The third-wave, post-modernist conundrum of personal, individual choice (which is a right everyone, including women, should be allowed) versus presenting a unified front to the world of Patriarchal ideology is the cause of much debate and study.
Women deserve equality. That seems like a simple enough cause. Yet as more and more people join the feminism train (which is fantastic), throwing their support and their individuality behind this common theme, a hierarchy of problems emerges, and it goes so much deeper than "I'm a woman who enjoys demeaning beer ads, and as a woman I have the right to enjoy them."
Even as horrid Facebook memes scatter and spread throughout the internet, even as the hashtag #violenceagainstwomeniswrong gets more "But what about the menz?" comments than support, even though, as these examples show, the feminist cause is clearly not mainstream despite the year being 2013, the infighting between feminist groups and groupies takes center stage. And it's happening on all levels. Academically, Angela McRobbie fights Merri Lisa Johnson. In more accessible publications, Abigail Rind wonders if we should just give up the label of feminism altogether, while Jill Filipovic laments the lack of a "variety of feminism".
Clearly, we need to get our act together. Enter Charles Clymer.
Charles runs a rather successful feminist page on Facebook called Equality for Women. He's also a fairly prominent blogger in the area of feminist issues.
He's also a man.
Is this a problem? His supporters say no, and point the finger at the dissenters, calling them hindrances to the movement, saying equality, and thus feminism, applies to all people. And don't women need men on their side, male advocates, if you will? Isn't the point of feminism that men and women are equal, which would move away from the us-versus-them mentality?
Feminist writer and television producer Rain Stickland points out the importance of the male feminist voice, saying, "Realizing that a man could be a feminist has helped with my activism and my writing, and it has made me become a better feminist myself, helping to define what the word means to me."
Clymer explains his goal: "With Equality for Women, I want to provide a safe space for persons of all genders (who believe in women's rights) to encourage each other in their activism and get news and commentary on issues of inequality facing women."
Follower Sheila Holmes says he's doing a good job in that goal. "I have seen so many posts that lifted me up and helped me feel less alone in this world. The postings and conversations on the page often validate my feelings and discomfort at situations and give public voice to what I've been told so many times are insecurities--but they're not."
But when a man becomes a feminism advocate, and then a feminist leader, the lines become blurry. And the mission statement is quite narrow, though that doesn't seem to be the case at first glance.
The page, which once boasted a team of several moderators, including Tasmyn Elizabeth, Zoe Katherine, Angela Boyle, Evee Vann and Jamie Maguill, now only has Charles as administrator. The self-proclaimed (and rightly so, it is his page, after all, though, of course, there was no vote) president wants his page to be a holiday of agreement and back pats, feminists, survivors, advocates and women all coming together to work toward female equality.
Sounds amazing, but in any group of people you are bound to come up against debate, questions, and commentary that you do not agree with. This is the part where individuals have the right to maintain their individuality and participate in a group effort (and this is where EFW mirrors the major problems in feminist culture today almost perfectly). And Clymer doesn't much like that.
"There are several much more prominent Facebook pages out there right now," Clymer says. "You go on the threads, and it's a complete pie fight. There are men who do nothing but troll these posts. And I don't want that on my page; I want it to be clean. I want people to be able to engage on my page intelligently."
To Clymer, deleting and banning people makes his page the idyllic world he is looking for, and helps it to provide the service he deems to offer. And it's his page; he can do what he wants with it.
"I feel like people seeing those (now deleted) comments get the wrong message," Clymer says. "And I want the page to be a safe space."
Unfortunately, many comments on Equality for Women that have been deleted are by women, and many of the people who have been banned are women. And this angered the women, as you can imagine, because now you have a man running a feminist page essentially silencing women he doesn't agree with. And the disenchantment begins. The litany of crimes against him from those who have been banned is long.
"He has zero interest in letting women be heard about issues that affect them," says Bree Casson, a former EFW follower. "He is only interested in the opinions of Charles Clymer and people who agree with them."
"It's a supposedly safe environment where discussion was supposed to be encouraged, yet any comment that did not support the party line was deleted," adds former member Angelique D'Arcy.
Kallie Whitby gives an informational account of her time on the page, stating, "I followed EFW and had comments deleted where I asked respectful and legitimate questions or voiced disagreement, and ultimately was banned when I challenged their deletion."
Charles says the remarks were out of line. "It wasn't that they disagreed with me, it's that their disagreements were aggressively anti-women, or that their disagreements were abusive. If you come at me like, 'I think it's wrong a man is leading a women's group, I'm going to ban you. I think it's an abusive remark."
