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I’ll be a Post-Feminist in the Post-Patriarchy

November 29, 2007

http://home.lbcc.cc.ca.us/~mlawrence/Phil%207/feminism.gifThe topic of feminism comes up quite often in conversation, both on and off-line. I am frequently put on the spot as to why I call myself a feminist and not an “equalist” or some similar term that does not evoke sex and gender. I understand why some people, who believe much as I do, opt not to identify themselves with the politically-charged title “feminist,” but I think that this political charge is a good thing, not a bad. Or not necessarily bad, anyway. So, to address my questioners, as well as work through this stuff myself, here are lists of pros and cons for using and identifying with the word “feminist.” Just to be absolutely clear, I don’t need reasons for the fact that I believe women are equal to men, on the contrary I think you need to explain yourself if you don’t! These are my pros/cons for applying the label “feminist” to my beliefs rather than some other label.

 

Cons:

  • Excludes men.
    • Feminist, referring to female, does seem to exclude males. Feminists are often accused of trying to subjugate men to women’s evil desires and motivations, and having name that implies interest only in the one sex/gender doesn’t help. A term like “equalist” or “egalitarian” more correctly identifies the feminist agenda of promoting equal rights.
    • Men’s rights activists identify areas where men are disadvantaged, such as their likeliness to be victims of physical violence and stereotypes which demasculinize men who care for their children. Many question whether a movement called “feminism” can deal with masculine issues as well.
  • Ignores other factors of discrimination
    • Second wave feminists were criticized, and rightly so, for focusing so much on sexual discrimination that they were race-blind and ability-blind. Sex is not the only (or most important) thing used to unfairly discriminate against people, as the title “feminist” suggests to many people, and many women who are also visible minorities or are physically or mentally challenged face a double or triple-bind.
  • Has negative connotations
    • Feminists are bra-burning, man-hating, flannel-wearing, unfeminine, dykes, aren’t they? Why would anyone want to be associated with that image? I have blogged before about my dislike of reclaiming “bad” words like bitch and nigger, why should the bad image of “feminist” be different?

Pros:

  • The work of feminism is not yet done
    • Eschewing the term “feminist” implies that feminism is no longer needed. If you think that women and men are treated equally today, either in your own country or abroad, you haven’t been paying attention. Spend a few minutes here, here, or here, to get a glimpse of why feminism is still necessary.
  • Disidentifying with the movement divorces us from our history
    • Much of what we have today is due to past generations of feminists. Women can vote, be political representatives, be professors (even in science!), be homemakers, control their own reproduction (in Canada, at least), love and marry other women if they so choose (again, at least in Canada), and do many other things that would have been completely unthinkable a hundred, or even fifty years ago. We have feminists partly to thank for this. Disidentifying with them both dishonours them and the work that they have done, and takes away from us a hundred years of experience, strategies, and role models. We can’t afford to lose that.

On the balance, it looks as though I have more cons than pros, but this isn’t necessarily true. Before I come down on that side, though, and start calling myself an equalist, let me address those cons. Yes, feminism does seem to exclude men, and early feminism most certainly did, but there are good reasons for this. How far would the civil rights movement in the US have gotten if they only spent half their time championing for visible minority rights and devoted the other half to white rights? Not far, let me tell you. The reason civil rights workers didn’t advocate for white rights is the same reason feminists have in the past not advocated for men’s rights: everyone else is! Consciously or not, when institutions primarily made up of white men (such as the legal system) reproduce themselves, they are reproducing their inequality.

With that said, there has been a lot of progress in Canadian society, and feminists are now free to address more subtle issues of sex and gender discrimination. Feminists recognize that what hurts women also hurts men. The assumption that women are great with kids and “natural” caregivers has as it’s flip-side the assumption than men make poor caregivers and are instead “natural” wage-earners. Neither of these issues can be dealt with without the other also being addressed. I would go so far as to say that the current wave of feminism by necessity also addresses men’s concerns. The criticism that feminism is race- and ability-blind likewise may apply to second-wave feminism, but was addressed in the third wave and is now an important part of feminist work.

