I find myself strangely compelled to make observations about gender politics. I'm not the person to do this, really, given that I'm somewhere between bored and confused by most dicussions couched in gender terms. I'm interested in people, not some trivial detail of how their reproductive organs are organized.
Also, my most recent round of attempting to get my head round feminism led to getting myself banned by ginmar (ok, it was probably inevitable sooner or later, and I precipitated it by succumbing to the temptation to snark). And getting labelled an anti-feminist on a fairly high-profile blog. I almost want to see it as a badge of honour (certainly it's good for generating traffic), except that I'm not all that comfortable with anti-feminist; I'm more indifferent than anti, I think.
Anyway. All this would imply that my opinions on the subject are not all that much worth listening to. So I'm going to link to other people having thought-provoking discussions instead:
leora has a manifesto on gender in the dating arena. Again, very thought-provoking and generates some fascinating discussion.
All right, a stray thought of my own pertaining to gender relations in the context of Jewish community life. I've spent most of my life in an entirely egalitarian context, Jewishly. So I expect to participate fully in most aspects of public ritual. I don't really think twice about this, and it surprises me just as much to be praised for taking a feminist stand (!) as to be criticized for doing stuff that's supposed to be men only.
Anyway, in my entirely egalitarian community the other day, I was watching various people participating in the ritual of showing honour to the Torah. And I noticed that, in general, men handle Torah scrolls as if they were carrying very precious (and incidentally rather heavy) objects, whereas women handle Torah scrolls as if they were carrying children. (Not babies, because most scrolls are at least as big as a medium sized toddler.)
An excellent question, j4! I do have friends who are strongly identified with their gender, and that's a point of view I'm really fascinated to hear about. Like, in fact, many ways of being and experiencing the world which are very different from my own experience of being me. And I suppose my (frequently, but not always, abortive) attempts to enter into dialogue with feminists are part of my usual desire to learn more about different approaches from my own.
When I spoke dismissively about discussions couched in terms of gender, I really meant in a political sense more than personal. It's hard for me to get excited about a movement for improving the status of women relative to men; it seems too narrow a focus. As far as I am political, my goal is to make people better off. To me, it's about: treat everyone with respect, rather than: don't be rude to women. Violence is bad, rather than, violence against women is bad. I do support causes which primarily or exclusively benefit women, such as breast cancer research, or medical support during pregnancy and women's sexual health in developing countries. But those are very obvious biological exceptions; I'd rather support literacy than women's literacy, or fight poverty than female poverty.
I also find sweeping statements about women as a group unconvincing, whether they are feminist statements or sexist statements. These unhelpful generalizations tend to come to the fore when the topic is gender issues, I find, and that's why I tend to have little time for those kinds of discussions.
I'd be interested to read the comment thread that led to your being banned if you wouldn't mind linking to it? Of course, if you'd rather people didn't read it and get more generally cross about it, that's fair enough.
I'm in a bit of a dilemma here. I would like to own my own words by linking to them; I'm very open to criticism of how I handled the discussion and so on. It seems kind of cowardly to leave my comment hidden, I know.
But against that, ginmar has been annoyed in the past by people carrying on debates after they have been banned from commenting further. It seems like both linking to the discussion in her journal (and potentially bringing it to the attention of people who may be hostile to her point of view), and quoting from or referring to discussions elsewhere (where I am after all among people who might be expected to take my side, and where she might well not find people discussing her as it were behind her back), piss her off. I don't personally think this is a very useful attitude, but at the same time, I think I should probably respect her wishes. Especially since I was kind of borderline rude to her in the first place, so I'm starting from a weak position and don't want to compound my error.
It seems to me as though you are not so much anti-feminist, as taking as givens the gains feminism has made, and not paying attention to the places where they don't exist.
For example, you are used to an egalitarian Judaism--many Jewish women don't have that, may not even realize it's possible. (I'm thinking, inter alia, of the more insular Hasidic communities in the United States.)
For most purposes, I'm not that interested in how people's reproductive organs are arranged: but I have to live in a world in which the way many people treat each other is determined in large part by that fact. I'm not that interested in skin tone as an absolute, either; I'd like to live in a world where it mattered only for choosing flattering garments, and to my dermatologist. I'd like to live in a world where people could deal with gender in a variety of flexible ways, and actual reproductive organs were irrelevant unless people were interested in reproducing (or in certain kinds of sexual activity with the other person involved--it shouldn't matter to someone outside the relationship, let alone a stranger on the street or my actual or potential employer.) In the world I actually live in, these things do matter, and can be life-or-death issues.
