Recently I’ve been enjoying me some Clementinian feminism, but a quick google and YouTube search made me realize… some people don’t like Clementine Ford? They think she’s like, a man hater, and “hard line” controversial feminist, and I was just like… really? Everything she says makes so much sense to me.
It actually reminds me of the first time I read Andrea Dworkin, and in that case, Dworkin’s reputation preceded her, so I was expecting some really controversial shit when I got into her. And I forget what the book of Dworkin’s I read first — it could have been Woman Hating — but, it completely blew my mind when I read it; it was life changing. I was just like… this woman is brilliant! Why does everyone hate her so much?
And I looked into it more, and you know, I don’t agree with everything of Dworkin because like — how could you ever agree completely with another person — but some of it I really agreed with, and even some of the controversial stuff she said I really agreed with. Dworkin is often quoted as saying “all sex is rape,” which she never said, but what she did point to and really resonated with me (and I couldn’t find the exact quote on this) was this question if men have power over women in a patriarchy, in what sense can true consent to a sexual act ever be given? It’s an important question, and not one I had the answer to.
What I saw when reading Dworkin, was that the men I was having sex with at the time wanted to destroy me from the inside. They didn’t want me to have my own mind — if I didn’t want to have sex with them, they wanted to obliterate the part of me that objected. Twice in my life, men chose to express this desire to obliterate my agency, the very thing that makes me human, by putting things in my vagina without my consent. My therapist called it rape. Now I call it rape too.
Dworkin showed me that what we societally idealize as “love” is actually often closer to the “annihilation” or “destruction” of a sentient being. One of the men who raped me then went on to stalk me for 15 years, because he wanted to destroy the part of me that didn’t want to be with him, the part that hated him with every fiber of my being, that hated him more than I knew I was capable of hating before I knew him. This man always used to tell me how much he loved me, and some people took pity on him, and said maybe I should take pity on him too. What Dworkin helped me see, what he wanted from me was the opposite of love, he wanted to kill parts of me so I could be like a toy he could indulge in for his own pleasure.
You must never indulge anyone who wants to destroy you; that is suicide.
So now, we come to the present day and I find that Clementine Ford has actually given me something very deep as well — something around partnership.
I’m 37, soon to be 38, and I am single and childfree. I’m also very happy, but part of me feels a certain shame that I’m not married, and that I never had kids. And, every now and then, I have a little sad and wonder, what was it about me that was so much worse than all the other women? Why did I never find love when everyone else did?
And, most especially the question that has secretly haunted me is, why do relationships make me less happy, when they seem to make everyone else more happy?
What Clementine Ford answered for me, was that on average, relationships actually do not make women more happy; single, childfree women are generally happier than their married with children counterparts; in fact, single childfree women are one of the happiest demographics. I wasn’t broken or insane for finding myself less happy every time I got in a relationship, this is actually completely normal in our society. A decrease in life quality is just what it means for the majority of women when they enter partnership, especially with men (although, not only with men, because lesbians divorce hella too.)
Now, I don’t know what to do with this information; part of me would still like to date and find a partner. But, it completely changed my understanding of the problem.
I have been to years — years — of therapy to help me become “better” so I can date and have a happy relationship. I have been trying to fix what is wrong with me, but what I think now, is there is something wrong with society. If by societal convention every first date involved getting slapped in the face, no amount of therapy would ever convince me that I liked getting slapped in the face; I would need to find a way to renegotiate the “first date slap” in order to not be miserable. Similarly, if the structure of conventional relationships is causing me emotional pain, no amount of therapy is ever going to convince me to enjoy experiencing that emotional pain. And, Ford helped me see, this is what relationships are often doing for women. If someone wants to be all “not me, I’m happy in MY relationship” well good for them, but I was very much not happy in most of mine.
So now that leaves me with sort of two choices:
- Keep being happy single
- Enter a relationship that is drastically different from the kind society prescribes
If I was going to take relationship inspo from anywhere, actually, it would probably be gay men. Gay men have the most stable marriages of any other partnering, and happier relationships than their heterosexual counterparts. I’m not sure exactly what they’re doing, or why especially their relationships are more stable than lesbian ones, but I would guess it’s that neither man has been socialized to consider his own needs as secondary. To me, the fact that lesbians get divorced so much more indicates that some of what is making relationships hard for women is expectations socialized in women, not just the presence of a man (though, let’s get real, often his presence is not helpful.)
