According to Greek myth, the King of the Titans, Cronus (Latin: Saturnus), heard a prophecy that one of his children would overthrow him. In response to this prophecy, Cronus, father to the gods Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon by Rhea, devoured his children as soon as they were born to prevent his loss of power. Zeus narrowly escaped this fate as Zeus’ mother fed Cronus a rock dressed in baby clothes which Cronus assumed was his. This myth is immortalized by Dutch painter Peter Paul Rubens in Saturn Devouring His Son (1636) and then almost two centuries later by Francisco Goya in one of his fourteen Black Paintings that he painted directly onto the walls of his house, Quinta del Sordo, also named Saturn Devouring His Son (c. 1819-1823). Through artistic representation, the myth of Cronus has come to be understood as a conflict between youth and old age in addition to those with power who fear losing it to the younger generations.
This story of Cronus is what came to mind this past week when I found myself set upon by dozens of so-called “radical feminists.” I am obliged to put this term in quotation marks to refer to these women since this brand of radical feminism seems to have been hijacked by individuals who are very much out of touch with what feminism is about (eg. women), much less anything related to the tenets of radical feminism. By all accounts from what I have witnessed this past week, what these women believe to be feminism is merely a vindictive table-turning of history, dare I say a buffet of those women who are in any way tainted by their proximity to the male body—especially those women who have not spawned Satan’s seed: the male child.
What kicked this shit storm off was when a post I made last week on my timeline regarding a feminist event this summer which I might have been interested in attending. As a mother to two small children, my participation in such events is entirely related to my ability to bring my children with me, especially when an event is not a local one-day affair. So as with all logistical communications, I wrote and asked if I could bring my children aged two and five. This is the exchange I posted on my Facebook wall:
I just received this as an email for a “feminist” event:
“It is a female-only space so we do not allow male children.”
My response: “You have just written the most fucked up email I have ever received in my life. Happy not to attend. Wow!!!”
From this post I received comments like, “Why is that fucked up?” where I was expected to explain to an adult female who considers herself a feminist why barring a two-year old because he is male might present a moral problem for any group which not only calls itself “feminist” but which seeks to liberate all females from sex-based oppression whereby the mothers of these children are necessarily excluded. The irony in posing such a question made my head reel, but no sooner could I realize the incongruence of this assertion did another woman write, “I actually don’t understand, either. I’m not being snarky. I really don’t see why it’s wrong to have female-only spaces.” I had to underscore many times in these conversations that my objection had to do with being asked not to bring a two-year-old male to a feminist event, not the fact that, as per many social events, children in general were not welcome. My disagreement had nothing to do with “female-only spaces,” but dealt with the more serious matter of excluding small male bodies because of some deeply prejudiced views of males from birth.
I then reminded these women of the Facebook groups I have had to leave in recent years where some feminists had actually advocated for the abortion of male fetuses to counter the historical injustices of femicide and misogyny. I had left those groups upon reading this eugenical proposition and reminded these women last week that the disdain for and the planned elimination of male bodies from the site of the social is nothing other than eugenics. It was upon this basis that I protested the demonization of male bodies as a political strategy. I even, somewhat ironically, invoked the term “feminazi” demonstrating how a word so often misused by men’s rights activists, actually makes sense in this specific context of willing and orchestrating away males as a class, all under the guise of “safe spaces.” Certainly, “female-only spaces” is the lie these “feminists” tell themselves to commit to a essentialism of male guilt through birth.
Some women chimed in stating that small boys under five should be acceptable to bring, but such sentiments were rarely allowed to remain unchallenged with others angrily writing about male babies “tak[e] the attention from their mothers,” that female babies “deserve to have female-only spaces,” that “[w]omen have the right to not want penis-having people of any age, in a group or gathering,” and one woman even maintained that young boys “absorb misogyny.” It is as if these women emerged from medieval alchemy whereby the site of evil, the male as misogyny par excellence, is the contagion and not the social and political structures into which we are all inculcated.