The status quo always has a great deal of inertia behind it: right here and right now, that inertia still tends to sort people by gender as well as, and sometimes instead of, by qualifications, interests, or personality.
taking as givens the gains feminism has made, and not paying attention to the places where they don't exist That may be a fair assessment. I suppose I start from the basis that everybody deserves to have the rights and freedoms that I have myself. So, everybody should have the right to vote, but I'm not aware of any countries where there is full men's suffrage and no women's suffrage. This means I'm interested in efforts to promote democracy generally, not votes for women which was obviously a huge issue in the early 20th century. I suppose I'm less interested in making women equal with men than in ensuring that everybody (obviously including women, duh!) has the best life materially possible.
you are used to an egalitarian Judaism--many Jewish women don't have that I'm really, really uncomfortable with attempting to tell other people how they should practise their religion. If people choose religious approaches which are divided on gender lines, that's very much up to them. I have something more of a problem with religious approaches that block access to information about alternatives, but if there are women in communities so insular they are not even aware that egalitarian Judaism exists, it's rather hard to see how I could interact with them to tell them so.
I'd like to live in a world where people could deal with gender in a variety of flexible ways, and actual reproductive organs were irrelevant I too would like to live in that world (and very much with your analogy to attitudes about race, too). The thing is, it seems to me that making everything about gender is pushing that Utopia further away, not bringing it nearer. Political activism for women's issues, or feminist issues, is emphasizing gender distinctions.
In terms of employment, I'm in favour of laws and social changes that prevent discrimination; I'm not in favour of campaigns to get more women in top positions (probably the latter would follow from the former, actually). As for life-or-death issues, I do make an exception for medical research into specifically women's health, because there the biological differences are objectively relevant. Lethal violence is (again, obviously) a general bad thing, and it's not a bad thing only because it affects men and women unequally.
She does seem to use quite a lot of variants on "People who say things like *this* really mean *that*, and you shouldn't believe them if they tell you otherwise, because they're The Enemy, and you shouldn't believe them if they say they're not The Enemy, because they're The Enemy". This reminds me obliquely of Deuteronomy on which prophets to listen to, somehow.
she doesn't do the shades-of-grey approach, and you're too intelligent to do otherwise Well, thank you for that. *hug* I am not convinced that liberalism is correlated with intelligence, though. I know some very intelligent people who are also extremely dogmatic (I think ginmar is probably one), and some very stupid people who are all fluffy-wuffy and think any opinion is as good as any other.
I'm finding gender issues VERY BORING at the moment. I can well imagine that you are; I find them pretty boring and they impinge much less on my life than yours. The stuff I've linked to from this post I find kind of interesting despite the fact that it's about gender, but I'm sorry for inflicting yet more boring stuff on you.
Penises are so last year. *cracks up* Only you could come up with a comment like that!
Except that I'm trying to cash in on the scarcity of soferot Heh. Talking of which I was speaking to a woman at shul, one of those people who would be Orthodox except that it sucks to be female, and she said Diana showed her your website and she's really drooling over your calligraphy and she wants to save up to commission a megillah from you. So I told her all about your silly taggin and that sort of thing, and she looked at me with saucer-eyes and said dreamily "Maybe for my fiftieth birthday, that gives me a couple of years to find the money." So you have a fan who might yet turn into a customer.
Speaking as a shades of grey person myself, one of the things I find very disturbing about certain branches of feminism is the tendency to cave in to a "with us or against us" mentality. As a prior commenter noted, the statement "When she says X, she really means Y and therefore is the enemy" is something I see all too often these days.
I agree with you re: working for the equality of all persons. I wouldn't label myself as an indifferent feminist; I'm very much moved by feminism still (despite being informed of my lack of "Real Feminist" status on several occasions). I generally refer to myself as a feminist with a sense of humour, but that often gets me in trouble.
Anyway. I'm digressing. New reader here. Can't for the life of me remember how I got here but I'd like to hang around a bit, if you don't mind.
the tendency to cave in to a "with us or against us" mentality I think it's a very significant danger when one is very passionate about activism. You can end up placing ideological purity above actually accomplishing anything practically. It happens with all kinds of things, including religion.