What about the negative image of feminists? Feminists come in all flavours, from fat, thin, homo, het, bi, queer, male, female, both, neither, angry, sad, hopeful, atheist, Christian, pagan, Jewish, Muslim, white, black, both, neither, and many more. If we cave to the pressure and call ourselves something other than feminist, we are admitting (wrongly) that the critics are right – that you have to be of one particular type to be a feminist, and that feminism can then be discounted because it doesn’t apply to everyone. I openly call myself a feminist so that people can see that anyone can be a feminist.

So, in sum, I understand why many people decide not to call themselves feminist, and I respect their choice. For myself, though, I would rather take on the label and work at the internal issues than eschew the label, thereby giving in to the critics who say that feminism is neither appropriate nor necessary, and abandoning my predecessors and my history in the process.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Nicole permalink
    December 3, 2007 5:57 pm

    Nice going Natasha. I find views on the term “Feminist” very frustrating indeed.

    My Dad is a very open minded guy. I would go so far as to call him a feminist, in that he cares about women’s issues and wants to see women treated equally. However, when we get talking about the term “feminist”, he becomes incredibly uncomfortable. I proudly call myself a feminist, but he adamantly tells me I am not. Who is he to disagree with what I dub myself? Instead of agreeing with me that Feminism doesn’t have to be militant or comepletely focused on women, he prefers to call me an “egalitarian”. While I don’t think the term is nescessarily wrong, I prefer to call myself a feminist for exactly the same reasons you listed. Thanks for this great post.

    I would like to add my own two cents about feminism for the future. I think it needs to move in the direction of being more culturally diverse. For example, the subject of the hijab in Islam is quite a hot topic in feminist discourse. It seems as though many (although not all) feminists would prefer the hijab to be abandoned completely. In my opinion, feminism should involve the right to choose what each woman feels works best for her. If a woman feels that she would prefer to wear the hijab she should do it. Women should not feel forced to go and get a job if it does not suit their wants and needs, just because feminist actions have given them that option. I think feminism should be about creating the opportunities so that women may tailor their lives to suit themselves.

  2. December 3, 2007 6:23 pm

    You are completely right Nicole. Issues like the right to wear (or not) a hijab, or to work for pay (or not) are tricky, precisely because neo-feminists/third-wave-feminists like you and I like to focus on choice. I have a not-so-secret desire to be a stay-at-home mom, but I believe I am freely making that choice. When women are forced or coerced into staying at home, I have a problem. But who am I to determine if a woman is making a free choice or is being coerced? Often women’s own voices on the issues are disregarded..

    An example of this is the hijab issue. I think that women should be free to wear a hijab if they want to, but I have heard women who say “I wear the hijab because I choose to” criticized with “She only says that because she has been brainwashed into it. She doesn’t know better.” Well, shit, if women can’t even be trusted to know what they want, we are in an impossible bind.

    I fall into it too, though. In the hijab case, it’s easy for me to say “If she wants to wear a hijab, I respect that decision,” but when it comes to female genital mutilation (circumcision) I don’t fully trust women’s accounts of how they like and want this procedure done on themselves and their daughters. I don’t know what to think.

  3. Nicole permalink
    December 3, 2007 8:44 pm

    I agree. It is an incredibly tricky situation. Where do we draw the line between what should be a choice matter and what shouldn’t be? Is it something that can be decided based on physical consequences (like genital mutilation) or should there be a line at all or whatever else the case may be. Should there be some things that are standard regardless of cultural practice and background?

  4. Claire permalink
    December 11, 2007 10:23 am

    Anyone who supports wearing a hijab is not a true feminist.

  5. December 11, 2007 6:16 pm

    I don’t think you really have the right to decide who is and is not a “true” feminist.

  6. Dutch269 permalink
    January 7, 2008 5:36 pm

    Why would you stick with a label that doesn’t fit you? There is very good reason why the word ‘Feminist’ has become bad, so why would you still do that to yourself?

    The word ‘Feminist’ is no longer associated with ‘choice’, it has become about female superiority. Just becasue your not that way, does not change anything.

