I made sure I was an ally before pitching this article, but I'd like to go as far as to appropriate the label. So can I? Can I go ahead and be feminist now? Simone de Beauvoir would say no, but I've consulted wikiHow, and I've followed the 12 steps to the extent that they apply to me. I messaged an acquaintance I knew to be a bit of a hardliner, asking whether there was a tasteful way to go about this. She didn't understand the context and thought I was trolling her. When I explained it was for an article, she responded in the spirit of the times: "That sounds like a journey you take on your own, bud. While I understand the temptation to make our personal journeys into marketable think pieces, I personally don't have the energy to guide or support a straight white man using feminism as a bit."
So, I'm on my own, I guess. I'll be the rogue feminist the Sisterhood wouldn't want to recognize - an Anglo-Saxon male, a beneficiary of all kinds of ugly history, a comedian on an indie improv team that was, until very recently, comprised solely of dudes (a lot of them), a musician who released an album six years ago called A Must for the Dick, a writer using the word 'feminist' as click bait. After completing this list, I took a coffee break and weighed whether I should just refer to myself as an artist from now on. Not only is it a convenient umbrella term, the title also takes some of the edge off of not being successful in any one branch of my creativity by granting me the license to be misunderstood. There's a high-strung voice in the back of my head that I should probably note here. Morally calibrated to my news feed, it's begging the exhibitionist in me to stop writing this, saying something about my perspective not being what the world needs right now. The Exhibitionist scoffs: We're an Artist now. That means we're in the business of self-indulgence. Also, didn't you hear? We're finally Feminist. Take a load off, brother.
Lord grant me the serenity* of a hetero white male. 🙏😇
*the belief that I am inherently interesting
— Nayomi With a Y (@nayomir) July 5, 2015
Nayomi Reghay, a contemporary I met in an Upright Citizens Brigade class, once tweeted: Lord grant me the serenity* of a hereto white male. *The belief that I am inherently interesting. Naturally, I fav'ed this for the public record, to demonstrate how cool and I am with being the target of a joke. In my case, though, I'd like to point out that the unwavering belief that I'm interesting required A LOT of work. Note my headshot next to the byline. I have a snide Chuck Bass thing going on. That means I have to go above and beyond to show my contemporaries (AND myself) that I belong in the Scene and not just in high school/ college on The CW network. Now I'm trying to separate myself from all of the other men who use feminism as a platform- white knights, bigots, and respectable male culture critics who I'm sure probably exist somewhere.
I have this fantasy that if there's blowback from this article, if it turns out it's not in good taste to come out as a feminist without apologizing for history or glossing over my own selfish motivations, I'll have the opportunity to defend my stance. Wait, do I have a stance besides "I advocate gender equality and acknowledge prevailing injustice, so you should totes respect me"? Is believing in equality enough in an age when declarations of moral standing are so fetishized that many people treat their status updates like valorous acts of personal sacrifice? I don't use the word 'egregious' on social media, and I don't bro bash (an aesthetic choice, not a moral one). But can I fight the good fight in other ways? I just donated $25 to the Feminist Majority Foundation; does that count for anything? Absolutely not. I did it so I could include it in this paragraph.
The fantasy playing out in my head is getting louder now. I'm speaking publicly, somewhere like the Lincoln Memorial, dodging tomatoes while citing nuggets from Oxford University Press' Feminism: A Very Short Introduction by Margaret Walters, a book I downloaded on my iPhone when I decided to contribute my narcissism to this conversation. The crowd in my head is infuriated that I haven't stepped down from the podium yet. Why am I still talking? My voice is a played out noise that needs to learn to die gracefully. In the fantasy, I end up likening myself to Aphra Behn, a playwright whose choice of subject matter was scandalous only, she argued, because she was a woman. What a great point, right? In reality, no, not really. A 17th century woman's stakes had to have been higher than mine, and that's something I have to live with. But there are still stakes. I might be scarlet lettered if it's deemed that I handled this topic inappropriately from the seat of power that is my White Boy body.
