Monday, May 21, 2007

Further thoughts on Feminism

I thought about this some more last night (I had to hastily finish my post as I needed to help first get some medicine into my daughter then get her to sleep last night).

Something I want to make clear:

  • I do not think feminism has achieved all of its goals.
  • I do think women now have all the rights they need, as do men, when it comes to gender (but have concerns about rights in general for everyone - see Attorney General scandal, PATRIOT act, etc.)
  • I do think the best way (and perhaps only way) for feminism to achieve its remaining goals is not under feminism at all, but under a gender transition movement (for lack of a better name) - because that would be inclusive of men and women and would therefore be welcoming of men and women, as well as being much less likely to devolve into an 'us' versus 'them' mentality.
  • When I speak of feminism not being needed anymore (and doing more harm than help to gender issues) I am speaking of the United States only (though it probably applies to other developed nations as well). I can only speak for the U.S. because that is the only society I live immersed in, the only one I could speak with any authority about. I do realize that something like feminism is needed in other nations, particularly third-world nations, but to me, that is a separate issue. A nation that has outlawed slavery does not need an abolitionist movement, even if slavery exists elsewhere in the world.
I also want to state that while I agree generally with most of the goals of feminism, past and present, there are also some things within it that I disagree with (and apparently some feminists do as well, as indicated by what I've read on the subject). I could try to list everything I disagree with, but I'll leave it with this for now. I have noted that many feminists are anti-capitalist and equate capitalism with the ever omnipresent "Patriarchy" or just with keeping women down in general. But I find that totally absurd. Capitalism is gender neutral. Moreover, all those feminists who advocate socialism or communism, aside from not understanding economics, are also entirely ignoring the fact that there have been plenty of socialist and communist nations that have treated women far worse than our capitalist nation does. But economics is a whole discussion in itself, so I'll leave it at that.

ADDENDUM: I want to reiterate. I see now as one of the main problems with feminism as a movement as far as what I think impedes its progress and also keeps even women today reluctant to say they are feminists is an 'us' versus 'them' mentality. I expect to see that attitude in particular rear its head in response to my posts on feminism. Which I think will just prove my point. Those who are inclined to do this, ask yourself, why would you be so wedded to a name - 'Feminist' - as opposed to 'Gender Transition Movement' (ok, stupid name, but you get the idea). Why does the name matter so much if the goals are the same (or even expanded?) Why should the name matter at all? Why should one be so wedded to a name that is, by its nature, gender exclusive? Food for thought.

5 comments:

Robert said...

I agree with you that most of what bothers me about feminism is when it becomes an "us versus them" ideal.

It bothers me to no end when statements are uttered that simply include all men as responsible for this or that. I think its intellectually dishonest and divisive. Unfortunately I think the label "Feminism" is becoming increasingly associated with the radical version that blames men and seems to want to turn the tables as much as equalize the playing field. Which is too bad, because it shouldn't be about pointing fingers, it should be about making things right.

I don't think however that women are treated equally as men are in this country. The law arguably does, but what happens in businesses and homes across America is a completly different story. There is still very much a "good ole' boy's club" in much of corporate America. To borrow from Richard Dawkins, we still need to work to raise our consciousness about equality to all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or wealth.

So I say that I work towards equality, and leave it at that.

DBB said...

I agree that there is a "good ole boys club" in many structures of power. But I disagree that this is as much about men as it would first seem. I'm not part of any "good ole boys club" and never will be. I did not grow up in the right family and I did not attend the right elist schools. In short, that is forever closed to me. So gender is apparently not the issue. It is really about class, wealth, and connections. There is nothing in our society that prevents women from having all three.

But I can respect just working toward equality and leaving it at that. My thoughts had turned to what to do as far as a movement in that direction, and the reasons I think that ultimately, Feminism is not what will take us there the rest of the way because it is too focused on one gender, leaving out half of the population (and sometimes blaming that half as well). That's not a good starting point when the goal is equality. I mean, how many men (and even women) are not going to participate with such a stance? It seems apparent that the answer is many, given the strong reluctance even many women have to identifying themselves as 'feminsit' even as they express support for the goal of equality.

Robert said...

I agree that the larger restrictions in these "good ole boy's clubs" are wealth, status, and connections... but gender is still a part of it. It's certainly much easier to be accepted into these clubs (not that I would, we need to get rid of them, not trick our way into them) if you are a guy.

There is still a large pay gap between men and women in corporate america, far too few women in the sciences, and a lack of representation in politics. Yes we have women in power and science, but nowhere near the ratio of men to women, which is what you would expect in a completely equal society.

But of course you did say that you recognized that feminism hasn't accomplished all of its goals. I think the way to bring about a more equal society is simply education and personal principled stands.

Ampersand said...

I think your posts on feminism have displayed some poor intellectual habits, which might partly account for you being entirely wrong about everything. :-P

First of all, you have a bad habit of not sourcing your criticisms. Sometimes you mention a particular feminist who has made an argument you're criticizing, but as or more often you simply claim that "some feminists say" something as if I'm supposed to accept that it's true merely because you claim it's true. (I.e., "some feminists have said that all sex between men and women is rape"). Unsourced criticism is obviously a "moral hazard" encouraging intellectual dishonesty; but even if we assume that moral hazard doesn't apply in your case, it also makes it less likely that your readers will be able to correct you if you make honest but unintentional errors or misinterpretations.

Second, in this discussion, you speak as if your own upbringing and experiences were universal. For example, you write "I'm not part of any "good ole boys club" and never will be. I did not grow up in the right family and I did not attend the right elist schools. In short, that is forever closed to me. So gender is apparently not the issue."

