This post is probably guaranteed to annoy some people, though hopefully not so much that it would prevent discussion. I'm not posting this to be provocative. I'm posting this because it is what I think on the subject and I find now, after thinking about this for several months as I've read many blogs across the whole feminist spectrum, that I want to try and synthesize it all into a post reflecting my current views on the subject.
I hope no one takes offense, though one thing I have gleaned is that this is guaranteed to offend a certain subset of people. And with that in mind, I want to say first, just to get it out of the way, that, while I certainly am 100% for total equality, I don't find feminism to be particularly useful today, at least not in the United States. But before I get into why, I want to give some background on myself to illustrate where I'm coming from before I give my observations, thoughts, and reasoning that led me to that conclusion. Hopefully those who are terribly offended will bear with me through this and hopefully they will be considerably less offended by the time they finish reading. I don't expect to really change anyone's mind, especially on a topic like this that can be so volatile, but perhaps this will lead to further discussion and some degree of understanding between those with opposing points of view.
First, my background.
To fully explain where I came from, I first need to talk a bit about where my parents came from. In particular, my mother. My mother is one of four sisters. Apparently there was a brother, but he died in childbirth or infancy, I am not sure which at this point (and it doesn't really matter now). My mother was the oldest sister. Not having any boys, my grandfather apparently did a lot of things with her he otherwise would have done with a son because, well, he did not have one. I'm not entirely sure what all this entailed, but the one thing I do know is that my mother has always been a huge sports fan (when it comes to college football and basketball). Far more of a fan, in fact, than my father, who as far as I can see really doesn't pay attention to sports at all. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I also have really no interest in watching sports, and this is probably why.
My mother is also five years older than my father, something that is also rather unusual, though I'm sure not unheard of, in their day. They have been married now almost 44 years. I have an older sister and she is the jock in the family. She always has been. I, as my blog indicates, am quite the nerd. I've never been all that active, I generally stayed inside and read books (and did other things). When I was little, if I was threatened, it was my sister who threatened to beat up whomever was bothering me, and she could certainly back that up, though she never actually did. But knowing that she could and would certainly made me feel better.
I grew up in an extremely liberal town, also, so growing up, from my point of view, women seemed like they were pretty well equal to men, better than some men in a physical sense, and so you could say that I grew up with a very skewed point of view on that. It certainly colored how I thought about dating and such. To a certain degree, that led to later disillusionment, as I discovered that despite my egalitarian notions, women still apparently did not do much asking out and did not apparently generally find men who were not strong and aggressive and successful in some sense very attractive. Of course, this is just a generalization. I went through a "nice guy" phase, which many in my shoes do, where I was resentful about that, but I came to realize that just because the world wasn't exactly as I thought it was was no reason to sulk. And really, you just have to deal with the world and the people in it as they are, so I adjusted, I did eventually do some asking out, and so I got to enjoy (or not) the various ups and downs of dating, though at an age later than most.
This brings me to something else about myself that I want to mention. This also goes back to why I'm a libertarian as well. I am very practical. I have little use for flowery theories in such things as philosophy that are not grounded in reality or not grounded in practicality. My basic question with things is, "Well, can you build a bridge out of it?" and if not, then what use is it. (I'm speaking somewhat metaphorically here. I do recognize there are plenty of practical things that do not involve the tangible, such as what might be involved in rational project management for IT projects (This book is an excellent resource on that)).
In sum, my background with regards to how I viewed women was built on a rather non-standard model, in a very liberal community, so I grew up generally thinking total equality was a done deal and it never even occurred to me that it wasn't quite the case in all areas at that time. I certainly would never think there was a profession or role that someone would not be allowed to do just based on gender. The very notion of it was alien to my thinking, probably to the same degree a medieval person would find the notion of, say, a female pope. I certainly saw nothing limiting my sister or my mother from doing what they wanted to do just because they were women. It would not have even occurred to me.
Let me be clear. This isn't a case of me thinking there's no problems for women because I haven't experienced life as a woman. I'm talking about my first-hand impressions of the women closest to me growing up, my mother and my sister. I'm talking about my personal view growing up that women were absolutely equal and capable of doing anything men could do. I took that as a given.
My observations of Feminism online
Fast forward to now. The web. Blogs. Lots of hours online reading. I stumbled across many different blogs. Some of these blogs are labled 'Feminist' some are labeled 'Radical Feminist' some only talk about Feminist issues. The blogs I have read the most of include those blogs mentioned in my blogroll as well as some others. I've also seen discussions on feminism elsewhere. There is even a blog of feminist critics.
Of course, the easiest observation to make is that not all those who label themselves as "Feminists" agree on everything. Hardly surprising. But it isn't just that there is disagreement, there is disagreement to the point where some of the feminsts apparently attack other feminists as not being feminist at all. Generally the biggest targets of this are women who are what is known as "sex-positive" or women who are in what is known as the 'sex worker' trade - strippers, prostitutes, porn actors. I suppose this should not be too surprising, since some feminists have said that all sex between men and women is rape (because apparently women are incapable of offering consent). Therefore any women showing enjoyment of sex or her sexuality with men is immediately suspect as being apparently brainwashed or duped by the omnipresent Patriarchy (more on that later).
