A few months back, I wrote a post about why I don't get Christianity. And it worked out really well, it generated loads of interesting discussion and I learnt a whole lot. I've been meaning to do something similar about why I don't consider myself as a feminist. Because I find feminism both fascinating and repulsive, so I'm hoping to get a similar level of discussion going.
I want to start with a lot of the same stuff from the intro to the old post. If you want to be offended, be my guest; I'm not going to mince words here. At the same time, this is by no means directed at any individual who identifies as a feminist. I am aware that 'feminism' is not entirely monolithic, and not all the criticisms here apply to all feminists, so don't bother calling me on that one. Do, however, feel more than free to correct me otherwise, because I have not made a detailed study of feminism, and it seems likely that many of my problems with the movement stem from ignorance. I should point out that I am in sympathy with some feminist aims; I would not bother writing an essay about why I am not a neo-Nazi, for example!
When I was a kid, feminists were rude people who came into my house and made my mother cry. Most people would express gratitude for her excellent hospitality and the delicious meals she would provide, but feminists would criticize her for spending so much time in the kitchen. As often as not, they would go on to tell her she had wasted her life and betrayed the Cause because she had left her high-powered professional job when I was born to become a full-time housewife.
I try not to be prejudiced by that negative first impression, but it does lead on to a more general point. Feminism seems to be extremely concerned with telling people how to live their lives. To take a trivial example, I've never come across any sexist man criticizing me for not making enough effort with my appearance (the way sexist men are apparently prone to do), but I've very often been taken to task by feminists for wearing long skirts and keeping my hair long, because apparently I'm promoting sexist stereotypes of femininity. And that's direct, personal, in-my-face criticism, not even counting all the articles that have been written complaining about women who dye their hair, or wear makeup, or revealing clothes, or have cosmetic surgery.
I agree with the feminist view that women should not be forced to conform to certain patterns of behaviour, but I do not agree that women should be forbidden from those lifestyles. I think people should be able to dress how they like, and do the jobs they want and are capable of, and make personal choices about whom to sleep with and how they want to structure their families, and so on. I honestly can't see how someone (like my mother) choosing to be centred on the domestic sphere and local community rather than the professional sphere is harming women who want highly paid and highly respected city jobs.
Then there's the obsession with oppression and persecution. I mean, I'm rich, I have skills that society values, I have good health, I'm white (I tend to hope that doesn't make too much difference, but as far as it does, the difference is in my favour). I've always been able to get whatever I want in life. The idea of considering myself oppressed or persecuted is pretty much ridiculous. Yet, most (not all, I know there are some exceptions) feminists are people like me; they are among society's most privileged people, yet their whole philosophy is centred around how much they, as women, get discriminated against.
Women in affluent western societies earn, on average, 10-20% less than men over their working lives. This is a bad thing, it's discriminatory, and something should be done about it. Thus far I agree with feminists. However, it's hard for me to get extremely worked up about it when those women are still part of the 20% of the world's population controlling 80% of the world's resources. It's a problem if a businesswoman is passed over for promotion on grounds of gender, and reaches a glass ceiling so that she can never exceed her five-figure salary when her male colleagues are earning far more. But it's pretty insignificant compared to a billion people who earn less than a dollar a day. And even if you only care about this country, there are a lot of people (of both genders) who are far worse off than typical feminist causes célèbres.
The narrowness of this view reminds me of another bugbear: women who wear the various forms of traditional Muslim dress are automatically regarded as victims of terrible oppression by their evil patriarchal religion. At the same time, female circumcision is absolutely fine and dandy, because it's "culturally determined" and often practised by women.
I don't like being told what to think. Every time I've observed feminists, they seem to be accusing someone or other of not being a real feminist because they don't hold the right beliefs. For my part, I'd rather define myself as not a feminist, so that feminists will try to persuade me why their cause is right, rather than defining myself as a feminist and being told I'm not good enough because I don't agree with someone's pet theory. Also, a lot of feminist theory is presented in a way that makes it totally unfalsifiable; there's this whole 'if you don't accept this view, you must be collaborating with the patriarchy' sort of approach, and I really hate that.
Then there's all the jargon and shibboleths, which again focus energy on deciding who gets to be counted as a feminist, rather than actually doing anything to improve women's situations. Sometimes it seems to me that feminism is mostly a branch of post-modernist literary theory. I find any kind of literary theory only of limited interest as an intellectual discipline, and really completely useless as a tool for political change. So I can't be a feminist because I know next to nothing about post-modernism.
The other consequence of this sort of approach is the emphasis on gender-inclusive language. I don't care about gender inclusive language. I'm not violently against it, it's not a sinister force destroying the purity of communication, or something. I also don't base this opinion on the ridiculous examples of 'political correctness' which are all too easy to mock. If some gender-inclusive language is kind of clunky and awkward right now, that's just because people aren't used to it yet, and I'm sure it will sound much nicer if becomes habitual. It just seems rather pointless. It takes a lot of effort to make people change the way they speak, and I'm really unconvinced that the effort is justified. It's really hard to get any sensible answers out of feminists on this issue - I've tried - because either they accuse me of being sexist myself if I don't support feminist language change, or they go off into flights of post-modernism and I really can't follow. So I remain unconvinced.