I live in a bubble in gentrified Brooklyn. I can go weeks at a time without ever seeing a Trump supporter in person. I see more people around me trying to fix problems than I see problems firsthand. This could be its very own problem, sure. Maybe I'm not using my privilege right. Maybe I should start embedding myself in different parts of town, but that's for another piece.
Catcalling aside, most of the backwardness and horrors of the world at large are background noise, feedback I hear best when amplified by progressives I associate with who use it, more often than not, for political posturing. I ruminate on these things as I soak in a tub, surrounded by all my girlfriend's bath supplies that I use and love, reading The End of Men by Hanna Rosin, who posits things like: less and less people want sons, American women have brighter futures than men by and large, the wage gap may just be a vestigial piece of a dying system. I feel like a naughty boy reading smut. By my community's standards, suggesting the Patriarchy doesn't exist anymore is obscene. Still, the artist in me enjoys imagining a world where I don't always have the upper hand. The artist in me wants a struggle.
On Mother's Day, Nayomi Reghay let me be the Token Dude at her show Mouthy: a mic for broads and others with big opinions at Legion Bar in Brooklyn, a mic geared for women, queer and trans performers. Part of me wanted to see an audience looking at me like I was an agent gathering intel for a sleeper cell of Asher Roth clones conspiring to bring back a golden age of Bro Comedy, but it was a small crowd owing to the holiday, and those present were supportive as I showed them a self portrait of buff, post-Apocalypse me and described how heroic I'd be after the collapse of civilization. I was welcomed there, and it got me wondering, as I often do, where, as a white male artist, I can go to be judged unfairly. Where can I get my struggle narrative? I could emulate heroes Sacha Baron Cohen & Johnny Knoxville, disguise myself and tease reactions out of people, or I could give myself over to the impassioned Left and nail my balls to things. Or maybe it's just time I forget about finding friction, accept my station in life and start making superhero parodies.
I would proudly rage against the Patriarchy if circumstances were different, but as a man in his bubble, it would sound like I was pandering to peers who are part of an exciting movement. It would sound like I was begging for inclusion when I know there's no pressing reason I should be endorsed by the Party and I don't deserve any of the currentday perks associated with it.
"Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It's okay for women to do it too," writes Roxane Gay in her book Bad Feminist. This makes sense to me, and I have to concede that if I were a woman feminist, I wouldn't strike me as a good candidate to work with. I have a douchey look, and I have acquaintances who identify as bros. So, alas, I'll be a GDI who admits to adopting the label for this article in a meta act of shameless self promotion, satirizing the use of the movement as a personal marketing tool by using it as a platform myself. I won't dump the designation now that I've used it either, even though the word feminist leaves a gnarly taste in my mouth on account of a lifetime of patriarchal conditioning on one hand and extremists who would like to classify me as a rape machine hardwired to enslave half the population on the other.
So I'm the new entitled male feminist on the block, flying solo, trying to distance myself from stiffs who treat the word like Excalibur. I flaunt it because I can, but let's face it- the epithet needs a new breed of asshole, one that doesn't speak like a Model UN delegate. While Feminist communities shouldn't have to be accessible for privileged dudes, the Feminist cause should be. And that's a conversation everyone else can hash out, as I keep busy realizing my self-indulgent vision, adding touches of gray to an Internet that is, all too often, black and white, a polarizing playground for Opinion freaks who flesh out their basic identities in comments sections.
Let me assure the scared voice inside my head and the good-hearted progress fiends reading this that I will continue to grow as a human, I'll continue to read widely and indiscriminately, above and beyond Facebook rhetoric, and I'll work with creatives who have backgrounds and body parts that differ from my own. Let me assure the Artist in me that I'll never be the guy at the open mic plugging his virtue. I won't be the white man who is so haunted by the ways he has contributed or been complicit to Dick Culture & Whitewashing that he goes noble and pretends that working toward mastering his craft is anything but a selfish enterprise.
For more white male privilege and self-loving/deprecating comedy check out my YouTube channel.