To explore that more fully would be a topic for another day; but the question I want to return to is why do so many people hate the feminists I love? Ford, in particular, has gotten called out for a few quotes like “all men must die” or something. Honestly, in my communities, I feel like I even know men who say things like that, and it reads to me as when one person says to another “if you sing that song one more time, I’m going to fucking kill you.” Like, we all kind of know it’s not serious?
But, ok ok, it’s generally bad to say people should die¹ (and, anyway, I’m convinced patriarchy actually benefits from killing men so in my world view killing men is ideologically in opposition to feminism anyway) but like… I don’t really believe the people who are kicking up a fuss about a few of her one off statements are doing so in good faith. Like, I don’t think that there were a ton of Clementine Ford stans who suddenly turned on her when she said men should die; I think a bunch of people really didn’t like her first, and were looking for opportunities to kick up a stink. Which, brings us right back to my initial question: why do people not like the feminists I like?
And, the thing that I can see that really unites Ford and Dworkin is that they reject the idea that partnering with men is good for women.
This, IMO, is the cardinal “sin” for them both; they saw that men are bad for women, and they said so, out loud, so that many other women could hear them and think about that. It’s certainly been true in my life; men have raped me, stalked me, hit me in the face, publicly humiliated me, harassed me, sent me sexist literature at work, propositioned me sexually at work (repeatedly), and more — to the point that I have had to have treatment for PTSD to be around men, and I needed to take a 1 year break from my male dominated profession because of PTSD related symptoms.
And, while no feminist has ever said to me “your life would have been better if men had never done all these things to you,” you know what? MY LIFE WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER IF MEN HAD NEVER DONE ALL THESE THINGS TO ME. I have some close male friends (often gay, lol, but sometimes straight) so like, sure, “not all men” but the average man I come into contact with makes my life worse. This is a simple truth, and one that might upset a lot of people, but it’s my fucking life and I call it like I see it.
If you are a man and I meet you, statistically in my experience, my interactions with you will reduce the quality of my life. To be fair, I’d say it’s not like, a 90% thing; I’d say about 60% or so of men I meet make my life worse, 40% make it better, 5% of men make it MUCH worse (like, add trauma) and 5% of men are completely delightful.
But, this is the secret we hide from women. As Clementine Ford says, women are encouraged to “give men a chance” — but why? For a woman (maybe for everyone?) engaging with men is a statistically losing proposition; if you give a male stranger a chance, statistically speaking, he will make your life worse. IMO, engage with men as little as possible until you have evidence they’re in the 40% that will improve your life. But the thing is, even this idea that women should care about the quality of their own lives as much as they care about quality of men’s lives is controversial.
And, this is the deepest feminist nugget, which holds truth not only for women, but for everyone; you should never accept that your wellbeing is less important than the wellbeing of anyone else (and yes, this applies to your kids too — keep their wellbeing as equal to yours, not above yours.) Don’t let anyone trick you or confuse you out of this truth; as soon as you accept someone else has more of a right to happiness than you, you become internally oppressed. (If you believe your happiness is more important than someone else’s, then you become the oppressor.)
Equality is, and always has been, the name of the game when it comes to feminism; ask for nothing more, accept nothing less.
¹One of my readers called me out for excusing this… and, upon reflection, I think I was a bit flippant. I actually strongly disagree with feminist “memes” that dismiss either male life or male emotions as having lower value than female life/emotions — partly because it’s just shitty, but partly because I actually believe it reinforces patriarchy. So, things like “men must die” or “bathing in male tears” and similar I see as not only mean spirited but counter-productive to gender equality as a whole.
That said, I also don’t believe in penalizing anyone indefinitely for saying one thing, especially if they apologize. Something I hadn’t mentioned in the piece, is Ford has since apologized for the “men should die” statements, which is something I knew about her, but that I didn’t bring up explicitly. I still believe the hatred she receives (which, is extreme by the way, if you listen to her tell it her videos) isn’t really about those few statements, but rather around her larger message as a whole.