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When we call bad guys good

Recently, the National Women’s Political Caucus announced that the organization would present a “Good Guy Award” to the infamous faux feminist Charles Clymer, who used to run the “fastest-growing feminist page on Facebook,” Equality for Women. The NWPC’s press release reads, “We salute men who stand up for women’s rights, especially men like Charles who are so vocal about feminism…. We are excited to celebrate him as a Good Guy at the EMMAs in October.’”

The existence of the Good Guy Award is of a piece with the relentless impulse to center men in all things, including feminism. Last month the White House unveiled the It’s On Us campaign to carve out space for men to fight rape. (Were men lacking space before?) Around the same time, Emma Watson in her #HeForShe speech formally extended an offer to invite men into the gender inequity fight because it hurts them too. (In decades of activism, had we just forgotten to ask them to join us?) Just last week, Iceland announced a “men only” conference on women. (Because what the world really needs is one more space where women are excluded from decisions made about, on behalf of, and impacting us.) Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous summed up my feelings: “Telling men that they should care about gender inequality because of how much it hurts them, centralizes men and their well-being in a movement built by women for our survival in a world that degrades and dehumanizes us daily.” 

Charles Clymer is most decidedly not a Good Guy. The evidence isn’t hard to find. Multiple female moderators of the now-defunct Equality for Women page reported that Clymer regularly lashed out at them, violently. One woman, who asked that male moderators of 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,’” received this response from Clymer: “Here’s a good question: what the fuck have you done for women’s rights, lately, other than troll the page I created? …Please accept my invitation of hide-and-go-fuck-yourself.”

Fed up, victims of Clymer’s abuse and their allies took to Twitter in the #StopClymer hashtag several months ago. Others circulated a petition, asking The Huffington Post to drop him as a freelance blogger.

If the NWPC read enough about Clymer to decide to give him the Good Guy Award in the first place, they also inevitably must have read enough to know that they shouldn’t.

What I find most upsetting is that the NWPC should know better. Theirs is an organization devoted to boosting women’s participation in politics, which means they must understand, on some level, sexism and misogyny. They’re feminists, part of the fam, so to speak. And yet still they decided to support and reward this man—a slap in the face not only to his victims but to all of us who have been in the trenches fighting alongside them.

Of course, this isn’t the first time (or the last) that abusers have been embraced in feminist communities. On my friend’s campus, the local student anti-rape group continues to allow an abuser to remain an active member, thereby preventing the abuser’s victims from participating in what should be a space for them. At a nearby college, a perpetrator received school funding to create an exhibit on campus anti-rape activism, despite the fact that the college’s women’s center (and Title IX coordinator) had received reports that this individual had assaulted multiple younger students. These perpetrators’ positions as very visible activists and feminists—the campus hero, the Good Guy—have not only allowed them to avoid suspicion and seek out new victims but also have made it that much harder for their victims to come forward at all.

Why do we allow abusers to remain in our activist spaces? Why is it that we give them awards, funding dollars, and platforms from which to access more victims? Why don’t we seek to hold them accountable like we would anyone else (recognizing that accountability can look like expelling a perpetrator from a community altogether, or engaging with them in transformative work, or something else entirely)? We’re the organizers on the ground fighting violence—in every community but our own. Why is it that the politics we practice in our work don’t seem to make it into our personal lives?

Sometimes it’s a question of protecting survivors, fearful of their powerful abusers, who don’t want to come forward or be outed as such. Other times it’s a matter of protecting ourselves, recognizing that it’s not always safe to come forward, that it can be more dangerous for some of us to speak out than others.

But more often I wonder if there’s something else at work—an exhaustion, perhaps, that keeps us silent and complicit (are there only so many battles we can fight?). Or a nagging fear of acknowledging that our communities—our support spaces, our organizing groups, our people—could be infected with the same misogyny we spend our days fighting everywhere else. A fear that patriarchy exists in the bodies of those we know and love, in the allies, the activists, the Good Guys. A recognition, painful perhaps, that survivors and perpetrators don’t split neatly along a binary, the one all angelic and good, the other evil and bad. That violence is much closer to home, that it has the face of a friend, the name of a fellow fighter.

Alexandra once wrote that, to end violence, we “have to disrupt the whole body, and though all men can help, most won’t want to.” Change won’t be palatable and easy. It’ll take persistent effort to stop fetishizing the concerns of men in feminism, to stop congratulating them for meeting a bar we’ve set so low. It will be painful to acknowledge the proximity of violence, the presence of patriarchy in the bones of our brothers and in the faces of our friends. And it will hurt to recognize our own complicity, our endless excuses for the Good Guys, as such.

To end the violence will require nothing short of revolution. That revolution starts with us.

IMG_4962Dana Bolger is a founding co-director of Know Your IX and guest contributor to Feministing. She tweets at @danabolger.

New Haven, CT

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and the co-founder of Know Your IX, the national youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She's testified before Congress on Title IX policy and legislative reform, and her writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. She's also a student at Yale Law School, and you can find her on Twitter at @danabolger.

Dana Bolger is a Senior Editor at Feministing and a student at Yale Law School.

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