These responses and anger directed at males emerged this past week, all from the context of newborn and toddler males who simply cannot be tossed in the crisper for a week, or where a parent like myself—single by choice—cannot just drop this child somewhere at such a tender age. It was clear, despite the word “sister” and “sisterly” being thrown about that this sub-brand of “radical feminism” was anything but feminist. There was a clear framing of these “penis-having” bodies as abject and this abjection was extended to any woman who produced these male lives. Could the irony of such a feminism be any clearer?
And then things went off the rails. And when I say “off the rails” I mean Cronos eating all of his children in one spoonful off the rails.
The thread on my wall quickly exploded with references to toddler rapists with women writing of young children under five being sexually aggressive stating, “Small children do rape. It just wasn’t me making that assertion or using that fact in this argument in this thread,” “ I’m sure 5 year old boys rape. They socialize into masculinity very fast, didn’t you feminists know that by now?” and this piece of work: “Years ago, I was with a feminist friend while she was babysitting a 2 year old boy. His mom was a swim coach at a local college. The boy was grabbing at our breasts and had this really creepy smile on his face. We both got it: it came across as sexist-creepy. At age 2, he’d already learned to objectify women. I’ve seen this in other boys at age 2.” One woman went on to post a link repeatedly to an article which allegedly maintains that that toddlers can also rape. In reality, however, this article merely demonstrates the links between those boys who had committed sexual offenses at the age of almost nine and the co-extensive “history of sexual and physical abuse in the majority of the families of these children, as well as a history of substance abuse.” Hardly toddler rapists. Alas, the myth of the toddler rapist was born and I was horrified by both what I was reading and worried about this madness unfolding upon my wall.
So, from my original Facebook post—what I thought was the complete “out there” of feminist politics—was merely the Marco Rubio to these feminists’ Donald Trump, with this latter group exercising, in perfect congruence to the trope of “legitimized” racism towards Mexicans, the emotionally-charged branding of young male children as potential rapists. As these women sung their version of a fundamentalist feminism, the chorus couched their desire for female-only spaces as the “loving of other women.” It is the comic bordering on the insane, with a heavy dose of the very patriarchy these women claim to be fighting tossed into the mix.
I tried to dialogue with these women who kept persisting in derailing the discussion. Indeed, for many women making a humanist argument for feminism, stating that feminism is not about individuals but structures, the response was consistently U-turned back to “all-female spaces.” But for those of us alarmed by the constant references to “penis-free spaces,” it became quickly clear that this debate was never about all-female spaces. This was about enforcing patriarchy 2.0 fiercely spun against women who had any contact with males, to include those who had procreated them. I tried to reason against these women’s position writing: “You don’t make society disappear because people perceive a two-year-old as a patriarch.” Others chimed in: “Having read the original post, I’m really disturbed that this all came from the prospect of a 2 year old child (with a penis) attending an all women event. Projecting the attributes of adult males on a toddler is surely part of the problem we are fighting against and it feels to me that it is akin to the sexualization of children.” And yet another, “We want a society where each sex respects and values each other surely, not one dominance replaced by another.” The pushback to such reasoned thoughts was once again to derail the discussion with the repeated insistence of women’s individual rights to not have any “penis-bodied” humans in the mix, all the while excoriating the mothers of these male babies as having “mother privilege.”
Identity politics gone amok with these self-styled “radical feminists” who have basically fashioned a new ideology by stitching together neo-liberal tropes to an identity politics of victimhood. Lacking any sort of structural critique of sex-based inequality or even a coherent political narrative, these women have passed the ball to the so-called “privileged mothers” who are shamed for procreating on the one hand, and then falsely painted as bourgeois and wealthy on the other. The contradictions are so fast and furious that one could have whiplash reading through all the sexist paradigms that appear to be neatly cut-and-pasted from several generations earlier. Who knew that women having children would upset the neo-liberal “radical feminist” who views herself as emancipated merely because she has earmarked children as oppressive!
Then one woman let loose the nugget of truth at the heart of this matter: “Why did [these women] make more males? I know we are definitely not allowed to think or say such things because of the motherhood worship cult and myth of motherhood oppression, but seriously, the world is being destroyed by males and we are running out of time.” I was to learn that there is a “motherhood worship cult” as I was accused of having “motherhood privilege.” You can’t make this delusional nonsense up! So, in the absence of the dominant patriarch, these women had merely replaced that symbol with the next best thing: females impregnated by the patriarch. It is as if the last 100 years of feminism had never taken place, because with “feminists” like this, who needs patriarchy?
