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Thursday, August 05, 2004

Feminism haunted

At Utopian Hell, a fantastic column about the fear of being "outed" as a feminist. It's a great post about how the various stereotypes of feminism cause people to dogpile any woman who claims the mantle of feminist. The part that made me laugh was this:

In fact, I don't think he's ever understood why I'm a feminist in the first place. It's one of those things he believes should be proclaimed but never acted upon. On the one hand, it's perfectly all right for a woman to believe in feminist values and to be progressive in that way. On the other hand, any hint of her actually talking about those values or making a push forward on them is a way of putting men down.

Hey! I think we've dated the same guy! Nah, kidding. The problem is this attitude is incredibly common. The world is full to brimming with men who think equality is a great idea in theory, but are absolutely loathe to give up an ounce of male privilege and therefore end up unwittingly causing the women in their lives a great deal of pain.

Now don't get me wrong. I love feminist men, and I think that the more men involved the better. I think that there are plenty of self-proclaimed feminist men who get it, and weirdly there are even more who reject the term "feminist" because they think that men can't be feminists but who incorporate those values in their lives. (Actually, there are a number of feminist thinkers who agree that men can't be feminists, just feminist-sympathizers. I disagree, but I will address why in a moment.) Most of the men I know that I would characterize as truly feminist reject that label for themselves, which in a way is a huge relief.

Because there are tons of men out there who adopt the term "feminist" and then, in a most unfeminist manner, decide that they are going to dictate what that means to the women in their lives. If there is anything more frustrating than a man telling you what a "real" feminist should believe, I don't know what it is. They've never walked a day in a woman's shoes, never had the rights to their body debated in dehumanizing terms in Congress, never had a stranger call them a "bitch" for not immediately acquiesing to random demands, never been told to smile, never been followed while walking by someone who was considering attacking or just getting kicks out of scaring....

And then there are men (and women to be fair) who reject the term "feminist" because they have allowed the stereotypes to overwhelm their thinking. I had it out with a male friend over this not too long ago, when he rejected my own description of myself as a feminist. (Again, men deciding what the terms will be and getting completely flustered when a woman contradicts them.) But he's a smart guy, and he let me speak my piece. I usually acquiese easily in an argument, as I was raised as a female to do. But this time, I was well-armed. I completely stole the rhetoric from this essay I read not too long ago at Tomato Nation.

He said that feminism was somehow wrong. I asked in what arena he felt that women should be kept unequal, as I had never seen him argue for female subservience. (In fact, he strives to make sure that his wife never feels put upon by mindless male entitlement. It's really quite heartening to see.) He said, none, of course. And I pointed out that his opinion made him a feminist. He protested and said that radical feminists had ruined feminism for everyone.

This is usually where these arguments turn sour, because what happens is you start arguing about whether or not "radical" feminists even exist. In a written form, like the Utopian Hell post, this is a useful and interesting discussion. When speaking, it turns into a pissing contest. So I decided to avoid it and just this once accept the idea of "radical" feminists.

Instead, I asked why it is that feminists, and only feminists, are held responsible for the behavior of extremists. And why a woman has two choices--reject feminism or embrace radicalism? I pointed out that if he has a problem with the radicals, he's letting them win by letting them take over a term that only means belief in the equality of the sexes. And also that he's letting the conservatives win because they are able, by using these two groups of women, feminists and non-feminists, to imply that all women who don't call themselves feminists love being subservient.

I didn't "win" the argument, but I think my point was well-made and well-accepted. I think that it's important to take the term "feminist" back--very important. It takes practice. Just describe this as feminist and that as feminist. Joke about it, be serious about it, but use the term. Describe your friends as feminist--you'd be surprised how they won't reject that as often as you fear. Point out how admirable men and women are feminists. If someone bucks you, ask what's so wrong with equality? And the main thing is ask without averting your eyes. There's nothing to be ashamed of. Take the term back.

35 Comments:

Blogger Diane said...

Amen, sister!