I find myself disagreeing with feminists even on some of what you would think would be absolutley no-brainer questions. Rape is bad, duh. Except that a lot of feminist rhetoric seems to imply if not actually state outright that rape of women by men is the only serious problem. I don't care if men are a thousand times less likely to be raped than women (I think that's highly unlikely, but anyway, hypothetically); it's still an absolutely terrible thing and should in no way be condoned. The feminist view on this seems to fall on a spectrum from trivializing rape of men and same-sex rape, which is pretty bad, to accusing anyone who cares about these issues of being evilly anti-feminist, which is just disgusting. Exactly the same argument applies to domestic violence which is not sexual in nature.
I'm not happy about what I perceive as the attitude of feminism towards men. Now, feminists are always loudly declaring that they don't really hate men, that's just an evil caricature by anti-feminists. OK, so I'm prepared to believe that feminists don't hate men, but I'm still going to take issue with the way feminism portrays and interacts with men. For a start, the idea of a 'patriarchy' sounds like a conspiracy theory to me, and I am automatically hugely skeptical about conspiracy theories. I really can not believe that all or most men actively collude to retain power and suppress women. Also, my observation of the world does not suggest that most men even have power over most women.
The corollorary to this is the view that men can not possibly ever be feminists. And if they try to be feminists, they are going to be constantly acting against their own interests which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Thus, any man who claims to be a feminist is either actively lying (see above re the patriarchy theory), or at best is automatically suspect. I can't believe that. I think if feminism is genuinely about justice and equality for women, then it is just as much in men's interests as women's. And if feminists persist in declaring that men can't be feminists, it makes me suspect that their aims are not really to do with justice, but something else, and I'm not sure if I want to buy into that something else.
I've tried to be fairly balanced up to now, but one thing that makes me absolutely spitting furious is the hate speech that comes from some feminists against transsexuals. I know that not all feminists are prejudiced, but there are far too many who go about saying the sorts of things that I would expect from thugs, not serious scholars, and the fact that such people are still accepted as part of the mainstream feminist community is enough to put me off the whole movement. Apart from a small minority, even those feminists who are not spouting sick, disgusting, dehumanizing crap tend not to see the rights of transsexuals as important, whereas I would say that transsexuals suffer from much, much worse discrimination than born women. Obviously some transsexuals are also women (or if you want to look at this way, all transsexuals are women at some point in their lives), so if feminism really cares about women's rights, then those transsexuals should be included in their cause.
I don't want to associate myself with a group that turns a blind eye, much less contributes, to violent hatred of a particular minority. Even apart from that, I think these kind of attitudes betray a serious underlying problem. Male-to-female transsexuals seem to be villified because they're "really" men. Now, the obvious part of this assumption is just ignorant, it wouldn't take very much reading to find out that this is not in fact the case. But the less obvious assumption is that they are men therefore it's ok to hate them, which tends to belie the feminist claim about not hating men in the first place. Likewise, if feminists don't hate men, why should they have such a problem with someone born biologically female choosing to become a man?
To take another emotive point (and I'm expecting to get absolutely jumped on here), there's the abortion issue. While I believe abortion should be legal, I can't call myself pro-choice. I don't think women have a "right" to abortion, because I don't think abortion is a good thing. There may be limited circumstances where abortion is the least bad of several bad options, but that doesn't mean I see abortion as desirable. I've repeatedly heard feminists say, if you're not pro-choice you can't be a feminist; ok, so I'm not a feminist.
The other reason I have a huge problem with the pro-choice movement is their tendency to use arguments along the lines of, well, obviously abortion must be legal, because no sane person could possibly expect a woman to give birth to a disabled child! And that slips frighteningly fast into, disabled people have no quality of life, so it's kinder to kill them. No, I'm not entirely objective about this. I'm the daughter of a disabled mother, and the sister of a severely (by any definition) disabled brother, so it's not something I can regard in a purely theoretical light.
I think my major problem with feminism as an approach (rather than particular individual aspects of the feminist movement as it actually is) is that it genders things that don't need to be gendered. I see people as people first, not men and women. I want to make the world better for people, not for women (particularly not if improving things for women is at the expense of men). I don't want to see more women in positions of power and influence, I want to see better systems to ensure that the best people are rewarded and have the most say in running things. That means that if in a particular circumstance, women are being discriminated against, I would want to do something about that discrimination, but I don't want to start from the assumption that in every situation, increasing female representation is the most important issue. Likewise, I want to encourage people to behave more compassionately and less aggressively; I don't think this corresponds to with 'promoting feminine values'.