Many comments attempted to belittle our critiques of this tacit form of eugenics, asserting that it was our “natural attachment” to our male offspring which clouded our ability to “sympathize” with women who wanted no “penis-bodied” individuals in their midst. Other comments insinuated that we could not “understand” this “need” because of our being “handmaidens to patriarchy” as one woman wrote that we refuse “to admit that their son (Nigel) will be an oppressor, even when all evidence points to it.” Personally speaking, it was overwhelming to watch so many so-called feminists assume that I had a male partner—much less any partner. It was largely this assumption that formed their beliefs that I and my “toddler son rapist” were polluted and thus unworthy of being part of their purity feminism. It is not bad enough that women are already framed as being gold-diggers, false rape accusers, and manipulative bosses, but in the absence of women must face the same sets of arguments from other women who deem that the problem of sex-based inequality is suddenly the fault of other women who reproduce with the “devil’s seed” and dare give birth to males.
Apparently there is a whole mini-cult of these “feminists” who pop about the Internet to inform women that all males are tyrannical, to include boys. A few such feminists have actually written a book about how males are “inherently dangerous” with a chapter entitled, “Boys Oppress All Females.” The authors of this text promote the belief that males are naturally oppressive, noting that giving birth does not mean that a female is not “bringing another rapist into the world” and ”that no matter what you do, if you have a boy, he will likely terrorize and assault girls and, later, adult women and Lesbians, and likely will be a rapist.” This text is comedy gold!
The arguments of those who view male babies as oppressors from birth are as comic as they are sad, since insinuating that young boys present a danger to grown women plays into the very rhetoric of patriarchy these women otherwise espouse. Reducing a male to a monolith of presumed guilt is no different than the historical reductions of women as free labor, shopping addicts, or fashion-victims. Such essentialism decries the necessary structural critiques of patriarchy by individualizing power such that male babies are not only born as abusers but they also present a danger to the pure-driven innocence of females. Arguments which position male violence not as a social but as a “genetic condition” only serve to duplicate the very essentialist arguments which actual feminists are fighting today where correlating certain gendered behavior to sexed bodies is not the solution, it’s the problem.
One person posted that male babies “aren’t primal rape seed” pointing to the the issues of class that this newly minted brand of so-called “radical feminists” blatantly ignore. She continues:
They don’t have capital to pay for a servant class of working people to raise their child every single day while they do Real Things Of Importance because having a child is totally an absolutely meaningless biological mechanistic thing, unless something MALE is involved and is therefore on the rape spectrum. I don’t think any of you believe your own bullshit about constructionist gender and that your real worldview is of a Darwinist hellscape in which women are biologically inferior praying for the Messiah to come in the form of virgin births. It’s highly phobic of sex and sexuality. I’m totally done with this sorry excuse for feminism.
The deflections of class analysis took place in tandem with the demonstrable inability to sustain an ethics of male elimination. Some women flailed so desperately for an argument that a few floated the falsehood that the event I was interested in attending actually allowed male children (it doesn’t). And while these “feminists” attempted to sound theoretical, they weren’t really saying anything except that mothers are to blame for reproducing children—mostly male children—while pointing to the audacity of these mothers who asked to bring their young children with them to an all-female event. The responses of “get a partner” were less than unhelpful; they were a stark reminder that sexism is not about individual men but is very much about the structures that both men and women adopt in marginalizing the most disempowered.
While I found the events of this past week shocking, I didn’t find them surprising. Last summer, I met up with a British radical feminist for brunch one Sunday morning, I was aghast by her annoyance that I had brought my two children with me. I told her, “It’s Sunday, I am a single parent. Should I have stuck them in the refrigerator?” She went on to insult me and my children insinuating my male child was patriarchal, adding, “Women who are raped by their husbands, I get them having children, but these….” she said, waving her hand in the direction of my children. She never finished her sentence but it was quite clear where she was heading. I had broken her stereotypical mold as a single woman who chose to have children on my own. There was nobody to blame, nobody to accuse of a “marital rape” which resulted in children. In this feminist’s mind, children are uniquely the result of rape, no sane woman would have anything to do with men, and women have zero agency concerning their own lives. She ranted for another ten minutes or so until I finally turned to her and said, “For someone who dislikes children so much, you behave an awful lot like one.”
