Ascetic Feminism

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by Jack Donovan on April 8, 2011

For women, there are both ascetic and indulgent styles of feminist extremism.  There are humorless academics and angry bra-burners, certainly, but modern feminist women tend to be more self-indulgent—at least in theory. Take, for example, the recent Toronto “Slut March.” Many women see feminism an invitation to reject boundaries, to live as they please, to “suck the marrow out of life.”

(h/t Richard Spencer)

In contrast, extreme feminist ideology in men requires ascetic discipline.

For a relative handful of particularly effeminate gay and transgendered males, extreme feminism is attractive because it offers freedom from the expectations of other men and traditional sex roles. Transgendered feminist R.W. Connell, author of Masculinities, would fit into this category. However, according to a recent estimate, exclusive gays and the transgendered may make up as little as 2 and .3 percent of the population, respectively.

For the majority of men, feminism does not offer equal parts of “freedom” and “discipline.” Feminism requires men to self-examine, repent, and—as one extremist put it—“refuse to be a man.” For men to ensure that women have the opportunity to do whatever they want, men are asked to carefully examine and change their own behavior. In response to a popular bumper sticker, I would say that:

Feminism is the radical notion that men should stop doing whatever women say, so that women can do whatever the hell they want.

While women march together proudly as sluts, male feminists like Jackson Katz teach workshops and offer men lists of things they should do to combat gender violence.


  1. Approach gender violence as a MEN’S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers
  2. If  a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a professor, or a counselor. DON’T REMAIN SILENT.
  3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
  4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.
  5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.
  6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women’s centers. Attend “Take Back the Night” rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.
  7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).
  8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence.  Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.
  9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.
  10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. Lead by example

Feminism calls men to monitor their language and to reject certain worldly goods and pleasures for the feminist cause. Feminst men are asked to put aside their own interests to attend seminars and counseling sessions to study feminist dogma. They are asked to become evangelists, accusers and informers.  Finally, men are asked to transform themselves—to undergo a re-birth and become “new men.” A new, difficult to watch video making the rounds from “conscious men” captures the essence of male feminist asceticism.

This ascetic feminism is a form of goddess-worship. It is clear that these men do not see women as they are, but as divine creatures who are more connected to the earth, more harmonious, and more innocent than men. They can’t see that women are human animals pursuing their own selfish interests—just like men.

“Conscious men” Arjuna Ardagh and Gay Hendricks openly admit on their web site and in their video that they “worship women.” While the video above is probably even a bit over the top for academic feminists like Micheal Kimmel or Jackson Katz, what it asks of men is not so new or different. The portrayal of men as greedy, raping war-mongers and women as noble, gentle, angelic souls who only want freedom, equality and harmony is a consistent cliché in pro-feminist writing by men.

A certain portion of men find themselves particularly drawn to ascetic pursuits, but most men can appreciate asceticism on some level or other.  The Catholic Encyclopedia has a comprehensive article on various forms of religious and non-religious asceticsm.  The word asceticism comes from the Greek askesis—meaning practice, exercise and bodily training. This link between physical and mental discipline sheds a little light on what men and some women find attractive about ascetic lifestyles.

Asceticism is strength turned inward; it requires inner discipline—exercise for the soul. Self denial requires strength and self-mastery, and it has a momentum of its own. Self-discipline is admirable, but for some it can spiral downward into self-negation, and the denial of one’s own will to power. As the Catholics might offer, it can also engender a perverse form of “holier-than-thou” vanity.

Male feminists find themselves on a spiritual quest to “save women” through self-denial and solemn religiosity. They self-flaggelate and confess and do penance for the original sin of being born male. As woman-worshippers, they give women the god-like power of absolution, and kneel before her as supplicants seeking grace.

This inequality and slavish devotion to a mythical ideal of women among male feminists cannot be over-emphasized. Shaming them as “manginas” only reinforces their belief system and feeds into their sense of righteousness about the overcoming of traditional sex roles. Recognizing them as cultish, fetishistic woman-worshippers and slavish self-flagellating self-deniers reveals more about the ascetic masochism of the male feminist.

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