Even on its own terms, I'm not entirely convinced that feminism is actually the best way to make things better for women. It's good for a particular subset of women, but my feeling is that it's doing far too little (and in some cases is actually harming) for some of the women who most need it. Feminism sometimes seems to be promoting the rights of women as long as they're not too traditionally feminine, not poor or uneducated, or foreign, or Muslim, or transsexual, or disabled, and most certainly not if they're critical of feminism. I'm overstating my case here, but I do feel that feminism is a bit of an interest group for a particular crowd of people. I have no problem with that as a cause, but it's not a cause that I feel much obligation to commit myself to.
The proper descriptor for people who tell other people that they have chosen to live their lives wrongly is "rude." The proper descriptor for people who also feel that one's hairstyle is a lifestyle choice is "silly." I've certainly met plenty of rude and/or silly feminists, but I prefer not to think that they are representative of feminism. Neither is the woman who once told me I was too young to be a feminist. As it happens, I do consider myself a feminist, and by my lights you'd be one too -- how you define your position on abortion has little to do with it, although I suppose I come out as pro-choice because I strongly oppose governmental regulation of abortions.
Part of the problem is that we all joke a little bit about the things we love, and to outsiders or people dubious about those categories it can come across as a serious problem. I don't really think that it interferes with my self-identification as a Jewish feminist when I lay tefillin in public mostly on the mornings I get to watch my boyfriend daven Pesukei d'Zimra; I just think it's funny. If I weren't dating someone who'd do the same for me (and he's less of a morning person than I am!), that might be a problem.
I've certainly met plenty of rude and/or silly feminists, but I prefer not to think that they are representative of feminism. This is a very fair point. I think my problem is not so much with particular individual feminists who might have been rude, though those make more colourful examples for a blog post. It's more the general attitude that feminists seem to feel entitled to pontificate about things that I think should be up to each individual.
I do consider myself a feminist, and by my lights you'd be one too, Well, thank you for that. I think one of the nice things about defining myself as not a feminist is that people fall over themselves to convince me that I am in fact one of them, I just don't know it yet. Whereas feminists always seem to be telling declared feminists that they're not feminist enough. I hold the views I hold, and if that happens to define me as a feminist according to some, well and good, but if not, I'm not going to pressured into changing my opinions so I can be part of the group.
how you define your position on abortion has little to do with it I've read an awful lot of statements to the effect that a pro-life feminist is an oxymoron, though. The fact that there exist some pro-life feminists for other feminists to bitch about does suggest that such a position is at least possible, I admit.
we all joke a little bit about the things we love Oh, this is absolutely reasonable, and I'm sure there are nuances I miss because I am after all looking in from the outside.
I lay tefillin in public mostly on the mornings I get to watch my boyfriend daven Pesukei d'Zimra That's both funny and sweet! There seems to be an anti-feminist stereotype that feminists are serious all the time and have no sense of humour, but I've never seen that to be the case.
I also deliberately didn't mention in my post feminism as applied to Judaism and liturgical practice, because that's a very specialist area. FWIW I lay tefillin on the shamefully rare occasions when I actually manage weekday davening. And I would do it in public if I lived somewhere where communal weekday davening happened. So I'm not in a position to campaign loudly for the right of women to lay tefillin. My first goal is to work up to actually davening regularly in the first place, and then I can worry about whether people think I'm entitled to that mitzvah or not!
Interesting - I more or less agree with everything you've written, but I'd still self define as a feminist (according to my own definition of the term).
I see feminism as about promoting equality between men & women and nothing more. I don't subscribe to the 'all sex is rape' line. Like sexuality this is another area where getting caught up in labels isn't particularly helpful.
I'm (by my own definition) pro choice. I might well prefer it if women choose not to abort unwanted foetuses, but what I think doesn't matter - a pre-viable foetus is in many respects a parasite (in that s/he is incapable of living without being inside the woman's body). Who am I to tell someone 'You must keep this parasite inside you, even though you don't want it?'
I don't like sex neutral language, it sounds forced & false - particularly the substitution of 'they' for 's/he'. I subscribe to the argument that says the masculine includes the feminine.
I feel very strongly about gender-neutral language, because I very much want a way in which to be gender-neutral online - it is to my mind entirely irrelevant to much of the discourse I wish to engage in how my chromosomes are arranged, and it matters to me to have a pronoun appropriate to that without having to resort to hideously ugly neologisms. I also feel strongly about "they" because the introduction of the inclusive masculine as a replacement for singular "they" in English was a movement by seventeenth-century grammarians who had a very definite, and very sexist, political agenda; I see it as undoing an old harm. If gender-neutral "they" was good enough for Chaucer, it's good enough for me.
I agree with the feminist view that women should not be forced to conform to certain patterns of behaviour, but I do not agree that women should be forbidden from those lifestyles.
I'd argue that forbidding women from any lifestyle is a phenomenally anti-feminist stance. One of the aims of feminism is to create a world in which women can choose the lives we want as easily as men can; it shouldn't matter what we choose. Anyone who says otherwise is misinterpreting feminism, if you ask me.
Yet, most (not all, I know there are some exceptions) feminists are people like me; they are among society's most privileged people, yet their whole philosophy is centred around how much they, as women, get discriminated against.