Thinking of this encounter over the past week, I was happily reminded by many radical feminists who have not confused trauma for solidarity of the importance of including mothers in their events. And many of these women have spoken out over the past week reminding the younger feminists of the imperative to offer childcare at all events and not to exclude mothers. Somehow this message missed these other “radical feminists” whom I am forced to resign permanently to quotation marks.
Feminism—no matter what brand you call it—must be about structures, not individuals. We cannot create a movement for social reform and the advance of human rights of women based upon the reversal of atrocity or an “eye for an eye” type of vigilante feminism. That model has proven throughout history not to work and we are constrained to cohabiting this planet together with be-penised bodies, like it or not. Inasmuch as I am happy to support all-female spaces—something that concerns half the population—this very same half also happens to be the sex that reproduces children. It is hard to build a case for human rights when only those who do not reproduce are given any sort of social power and credibility, or where their dislike of the “penis” becomes that emblematic moment for a feminism where women who reproduce males are cannibalized for the cause.
Where I have been critiquing identity politics in recent years, I cannot exempt this self-appointed subset of “radical feminists” whose political claims exist uniquely as a grievance instead of as a movement fomented upon the centering of a class-based analysis. This spin on “feminism” is heavy-laden with many of the same issues that these very feminists differently oppose in other political landscapes. Their is an identitarianism driven uniquely by a politics of suffering and hyper-individualism where the rhetoric of “healthy boundaries” becomes a cover for patriarchy v1.2 as the exclusion of inconvenient bodies is collateral damage to their storefront window of “woman as utopia.”
As Chazz Brandon wrote to one woman, “You can keep repeating that [it’s about all-female spaces] but it’s a calculated misrepresentation and shameful. It’s about some women’s aversion to males even in diapers. Excluding women on that basis is ridiculous.” Brandon then went on to create this meme which has since amped up the kray kray while encouraging more women on the left to critique the myth of the “toddler rapist.”
In addition to Brandon’s meme, I received numerous emails and messages of support from women who were horrified by what was taking place. Many similarly took up the task of responding to these claims: one pointing out that “feminism is a political theory and practice” not a brand of vengeance as political action, another writing that “when feminism loses class analysis it becomes hollow,” and a feminist who threw up her hands likening these women to “cult abductees.” Daily, women have come out to voice their criticism about some of the more delusory tales of the “pervy toddler” and the narrative being spun that males are the beholders of original sin in tandem with the bizarre sexualization of both male and female children. This was a full-on reversal of the historical tables of injustice and these women were clearly using “female-only spaces” as their cover for a revenge narrative to enact their anger upon all males—infants, toddlers, and the whole gamut of born-to-be-rapists. Thankfully, many radical feminists have stood up to the bullying and the misandry in recent days, speaking out against the implications of eugenics for such a theoretical and practical intolerance of male bodies, some comparing this self-appointed brood to “cult abductees” and others questioning if trauma has played a role in the creation of such a discourse.
This off-shoot of the radical feminist movement is framing women as perpetual victims and men as the genetic spawn whose threat to women begins at birth. Cronus eating his children is embodied by these women who seek to locate and destroy any perceived threat to their dreamscape of “penis-free space.” Such politics shows no desire to transcend the political reality of the sexes; instead, these women opt for a victim-politics of emotion whereby the only permissible voice allowable is that of a hyper-individualized feminism which refuses to reconcile bourgeois neoliberal freedoms with their private beliefs. Or, as one woman told me, “It’s slut shaming by proxy.”
This off-label brand of radical feminism has driven away women because of its very internalized hatred of men—women who are polluted by their physical proximity to males, reproduction, and their male children. Such political narratives fracture any sense of solidarity and ultimately prevent any type of revolutionary action. We’ve seen this story before–and it isn’t a political narrative. It’s a religion.