The word "feminist" was turned into a dirty word by the (sexist) news media. Talking heads like to say "The feminists say..." as though only a crazy fringe group believes in social, economic, and political equality for women. But to blame the news media for the trashing of feminism is too simple an answer. The trashing of feminism has come about because the women's movement--like the civil rights movement--was not kept alive by the generation that succeeded the Second Wave.

Women do not appear to understand that their rights are always under attack, and that many of feminism's goals have not been met. Indeed, many goals that were met in the 70's have now been beaten down.

8/05/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word "feminist" was turned into a dirty word by the (sexist) news media.No, the word "feminist" was turned into a dirty word by female supremacists who take words like "equality" and use them to mean "special treatment" and "privilege" for women.

The trashing of feminism has come about because the women's movement--like the civil rights movement--was not kept alive by the generation that succeeded the Second Wave.The trashing of feminism has come about because there is no need for any women's movement. North American women are pampered children of privilege.

Women do not appear to understand that their rights are always under attack,ROFLMAO

Just a wee bit o' paranoia there, eh lassie?

and that many of feminism's goals have not been met.Yeah, you still have those horrible, nasty men on the planet.

Indeed, many goals that were met in the 70's have now been beaten down.If that's so, it's because they haven't worked. Look at what feminists' "sacred right" to abortion is doing in China and India. Do you want to see serious population imbalances elsewhere, too?

8/06/2004

 
Blogger Ross A Lincoln said...

Hey Anon, nice balls you got there, all using your name and stuff. Real manly. Seriously, if you don't mind, I have some conservatives I need to explain reproduction to, perhaps I can borrow your balls, so I don't actually, you know, have to risk being known for my views.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, American Feminists, generally, are also involved in efforts to spread feminism and human rights globally. Like most american liberals, they recognize that our tremendous good fortune came at a high price, and that we cannot afford to sit back and A) assume that the people for whom our good fortune is somehow an attack, can't wait to turn back the clock, and B) forget that while most people don't enjoy our luxury, that doesn't mean we shouldn't make sure this doesn't change. Liberals know the world becomes a better place through hard work, and that things don't just happen because we say they ought to. Unlike, say, conservatives.

Oh, and nice straw men you got there. mind if I buy some racial sterotypes off you while you're at it? The problems in China and India are the direct result of sexist attitudes towards women, and not the result of a feminist plot to kill other women. They existed before feminism, and sadly, they'll be here for some time to come. If you bothered to crack open a history book, you'd know that.

Next you'll be blaming wife burnings and foot binding on feminism. Try again when you A) have the courage to post using your name, and B) have the force of will to do research, post research, not not resort to conservative straw men.

Finally, no matter what you might think, women in America might live in the most proserous society on earth, but being a second class citizen sucks ass, regardless of where you are.

I won't use the F-word. I really won't.

8/06/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

I got a troll! I got a troll!
Sorry, I was excited for a moment. There's just something about your first genuine troll.
Anyway, I love it. Guys who rail against the very notion of sexism but just....can't....help....using condescending and sexist language in their arguments, thereby accidentally disproving their very point.

8/06/2004

 
Blogger Adam said...

The more I hear about feminism, the more I am accepting of its views, except for one notable thing: the word itself.

People arguing for the equal rights of blacks don't use the word "blackism", people arguing for the equal rights of the elderly don't use the word "elderism". These words have two problems. First, they focus on one group instead of focusing on the question of equality in general. (Substitute "black pride" or "white pride" in and see.) Second, they are too close to the similiar words "racism" and "ageism", which are words used to represent all that these activists fight against.

So why do people arguing for the equal rights of women use the word "feminism"? It seems that the word falls to the two problems mentioned above: first, that the implicit asymmetry of the word (focusing on only one of the sexes) will raise the defenses of people who are not women (and might feel threatened) or of people of any sex who feel uncomfortable with words favoring one group over another; and second, that it is too close to the negative "-ism" words like sexism or racism.

