Emily Heist Moss responds to Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes’ epic rant about how feminism is destroying the “natural order” of things.
This essay began as a project to answer the question “Is feminism working?” but was interrupted by the arrival of Gavin McInnes’ video outburst on HuffPo Live.
As someone who routinely devotes 140 characters or 14,000 characters to discussing contemporary feminism, this bold and beautiful question—is it even working?—has kept me up at night. This was going to be a calm, academic point/counter-point essay, but then, there, like a gift from the gods of Internet writers, was Gavin McInnes. The conversation was suddenly concrete.
Participating in a video panel on modern masculinity, McInnes, co-founder of Vice, let loose a tirade about how feminism has made women sad, how women are pretending to be like men, and how women who work and men who take care of children are fighting the “natural order.” A brief snippet:
Women are forced to pretend to be men. They’re feigning this toughness. They’re miserable. Study after study has shown that feminism has made women less happy. They’re not happy in the workforce, for the most part. I would guess 7% [of women] like not having kids, they want to be CEOs, they like staying at the office all night working on a proposal, and all power to them. But by enforcing that as the norm, you’re pulling these women away from what they naturally want to do, and you’re making them miserable.
The vitriolic nature of the rant gets lost in writing, so make sure to watch to the very end, when he calls another panelist “fucking stupid.” Now there’s a way to prove to everyone that modern masculinity isn’t hung up on faux-dominance, preening for attention, and semi-violent rages.
McInnes got one thing right, the order of things, natural or otherwise, is changing. His fear—and that’s what it is—that the new order might undermine his automatic claim on certain privileges, might ask more of him as a husband, father, boss, or friend than he knows how to give, that fear is real and it is potent. But there are only two ways this can go: He can evolve (and yes, it might be painful), or he can cement himself to the dying status quo.
In McInnes’ version of events, feminism is the villain, the thing that’s urging us to be unnatural, to disrupt the system, to fulfill demands against human nature. He’s not wrong; feminism is pushing to disrupt. It’s challenging women and men to think critically about their choices and make them intentionally and uncoerced. It’s suggesting that because we have done something one way for a very long time does not mean we must continue that way forever.
You know what else we used to defend by flying the flag of “natural order”? Slavery. Anti-miscegenation laws. Marital rape. We are still using this argument against equality for LGBTQ people. Even if we grant that there once was a natural order, what the goddamn hell was so great about it? It put people like Gavin McInnes—straight, white, privileged men—at the top, so you can see why he’d have a hard time letting go.
I’ll tell you how I know feminism is working. Every day I see examples of women and men breaking down barriers to create professional and personal lives for themselves that fit what they need, convention be damned. I see my friends defining their relationships and marriages in exactly the terms that they want, from the person they marry, to what names they use, to who does which chores. I see them arranging their careers to align with their values, whether that means pursuing a seat at the executive table, stepping off the gas, or changing directions. Feminism is about creating choices for everyone, and the evidence that people like having choices is right in front of us.
What’s so tragic about the McInnes episode is that it’s clear he believes in his heart of hearts that the way to be a “real man” is indeed as narrow as he has drawn it. Be tough. Be aggressive. Be ambitious. Be a provider. No one ever gave him an alternative, no one ever said, “be yourself, be a partner.” Yourself might be aggressive and ambitious, and it might not be. You might end up a provider, but if you’re a true partner than you will find the arrangement that works best for you as a team.
Ask women—real women, not the ones that McInnes has clearly never spoken to in his life—if they would trade places with women from any other era of American history. Would they sign up to live before they had the right to vote? When their husbands legally owned them? When divorce meant they lost everything? Would they be willing to live in an era pre-Roe? When all that was expected of you in college, if you went at all, was an MRS degree? When there was no right to paid parental leave? Oh, wait…
There is still no right to paid parental leave (we’re one of four countries with this problem: Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.) We are still paid 79 cents on the dollar (and black and latino women substantially less). We still do 75% of the housework and childcare, even when both parents work full time. It is still legal to fire someone for being gay in 29 states. One in four women will still be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The list goes on and on and on. I am exhausted just thinking about all that we still have to do.
Is feminism working? Yes, because we have it better now than we ever have before. Do we still have epic, intimidating mountains of work ahead us? Yes, and we’ll do it with or without the help of Gavin McInnes.
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.