I saw one woman, Renegade Evolution, harrased and threatened to the point where she has now agreed to never speak on feminist issues again. I found this somewhat alarming, and also somewhat hypocrtical of those who did this to her. I've seen other women as a result of that decide they no longer want to be identified as feminist, in part because of episodes like that. And I can understand why. It seems like Feminism, to some, requires a conformance of the level that they apparently accuse the "Patriarchy" of forcing on women, all without any apparent irony or self-awareness of the hypocrisy in so doing.
I found one posting to be particularly compelling critique on the whole topic of feminism and discussion of it with people online, though it was specifically an answer to one particular feminist. I don't necessarily agree with everything in that one post (certainly not everything on that site as a whole), but I thought it was an interesting take on the issue.
Another thing I've found often on Feminism blogs is the notion that 'this blog is not feminism 101' and accompanying FAQ. Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to keep discussions going forward without having to explain the jargon and so forth, though one would hope an effective FAQ could do that. But I wonder if implicit in that statement to 'go somewhere else' if you don't understand Feminism 101 (whatever that may be), is that you really need to not only know about the premises, but AGREE with them or you aren't welcome in the discussion. Now that may be true to a certain degree with any discussion - if you cannot agree on ANY basic premises, it is hard to carry on a conversation. But if you take that too far, I think you take it to the point where the only people you have a discussion with are people who already agree with you, and that is just preaching to the choir. That is where ideas stagnate and die.
Another feeling I get is one of arrogance - that if one doesn't accept all of what 'Feminism 101' is, one is somehow inferior or just behind or not mature in the discussion. Again, there is a kernal of truth to that - one should not engage in a conversation on a topic without being familiar with it to some degree. It does not pay to argue from ignorance. That said, when the owners of such blogs respond to a well thought-out post with disdainful dismissals that don't really respond to the arguments and which really aren't answered in any Feminism 101 blogs either, that brings me back to what I said above - ideas stagnate and die.
Something not unique to Feminism discussions, but that I have experienced in discussions on feminist blogs, is the piling on one gets when you challenge a dearly-held premise in a discussion. I got the feeling of piling on in this thread, though I did enjoy the discussion. Though now it seems to have fizzled out, disappointingly (well for me, anyway - perhaps those reading the thread are relieved...) I have a few things I want to say about that as well, but I'll save that for another post since that is more about a few specific discussions than about feminism in general.
Ok, now I've meandered enough. This is more stream of consciousness than well planned post, but I wanted to indicate where I've been coming from and where I've been.
Now, here's the really basic reason why I think there isn't a need for feminism and why I think it is ultimately counter-productive as a movement, at least under that name.
1) I think feminism is not needed because I think there really does not need to be any more women's right's movement. I think women have all of the rights they need. When I say that, that does NOT mean that I think all women's issues are solved nor do I think that women have equal power and influence in all areas of our society, nor do I think we have successfully allowed all women to escape traditional gender roles. But those issues are separate from rights. Women can vote now. They can own property. They are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. They have run for every elected office in this country. And maybe soon, one will even be elected president. The only jobs women are completely barred from are the heavy combat roles in the military, and given the nature of modern warfare, they are still ending up in the front lines and in combat anyway.
Note that I also do not think we need any special rights for men, either. I discovered on the Feminist blogs something called MRAs - Men's Rights Activists. Men who apparently think men need rights to make things even with women, perhaps in areas like child custody and dating. (I'm not exactly an expert on MRAs - I only know about them secondhand). I can say that I don't think men need any special gender rights. Men have all that they need.
(And as an aside, this is not to say that there are some rights I'm concerned about that have nothing to do with gender, particularly with our authoritarian president, but those are civil rights issues that are of equal concern for everyone and so I leave that out of this discussion).
2) I think because rights have been won for women (the right to vote, the right not to be discriminated against in the workplace, the right not to be assaulted or harrassed, etc) - well, what is a movement to do when its primary goals in the realm of rights have been met? Those who have defined their lives around a right's movement - it can be hard for them to let go. Perhaps then they go looking for a new cause to keep on going. But with all the big things taken care of, you'll end up going after the nit-picking things. Pretty soon, the movement is seen more as a hindrance than a help because when you complain about EVERYTHING you are seen as a whiner. Note, I'm just speaking in general terms here, not necessarily about feminism or any group in particular. I'm talking about the dangers of being too successful. Where you have solutions in search of problems. I think this, to some limited degree, has infected the feminist movement.
