Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al
livredor

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On not being a feminist

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.
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