I'd reframe: I'd say our whole philosophy is centered around how women get discriminated against (and, by extention, how discrimination plays out in the lives of other communities -- genuine feminism isn't solely woman-focused). How women get discriminated against -- not how we ourselves specifically get discriminated against. That's a relevant distinction.
The narrowness of this view reminds me of another bugbear: women who wear the various forms of traditional Muslim dress are automatically regarded as victims of terrible oppression by their evil patriarchal religion. At the same time, female circumcision is absolutely fine and dandy, because it's "culturally determined" and often practised by women.
Most of the feminists I know are wrangling, or have wrangled, with the difficult question of how to react to women who veil/cover their hair/dress in religiously-mandated "modest" ways -- both in traditional Muslim circles and in some ultra-religious Jewish circles, for that matter. On the one hand, we want to respect their choices; on the other hand we want to be aware that those "choices" may not actually be choice, as we understand the term, if they're in a situation in which no viable alternatives exist. To me the real question has to do with cultural imperialism -- if we want all women to have power over their own bodies (expressed via how they dress and via how they live in the world), are we imposing our own liberal western views on them? I can't imagine not addressing that question, though I also can't imagine a satisfying answer to it. *g*
For what it's worth, I don't know a single feminist who's comfortable with the practice of clitoridectomy. We acknowledge that trying to stop it places us in the position of imposing our liberal western values on a traditional society, and that's not something to be done lightly -- but I don't know anyone who blithely says, "Oh, it's okay, it's women doing it, so no big deal."
On the question of gender-inclusive language -- the place where this matters most to me is in my own liturgy, because I have strong feelings about God-language. Specifically, I favor using a variety of terms (with a variety of gender connotations) because I want to avoid the pitfall of concretizing my notion of the sacred in any particular direction. But that's only tangentially related to what you're talking about here, so I'll save it. *g*
Rape is bad, duh. Except that a lot of feminist rhetoric seems to imply if not actually state outright that rape of women by men is the only serious problem.
Er. May I ask where you're getting this impression? Because, again, it doesn't jive with my experience of feminism. It sounds appallingly first-wave to me. That may be where feminism started, lo these many decades ago, but my experience is that we've moved well beyond that into an understanding that sexual violence harms everyone, and that it's incumbent on us to work to stop it in all of its forms, regardless of the gender of the participants.
For a start, the idea of a 'patriarchy' sounds like a conspiracy theory to me, and I am automatically hugely skeptical about conspiracy theories. I really can not believe that all or most men actively collude to retain power and suppress women.
I wouldn't say that they do...but I would say that patriarchy has been a factor in the way the last several centuries of history have played out. It wasn't that long ago that women were considered property, and to me that's a clear sign of power imbalance. That we've moved well beyond that is an excellent sign, but I'd say we still have a ways to go in creating the world I want to live in.
And again, to me the notion that men can't be feminists is old-fashioned, first-wave, and frankly stupid. My husband is a feminist, and I applaud him for it. Anyone who says otherwise is misinterpreting the term and, honestly, missing the point of the whole movement.
I've tried to be fairly balanced up to now, but one thing that makes me absolutely spitting furious is the hate speech that comes from some feminists against transsexuals.
Agreed -- though I'd personally rather rage against the hate speech that comes from some people against transfolk, because I don't think feminists have any kind of lock on that kind of bigotry. Again, I'd argue that the point of feminism is liberation of all marginalized communities, and that hatespeech against anyone on account of their gender or gender-expression is absolutely antithetical to what feminism is about.
Like naomichana, I would tend to read you as a feminist, given the positions you stated above...except that you stated them all as explicit opposition to feminism. *g* Which suggests to me that there's a disjunction between what (I believe) the movement is about, and the connotations the name has taken on...
I know exactly where you're coming from with this. I was never inclined to call myself a feminist for many of the reasons you mention. All the self-proclaimed feminists I knew growing up either couldn't relate to men at all and didn't want to (not quite lesbian separatists, but getting there) or were constantly banging on about how much better than men women were and making derogatory comments about how dumb, crude and weak-willed men were. I like having men in my life and I'm not too keen on bashing them just for being men, so, to me, being feminist didn't look like a good thing to be.
But I've recently started studying for a course called Gender in Philosophy. The course isn't exactly focussed on feminist philosophy, but of course, a lot of the philosophical work on gender has historically been done by feminists. And reading some feminists works has been a real eye-opener.
This term we've been looking at feminist philosophy of language, and one of the topics we've covered has been gender-inclusive (or exclusive) language. Like you, I hadn't been that bothered about it, but reading some of the philosophical arguments about the problems with gendered language and the benefits of using gender neutral language I completely changed my mind.
It takes a lot of effort to make people change the way they speak, and I'm really unconvinced that the effort is justified. It's really hard to get any sensible answers out of feminists on this issue
I'd never heard any good arguments for this until I read some of the articles on the reading list this term. I'm beginning to think that a lot of the typical feminist positions do have underlying philosophical or theoretical arguments to support them, it's just that people are no longer familiar with them, so just sound off about the issues without really understanding why they're saying what they're saying.
