The 2017 #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse felt like a flagship moment, a time at which women were empowered to share their stories in a spirit of empowerment and solidarity and demand change. But have some men simply changed tactics?
The latest addition to The Indigo Press’s Mood Indigo series sees Sam Mills, author of the acclaimed novel The Quiddity of Will Self (“ambitious and outrageous” Guardian), and recent literary memoir of caring, The Fragments of My Father (“brave and original” The Times) investigate the phenomenon of ‘chauvo-feminism’, where men present themselves as feminists publicly, in order to advance their careers, while privately exhibiting chauvinistic attitudes.
Through testimony from women and men, as well as her own experiences with a chauvo-feminist, Mills explores the grey areas of modern relationships, gaslighting and emotional abuse, the psychological underpinnings of the chauvo-feminist, and asks how we might move beyond ‘trial by Twitter’ to encourage an honest and productive dialogue between the sexes.
A few months ago, I read and reviewed Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel, a short but powerful essay on women and desire in the age of consent. When Sam reached out and kindly offered me a copy of her book Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo in exchange for an honest review, I jumped at the chance to read more on this fascinating and important topic.
This essay is as thought-provoking and challenging as Angel’s, though it approaches the topic from a different angle. In Chauvo-Feminism, Mills turns the lens back onto men, and asks if performative allyship with the #MeToo movement is allowing a new kind of chauvinist to evade detection. She details her own experiences with one such man, and provides one of the best descriptions of the now-ubiquitous expression ‘gas-lighting’ that I’ve come across. What was really interesting to me was that as I read of her interactions with R, the anonymous chauvo-feminist she encounters, I found myself going back and forth as to whether I could find any ‘wrong-doing’ in his actions, until I realised that the reason it was hard for me to condemn his behaviour was because it is SO common, I’ve seen and experienced it so often, that it feels normal to me. And that, as I think Mills is arguing, is the problem – these kinds of behaviours are so insidious, and as women we are so used to them, that as long as more overt anti-feminist stances appear to be vanishing off the radar, we’re at risk of thinking the work is done, and equality is all but achieved.
The conversations around #MeToo have, by their very nature of occurring mostly on social media, been performative to a certain extent. It is very difficult to have honest talks, even in person, about these issues – I am sure I am not alone in having had some fairly fraught conversations even with those men closest to me, where no one wants to step outside of the accepted rhetoric and pull at some of the loose threads. I have had some pretty open discussions, too, but even with those I love, we are dancing around the edges of something dangerous when we press too far into the truth of some of the feelings that the #MeToo movement has provoked. I honestly don’t even want to go into detail here for fear of making it sound like I know chauvo-feminists – you can see how fraught it is! The very fact, however, that it all feels so uncomfortable to discuss is an absolutely blinding sign that we NEED to be talking about it.
Luckily, Sam Mills is far bolder and more eloquent than I am, and here she uncovers much of the hypocrisy that swims around the rhetoric. She weaves anecdote and research with aplomb, creating a highly engaging, readable account that gave me so much food for thought. I highly recommend getting your hands on this short but impactful piece of writing, and opening yourself up to some of the difficult conversations it will provoke.
Chauvo-Feminism by Sam Mills is out now from The Indigo Press and is available to purchase here.