Feminism Is, Is Not

by cacophonies

In order to understand what feminism is, one must be willing to accept that not every person who claims to be a feminist will share the same viewpoints on every issue. In nearly every criticism of feminist that I’ve heard or read, there seems to be a universal misunderstanding of what, exactly, feminism is, and who a feminist is. Most people in this category are generally focusing on one or two issues that they’ve heard about involving militant or radical feminists that do not encompass the majority of feminists. I hate to compare feminism with mainstream religion, but just as the majority of Christians you know aren’t lunatics who will tell soldiers’ families that their son or daughter is in hell, but people who simply follow a religion and bases their life decisions and perspective on those teachings. While I don’t think the two parallel perfectly, I consider the two to be comparable for their general idea and common public misconceptions.

Some basic dictionary perusing would get us off to a great start:

According to dictionary.com:

Feminism:

–noun
1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2. (sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.

Not many people, including the strongest of feminist critics, would disagree with the first assertion. The problem that most feminists have with people (more often men, but a great deal of women, as well) who are anti-feminist is when anyone makes a statement or assertion based on the idea that women are already equal to men, or as equal as they’re gong to be, and that now, all we’re doing is whining or trying to conquer society.

Claiming that women are already completely, 100% equal is problematic for a number of reasons. The majority of women in the United States could, I am assuming (I’ll look up statistics later) easily remember the last time that they encountered sexism on a personal level, and it’s probably very recent. There area number of ways in which women are still not equal. Off the top of my head:

– Women are still not earning as much as their male counterparts. I believe the figure is still around 75%, but it could be in the upper 70’s now, if I’m remembering correctly.

– Women are still being ridiculed and shamed for being sexually promiscuous, or nonchalant about sex, while their male counterparts are either being praised, or left alone.

– Many men are still of the opinion that it’s okay to have sex with a woman if she objects. The most recent statistics I’ve heard are that 1 in 4 women are raped in their lifetime. The same is not true for men*.

– Women are judged more frequently for their physical appearance as opposed to their character intelligence, and other abilities. Women are not expected to be smart or clever, so they are therefore treated as though they are not.

– People will still get mad whether a woman decides to go to work or stay home after she has a baby. No one cares about what the father does, unless he chooses to stay home. Then he’s praised for being such a good daddy.*

*I don’t know the official, or most accurate statistics for how many men will be raped in their lifetime. I am sure that I can easily Google it, and I will, but I don’t think that the results that I find will be satisfactory. I think that many men who have been raped may feel pressure not to admit it, for a variety of reasons, most of which being based upon the idea that men cannot be raped either because of the assumption that he will always want sex (making men out to be animals with no control over their physical urges, which is insulting to men), or because being raped is seen as an incredibly violating act, one that no man would want to emasculate himself by admitting to have been a victim.

Let me make something clear. The above theory could be perceived by many to be sexist against men, and to be an example of how our society does not allow men to have emotional, vulnerable, or “weak” sides. Or, we could take that perception and expand a bit further: We don’t allow men to be emotional, vulnerable, or weak, because those are seen as feminine traits, and masculinity is more valuable to our society than femininity. It’s okay if our women are feminine and show emotion, vulnerability, and weakness, because, what else would you expect from a female? But a man, on the other hand, is seen as taking a step down on the ladder by being more feminine, because he’s supposed to embrace the superior maleness that he intrinsically has. Hence why gay men receive the majority of ridicule, and people seem to be indifferent to (or excited about, but that’s a different post) lesbians, and why transgender women are mocked, made fun of, and much worse, and the majority of us don’t even realize that transgender men exist. Think about the 10-year-old girl who plays baseball and is affectionately referred to as a tomboy by her family and friends, and embraces that role, and then imagine her brother, who is ridiculed for being a sissy or “tomgirl,” because he embodies more feminine qualities in his speech, dress, or activities. This is an example of misogyny, and feminists believe that men don’t deserve to be burdened with impossible, unrealistic, or any, for that matter, expectations based on their gender, either.

Regarding the difference in how men and women are treated when they have a child and choose to work or be a stay-at-home parent, men are praised simply because it’s not expected of them to do the child-rearing. This is insulting to men because it aides in our ill-conceived assumption that men shouldn’t be primary caretakers, or that they aren’t good at it or well-suited for it, and that women are intrinsically better parents. Women are assumed to be good for only parenting in many peoples’ opinions, whether they care to admit it or not. Similarly, a father that abandons his family is not generally respected, but think of the notion of a woman leaving her family. She’s faced with a lot more rage and confusion than a man would be.

Feminism is not the belief that women are better than men in any way, or that women should have more rights than men. We all want to level the playing field, and be treated with the same respect one would give to a man in the same situation. Feminism does not seek to punish men for any privilege they were born into or shun them, shame them, or emasculate them. Feminism merely strives to be considered 100% equal in our society, and treated with respect.

