up 12,000 followers in less than a week, which may be more than “Women Against Feminism” if today’s feedly subscriber count for each is any indication (subscriber info released by “Women Against Feminism” isn't available).
I talked to David today to fine out how “Confused Cats Against Feminism” fits in with the wider movement against misogyny and sexism.
VICE: What is it about feminism that makes people misrepresent what it is when they argue against it?
David Futrelle: When it comes to discussing issues of consent, I think in that case a lot of the critics of feminism resort to caricatures especially because it’s something that really is fundamentally challenging them. Like the guy that feels he’s entitled to blatantly stare at women in public, or pressure a woman until she agrees to have sex, because that’s the way he’s always done it and that’s the only way he’s ever gonna get sex.
They don’t always want to say that out loud and so they pretend that consent is this extremely complicated thing and that feminists want everyone to sign forms in triplicate before they can have sex. So I think particularly around the issue of consent, there’s an enormous amount of smoke that they put up. They don’t want to have an honest conversation and say, “You know what? I don’t think I can have sex with a woman unless I get her really drunk first”. They don’t want to say that. So they’re like “oh, you want us to fill out a form first, well that’s ridiculous.”
So they need it explained?
There are always better ways to explain things, but at the same time, as someone who’s tried to debate anti-feminists online, one of the reasons some feminists are reluctant to explain things is that they have explained things many times to people who simply don’t want to listen, and will not accept anything that they say. I think a lot of feminists are tired of explaining feminism because people aren’t listening.
Is this an alternative to explaining?
[...]People are sending in many many more than I could ever reasonably put up without overloading readers. It’s clear from the notes that they send along with them that a lot of these people putting them up feel very cathartic. They’re frustrated, they’ve been having these sorts of discussions with people and they’re trying to educate them and trying to say, “Your argument doesn’t make sense.”
What do you mean by catharsis?
There’s a catharsis in saying “You know what? Your argument is based on ignorance. We’ve tried to explain this. We’re just gonna respond with a picture of a cat.” When you get into these discussions with these guys online, it becomes just like quicksand. Because you feel like you’ve fallen into this realm of “Wait a minute. The sky is blue, right?” It’s also just sort of nice to present something that I think the opponents of feminism just don’t know how to handle or don’t know how to react to. So when they see the cat pics, they can’t go into another regular one of their little rants because it’s a cat, and what’s being said is probably absurd. It sets them up for once.
You've said that mockery is the only appropriate response to certain men's rights activists. What about people like Christina Hoff Sommers who aren’t in that category?
It is worth getting into issues where there are people who are making wrong, but—at least in some ways—intellectually honest arguments. Like take for instance the pay gap. There’s no denying that statistically there is a wage gap, the question is how do you explain that. In those cases it is worth engaging and to argue with them on an intellectual level. But it’s been disappointing to me that a lot of the so-called more reasonable opponents of these things have aligned themselves in so many ways with the more extreme folks. Like with Christina Hoff Sommers’s response to the “Women Against Feminism” thing was that she tweeted—and it was re-tweeted by all sorts of MRA’s—“these women are saying ‘no’ to feminism, do they [feminists] not think that ‘no means no’?”
That’s problematic on so many levels. You don’t have to get someone’s consent to disagree with them. You absolutely do have to get their consent to have sex with them and it’s just very disappointing to see someone like Christina Hoff Sommers who presumably knows better conflating those two in that way.
Or if you look at someone like Warren Farrell who a lot of people consider kind of respectable, and yet he went to the A Voice for Men conference. You think, you’re at a conference run by someone who likes to call women ‘whores’ and worse. He’s aware of it but he’s fine with attaching himself. But the fact is if you look at Warren Farrell’s work it’s not actually academically respectable in any way. Whereas if you look at people like Christina Hoff Sommers or Cathy Young or whatever, they make real arguments. They’ve read more than a couple books about feminism, certainly more than 99.9% of MRA’s so there is a distinction there.
Right, people like them. Is it different when you argue with them?
In terms of the tactics, I do think that it is kind of appropriate to be kind of gentler or less confrontational with some people. And I think this is the case with a lot of the people who posted on Women Against Feminism. They’re of the “I don’t personally need it and therefore I don’t think anyone needs it” point of view. It’s myopic but it’s not driven by hatred or driven by an ideological agenda. I think the confused cats blog is in a lot of ways a more gentle critique than the kind of tone I use for people on my site which are these outright ideologues. I like cats. If I was going to liken most MRA’s to a particular animal I probably would have picked a dung beetle.
What prompted you to focus on the men's rights movement when you started Manboobz (now called WeHuntedTheMammoth.com)?
It was basically that I was arguing with men’s rights activists on Reddit with somewhat silly arguments. I was trying to engage with the arguments and what happened is that after I started the blog, which I didn’t expect to turn into what it’s turned into, I discovered that I had really underestimated the amount of just sheer misogyny that was out there. It wasn’t just people that were a bit misguided or myopic or whatever. It was people who were really driven. It gave me an idea of some of the harassment that outspoken women get, and they’re getting it worse because these guys really hate women. That kind of spurs me on. I hadn’t recognized it for the problem it really is.
How do we improve the situation?
Just a little example, even for guys that are a little sympathetic to feminism: guys that are sitting in front of the television watching a movie with a woman and they see an attractive woman, and they say, “Oh, I’d like to bone her,” or whatever. You don’t mean it in an oppressive way or a demeaning way or anything like that. But just think a little bit about the kind of atmosphere that that creates. Don’t take criticism personally, and just try to [put] yourself in someone else’s shoes.
What about for outright opponents of feminism though?
The best way to move forward on this is to try to get the opponents of feminism to develop a little more empathy. To think of the experiences of people other than themselves. It may be that Confused Cats Against Feminism is the way to get them to do that. Cats are very self absorbed. Maybe the blog can sort of suggest, “Maybe you want to think of more than just yourself.” “Maybe I don’t need feminism but part of the reason women are able to speak out on these things today is because of feminism.”