Why I Call Myself a Feminist

And why defending men doesn’t contradict that

Jenny Asencio
Feb 13 · 7 min read

For most of human history, there was only one way to reproduce, and that was if women carried the fetuses. This is a huge, sacred responsibility and it was made more imperative by the fact that often, most of those babies would not live to see adulthood, or even much of childhood. In a world like that, women really were weakened — by the tolls of pregnancy, and then by the responsibility of raising the next generation to do the same. Lots of children guaranteed survival, of both the family and the genetic code. Large families could hunt and gather more, and later work agricultural interests such as farming and herding. It wasn’t as though you could go to the local Manpower for laborers!

That all changed when we got a few innovations, namely urban living and medical technology. Urban living reduced the need for all this labor, and it became more practical to have only a couple of children. Medicine ensured people lived longer (and that women survived childbirth), so the need for “baby roulette” in the hopes at least one would live to pass on the family name was greatly reduced. Many of the traditional roles dictated by women’s biology were reduced or removed entirely by urbanization and the Industrial Revolution. Pregnancy and childbirth, rather than being debilitating conditions that could keep the average woman bedridden for years, became very safe and easily recovered from, comparatively speaking.

So women started doing other things, like entering the workforce and making their own mark on society. All of that past treatment became obsolete, right alongside the huge family needed to run the agricultural endeavors. But since most of human history saw the urgency of procreation balanced by a much lower mortality rate than we enjoy today, social norms evolved that were originally designed to accommodate women carrying children, and many of those social norms prevail today in what feminists refer to as “the Patriarchal Society.”

As you can see, I do believe the Patriarchal Society exists, and I outlined the reasons it evolved into human consciousness. However, I realize something that most people who use the word “feminist” do not: I realize that this was not a set of social norms set up in some smoky backroom deal like the DNC primaries, that it’s not like men got together and universally decided to deliberately oppress women. There seems to be a prevailing notion that the Patriarchal Society is some kind of conspiracy amongst men to marginalize women, and that women have always been powerless to fight back. Both of these assertions are false on their face.

Because reproduction is so important to humanity, and because pregnancy takes such a toll on women (it is physically strenuous even today, with all we know about vitamins and medicine and thousands of years of wisdom about giving birth to begin with), it was not only a major risk to the life of the mother, but also to those around her that now had to protect her and perhaps even stop travel to allow for the actual birth and recovery. Human pregnancy is inconvenient in the wild, and only through our intelligence and ingenuity did we manage to overcome a lot of the obstacles we did as early humans. So for thousands of years of human history, just being pregnant, much less giving birth, literally did weaken women, and temporarily entire groups of people, even while strengthening our species. If there is any conspirator here, it is nature, not humans. Patriarchy evolved organically from the needs of reproduction, not from deliberate oppression of women.

The same “patriarchy” that affects women also hurts men. While it seems oppressive to refer to women as “the fairer sex,” this has also brought rules of interaction between men and women that bestowed upon women a very strong social power, balanced with the political power men enjoyed. There are few things more fearsome than the right sort of mother or wife, or even the mean but popular schoolgirl who wields her social clout like a blunt object. Through social sanctioning and emotional manipulation, women throughout history have found their own power, their own ways to tear down men, even as men can tear down women with muscle and force. Men are increasingly powerless against damage to their reputations. Social mastery is a woman’s weapon against a man. We’ve seen this over and over in the media over the past couple of years. We’ve enabled it.

None of this is misogyny or hatred of women. It is merely an acknowledgement of the kind of people we can be. That is where I diverge from mainstream feminism. I believe it is sexist not to hold women accountable when we do terrible things, and I also recognize how powerful a woman’s social and emotional conditioning actually is. I believe it marginalizes women to ignore aggressions arising from this conditioning, or to blame them exclusively on men. I observe every day how this so-called “patriarchal” society affects men, and I cannot keep silent about any of the injustices I see, no matter who they are committed by, because I genuinely believe that feminism is about leveling the playing field and empowering people as people, rather than shoehorning them into sexist labels of “male” and “female.”

I’ve known too many sensitive, vulnerable men who were abused socially and emotionally by too many ruthless and aggressive women. The men can’t fight back in modern society because to do so would be construed as abuse, and the women know this. I have observed this personally, as well as seen it in the media and the rabid way “feminist allies” universally call for the ruination of someone’s life on even the vaguest hints of sexual misconduct. We are tasked to “Believe Women,” and my issue is not that women cannot be believed, but that we treat every case of any kind of male-female misconduct as we would any other case of misconduct. “Believe Women” should not be a demand to take what women say as gospel truth, but to believe us enough to investigate our allegations. However, it has been taken to such an extreme that a sensitive man of the wrong height, weight and musculature doesn’t even get heard, even if his accuser is the real abuser. Due process doesn’t exist in the court of public opinion, and I find that just as vile and sexist as “woman, go make me a sammich” memes.

As a feminist, I stand against sexism. But mainstream feminism is extremely sexist, and I see no room for reciprocation from feminism if feminists want to be taken seriously. What has evolved as feminism from the Second Wave down is a revenge fantasy where women get to drag men around figuratively by the balls, using a man’s very maleness as a Sword of Damocles. Insofar as there is a “gender war,” this is no way to win it. This is not my feminism. Their feminism merely takes Patriarchal rules and twists them against men. My feminism throws Patriarchal rules down the drain.

In my feminism, people are just people. Vulnerable men can be vulnerable without being sneered at, and aggressive women can be dominant without resorting to malicious social and emotional manipulation. Meanwhile, demure women can stay demure and aggressive men can continue to be aggressive without constantly being accused of being “toxic.” In fact, toxic behavior would be identified as toxic, and not gendered and attributed to only one sex. It’s not like there are no gossipy, emotionally abusive men or physically aggressive and violent women in the world to balance out their more stereotypical counterparts.

Today’s feminism, however, isn’t like that. It’s become an “f-word” that represents misandry and denies male agency in ways that bear a striking resemblance to patriarchal ideals that feminists protest. Sadly, female agency is also denied, and we’re told that we’re all victims of some smoky backroom deal between Uggh and Shluggh hundreds or thousands of years ago. As a result, I wind up spending a lot of time defending men from the ridiculous sexism of mainstream feminism, because unlike them, I am not sexist in my goals of gender equality.

Two wrongs never make a right. Sexism is not the cure to sexism. I can be a feminist, and still remind other feminists of this very basic fact. Standing up to sexism is the essence of feminism. It’s just that the sexism my feminism stands up to has been the misandry of mainstream feminism.

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Jenny Asencio

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Proud, card-carrying nerd, rational feminist, spiritual observer, one-woman riot, ally of free thinking and objectivity, Harvard student, power metal is life!