    As a man, I would proudly stand up and call myself an ‘Equalist’, but to call myself a feminist, means I no longer support my ‘brothers’, in their fight for more rights to their children, a more fair child support and discrimination like ‘Affirmative Action’.

    Feminist support things like ‘Title 9’, which discriminates against boys wanting to play sports. An Equalist would never support such a bill. These are major differences that one cannot just ignore, if you insist on calling yourself a feminist, then be prepared to meet the same kind of hate that alot of men are getting these day. It’s a sad world we live in today…

  7. January 7, 2008 5:44 pm

    I disagree that the word “feminist” has become about female superiority. I know that there are some fringe feminist groups which believe that, but they are not the mainstream. I don’t judge Seventh-Day Adventists based on David Koresh’s example, and I don’t think that feminists should be judged by the fringe groups which claim the label.

    I am aware that men are discriminated against, particularly (as you said) in terms of rights to their children, but I think we are still very far from a world in which women are dominant. Nor would I want that. I just want a world where no one is dominant by virtue of their genitalia. Historically, the groups working to create that world have called themselves feminists, and I embrace that legacy.

  8. Dutch269 permalink
    January 7, 2008 9:11 pm

    That’s fine, it is your choice to call it like you see it, but your answer is like so many I see. You seem to think these radicals are on the fringe, most other answers I read tell me it’s just a stereotype and I should ignore it.

    To be honest, I think you are all deluding yourselves. These radicals are now mainstream, and they are making women look really bad. I see it in everyday life, so I know it’s not just a stereotype. It affects me and my son each and everyday.

    I get looks of disgust and contempt from women out on the sidewalk. I have had women in grocery stores pull away from me in an aisle, as if I had some contagious disease. I wasn’t even talking to them, I gave them no reason whatsoever to treat me like that. My son has noticed the same, and it’s not because of me, in fact he likes to see only the best in people, but even he can’t ignore his own eyes and ears.

    And I am an avg looking guy, wearing your typical office attire, minding my own business.

    Thanks for letting me post, and I hope you take a closer look to what women are doing in public, especially if you have any sons.

  9. January 7, 2008 9:58 pm

    I recently had a discussion with a group of men about how recent paranoia about pedophilia has made them too nervous to go out in public with their own kids. They get dirty looks, treated as if they are sickos, and made to feel embarrassed and ashamed – even though they are not doing anything wrong. These men told me about being afraid to hug or kiss their kids in public, being afraid to smile at other people’s kids, and in general, just living in absolute fear of being accused of something horrible. I am genuinely saddened by this, and see it to be a terrible trend that is hurting many parents (male and female) and definitely their kids.

    I don’t, however, see this trend to be caused by feminism. Just as most women in general do not describe themselves as feminists, I think that the same would apply to women who stigmatize men in this way. I think the prevalence of shock news, 2 second soundbites without any context, and the politics of using fear to control people is more to blame.

    I am sorry that you and your son have been treated cruelly, but I don’t think feminism has anything to do with it. As a feminist myself, working towards eliminating unfair stereotypes of men is important to us. Even as a lesbian, I fully know that the fates of men and women are intertwined – what is best for both must always be considered – and in most cases, what is truly best for one is often best for the other as well.

    Thank you for posting. I always enjoy friendly and reasoned disagreement. How else can you learn?

  10. Dutch269 permalink
    January 28, 2008 3:06 pm

    Well then, you really do have your eyes closed. Feminism is causing this hate, the group of men you talked with are telling the truth, and you say you belive them, but really you don’t care.

    The shock news, 2 sec sound bites and lets not forget TV, are promoting your feminism. Men are made to look foolish or dangerous. The fear you talk of is definitly true, except it’s directed at men only. We are seeing the results of 40 years of this kind of bombardment.

    Just because you don’t want to believe what feminism has done to our society, does not make it true. The facts are all around you, the declining marriage, the discrimination in family courts. There are 100s of facts that dispute everything you are saying. In fact everything you have stated are simply your “feelings”.

    Feelings do not equal facts, and feelings are not reason enough to hate and entire gender. That is feminism, nothing more than a hate crime.

