Monday, May 13, 2013

My Hero - On "White Knighting" and Shame

I need to say something about the obnoxious and immature insistence some folks have that men who are feminist allies, discuss the toxicity of misogyny in geek/nerd spaces, or have the sheer temerity to remind other men that it is totally within their own control to not be sexist asshats, are being “white knights”: Knock that shit off, it’s embarrassing.

It’s not that “white knights” don’t exist. It’s not that there aren’t some dudes who fancy themselves heroes, striding in to rescue the ladeez from every instance of shittiness like we can’t do that ourselves. Like we haven't been doing that since the dawn of time. Yeah, that's annoying and especially if you're in feminist spaces that kind of thing is generally considering patronizing and deeply sexist in that crappy backhanded way that’s not helpful. We got it, is what I'm saying.

Also, some of these are actually “Nice Guys” masquerading as "white knights", who think being not a creep = automatically getting laid or a cookie or something.  They, like some individual feminists who go too far and “hate” men, exist. However, like the hairy-legged feminazi of myth and legend, the term is flung around regardless of accuracy or relevance, and at any dude who dares defy ingrained and institutionalized sexism publically by pointing out it’s, you know, wrong. The implication is that they’re insincere, being “whipped” in some way, or that silence is somehow MORE supportive because women should just fight this fight on our own.

To me, this argument is exactly like people who claim straight folks shouldn’t speak up about LGBTQ issues, or white people should never unpack racism. You can be part of a privileged group, aware of that privilege, and speak up about its grossness without further marginalizing those who are being directly oppressed. In fact, it’s essential that those with privilege do so because it’s a lot more likely that other people with privilege will listen to them and maybe even change their views. If only those directly impacted by oppression say something it remains “other” and not a real problem the status quo needs to address.

The other thing is, inequality should kind of upset you even if you aren’t part of the group being marginalized. Giving a shit about other people and issues that don’t directly effect you makes you a more decent, compassionate, and empathetic human being. I know some people don’t value those qualities, which is just sad, but if you do then it should make no sense to say silent when you can actively participate in making things better. And, I mean, it kind of feels awesome to be a part of making the world a better place, if you needed some incentive. It’s really warm and fuzzy, like good beer or a fluffy blanket.

Which brings us to the overuse of “white knight” again. While part of the initial concept was about some men assuming women can’t defend themselves without a dude stepping in to hero us away from harm, it’s becoming a kind of catch all for any time a dude says something as simple as “sexism is pretty messed up, let’s not do that, Other Dudes.” Wow! How terrible! I know I suddenly feel all victimized and silenced.

Going a step further, there’s also some sexism inherent in the knee-jerk use of “white knight” to insult men who stand up WITH women. The implication here is that these men are “weaker” than other men. “Real” men, “manly” men, don’t care about stupid things like treating women like fellow human beings. They don’t tell other men to knock that immature, playground bullying behavior off. They don’t admit to finding rape jokes aimed at victims and sexual harassment grotesque, inexcusable and want no part of it. The implication is that men should not stand against misogyny, but be complicit in it through passive silence or direct participation. Otherwise they will be shamed and turned on for having the audacity to break what I can only assume is some unwritten bro-code about never pointing out when another man is being a complete fuckwit.

According to these folks, the only reasons a man might give a shit about misogyny is because he wants to get laid or thinks women can’t handle it themselves. Not because, you know, it’s poisonous as hell and tends to make any community it festers in rank and odious and vile to deal with or be in. It’s not because many men actually find that stuff disturbing and upsetting and wrong. Because it is. And 9 times out of 10 (anecdotally, of course) it’s a dude calling another dude a “white knight”, not a woman. Generally speaking we appreciate it when men stand with us against this crap because we know not all men are gross and awful.  We know they don’t see us as not-really people. It’s usually these other dudes who are fighting tooth and nail against any suggestion that men are capable of more and better. That’s just how they are, man. Misogyny is like, part of every man’s basic makeup. They can’t help it. It’s biology or DNA or something else science-y sounding and not at all complete bullshit.

But, you know, please tell me again how it’s feminists who think men are so terrible.

The truth is that a lot of men are just really tired of other men making their communities cesspits of hate. They don’t appreciate their pastimes, hobbies, fandoms, geekdoms, or work environments being dominated by people who make everyone look stupid and infantile and gross. They’d like you to stop it and are saying so. They’re doing it as much for women as they are for themselves.

That’s not white knighting, that’s being a decent human being. If you can’t see that, it’s you who needs to do some serious thinking and reevaluating of what exactly it is you’d like your life to be about. I don’t think anyone, on their death bed, ever says “Man, I am SO proud of what a horrible, obnoxious, hate-y, jackass I was for the very limited amount of time I had on Earth. Worth it!” Except for maybe Nazis*. And no one wants to be like those guys, right?

The point is that life is limited, it’s finite, it’s not forever. You can choose how you want to participate in it and what you want your life to be about when you do. Those guys you’re so busy calling “white knights” and putting down? They’re having a much better time than you, I can pretty much guarantee it. Not being a hate monger has that side-effect.

*That’s right, I Godwin’d the shit out of this argument. Sue me.


  1. Hello!

    I got turned onto your blog by my cubicle buddy Mary Ellen, who I work with at the WCBA.

    This post is great and reminds me of the Feminist Legal Theory class I took during law school. I try to fall under the 'decent human being' umbrella, but I just wanted to throw out a small piece of devil's advocacy:

    Those hate mongers you say that are having a worse time than the 'white knights'? I'm pretty sure they're having a good time too - they don't have a big enough perspective about life to even notice that they're as messed up as they are. They enjoy being themselves, in some cases, I would bet, even more than the conscientious 'decent human beings', because at least the decent folks are bothered by the ills of the world around them.



  2. "The truth is that a lot of men are just really tired of other men making their communities cesspits of hate. They don’t appreciate their pastimes, hobbies, fandoms, geekdoms, or work environments being dominated by people who make everyone look stupid and infantile and gross. They’d like you to stop it and are saying so. They’re doing it as much for women as they are for themselves."

    I think this pretty much sums up my feelings when it comes to this subject. I'm a fan of females, and what they bring to my society/culture/life/experience, and while I can't really classify myself as a feminist, I'd certainly choose that label over being called macho or 'manly' as so many male dominated segments of our culture classify themselves. One of my biggest heroes/influences growing up was Kurt Cobain, who was a staunch supporter of female and gay rights, and while he wasn't 'in-your-face' about it, like some feminists can be (out of need or otherwise), I feel like he set an example of what a man should stand for when it comes women's rights. Ultimately men and women are very different in a lot of ways, but its those differences, when mixed together, that can make us such important parts of the others human experience.

    Unfortunately, there does seem to be a segment of feminists who do see men as the enemy, which I guess is to be expected based on historical cultural norms and their desire to overcome them, but I think, as a whole, society has embraced and is embracing women's new role in formerly male dominated domains as being good for everybody...and the 'old boys club' mentality is slowly, but surely, losing its influence on subsequent generations...especially here in the west.

    As far as those 'fake' White Knights you know...the ones who only use it as as a means to 'get the girl', I think they're certainly out there, but I also think that there are also guys who simply see being courteous, and sensitive to females as good personal manner, and use it to attract the 'right' type of girl, rather than use it as a 'mask' to hide behind.

    Great post.