3) I think because of the more radical elements of feminism, in part related to 2) above, that it has gotten a bad reputation with mainstream America. Not every feminist is a man-hating womyn who wants revenge on all men and sees all men as rapists. But those who do feel that way are a very vocal minority. And because of 2), with fewer women feeling the need to be in the movement because the big rights have already been achieved, that leaves proportionately more of the "active" feminists as the more radical ones, so their voice becomes even more associated with feminism in general. I've seen radical feminist Twisty seriously suggest that rape laws should be changed so that consent is removed from the equation, thereby making all sex between men and a woman rape - it is just a quesiton of whether or not the woman presses charges or not. The idea, apparently, is that this will cause men to treat women with great respect for fear of being charged with rape after the fact. She says this shouldn't be a problem for all those men who treat their women well enough that they'd never do this. I won't waste any words pointing out how ridiculous such law would be, but I mention it to illustrate the thinking in the radical feminist blogsphere.
4) Finally, the main reason I think feminism isn't useful is that I think what we really need is a 'Gender Roles Transition Movement' - or something better named than that. Because really, what women have done with feminism is freed women from traditional gender roles. But what has NOT happened is any freedom for men from their traditional gender roles. Women now have two choices - work or stay home with the kids. Men generally have two choices too. Work or work. I know there are some exceptions (for six months, I was one - I stayed home with my daughter), but generally, a man looking to marry a woman who tells her he wants to stay home with the kids is going to see skid marks in the parking lot as she runs away.
I've seen some feminists voice agreement with this general concept, but then say it is still within the province of feminism. But I find this unconvincing. Sure, you can talk about feminism being about changing roles for men as well as women, but the name of the movement belies this - feminism is a word and a movement that is really all about women. As such, it will never completely be embraced by men - from the outset, they are set as outsiders to the movement. And many men who do bring up such gender role issues in feminist discussions get shot down and labeled as MRAs even though they are not, at least not by how MRAs are traditionally defined.
I think moving forward, to have real equality for everyone, in a movement that welcomes everyone and is not limited just to looking at women (or at men) we need to have a gender neutral gender transition movement. That is something that, at its core, includes everyone. You would not have an 'us' versus ' them', another pitfall of feminsim. No matter how well intentioned, a movement named after one gender and only one gender is bound to attract those of that gender who hate the opposite gender and want to use the movement to gain advantage over them. That is how feminists view MRAs - men trying to get advantages over women. And they are probably right.
Why not have a human rights movement, one that includes both genders, that focuses on neither, but instead focuses on questioning traditional gender roles for either gender? That would be useful. That would take us to the next step. That's what I'm talking about when I say I don't think feminism is useful anymore. That would be an inclusive movement, without all the divisiveness of feminism and without any of its baggage, either.
Those who still want to hate men and support only women, well, they'll be free to do so. They can even call themselves feminists - and that will clearly distinguish them from those who support full equality and freedom from traditional gender roles for both genders.
I don't claim that all issues with gender roles are solved today. Clearly, they are not. But I think today, women are far ahead of men when it comes to breaking the traditional gender mold. Their experiences in doing so can only help men who are trying to break free from their own gender roles. Why not have men and women work together on this in a new movement that is about breaking traditional roles rather than about just advancing one gender only?
Some would call this anti-feminist, but really, I am not against the general goals of feminism - I'm strongly for them. I see women as fully equal to men in all ways. I always have. For me, this isn't being anti-anything. This is about moving beyond feminism to something that does everything feminism would hope for and then adding on top of that even more.
The Omnipresent Patriarchy
One final thought here on the whole 'Patriarchy' concept. I could have a full post on this. Let me just say this: I think this is a word that needs to be retired, for the same reasons I think 'feminism' needs to be retired - it is about an 'us' versus 'them'. By calling the problems with traditional gender roles in our society by this name, one is implicitly making all men culprits, all men the enemy, when the reality is, 99.99% of men have no real power and are in charge of basically nothing. The coincidence that those who DO have power are mostly of the same gender as me gives me no special power myself. I'll still never be president. I'll never likely hold ANY elective office. I'll never be CEO of any major corporation. Because I have no power and no connections and likely never will. Sharing a 'Y' chromosome with those who do hold power doesn't give me any special powers any more than I would have special power if the current ruler was named 'Frank' and my name was 'Frank'. Calling then our whole power structure the 'Franktriarchy' wouldn't make sense if at the same time there were also two million other 'Franks' who had no power and never likely would. And it would be terribly silly to tell those two million 'Franks' who have no power that they can't complain because those in power share the same name so obviously that gives them power, too. Clearly, sharing a name does not grant power any more than sharing a chromosome does. It just gives the illusion of shared power.
In closing, I would think that if the most powerful nation on Earth elects to be its leader a woman - that would put to rest forever the notion of the 'Patriarchy' - after all, how can it be all about men if a woman is in charge? And if it could still be 'Patriarchy' even with a woman in charge, then maybe it really isn't about gender after all, in which case, the name is even more a misnomer.
1 year ago