    ~Peace

  11. January 28, 2008 3:14 pm

    Here I was, thanking you for your civilized discussion, and you turn into just a another troll. Feminism is a hate crime? Feminism is anti-male? Your “evidence” is no more scientific than what you call my “feelings.” Decline in marriage, so what? If people are happier not getting married, why should we force them into antiquated institutions. Discriminatory court practices, how the fuck can you prove those are related to feminism? Actually, none of your “evidence” can be related back to feminism.

    You disappoint me, I thought we could be adults about this.

  12. Philip Lewis permalink
    March 1, 2008 4:33 pm

    Feminism IS a dirty word because the most bigoted and (ironically!!) sexist form of feminism became the mainstream and that is radical or gender feminism. That is the ‘feminism’ that is behind practically every womens studies course and of course that is the feminism as practiced by those perpetual ‘victims’ at N.O.W. If the ‘nice feminism’ had prevailed then yes you could wear the name with some pride but instead the ‘nice feminists’ stood aside and let the movement be hi-jacked by the most bigoted sexist strain of them all – the very strain that has as it’s goal the destruction of the institution of marriage as we know it and the destruction of the nuclear family. Structures and social bonds which for all their faults are better than the fragmented models they have been displaced by.

  13. April 23, 2008 4:45 pm

    Dutch269 wrote:
    the discrimination in family courts.

    Family courts making rulings that favour custody of children by women are not a result of feminism—quite the contrary. They imply that women should have custody because they are naturally better caregivers.

    To determine which parent is better able to provide in any given case, one must approach the situation not from stereotypes, but according to the particular circumstances of each case. The custody case battles show that stereotypes of women whilst mostly benefiting men, do not always do so. This provides clear evidence gender equality is an issue that demands the attention of both sexes.

    Natasha wrote:
    I don’t think you really have the right to decide who is and is not a “true” feminist.

    If by ‘true’ Claire means ‘extent,’ then I disagree with your statement. At any rate, even if the blogger did not, he/she has every right to declare what he/she thinks. Yet, without detailing their arguments for those claims, they serve no purpose other than to antagonize. Not surprisingly, it fails to convince the target of their validity.

    At the core, feminism promotes gender equality. But, that is not to say that those who believe in the rationality of feminism enforce it to the same degree. It is possible for a feminist to support a policy or tradition that is sexist, because she/he is blind to the actual reality. It is possible to be blind about many things in life. Therefore, it is not reaching to say that like many beliefs, feminism exists on a gradient. It is just considered ‘rude’ or politically incorrect to even say it. It is possible for some feminists to agree on gender equality in some instances, all instances, or to concede in some cases in order to win another issue—which could be that of race.

    I have no problem with individuals claiming to be more extreme in a gradient whilst pinpointing individuals who are less so. What I do not condone, is to take the absolutist view that either someone is an extreme feminist or not one at all. It takes focus away from the issues and places it on some type of odd feminist competition, which makes villains of any who do not stand precisely next to you.

    Obviously, it is not at all conducive to cooperation, which is a necessity if society is to veer towards a gender equal/neutral direction. Whether Claire abides by this absolutist view of feminism seems more likely than not based on her/his language, but not enough was said to make the matter conclusive.

  14. David permalink
    November 14, 2008 9:29 am

    Feminism has used sexist belittlement in their fight for equality that typecast men as thugs and buffoons. Just watch TV and you can see that this view is culturally entrenched. The national standard is now a low and distrustful opinion of men and contempt for anything male. Some TV shows are based primaraly on the ridicule of manhood using humiliation and teaching revulsion toward men.
    Feminism is not a hate crime; it is hate that is praised.

  15. Karen permalink
    April 17, 2009 11:17 am

    and if you continue to watch these so called TV shows you’re talking about, you will see that women are sexually objectified, etc.
    feminism is portrayed in the media as a dirty, overweight, hippie, lesbian.
    as an image rather than a movement.
    you have to know that TV, or just the media in general, creates stereotypes for BOTH genders, for different races, for different beliefs, for sexualities, etc.
    and the media tends to be male dominate. so who is creating these stereotypes??
    because if feminism had control of the media, i’m pretty sure they wouldn’t create such images of women at least.

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