I don't have the references on me right now, but if you're interested I could point you towards some interesting articles of feminist philosophy on gendered language.
one thing that makes me absolutely spitting furious is the hate speech that comes from some feminists against transsexuals.
Interestingly, I noticed you used the term "hate speech" here (and yes, I completely agree, I find the attitude of some feminists towards transsexuals to be absolutely offensive and thoroughly deplorable). Again, one of the things I realised through beginning to study some feminist philosophy of language is that the concept of 'hate speech' wouldn't exist if it weren't for feminism. It was the feminist philosophy of language that argued that use of language itself can be considered a violent act.
Feminism did a lot more than I normally think of it as being able to take credit for. And the kind of feminist philosophy I'm studying is interesting because it's provided the tools for many different groups to begin to bring issues that affect them to light. The work that feminists did with gender is now being done with race, sexuality, class, disability, etc. using the techniques and theories that feminism pioneered.
Ooh, thanks so much for these thoughts, greengolux! This is an absolutely fascinating response.
reading some of the philosophical arguments about the problems with gendered language and the benefits of using gender neutral language I completely changed my mind Wow. I'm really impressed to see an example of philosophy actually impacting your day-to-day opinions like that. Cool!
I don't have the references on me right now, but if you're interested I could point you towards some interesting articles of feminist philosophy on gendered language. Sure, as long as they're not too too dense. I'm sorry if that comes across as lazy, but you have to remember, I have no background in philosophy whatsoever. So I'm quite likely to struggle with high-level philosophy articles. I am interested, and it might well be that reading some background would help me to see the point of the inclusive language thing.
This comment of yours does seem to tie in a bit with my view that you have to understand a whole load of high-level academic stuff to be effectively feminist, though. I don't know if this is analogous or not, but I would like to hope I could convince you that certain behaviours are desirable because they'll reduce your risk of cancer, without having to make you read technical scientific articles on the subject. I guess I want feminism to look convincing to an ordinary person, not just to a professional philosopher like yourself.
the concept of 'hate speech' wouldn't exist if it weren't for feminism Now that's a very telling point. I can really see an argument which says, if I think that saying nasty things about transsexuals is a serious offence, I am already buying into a feminist view of the power of language, and logically, I should therefore also support things like gender-inclusive language. I guess I would still argue that the right of transsexuals not to get beaten up or excluded from society on grounds of gender is a whole lot more important than whether one uses the word transsexual or tranny or transperson or MtF or ladyboi or whatever. But I do think you make a very important point with this observation.
Feminism did a lot more than I normally think of it as being able to take credit for Also an interesting thought. After I'd written the post it did occur to me that I maybe ought to have put more emphasis on the good things that feminism has historically achieved, rather than what I don't like about the current state of the movement.
Well, maybe with: but which feminists are you talking about, exactly?
It's not like feminism is a monolithic entity. Feminists have names, and opinions, and individual prejudices of their own, and human qualities, and lives. This should go without saying.
What you describe seems like the worst side of some feminists' prejudices combined with a heaping dose of backlash propaganda and outright ignorance about feminists themselves.
Allow me to quote some feminists by name:
"I feel, therefore I can be free." -- Audre Lorde
"If you're really doing coalition work ... you feel threatened to the core and if you don't, you're not really coalescing." -- Bernice Johnson Reagon
"Feminism is the political theory and practice that struggles to free all women: women of color, working class women, poor women, disabled women, lesbians, old women - as well as white, economically privileged, heterosexual women. Anything less than this vision of total freedom is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandisement." -- Barbara Smith
"First you have to liberate the children because they're the future. Then you have to liberate the men because they suffer so. Then if there's any liberation left, you can go in the kitchen and eat it." -- Judith Long Laws
"Our own history, where we have been able to find it and put it together, tells us again and again that women have generated explanations about the world -- and about male power and how it is constructed and how it can be undermined -- and again and again those explanations have been edited out, erased, so that women are initiated into a society which convinces them that nothing has gone before and that they must start from scratch." -- Dale Spender
"Your trouble is you don't think enough. You take too much for granted without thinking about the politics." -- Dora Russell
"The fight is on until we have full economic, legal, occupational, moral, social and political equality." -- Hazel Hunkins Halliman
"...feminism is the study of the patriarchal system of unrecompensed labor and the politics and propaganda that maintain it." -- Joanna Russ
"Our society is not a community, but merely a collection of isolated family units." -- Valerie Solanas
"We, the women of this country, have no ballot even if we wished to use it... but we have our labor.... Wherever wages are to be reduced, the capitalist class uses women to reduce them." -- Lucy Parsons
"Judging from the struggles conducted by white working women -- their relentless defense of their dignity as workers and as women, their conscious as well as implicit challenges top the sexist ideology of womanhood -- they had more than earned the right to be lauded as pioneers of the women's movement. But their trail-blazing role was all but ignored by the leading initiators of the new movement, who did not comprehend that women workers experienced and challenged male supremacy in their own special way. As if to drive this point home, history has imparted a final irony of the movement initiated in 1848: Of all the women attending the Seneca Falls Convention, the only one to live long enough to actually exercise her right to vote over seventy years later was a working woman by the name of Charlotte Woodward." -- Angela Y. Davis
"White women -- feminists included -- have revealed a historical reluctance to acknowledge the struggles of household workers." -- Angela Y. Davis
"The woman's problem lies in the fact that her body, or more precisely, her womb, is the only receptacle within which human life can be reproduced. The state, in order to be in control of the means of reproducing human beings, and in order to submit those means to the interests of the economic system which happens to be in force at the time, has been obliged to extend its control and subjugation to that of women's bodies. She has therefore lost the real ownership of her body, it having been taken over by the state." -- Nawal El Saadawi
And that? Is just an infinitesimal fraction of the breadth of feminist thought, and I'm only quoting sources in English or in English translation. Feminism isn't limited to the English language any more than it is limited to the United States.