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12 responses to “Feminism Is, Is Not

  1. Not many people, including the strongest of feminist critics, would disagree with the first assertion.

    Not many people would disagree with the doctrine that women and women should have equal rights. Many people would disagree that feminism is that doctrine.

    The problem that most feminists have with people (more often men, but a great deal of women, as well) who are anti-feminist is when anyone makes a statement or assertion based on the idea that women are already equal to men, or as equal as they’re gong to be […]

    Claiming that women are already completely, 100% equal is problematic for a number of reasons…

    There’s a subtle shift here, from talking specifically about “equal rights” to a broader conception of equality.

    I construe the word “right” to refer to mean a formally recognised entitlement. “Equal rights” means that men and women (should) have the same rights. It does not necessarily imply a right to equal treatment. (We would have equal rights if we had no rights at all.) Nor does it imply that one necessarily gets what one is entitled to.

    I would contend that in the West, women have more rights than men. For example, in America, upon reaching majority, women gain the entitlements of citizenship automatically. For men, however, those entitlements are contingent upon their signing up for Selective Service. Another example comes from international law: The Forced Labour Convention, 1930 excludes from its protections “adult able-bodied males who are of an apparent age of not less than 18 and not more than 45 years”. The Geneva Conventions afford certain protections to women not granted to men, and so on.

    I think you’d be very hard-pressed to identify any comparable rights that men have and women don’t under international law or the secular national law of western countries.

    Looking at your bullet points though the lens of “rights”:

    1. Equal Pay – Firstly, it is disputed that the wage-gap is a product of gender-discrimination, rather than the result of men and women behaving in different ways which result in women’s being less productive and more expensive to employ than their male counterparts. Feminists tend to argue the former, while MRAs take the latter position. This isn’t a topic I’ve particularly studied, so I am agnostic.

    If I accept ad arguendum the feminist position, then I would agree that there was a “wider equality” problem. There is no “rights” problem, however, because because in most western countries there is a right to equal treatment in terms of pay.

    2. Slut-shaming – This is a “wider equality” issue which does not implicate any recognised rights. Moreover I can’t see how one could propound a hypothetical right that would remedy this without curtailing other recognized (and desirable) rights such as freedom of thought and expression.

    3. Rape – Every western jurisdiction whose sexual offense laws I’m aware of prohibit having sex with an objecting person.

    4. Looks-Judgment – See my answer to 2 above.

    5. Maternity Judgment – See my answer to 2 above.

    None of your examples evince any rights that men have that women don’t. If you want to talk about wider equality, then I’m very willing to do that, but not in this comment, which is already long enough. My point is that the argument that men have rights that women don’t isn’t true in western countries and hasn’t been for quite a long time.

  2. There is no “rights” problem

    Badly worded. I meant that the problem is not that women don’t have rights equal to men, nor even that they don’t have a right to equal treatment. Clearly it is a “rights problem” of a different kind if ones recognised rights are being violated.

  3. …rights of women equal to those of men

    And more generally the phrase “equal to men” create a very subtle framing issue. They posit that men have a particular set of rights, and more generally a particular status, and that women’s rights and status should be brought into line with men’s

    Because women have more rights than men, and because it’s a social good for people to have those rights, I advocate for rights of men equal to those of women.

  4. in America, upon reaching majority, women gain the entitlements of citizenship automatically. For men, however, those entitlements are contingent upon their signing up for Selective Service. Another example comes from international law: The Forced Labour Convention, 1930 excludes from its protections “adult able-bodied males who are of an apparent age of not less than 18 and not more than 45 years”. The Geneva Conventions afford certain protections to women not granted to men, and so on.

    That’s something that, honestly, I haven’t learned more about. I’ve never agreed with the premise of a draft and was pretty disturbed when I saw the draft card that my high school boyfriend got in the mail. That’s certainly a good point.

    …I’m not convinced that you’re right about that being an entitlement that women have over men, though.

    …On second thought, the point I was going to use to counter that just did a full circle in my head and I might have to rethink the idea.

    3. Rape – Every western jurisdiction whose sexual offense laws I’m aware of prohibit having sex with an objecting person.

    Well, obviously. That’s not really the point, though. A law is clearly not doing much to dissuade the crime, though, and it’s not doing a very good job protecting women who are raped but have a know “slutty” reputation, or prostitutes from being called liars and suffering legally for it.

    I see your larger point, though, when you say:

    This is a “wider equality” issue which does not implicate any recognised rights.

    I’ll keep the way I phrase things in mind for future posts.