I agree with you re: working for the equality of all persons. I'm more interested in things being good for everyone, than in equality, actually. But yeah.
I wouldn't label myself as an indifferent feminist; I'm very much moved by feminism still Mm. I think indifferent may be a shade more negative than I was intending; perhaps neutral would have been better. I do care about a lot of the issues that feminism cares about, but I'm very unconvinced that most of the standard feminist approaches are actually going to resolve the problems that feminism states.
despite being informed of my lack of "Real Feminist" status on several occasions Yeah, that's another reason why I prefer to define myself as a non-feminist. I'm not trying to be part of their club. If I hold pro-women beliefs and do things that benefit women, that's good, and often people tell me that I'm really a feminist without realizing it! Or else they try to persuade me that I should be a feminist.
But if I call myself a feminist, I lay myself open to accusations of not being a real feminist because I don't toe the party line (not that there actually is a feminist "party", of course) in one aspect or another. I want to get on with doing what I believe is right without having to prove my political credentials to anyone else.
I didn't in the least find your attitude or language to be rude. Thank you. I think when it comes to measuring rudeness, in the end the opinion of the person being insulted is more or less the only opinion that matters, but I'm glad that my comment could reasonably be read as not rude.
an authoritarian mini-dictatrix I have a bit of a thing for femininizing words in -trix! But seriously, my view is that ginmar is perfectly entitled to run her journal however she chooses. Being authoritarian and dictatorial is a bad thing in someone who is a leader of a group of people trying to do something, but a blog is one individual's personal space. There's no moral obligation to be democratic or allow free-ranging discussion (nor is there any obligation to keep a tight rein on trolls or rude posters). I would like ginmar to engage with me, but if she won't, I can just move on to other blogs where I like the tone of discussion better; I don't think there's anything particularly reprehensible about her not liking my input.
Just a random comment to say that this is a great post and I've enjoyed reading both it and the discussions that it's spawned. I'm shattered from a day's teaching so I can't make any kind of useful contribution; I think that if I do, it'll be in the form of a post on my own LJ, much in the same way that I responded to a previous post of yours about feminism.
Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you're getting something out of my post, and please don't feel at all obliged to reply.
I didn't get round to replying to this when it was relevant, but had I done so, I would have sat you down and made you a big pot of tea, you poor tired thing. I love teaching but I can think of few things that take it out of me as much.
you're the second person on my flist to be banned from ginmar's LJ this week, *snrk*. yeah, i think you might as well consider it a badge of honour; it means you are capable of nuanced thinking. and of course it's meaningless as to who you actually are; nobody who's as rash and superficial as ginmar could possibly come remotely close to that.
i won't repeat myself here, since i just posted my assessment elsewhere.
This whole discussion has been interesting to read for me. As I mentioned in comment to leora's entry, the circumstances in my life have arranged themselves just lately to make me give some thought to my opinions about gender related issues. I tend to know more or less what I think, but then trying to put it all into words and explain it is proving to be harder than I would have thought.
I generally do not consider myself a feminist because there are elements of the feminist community who I find deeply distasteful -- the sort who are misandristic or transphobic, for instance. And while I know tht it's bad to judge any group based on its worst elements, that sort of feminist thought isn't limitted to random kooks, and it's certainly not nearly universally shouted down.
So while I happily and whole-heartedly support many of the goals held by feminists, it's certainly not a label I would apply to myself. And interestingly, most of the feminists who I've known who I do respect are generally also respectful and understanding of this fact.
I feel as if I want to say more here, but I can't quite manage to figure out what, if anything, else it is that I want to say. Possibly I'll comment again later if I think of anything.
I saw your post that you're taking an LJ break; I guess you'll get this comment by email. I hope I'll be able to talk to you in other media while you're away.
Anyway, thank you for the comment; I'm interested in your opinions about gender related issues and about this discussion, if you decide to elaborate further. And yes, horrendous attitudes towards trans people are a huge part of the reason why I think feminism is not for me. Partly because I don't want to give any sort of tacit consent to that kind of thing, and partly because it's a thirteenth strike sort of issue, it makes me suspicious of other apparently more innocuous attitudes.