I don't know where to begin. Well, thank you very much for trying. I had no expectation that you would end up reading this post; from what I've seen of your stuff around on LJ, I do think of you as the kind of feminist I find very hard to understand, and your willingness to engage me on this subject is really very much appreciated. I actually came quite close to citing a post of yours as an example of how completely alienating I find some feminist discourse, but decided against it on the basis that the last thing I wanted was for my post to be read as a personal attack on an individual.
which feminists are you talking about, exactly? The feminists I happen to have encountered. As I said, I certainly do not claim to be a scholar of feminism. Those of my friends who are feminists, for a start. People I know or am connected to through LJ. A handful of authors I happen to have read; mostly those who write relatively accessible stuff. The presentation of feminism I've picked up from the UK media; my preference tends to be for leftwing broadsheet newspapers and Radio 4. A bunch of self-declared feminist bloggers who also happen to write interestingly. (I've had quite a lot to do with feminists of various stripes working specifically in the Jewish sphere, but I'm not really talking about that very specialist aspect of feminism here.)
What you describe seems like the worst side of some feminists' prejudices combined with a heaping dose of backlash propaganda and outright ignorance about feminists themselves. I agree that I am indeed ignorant about feminists. I had intended to make that clear; indeed, part of the point of writing this post was in the hope of picking up some ideas that would start to correct my ignorance.
I hope that I'm not judging all feminists by the worst of them, though as an ignorant outsider, I am aware this is a danger. I think one of my issues with feminism is its failure to condemn outright some views which I find utterly offensive. I can see the danger of that sort of criticism though, especially when (as I think we agree) feminism is not a monolithic body.
As for the 'backlash propaganda' point, this is a perfect example of one of my listed problems with feminism. Any possible criticism of feminism can be dismissed as 'backlash'; in that atmosphere, is feminism completely immune to criticism? To me, a movement which can not be criticized is pretty close to being a cult.
Translation: the feminist lunatic fringe is loud, filled with idiots and is over-represented in academia, therefore I am not a feminist.
That is really all you are saying. Every movement has its lunatic fringe which tends to be vocal and judging any group by that lunatic fringe and the lunatic fringe alone is foolish. (On the other hand, including the lunatic fringe in the judgement of the group is common sense)
the feminist lunatic fringe is loud, filled with idiots I think you should probably be fairly careful whom you're calling a lunatic. Many of the opinions I've included in my post are things I've debated with mutual friends of ours, for example.
To me, it's pretty clear that someone like Germaine Greer is a raving nutcase. One of my problems with feminism is that the movement as a whole doesn't seem to see this, but continue to revere her no matter how extreme her opinions.
But hey, you're welcome to give me some examples of some feminists you would consider more moderate, who would be more likely to be appealing to me than the lunatics.
I'd say "feminism" is the desire for equality between the sexes, and last time I check dictionaries tended to agree with me. (If men were, on average, on the bum end of the deal then we'd presumably say "masculinism" instead.) You will notice that there is nothing about telling people what to think, not appeal to literary criticism, etc, in this definition; it's a straightforward (if slightly vague) statement about the organization of society.
Sure there are people with ridiculous opinions who call themselves feminists; but then, no cause is so good that an idiot won't follow it.
"pro choice" is a terrible term for the view that abortion shouldn't invariably be illegal; I think its use has done a tremendous amount of damage to the debate over the subject. I'm not sure what a better term would be though, unfortunately.
"feminism" is the desire for equality between the sexes I'm not sure equality between the sexes is what I desire. I don't think such equality is a bad thing, but I certainly don't place that above all other possible aims. I want people in general to be better off more than I want them to be equal (which is always a difficult term to define).
dictionaries tended to agree with me Appealing to a dictionary definition seems a little disingenuous here. I think there are relevant observations to be made about feminism as an actual political movement and the things that feminists are actually doing and talking about in reality. Otherwise it's a bit like saying, I agree with the dictionary definition of socialism, therefore I shall always vote Labour.
no cause is so good that an idiot won't follow it. This is a very good point. I guess there are some kinds of idiots I'm pretty reluctant to make common cause with, but this is not a sensible approach, because if the cause is good I should still support it. I also haven't seen much evidence of the sensible, moderate feminists that everybody keeps telling me exist, but I may just not be looking in the right places, or I might be misled by my own prior biases and so on.