    To touch on that, though, I expanded a bit on this in a different comment, but to use “slut-shaming” as an example: If a woman with a known reputation for being sexually promiscuous (or a sex worker) is raped, it is not legally fair to assume that her reputation or job means that she is not able to be raped because she appears to sleep with anyone. This can, and has, affected rape trials in the US and elsewhere. As a result, the woman might suffer from additional stress and trauma as a result of her reputation being more widely known and perceived in a negative way, with the additional, new reputation for supposedly being a liar.

    • …I’m not convinced that you’re right about that being an entitlement that women have over men, though.

      A female immigrant between the ages of 18 and 26 can apply for and be granted citizenship without registering. A male can’t. A male who immigrates before the age of 26 but fails to register by then forefits any chance of ever becoming a citizen.

      If that isn’t a “formally recognised entitlement”, i.e., a right, then I don’t know what is.

      There are other benefits conditioned on registration for men but not women.

      If a woman with a known reputation for being sexually promiscuous (or a sex worker) is raped, it is not legally fair to assume that her reputation or job means that she is not able to be raped because she appears to sleep with anyone.

      I agree.

      This can, and has, affected rape trials in the US and elsewhere.

      I tend to be a little bit skeptical of the pictures feminists (and MRAs etc.) paint of those aspects of the world I cannot see for myself, and haven’t investigated sufficiently to be able to come to an independent view. Those topics which I have investigated invariably turn out to be markedly different. So, while I am aware that feminists claim that the outcome of rape trials are determined largely by stereotypes, (and, for example, MRAs claim that defendents are prejudiced by rape shield laws), I have not investigated these matters sufficiently satisfy myself how true these pictures are.

      (I will say, though, that of the two claims, the feminists’ looks a lot more solid than the MRAs’.)

      As a result, the woman might suffer from additional stress and trauma as a result of her reputation being more widely known and perceived in a negative way, with the additional, new reputation for supposedly being a liar

      I agree. I claim, though, that while there are rights issues for women where (in)equality doesn’t apply (for example: abortion), and other equality issues that don’t stem from unequal rights, there is no rights inequality in the West or in international law that doesn’t disfavour men. I think that this is an interesting phenomenon which feminists rarely appreciate, as a result of the category error of including other inequality issues under the rubric of rights.

      As far as equal rights in the Western world are concern, feminism’s job is done. Of course it’s perfectly legitimate to say “well there are other inequalties disfavouring women, and other rights issues for women where equality doesn’t apply, and places in the world where women do not have equal rights, so I’m going to advocate for those to be rectified”.

      • As far as equal rights in the Western world are concern, feminism’s job is done.

        It seems like you’ve got that one very specific point in mind, and that we’re both arguing different things, and that perhaps I just need to alter my language a bit to show that we’re on the same page.

        You’ve been agreeing with most of the wider equality points that I’ve brought up, but haven’t been quite convinced about the way that they translate into more institutionalized oppression.

        Feminism, in my opinion, does need a shift in many areas. Attempting to fight the same battle that was necessary 50 years ago isn’t going to get any of us anywhere. Times have changed, and rhetoric is getting even more meaningless that it already is in nature.

      • It seems like you’ve got that one very specific point in mind, and that we’re both arguing different things, and that perhaps I just need to alter my language a bit to show that we’re on the same page.

        It is a very specific point, which, as I’ve already said, is in my opinion important, underappreciated, and obfuscated by the way feminists typically use language. The goal was to make the point, then, having made it, move on to wider equality.

        You’ve been agreeing with most of the wider equality points that I’ve brought up, but haven’t been quite convinced about the way that they translate into more institutionalized oppression.

        One problem with feminism (and of course, not limited to feminism) is that feminists tend to uncritically accept (and echo) claims that fit their view of the world without regard to their provenance or reliability. A recent example comes from the recent Silence is the enemy campaign. The original New York Times Op Ed which triggered the initiative claimed that “One major survey found that 75 percent of women [in Liberia] had been raped”. No source was provided for this datum, and Kristof has not replied to my email requesting one.

        An intensive internet search turned up five studies into rape in Liberia, plus a sixth citation I was never able to track down. None of these studies support the claim. The methodologically soundest of the five found that 16.3% of women and 19.2% of men had been sexually victimised. You read that right. The survey found more male victims than female. I blogged about this here, here, and here.

        Kristof’s factoid has been echoed in dozens of blog posts, with nobody, besides myself, thinking to ask whether it’s really true.

        And there are dozens of other examples I could give, which is why I’m skeptical of any claims that I haven’t checked out for myself. It’s also why I try to give sound citations for my own claims.

  5. Hit reply too soon:

    The point I’m trying to make is that a widespread misogyny, no matter how seemingly trivial, can cause laws to be broken and women to be unfairly punished.

  6. Just made a lengthy post which didn’t show. Please check the spampit.

  7. Done and done.

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