After our interview, I convinced Charles to start a no-banning, no-deletion policy toward remarks that were made in a respectful manner. To his credit, he tried, making a post about it on the page and everything. It lasted for, well, a few minutes, really.
Kelly Solberg commented with a "yeah! It's about time!" and was immediately banned. Sandi Yu questioned the banning, as did various others, and many of those women were also banned. The entire post was deleted, but here is a snippet from it when it existed:
EFW: "Sandi, she was a member of a hate group that has worked tirelessly to hurt me. I couldn't ban her until she made a comment on here, but now she did, and I banned her."
Tyra Michelle Brown: "Banning someone for comments on another page is kind of ridiculous. She hasn't made any comments that are ban-worthy on this page, so banning her seems like spite more than anything."
Within that same discussion, Clymer says, "My point is if you're going to have an argument you'll need to have logic behind it. I do too much research and work and advocacy to have someone who glazed over Feminism 101 in college trump my argument with nothing more than 'well, you're not a woman, so you don't know."
And that's an excellent point because the "you're not a woman" argument shouldn't trump research and knowledge. However, the "tone argument" implies that most women of dissenting opinion took one course in feminism and therefore are illegitimate allies. Also, not necessarily a problem within itself, as debates can get heated, and people say things in that heat. We don't want to miss the point he made.
Where it all goes off the rails, though, is that this post and comment thread was completely deleted, ending all possible discourse. Clymer has the power to stop the discussion and he uses it. Several members of that discussion were banned. He has the power to get them off his page, and he uses it.
In Clymer's defense, it seems personal to him because it is.
There really was a group entitled "People Banned by Charles Clymer" on Facebook, and it really did take action against him.
"They sent messages to several of my feminist contacts that I had," he says, "and I had to spend a lot of time gaining back that trust."
This, again, mirrors feminism, the movement. People climb up only to be shot down, either because of mistakes they've made or because of their stations in life, or anything really. But at some point we all have to "man" (see what I did there?) up and accept responsibility for what is our fault and fight against what is not.
A while back, Clymer shut his page down and removed all the mods after intense infighting and confusion that is too muddy to go into here. That drama plays into why Clymer states he will never have a mod team again.
"This is my baby," he says. "I'm going to do it now. People can contribute things, and I'll post with credit, but I'm not going to open the page back up."
As someone who feels he is being relentlessly attacked, this makes sense. To those looking on, however, it looks like he's taking the feminist cause and making it his own.
Former moderator Zoe Katherine says of her time there, "I disagreed on him preaching feminism to women. He's completely unaware of his privilege. You can't tell us not to reclaim words, and you can't tell us to be thankful for our periods. If we disagreed publicly, he'd threaten to remove us as mods; if we did it privately we were guilt-tripped, or simply ignored."
Stephanie Kay related to me a story in which she posted a request that any male moderators on the page "remain aware of the fact that authority over women is a male privilege, and that male allies should be very careful about not turning themselves into the 'voice of feminism'." She says she made a point to explain how male authority in a female space can hurt women. Such as, "we are culturally conditioned to be more accepting of male leaders, we're less likely to voice disagreements in a male-dominated atmosphere, men's voices are considered more valid than ours even on issues directly affecting women." She continued, stating that "privileged allies of other oppressed groups will very often rush to take charge of equality movements, and by doing so, they effectively appropriate the voices of those who are actually being oppressed."
Are these legitimate concerns? Yes. And Clymer has addressed them before. The problem is he is no longer addressing them. What could have been an enlightening debate on privilege and male voices in a feminist world was shut down. And this time not just with deletion or banning.
Both Clymer and Kay forwarded me the entire Facebook exchange between themselves and the moderators from back in March when she voiced her concerns. Several of the women moderators at the time explained that they were just too busy to post, and that Equality for Women was run fairly. Since that time, many of the moderators have retracted their support.
Kay apologized for voicing her opinion in a way both Clymer and his mod team found offensive at the time.
"Basically, she was saying I'm sorry you took offense to what I said," says Clymer. "It was a false apology, and it really angered me because not only was she disrespecting me, she was now disrespecting the moderators."
He later wanted to extend an apology for what you're about to read: "Though I still stand completely by what I said to Stephanie Kay, the way I said it was completely abrasive and inappropriate, and if I had to do it again I'd change the tone. Although I completely believe in the concept and far-reaching harm of male privilege, I feel she only used it to attack myself and the women moderators, which is why I mocked her approach on that. However, that still did not give me the right to berate her. Maturity demands maturity. I'd like to extend my deepest regret and apologies to Stephanie for how I worded my response."