And it might be that if sensible feminists are in the minority then I should be defining myself as a sensible feminist rather than a non-feminist. Several feminists have popped up in this thread who don't seem to be saying things that run completely contrary to common sense, and I'm already feeling more positive towards the movement for having spoken to them.
"pro choice" is a terrible term for the view that abortion shouldn't invariably be illegal I think my problem is not so much with the name, as with some of the rhetoric that comes from the pro-choice camp. I believe abortion should be legal; that doesn't make it a good thing. I also think a morally decent person can reasonably disagree with some of my views about abortion, but I am not prepared to countenance the view that it is better not to exist than to be disabled.
When I was a kid, feminists were rude people who came into my house and made my mother cry.
So your mother wasn't a feminist?
Feminism seems to be extremely concerned with telling people how to live their lives.
As opposed to the whole commercial industry selling women fashion, cosmetics, appliances, the institution of religion, the law, the state, and so on, and so forth.
I honestly can't see how someone (like my mother) choosing to be centred on the domestic sphere and local community rather than the professional sphere is harming women who want highly paid and highly respected city jobs.
What you can't seem to see either is how your mother and both the women who want highly paid and highly respected city jobs are harmed by the use of unpaid work to sustain the economic imbalance between men and women.
they are among society's most privileged people, yet their whole philosophy is centred around how much they, as women, get discriminated against.
Class and race-based oppressions do not negate sex-based oppression. Forms of oppression interact, and are used to keep the oppressed divided.
It's a problem if a businesswoman is passed over for promotion on grounds of gender, and reaches a glass ceiling so that she can never exceed her five-figure salary when her male colleagues are earning far more. But it's pretty insignificant compared to a billion people who earn less than a dollar a day.
Divide and conquer again: sexism also has an influence on racism, and racism does on sexism as well, and likewise both with class.
Third-world countries are exploited by first-world countries for their cheap labour, but, likewise, racism is used to justify wage reductions, and sexism as well. People are oppressed because they are exploited, and women are oppressed as women because they are exploited as women, be it within the higher circles of the capitalist empires or at the bottom of the rung in the tourist sex trade that caters to the wealthy.
women who wear the various forms of traditional Muslim dress are automatically regarded as victims of terrible oppression by their evil patriarchal religion. At the same time, female circumcision is absolutely fine and dandy, because it's "culturally determined" and often practised by women.
This preconception of yours completely denies the existence of Muslim feminists, as well as the history of clitoridectomy in the West, where it was used, in the 19th century, to treat "hysteria" and keep women in line, too.
Also, a lot of feminist theory is presented in a way that makes it totally unfalsifiable; there's this whole 'if you don't accept this view, you must be collaborating with the patriarchy' sort of approach, and I really hate that.
Sometimes it seems to me that feminism is mostly a branch of post-modernist literary theory. I find any kind of literary theory only of limited interest as an intellectual discipline, and really completely useless as a tool for political change. So I can't be a feminist because I know next to nothing about post-modernism.
Another ahistorical view, though I can't blame you if you've never heard of Emily Davison or Ida B. Wells, as I hadn't either, just a few months ago.
Academic feminism can be too hermetic, and this is a problem, but it isn't the whole of feminism, anymore than academia is the whole of humanity.
The other consequence of this sort of approach is the emphasis on gender-inclusive language. (...) It just seems rather pointless. It takes a lot of effort to make people change the way they speak, and I'm really unconvinced that the effort is justified.
rysmiel already mentioned the sexist changes done to the English language. This happened in French as well. (See Céline Labrosse's books for more on this.) Language isn't merely about literary theory. Language shapes ideas.
Make something unspeakable, and you make it unthinkable. (Russ)
I'm not ignoring you; you've made lots and lots of thought-provoking points and I'm afraid I'm constrained to get back to you gradually. But thank you for contributing so much to this discussion.
So your mother wasn't a feminist? I think my mother would be fairly horrified to be described as a feminist! I think a feminism that had room for people like my mother would be a lot closer to a feminism that also had room for me.
Feminism seems to be extremely concerned with telling people how to live their lives. As opposed to the whole commercial industry selling women fashion, cosmetics, appliances, the institution of religion, the law, the state, and so on, and so forth. Well, good point. I don't like any institution that wants to dictate my lifestyle (beyond what is absolutely necessary for stable society).
I tend to be fairly oblivious to the fashion industry and its cognates, mainly because I don't read women's magazines. When I do come across this kind of stuff I quite happily ignore it; I mean, if some article tells me that I should dress a certain way in order to be considered beautiful or attract a man then I don't care, because I don't particularly want either of those things. But if an article tells me I should dress a certain way because otherwise I'm somehow harming women's rights, then I at least have to take the claim seriously, so I find myself more annoyed by the spurious interference in my life.
