“What’s wrong?” he asked, my friend and confidant of almost a year. He could tell that something was bothering me, and I was doing a crappy job of hiding it.
“Just stuff. This messed up world we live in.”
“What about it?”
“Something I read.”
“What did you read? Something in the news?”
I was being extremely stand-offish with him, the man I had once considered someone close to me. He was someone I could once easily spend hours chatting with. Someone with whom I had shared pictures of my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. We had even discussed our bowel movements. Nothing seemed out of bounds before. I didn’t know why I was behaving this way with him, but I felt uncomfortable with what I was about to reveal to him.
“I hate Jian Ghomeshi,” I finally relented.
“Ah. I thought that was it.”
What I just said went way beyond Jian Ghomeshi. I hated a justice system where three out of every thousand sexual assaults led to a conviction. I hated a culture where women were constantly silenced for speaking up and having their wrists slapped for taking up too much space. I hated a society where female presidential candidates were lambasted by the media over email scandals but male candidates accused of child rape were let off the hook.
And he loved it.
A year before the Ghomeshi trial permanently altered my perspective of the beautiful but troubled nation in which I lived, I met an introverted, video game-loving man who seemed quite compatible with me on paper. We were both vegetarians. We both liked to travel. We had the same eccentric taste in music. Best of all was the effortless way we bonded. I could easily talk on the phone with him until one in the morning, and never run out of things to say.
Except when it came to the topic of feminism.
He believed that feminism was about women denying their natural femininity. He believed that men’s rights activists had a point. That women were actually favoured by society, and that any trends of inequality in the workplace, politics, or media were coincidental. He was a gamer that harboured a weird, irrational hatred toward feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, even wishing her death.
At first I thought he just didn’t understand the concept of feminism and was trying to have a conversation with me. Then I realized he was arguing with me, and I decided to drop it rather than get myself worked up over nothing. It was better to stick with safer topics.
“So what shows do you like?” he asked me one night.
I smiled with relief. That was good. That was safe.
I told him I liked watching Orange is the New Black and Girls, and he instantly cut me off and told me about how terrible Lena Dunham is.
“Did you know that she lied about getting raped? What kind of horrible person does that?”
I had read her memoir, but while she had confessed to a lot of other outrageous things, a rape lie wasn’t one of them.
“Yeah. She wrote about a rape that never happened in her book, and ruined some guy’s life. She belongs in jail.”
I smiled, rolled my eyes, and changed the topic again.
I thought I could handle his anti-feminist eccentricity, but there were also other issues that made us incompatible. No matter how much we seemed to click, I knew that I would never be able to fall in love and spend my life with this man. But, even though we had our differences, I genuinely liked him as a person and thought he genuinely cared for me too, so we maintained a good friendship.
I realize now why I never wanted to tell him about how deeply the Ghomeshi trial had affected me. It wasn’t just those awkward moments we’d had early on when we were still dating. It was something that had happened a few months afterward, something that made me certain I had made the right decision not to pursue a romantic relationship with him.
I don’t recall how our conversation had drifted into such dark parts of our past, but one evening when I was on the phone with him, I recounted an assault I’d experienced outside a campus club. He responded with, “but you shouldn’t have been drinking.” I rolled my eyes and told him I wasn’t, and without missing a beat, he replied, “but you shouldn’t have been there.”
I had no idea what to say. For the first time since I had ever spoken to him, I was at a loss for words. The assault was outside of the campus club. Should I have not been to university at all? Should I have stayed in the kitchen?
I felt like I was slapped in the face. After all, I had never told him that he “probably provoked her” when he revealed that his ex-girlfriend had been abusive. How could he tell me that this was my fault?
I changed the topic once more, relieved that this person was just a friend and was not going to end up my life partner.
But then some months later, when Ghomeshi was acquitted and this friend was silent, I knew on which side he stood, and it wasn’t Ghomeshi’s alleged victims. Something inside me finally clicked.
His stance went beyond a personal dislike for a handful of women—Sarkeesian, Clinton, Dunham—he stood against all women. Against me. Even though we had once confided in each other, he wasn’t actually my friend at all. After the Ghomeshi trial, when he finally got me to spit out what was bothering me, we began speaking much less frequently.
Last night, after watching a sitcom, I recalled my old friend’s accusation of Dunham, and decided to do a little digging. It turned out that Lena had altered the man’s identifying characteristics so they happened to match another person’s. When Lena confessed that Barry wasn’t “Barry,” John Nolte of the right-wing publication Breitbart actually bothered to fly to Dunham’s alma mater and dig through library archives to verify the story. When he couldn’t verify that “Barry” existed, all hell broke loose on the internet, with each outlet conveniently overlooking Nolte’s postscript indicating that he had come across a different lead but dropped it because it was too much work. Even if he hadn’t, did that mean “Barry” really didn’t exist?
One thing was clear: Lena did not want her actual rapist to be found. Why did the media lampoon her for this? Because protecting his identity wasn’t enough? Because just mentioning that a rape happened to her at all was taboo?
I felt hurt by my former friend. While he was courting me, he had also been playing with words. He was using MRA rhetoric to try to indoctrinate me. He had never accepted me as I was.
That’s not to say that our entire encounter was useless. I had learned from this man. Our lives had briefly crossed paths and he had humanized the rape apologists I once abhorred. Anti-feminists can be charming and caring. They can have inexplicably long, meaningful conversations with you. But make no mistake—they will never see you as an equal.
They are simply too self-centred to build a healthy relationship with you.
Had we built a life together, this man would never really be on my side. If something tragic ever happened to me, I wouldn’t be able to count on his support. He would tell me that I shouldn’t have been there or shouldn’t have worn that. He would never root for me, vouch for me, believe in me, or want the best for me.
At the heart of his anti-feminism, it was his selfishness that prevented him from being a good husband, or even a good friend to me or any other individual.
To be honest, I don’t even think he had the best interest of all the other straight, white men of the world whose tragedies he bemoaned.
At the end of the day, he only stood for himself.