But does Frank have feminist sensibilities? And does he, as Elizabeth Plank suggests, really allow “women to imagine a world where even the douchiest douche has the potential to be an ally. Maybe women can have it all?” Is this our fantasy scenario? Because if so, I think we’re setting the bar quite low. And as much as I wish all the entitled cis white straight men would wake up and realize how ridiculous and harmful misogyny and gender stereotypes and traditional masculinity really are and join the movement to end gender violence, I’m really not thrilled about posers like Feminist Frank being touted as the new representatives of the feminist movement.
Here’s why. First of all, we wouldn’t actually like Feminist Frank in the flesh. Just imagine him as a real guy. If I was at a party and this preppy dude walked up to me with an opening line like, “You can’t rape the willing…” and then quickly followed it up with “which is why getting your consent before we make out is super important to me” I would still think he is a misogynist jackass despite his attempt to “save” the first part of his sentence. If Frank was truly a feminist, he wouldn’t try to woo me with rapey pickup lines. He’d be doing real feminist work instead of co-opting the language of feminism to try and impress women. Rebecca Vipond Brink makes a similar argument about Feminist Frank, suggesting that
“These are men on the left who say that they’re feminists but who never act like it; who speak over women in discussions about women’s rights instead of listening to us. They’re guys who are sexist, but who cloak themselves in the language of leftist and feminist politics in order
to claim that they’re not.”
Second, Feminist Frank relies on the rhetoric of sexism and rape to set the foundation for his redeemability. Though each of these phrases
That chick totally blew me
Dang gurl that ass
I’d hit that
I got 99 problems and a bitch ain’t one
Watch me smack that ass
That bitch sure is a prize
is followed by a clause intended to subvert their misogyny, Feminist Frank’s statements only work as humor or entertainment because they are misogynistic. The meme is enjoyable because it defies our expectations. I can get on board with that to a certain degree, but I think we need to ask what it means that our humor and entertainment is based upon a foundation of violence against women and girls. I get that Feminist Frank’s intended audience is already informed feminist-minded folks, but are we making a joke of sexism and rape in a way that will minimize their seriousness? Is the risk worth our enjoyment?
Third, though I’m obviously a proponent of the idea that anyone—everyone—can be feminist (I subscribe to bell hooks’s definition of feminism as a movement to end sexism, sexist oppression, and exploitation), is Feminist Frank really the epitome of feminist success? Are cisgender white straight middle and upper class men really the last frontier of feminism? This is a far more complicated question than can be teased out here, given that these are the folks who get away with committing the most violence against women and who arguably pose the greatest threat to the liberation of women—and all people, inclusive of differences in gender identity, sexual orientation, race, class, nationality, ability, etc. So what if instead of situating Feminist Frank as our feminist man idol we instead frame the meme as a sad and ironic example of how screwed up the world is: that this is what feminist looks like? Feminist Frank as dark feminist humor—instead of lighthearted feminist fantasy—is something I could really get behind.
I pose all of these thoughts as questions more than as a definitive argument. Certainly there are some variations of the Feminist Frank meme that are not as overtly violent or do not rely as wholly on sexually violent language to make their point. In fact, the presumably first Feminist Frank image used the phrase, “Women who dress provocatively deserve…to be treated with respect and decency, just like everyone else.” Love it. And “I’m gonna get loud…at the demonstration this evening – Take Back the Night!” is certainly fun and devoid of violence. It’s also important to note that Feminist Frank functions very similarly to sexual violence prevention efforts like the Make Your Move campaign that subvert creepy phrases to encourage bystander intervention: “I could tell she was asking for it…to stop. So I stepped in and told my buddy that was no way to treat a lady. And he backed off.” I applaud the creativity because we certainly need it when it comes to prevention. But a lot of the questions I have about Feminist Frank are also questions I have of these campaigns.
Perhaps Feminist Frank is a first step, as some have suggested, for more men to actively take part in feminist conversations—though it’s impossible to know how many men are actually reproducing the meme, or what motivates them to participate in the discussion, be it an excuse to participate in misogyny disguised in a feminist mask or actual interest in eradicating sexism. And I have yet to read any commentary on Feminist Frank written by men. This is why I’m skeptical.
So, I invite you into a dialogue about feminism, social change, and men’s engagement with, or performance of, feminism. Thank you, (Faux) Feminist Frank, for being a catalyst for this discussion. I would never date you, but you do bring up important stuff we need to think about as we strive to end sexism and gender violence.