Trust Me -- I'm Profeminist!

Anyone who reads this blog can rather easily come to the conclusion that I oppose violence against women and that I support women’s full equality with men. In my writing I advocate for the rights of women, and for the safety of children. So of course this makes me one of the good guys, right? Because, after all, any guy who says all of this great stuff simply must be on the side of the angels. He must be a guy we should all feel totally safe with and have utter faith in. We should even trust him with our kids. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
For a chilling reminder that those of us who champion the rights of others cannot always be trusted, one need only consider the case of Mark Foley, a former U.S. congressman from south Florida who was co-chairman of the Congressional "Missing and Exploited Children Caucus." Foley fought for tougher penalties against child sexual predators, and he crafted a law designed to ban internet ads that featured children in sexually suggestive ways. Unfortunately, all the while (it turns out) Foley was also sending sexually explicit electronic messages to teenagers who volunteered as Congressional Pages.

In his defense, Foley would later claim that these young people – although underage – were in fact older than those who are typically targeted by pedophiles, and that what he did was just “an error in judgement.” But the reality is that the messages Foley sent were almost certainly illegal (law enforcement officials in Florida ultimately decided not to prosecute the case, citing lack of cooperation from politicians in Washington, DC), and it turns out that Foley had committed this so-called “error in judgement” continually for a period that lasted over 10 years!

Foley is far from being the only person to negate his advocacy through acts of disgusting betrayal. When Raymond Lahey was the Bishop of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, he oversaw a financial settlement between the Diocese and people who had been sexually abused by priests within that Diocese. At the press conference where this historic agreement was announced, Lahey said:"I want them to know how terribly sorry we are, how wrong this abuse was, and how we are now trying to right these past wrongs."

Just one month later Raymond Lahey was arrested at the Ottawa airport after returning from a vacation in Southeast Asia. He had child pornography on his laptop computer

Even in overtly profeminist circles I have observed some very bad behaviour:

  • One man I knew in university was extremely active in the abortion rights issue. I later heard from several female friends he was in fact a real womanizer, and that he was using this “feminist” stance in order to seduce women.


  • I once attended a training for men who were interested in working against sexual and domestic violence where one of the participants, it turned out, had signed up as a way to fend off three complaints of sexual harassment that had been made against him by women whom he had allegedly groped sexually when they visited him for professional massages.


  • In another similar training, it emerged that a male participant had recently hit his female partner in the face, that he had once exposed himself to a woman on an airplane, and that as a teenager he had sexually molested his stepsister for several years. (The molestation, we learned, had previously been dealt with through the court system. When the facilitators and the other training participants confronted him about all of these acts, the man pledged to enter treatment – a promise that he never made good on.)
The lesson I take from all of these stories is not that we should trust no one, but rather that no one should be presumed to be safe simply because he says the right things. Sadly – and, to me, infuriatingly – some of us profeminist men will in fact turn out to be predators: the proverbial “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
So how do we keep ourselves safe from the guys who talk a good line but in reality do very bad things? Here are some ideas:
  • Do not necessarily believe any man’s protestations that he is “not one of those guys” who mistreats women and/or children. If a man continually makes these kinds of statements in order to separate himself from “the bad guys,” consider the possibility that he “doth protest too much” – and that maybe he does in fact do the terrible things that he seems to be so dead set against. (A man who is truly good probably won’t spend a lot of energy insisting that he is in fact good.)


  • Be very worried if a profeminist man (or any man, for that matter) questions the limits you set, or if he acts offended because you do not automatically assume that he is a safe person. The limits that you set around yourself (and around your children) are your limits and they are to be respected. If he truly understands the issues of sexual and domestic violence, then he will respect your desire to be cautious.


  • Do not treat the self-professed “good guys” any differently than you would anyone else. Just because we may talk a good line does not necessarily mean that you or your kids are safe in our homes, in our cars, or anywhere else you might go with us.


  • Finally, if you do happen to encounter a man who claims to care about women’s rights and women’s equality but in reality treats women or children badly, try to find a way to expose this bad behaviour – if you can do so safely and ethically. Profeminist work in support of women’s full equality is difficult enough without our having to deal with these hypocrites who with their bad behaviour not only hurt the people they come into contact with – they harm the feminist movement as a whole.