The law is a slightly different matter; it's pretty much the purpose of the law to tell people what to do. I'd be the first person to protest that the law, and by extension the state too, should restrict itself to matters of major public importance. I'm pretty liberal, even verging on libertarian, in my politics. It's not the place of the law to tell me how I should dress, or what opinions I should hold and express, or whatever.
Religion is a tricky example. I happen to follow a brand of religion, Reform Judaism, that places a lot of emphasis on autonomy and personal choice. My religion doesn't proselytize or otherwise put any pressure on anyone to follow its rules. And it is very light on telling its adherents what to think. Yes, it is true that I let my religion determine things like what I eat and how I structure my daily and weekly routine. But I chose that religion in the first place, and I chose to follow the rules because they're personally meaningful to me. The major difference with feminism is that it claims everybody should follow the feminist way of life, because otherwise they're contributing to the persecution of women.
feminist view on this seems to fall on a spectrum from trivializing rape of men and same-sex rape, which is pretty bad, to accusing anyone who cares about these issues of being evilly anti-feminist, which is just disgusting. Exactly the same argument applies to domestic violence which is not sexual in nature.
What is mostly under attack, in my experience, is the pull of the importance of men and male suffering in the discourse about these subjects, and away from women's concerns, which only perpetuates the suppression of women's lives from public discourse.
For a start, the idea of a 'patriarchy' sounds like a conspiracy theory to me, and I am automatically hugely skeptical about conspiracy theories. I really can not believe that all or most men actively collude to retain power and suppress women. Also, my observation of the world does not suggest that most men even have power over most women.
Most men do not need to actively collude to retain power and suppress women. They only need to keep the status quo as it is.
Thus, any man who claims to be a feminist is either actively lying (see above re the patriarchy theory), or at best is automatically suspect. I can't believe that. I think if feminism is genuinely about justice and equality for women, then it is just as much in men's interests as women's.
That depends entirely on where the men in question situate their interests.
I know that not all feminists are prejudiced (...) Apart from a small minority
I don't want to associate myself with a group that turns a blind eye, much less contributes, to violent hatred of a particular minority.
There's no such thing as unconditional support.
While I believe abortion should be legal, I can't call myself pro-choice. I don't think women have a "right" to abortion, because I don't think abortion is a good thing. There may be limited circumstances where abortion is the least bad of several bad options, but that doesn't mean I see abortion as desirable. I've repeatedly heard feminists say, if you're not pro-choice you can't be a feminist; ok, so I'm not a feminist.
It is still possible to solve the problem by refusing its terms.
Feminism sometimes seems to be promoting the rights of women as long as they're not too traditionally feminine, not poor or uneducated, or foreign, or Muslim, or transsexual, or disabled, and most certainly not if they're critical of feminism. I'm overstating my case here, but I do feel that feminism is a bit of an interest group for a particular crowd of people.
The above statement pretty much contradicts your earlier disclaimer:
I am aware that 'feminism' is not entirely monolithic, and not all the criticisms here apply to all feminists, so don't bother calling me on that one.
Or, more specificly, I'll say that personally I don't have time for labels like feminism because they mean so many different things to different people, and are therefore practically meaningless. The sort of behaviour you describe is inexcusable, but the sort of behaviour some people up-thread aspire to is laudable. Personally, I think that feminism is a bloody stupid name for "equality for everyone" though, so I tend to steer clear of it.
The thing that annoys me most about feminism is something that I don't think you mentioned - the idea that men are linear, logical thinkers whereas women are circular, irrational thinkers and that therefore the system is biased against women. What?! I mean... WHAT?! It is a good thing to make sense and be logical. It is not a good thing to talk rubbish and be irrational. I rather like making sense and being logical and it comes very naturally to me. I really resent being told (and I have been!) that this is because I've bought into masculine norms. Obviously, this relates to what you were saying about not being able to argue against feminism without getting the "oh, you're just brainwashed" response. But, anyway..
I think many people identify as feminist but in a much more quiet way than the people that you encounter who call themselves Feminists and are, essentially, professional feminists who have gender inequality as their major issue. On balance, I probably identify as feminist but in the sense of wanting to give women choices. I also understand some of the extremist feminist stuff. With reference to your mother and staying at home to raise children - it is true that many women did not do this out of choice, even though your mother did, and so I entirely see why feminists get agitated about it. Even amongst educated people, I often hear the view expressed that women should stay at home with young children and that does make me cross. I also hear the view expressed that women are better with young children, which is something I really don't think is borne out by the facts. It's also still the case that marriage is unequal with the woman still changing her name in the vast majority of cases. This all bothers me. It doesn't bother me as much as other inequalities in the world, tis true, but it is a very real issue and in a way I'm glad that there are people who choose fighting it as their life's work because, without such women, we wouldn't have the vote or the right to a university education and many other such things. Yes, there are some lunatic feminists, but without them, we'd be much worse off.
Don't think I have much to add - you're probably not surprised to hear that I broadly agree with you on a lot of this. Just wanted to say thanks for an interesting post that's provoked a lot of intelligent and thoughtful comments - I've very much enjoyed reading the discussion.