Occasionally nonfeminists or antifeminists will compliment me by saying “you’re one of the few reasonable feminists!” Recently, that has started rubbing me massively the wrong way.
I feel like a lot of people feel strange about me objecting to being called one of the few reasonable feminists. After all, isn’t it a compliment? They’re saying that I’m charitable to my opponents, or not a bully, or otherwise lacking the negative traits commonly associated with feminism.
And to be fair I had a hard time for a long time putting into words why exactly I objected to it. I mean, it is true that many people who give me such compliments are not doing so due to any civility or charity on my part, but instead because I know the correct ingroup shibboleths. And it is true that a lot of them are uninformed about feminism and if they read more Julia Serano would discover I am not special. And it’s true that lots of the people who give me such compliments have an Imaginary Ozy Inside Their Head that is totally unrelated to any actually existing Ozys and are horrified to discover that I think we should burn gender to the ground and dance on the ashes.
But I don’t think any of those are enough to explain the strength of my repulsion.
But then I realized that, while “you’re one of the few reasonable feminists!” is pretending to be a compliment, it’s actually an insult.
I am a feminist. This is part of my identity. I think the feminist movement is, on balance, good for the world; that sexism exists and causes people a lot of pain and that we should try to be less sexist.
“One of the good feminists” implies that most members of my identity label are bad. That most feminists are unusually uncharitable, bullying, oppressive, or cruel, and that whatever trait they want to compliment me for is a remarkable exception. I disagree strongly with this opinion! The flaws that feminism has are no different or worse from the flaws any other large group of people has, from Catholicism to football fandom. The failure modes feminists fall into aren’t feminist failure modes, they’re people failure modes.
I mean, maybe the people calling me “one of the good feminists” agree on this point, but then I have to wonder why they’re calling me “one of the good feminists” rather than “one of the good humans”, since humans are the relevant reference class. That is, at best, a very confusing way to phrase it.
And, like, we can talk about whether the feminist movement is exceptionally bad. I am open to discussing whether feminists are evil (…probably not with random antifeminists, but at least with Samo Burja). But… if you are intending to compliment me, I assume your goal is to make me feel nice, not to initiate an emotionally laden and upsetting yet important conversation. The compliment puts me in an awkward position where if I say “thank you” I am implying that I believe bad things about a group I am
proud no more than ordinarily ashamed to be part of. And that’s a pretty rude thing to do to someone you’re trying to make happy.