Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hate Tolerance, Feminist Critics, and Equality

It was hard coming up with a title to convey everything that I was thinking of as I decided to make this post, so I did my best. What spurred me to actually write this was this post at Feminist Critics, though a lot of what is in this has been bouncing around my head for a while now.

The post referenced above got me going because I think it is ultimately an unfair criticism. Painting all who call themselves feminists as 'hate tolerant' because they don't protest the more extreme elements of radical feminism just isn't fair. To me, it brings to mind what is wrong with some brands of feminism, in that they paint with a broad brush, denigrating men for the same sort of thing, for not protesting things that other men do, for instance, male politicians or leaders, or CEOs, or criminals. And that simply isn't fair either. One is not responsible for the acts of others just because you share a demographic. You can show evidence of the one million of the worst mysoginistic men in existence, and it is irrelevant if you are using their existence and deeds to somehow reflect on me or on men, in general. I am not responsible for what others do. "Class men" is not responsible either. Particularly where the actual perpetrators of violence, and those in power are a very tiny fraction of the population. And so it is with feminism. The most radical feminists are only a fraction of the total number of feminists. Why should one have to prove "creds" by criticising them? True, there is one difference, in that the decision to be associated with the name 'feminist' is voluntary (while being a man really is not), but the basic principle is still the same.

It has been argued that the criticism should not be so stinging because if you are a feminist and you do criticise the bad elements of feminist radicals, then it "isn't about you" - but I think that sort of thing rings rather hollow, just as hollow as when it is said by feminists making thinly veiled generally-applicable misandrist statements and then saying men shouldn't be upset because if it doesn't describe them, it "isn't about them." I call bullshit on that.

So I don't really think it is valid to try and paint with a broad brush and apply the sins of few feminists against all feminists. It IS, of course, appropriate to criticise the hell out of the sins themselves. But don't attribute them to those who don't espouse them. Speaking of criticism, that brings me to my next point.

This post by Aposate also got my attention. While I agree with much of what she says, something in it stood out, where she said that 'I see “Feminist Critics” and I see zero value in it. ' That to me seemed rather dogmatic. What is she saying, that there is no value in criticising feminsim? That is what she has done in this post and in others. Or is it the idea of the site itself, having a site of non-feminists give critical analysis of feminism? I don't agree with everything on that site. I also think some of the comments can be rather obnoxious. That said, it is an order of magnitude better and more polite, more open to real discussion, than many many femisist sites I've seen and read. And even if one doesn't agree with most of what is on that site, I think it has value simply because of the dangers of echo chambers and the extremism that they breed. Avoiding discussion of feminism with people who haven't already drunk the cool-aid is another way to extremism. I try to read sites I don't agree with just to get other points of view. What is sad is that so many of those sites don't even let someone like me (who doesn't just blindly agree with everything the site sponsor says) make a comment, or if I do, I can get visciously attacked, as I illustrated in the echo chamber post (pointing here and here).

One last comment about feminsm (and this may be my last comment on that subject for a while - it feels like beating a dead horse and also there just doesn't seem to be too many people willing to discuss it (at least with me on this site - but then I don't claim to be the great source of discussion...))

I hear it often said that feminism is simply 'the radical notion that women are people.' Or that it is about equality or equal rights for women. And that is laudible and I agree with it. But something that I've noticed in my readings on feminism is that, really, that is not exactly true. That's something for the longest time that I could not quite put my finger on, that bothered me about feminism. The truth is, feminism is NOT about equality or women as people, not primarily. It is about promoting women. A subtle, but important difference. And I've noticed that one gets that true definition when someone, usually a man, attempts to use the first definition. Or rather, the definition put forth changes depending on the context.

If one is trying to show a person as unreasonable for saying something bad about feminism or for not supporting feminism, the first definition I mention above is used, to show just how unreasonable the person is for 'not seeing women as people' or for being against equality.

But then when the conversation is about actual equality, then the definition changes, and it really isn't about equality anymore, it is about promoting women, shedding light on issues important to women, etc. And so mere 'equality' is then said not to really be the point, but something more.

That bothers me. Because that, to me, sounds dishonest, or rather, is too convenient. Let me first just say that there is nothing wrong with a movement to promote women. I think it is needed for all the reasons you can think of. What bothers me is the dishonesty about pretending it is one thing when it is really something else. I don't know if I'm articulating this very well here. But basically, it just irks me to see it claimed that feminism is just about women as people or equality, when that really isn't true, those are secondary to feminsm. (And further, since very few people in this country would dispute that women are people or would advocate denying equality to women - it makes it seem to me that this is just a convenient definition used to bludgeon someone and avoid dealing with valid criticism of feminism).

In fact, I'll have to say, right now, the most troubling aspect of feminism, for me, is this false claim of 'its all about equality.' I'm all about equality. I have always thought women were people. But I don't claim to be a feminist. The fact that my support of equality is not enough to allow me to post in a feminist thread at amps I think is rather definitive proof that feminism is NOT primarily about equality. At least it is for me.

Again, to reiterate, there's nothing wrong with promoting women. Just admit that's what you are primarily about. Promoting women and women's issues. Not equality. It may seem like a silly or too-subtle difference, but it grates on me. One final thought on that - if one disputes my contention that feminists really don't do that definitional switchero - in other words, if someone takes issue with that and wants to argue that feminism really is mainly about women as people and equality, then would such a person, instead of criticising me, then label me a feminist because I share those views and call me part of the feminist movement because I embrace the core principles of feminism? If not, doesn't that suggest that I'm right?