But because you in particular are not a member of a "good ole boys club" doesn't logically lead to the conclusion that "gender is not the issue," unless we have some reason to believe that your experience is representative of the entire population's experience.

"I have noted that many feminists are anti-capitalist and equate capitalism with the ever omnipresent "Patriarchy" or just with keeping women down in general. But I find that totally absurd. Capitalism is gender neutral."

Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by "capitalism." If you're interested in "flowery theories... not grounded in reality or not grounded in practicality," then you can claim that capitalism is gender-neutral.

But in real-world practice, capitalist economies don't appear to be gender-neutral; look at the vastly disproportionate number of male CEOs, look at the gender wage gap, or (moving to a moment to how capitalism as applied in the real world disadvantages men) look at the vastly disproportionate number of men who die in the workplace.

"Moreover, all those feminists who advocate socialism or communism, aside from not understanding economics, are also entirely ignoring the fact that there have been plenty of socialist and communist nations that have treated women far worse than our capitalist nation does."

Well, you once again are using an unsourced criticism, so it's not possible for me to find out what specific feminists you mean or what they actually say. My guess is that most feminists, when they say they want a more socialist economy, are not saying "we should be more like the USSR under Stalin" but rather saying "we should be looking into mixed-market socialism, such as the Swedish economy."

And from a feminist perspective, many mixed-market socialist economies do a better job of treating women equally than the US economy does.

"...one of the main problems with feminism as a movement as far as what I think impedes its progress and also keeps even women today reluctant to say they are feminists is an 'us' versus 'them' mentality. I expect to see that attitude in particular rear its head in response to my posts on feminism. Which I think will just prove my point."

There is no controversial issue or worldview in which some people won't respond to criticism by getting defensive (which you could easily say is "us versus them mentality"). Saying "if you get defensive that just proves my point" is therefore one of the weakest arguments it's possible to make. If you had credible evidence to support your arguments, I don't think you'd resort to this "have you stopped beating your wife" style ploy.

I'd have nothing against changing the word "feminism" to something else if I was convinced that doing so would lead to more feminist goals being fulfilled. I am not persuaded that's the case, however.

I don't think people infringe on reproductive rights because they don't like the word "feminist"; I think they infringe on reproductive rights for a variety of more important reasons, including religious philosophy, a belief in traditional (and misogynistic) sex roles, and (in some cases) racism.

I frankly don't think the word used makes a difference one way or another. However, getting into fights about changing the word would be an enormous waste of feminist time and energy that could better be spent on more pressing issues.

DBB said...

Ampersand - thanks for the thoughtful comments, though you could probably have been a little more persuasive without the first sentence...

First, I want to say that you are correct, it is generally suspect to just say "someone says" and then knock it down as part of a critique about something. But that was not my intention in mentioning what I've read on feminist sites. And in fact, I did link to one of what I consider to be a radical feminist site (I blame the patriarchy). For economic discussions, you can look to Thinking Girl's site, which I think I referenced a specific thread to as well.

But again, that isn't the point or the reason I brought up those issues. It doesn't really matter for my argument exactly who said what. I'm not sure anyone disputes the fact that there are some pretty radical feminists. But I am not saying that those particular feminists represent most or even a large minority of feminism in general, merely that they exist, to some degree. And whatever degree that is, they would not be part of a gender neutral movement because of self-selection.

I never said my experience was universal. I shared my own experience to illustrate where I was coming from, mostly to diffuse any criticism that would simply dismiss me as being mysoginistic for criticising feminism. I wanted to communicate very clearly my views about gender equality and where they came from. I don't have any illusions that my experience represents things in general nor even do I mean to imply that my experience is common, though I never thought of my upbringing as particularly uncommon until later in life when I realized that not everywhere is like the extremely liberal community I grew up in.

So my experience was to show that, TO ME, gender is not an issue - I see men and women as equal. Whether someone else does or not, well, someone else isn't me.

Your criticism about capitalism you answer yourself in your criticism about what I said about socialism. I pointed out that there are socialist nations that have been far worse for women than our capitalist system has been, the USSR being one example. You countered by pointing out a socialist nation that you say has treated women well. Thereby providing your own answer to capitalsim - in other words, just because there has been issues for women in our capitalism (male CEOs) doesn't mean that capitalism is inherently against women, just like socialism is not - you discussed examples of socialism both better and worse for women - proving my point - that the economic system really isn't the issue - economic systems don't have a gender.

I do not claim getting defensive proves my point. I claimed an 'us' versus 'them' mentality was a problem and that criticism from me with that mentality would be an example of that. I tried my best not to provoke a defensive reaction. That generally just stifles discussion.

And finally, I don't claim that people are mysoginistic because of the label 'feminism.' My point is that more people would actively join the cause (particularly men) if it was gender-inclusive and not only all about women. I somehow doubt that mysognists would join in any case, but then, this isn't about mysoginists. This is about people already sympathetic to the cause or who would be who are turned off by the 'us' versus 'them' inherent in a movement named after only one gender. And who might be further compelled by seeing that the movement was about questioning all gender roles, not just those of women.

I stated, hopefully reasonably clearly, why I think a name change and adding to the goals of the movement would enhance the chance of those goals being met - by excising the more radical elements that I think hurt more than help, by adding huge numbers of new people to the movement, both men and women, and by dealing with gender roles of men as well as women - gender roles don't exist in a vacuum - you can't just change one role without dealing with the other.