Here was his response at the time:
"Stephanie, I'm going to let you in on a little secret that, apparently, no one has had the guts to tell you up to this point in your life: having a vagina does not grant you magical powers of perception and nuance anymore than my penis magically blinds me from the horrors of the world.
You have to earn respect for your opinion. I'm not going to hand it to you because you're a woman talking women's rights. Nuh-uh. It doesn't work that way. Because if it did work that way, I would have to hand over the reins of this group to any Phyllis Schlafly who comes in and claims to know more than I do about feminism or claims to have more passion.
And yes, I am the leader of this page. These are my moderators, who I have selected for the page that I created and into which I have poured money for advertising, and make no mistake: I do hold executive privilege (your favorite word, apparently), and I do have the final say on decisions. However, I trust my mods, and instead of being a dictator, we work as a team of equals. They let me know when something's off, and I listen to them and heed their advice.
I run this page, a feminist blog, write a column for another feminist blog (under a woman editor-in-chief who respects my writing and invited me to contribute articles), and on top of all that, I volunteer 30-40 hours a week at a feminist lobbying firm.
Here's a good question: what the fuck have you done for women's rights, lately, other than troll the page I created?
"I absolutely love your page..."
That's how your comment began that started all this, and you know what? You should have just stopped typing right then. As long as we're doing our jobs (and, apparently, we are because this page keeps skyrocketing in growth), you need to mind your own fucking business.
You want to talk about privilege? Fine, we'll talk about privilege. What about your idiot privilege? It would seem you're so used to people not calling you out for being an absolute fucking moron that you've become blind to how your asshat actions affect others.
So no, after us reaching out to you, you decided to insult me, and, more importantly, my moderators with your bullshit, half-hearted, tongue-in-cheek apology.
Supposedly, you're an outstanding feminist but have no problem telling my women moderators how they're supposed to think and feel.
Please accept my invitation of hide-and-go-fuck-yourself.
And one more thing: If I ever see your name on my page again, I will report you for harassment and block you.
Feel free to relay this message to the 1% of women feminists out there who foam at the mouth and put their bullshit on everyone else who disagrees with them.
These messages, of course, were responded to as an individual responding to a critic who questioned his belief in the cause. And Clymer gets a lot of those messages. He has everything from those carrying a very personal grudge to generalized men's rights activists on his back all the time. People simply have a hard time accepting men as women's rights advocates.
During our interview, Charles said, "To say that men can't be feminist leaders is eliminating half our potential talent in this movement but also losing an opportunity to attract more men into the fight for women's rights. Sadly, many men need to see other men in feminism to feel comfortable. But more than that, I think I do a pretty good job of standing with women, not in front of them. I am eager to hand them the microphone."
Perhaps best known for his "I need feminism because..." photo series, Charles also uses his male privilege to highlight the pervasive nature of rape culture in a way a woman really couldn't get across. When one flips a movement on its head, one can often reach ears that would have otherwise have been deaf to the cause.
His critics say he is taking the feminist movement and making it about him. And some are more adamant about it than others.
Raeven Zayas says, "He's using the oppression of women to gratify his ego."
Angelique D'Arcy adds that, "He is the head of a feminist movement, and he is manipulating the situation and the audience and the delivery of information in a Patriarchal way and actively silencing the very women he's supposedly trying to give voice to."
Clymer sees it differently. He says he's not trying to silence anyone, merely keep his page unified. As for making the feminism cause all about himself?
"They're partially right. I'm in it somewhat for my ego and personal gain. I'm looking at this as a career. I would love to become a leader in it. Part of it is ambition, and I do want to make a name for myself, but 80 percent of it is for the cause. I think there is a difference between people who exploit a cause for their own gain and people who want to be influential."
And that's where feminism as a general movement stands as well, along with any progressive movement. The leaders are looked upon with scrutiny, some justified, some not. Feminism is a personal business as much as it is a movement, and that means the attacks we all feel on our opinions and viewpoints hurt more, influence our own behavior, and change our course.
In the end, it's up to you to decide. Charles Clymer, feminist hero, villain, or just some guy on the internet? But when you do decide, think on the macro level. What do these in-fights say about feminism as a whole, and how does your decision on this microcosm play into your feelings about the movement on the whole?