11 comments:

The said...

if someone takes issue with that and wants to argue that feminism really is mainly about women as people and equality, then would such a person, instead of criticising me, then label me a feminist because I share those views and call me part of the feminist movement because I embrace the core principles of feminism?

"Feminist" is a label. You are not one if you don't call yourself one.

Feminism is about equality for women with men, to be achieved through promoting women. So you're both right and wrong. How do you think equality comes about except through the promotion of the unequal member?

As for Feminist Critics... There is nothing to criticize about the idea of men's and women's equality.

DBB said...

See, you are doing what I am criticising - equating feminsim with equalism - something I've seen feminists explicitly disavow being.

Moreover, you do NOT get equality just by promoting one gender - the reason for this is that there are, in fact, areas where women have an advantage over men. It does not matter that most areas the reverse is true. In fact, even if it were one factor out of a hundred, that still means that simply promoting women will never get you to equality - because you'd be leaving out the promotion of men in the areas where men are behind, minority though they may be.

To get to equality you need to promote women where they are behind and you need to promote men where THEY are behind. Certainly there is a lot more work on the women side of that equation, but that doesn't mean there is no work on the men side.

And feminism isn't about that. Which is why it isn't about equality. Which is why the fact that there may be nothing to criticise about the idea of equality, while true, does not eliminate the need for criticism of feminism. Feminism isn't about equality. It is about a lot of other things, but primarily, the promotion of women. And since feminism is also a political movement, it seems rather strange to say it is beyond criticism. ALL political movements in particular should be subject to the most rigorous crticism because of the dangers of extremism.

And as far as the label itself - if feminism were truly ONLY the idea of equality between the genders, then whether I chose to use the label or not, I'd be a feminist. A=B, B=C => A=C.

Revenant said...

So this is like using "she" as the standard pronoun in literature instead of "he", as if that somehow belittles women. Two wrongs apparently do make a right.

I play a lot of D&D, and Wankers of the Coast publish all their books with the "she" pronoun, even though the vast majority of their customer base is male. It's just silly.

DBB said...

I don't particularly think it matters if you use 'he' or 'she' - I noticed that at first when I read the Wizards books because I wasn't used to it, but then I very quickly got used to it and now I don't even notice it anymore. My focus is on the material, not the pronouns.

Revenant said...

Well, someone thinks they're righting some perceived wrong, since "he" was the accepted standard forever. If they wanted to make things "right" they should have used "it" or "one". It does bother me because there's no reason for the change.

DBB said...

You know, what came to mind when I saw it was that perhaps they were trying to market D&D toward women more - there's a vast untapped market there, since most gamers are male, though that is changing. Since I think marketing more to women is a good idea, it didn't bother me and, as I said before, I've since ceased even noticing it as I read things in the rules / play / use the books. In the end, I really don't care what pronoun they use - I just care if the material in the books is any good.

hedera said...

I liked what Larry Niven did with gender pronouns in Ringworld - he had a race that had 3 genders, and the third gender was referred to as "hir" and variants of same.

Of course the feminist movement is about the promotion of women; any time you're trying to change a broad societal attitude (and there are still broad societal attitudes that women belong in the kitchen, cooking and taking care of kids, or why do you think so many people react so viscerally to Hillary Clinton?), you have to push rather harder in the opposite direction than may be entirely rational. You have to keep reminding the world about what you're trying to change. But none of this justifies the rudeness that DBB has run into in some of those feminist sites.

hedera said...

Oh, yeah, you remarked that "being a man really is not" (voluntary, that is). Given the number of tales of transgender transformations I've read lately, I'm not so sure you can say that being a man isn't voluntary any more...

DBB said...

Hedera - that makes perfect sense, which is part of why it annoys me when people try to pretend feminism is simply an egalitarian movement instead of being about promotion of women. There are certainly rational arguments, as you make, to simply be pro-woman and not worry about overall equality primarily - because there is a lot of ground to make up.

I've seen 'hir' used elsewhere - it is an interesting pronoun.

I know about trans - but given that most people would never change their gender, it is not much of an option - and somewhat ironically, with certain radfeminists in particular, it actually isn't an option - they don't consider men who change their sex to women to be women - they treat them as men, still. Perhaps because they don't like allowing the subjects of their misandry (i.e. all men) to be able to escape their wrath through surgery. Fortunately, they are a small (but vocal) minority.

Seraph said...

*raises hand* here's one feminist who believes in feminism as an equality movement, and I would label you a feminist myself. While some feminists may disavow being equalists, I have spent virtually all the time I have called myself a feminist disavowing that disavowal. I'm for having more women in public office and other high-powered positions if they'd like, and I'm for men being caretakers and househusbands and receptionists if they choose. Though my current college environment is open to such things, the region I live in and the religious denomination I was raised in, people who would deny equality to women are not some teeweeny minority.

So, I mildly disagree with you; but then I am only one little feminist, and I have a sneaking suspicion that you're right about a whole lot of vocal feminists.

DBB said...

Seraph - I'm glad to hear that for you feminism truly is about equality. But as you say, I think you are in a minority of feminists, at least among the vocal ones, for whom feminism is only about equality when they want to shut down criticism of feminism where it clearly isn't about equality.