I agree that special attention must be given to women in order for equality to be reached. It's not enough to shout "equality!" and then believe the scale is balanced instantly. The idea of focusing on women's issues is justified, and maybe the word "feminism" accurately reflects this necessary attention.

But keep in mind that when equality is someday acheived, the word "feminism" will still carry with it the implicit concept of increasing the power of women even past the point of equality. The words "equal rights" carry a meaning that is timeless.

8/06/2004

 
Blogger Earnest said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8/06/2004

 
Blogger Earnest said...

I believe men are able to be feminist, but only self-loathing men can sympathize with radical feminists. Is there such a thing as a radical feminist? As sure as there are women who view men and masculinity as the source of all the world's ills. As certain as there are women who will prescribe how men should view women while proscribing men from telling women how to view them. I think that most feminists and feminist sympathizers believe in equality between the sexes, which is not a ridiculous notion by any means. It's a goal we should be striving toward. I think it's hard to convince people that feminism is a goal worth striving for because the gains women made in the last century have removed a lot of urgency from the matter, making talking about it in the same way that women once did seem quaint and outdated. I attribute this to the stubborn conservatism that is killing the liberal movement. The left refuses to recognize that times have changed and that maybe it's time to look for new answers to old questions or even ask NEW questions.

Here's a question I have. Are you attempting to reclaim feminism from other feminists? Unfortunately, most groups end up being identified by their extremists because they are the squeaky wheels (see Christians). The best way to "reclaim" feminism is to be louder and more vocal than the extremists in your group, and it means better distinguishing your beliefs from theirs.

8/06/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Again, I do not hold all men accountable for the beliefs of those with psychological issues that cause them to hate all women. And I do not think that all women or feminists or whatever, should be held accountable for those who "hate men", which is a personal and not political stance. I cannot believe that it's still up for discussion. "Radical" feminists don't exist as a political movement so much as a bogeyman of those who fear women's equality.
Adam, the word "feminism" is used by default. It's a very old word and predates the names taken on by the civil rights movement, etc. It is also a word that is used internationally--most languages I know of use a variation on "feminism" to refer to feminism. To try and eradicate the word is not going to work. I definitely see your meaning, but I know enough about language to realize that trying to eradicate the common word for something is pissing in the wind. Look at how different spellings of the word "women" just never took off.

8/06/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I won't use the F-word. I really won't.
# posted by Ross A Lincoln : 2:56 AM
Thanks to big 'Dick' Cheney, we'll never have to use that eff word again. E.g. 'we (as a nation) are so Cheneyed now' or 'go Cheney yourself.'

Sorry for the OT post.

"The contents of this message are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government."

:o)

J-B.E.

P.S. Why the Cheney can't Atrios get a Cheneying preview button???

8/06/2004

 
Blogger Astarte said...

Wow, I didn't expect that post of mine to get so much play, but I'm very glad it is. It brings about a very necessary discussion about the faces of feminism. I'm glad to know that I'm not alone, and I find it interesting that most of the people writing who are condemning the word are men themselves.

Here's a question I have. Are you attempting to reclaim feminism from other feminists?No, we're not trying to reclaim feminism from the feminists. We're trying to reclaim feminism from the (predominately male) conservatives who have turned the word into a 'bad word'. People like Rush Limbaugh who made 'Feminzai' an everyday word, and countless other conservatives who equate feminism with the destruction of family, difficulties in the workplace, terrible things such as political correctness, and not having someone to fetch their beer while they're watching football.

In fact, one could argue that feminism doesn't just need to be 'reclaimed', but it needs to be picked up as a whole again. Women these days have forgotten what it is their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers fought for. They've taken it for granted, and in that lapse an entire generation has grown up believing that it's okay for women to be objectified because 'sex sells', as one co-worker put it to me recently.

We've gone from being a set of fiercely devoted women to being a bunch of people who say "it's okay". It's okay for you to objectify me this one time because I've gained all of these other rights. It's okay for me to put my career on hold for you because I've made such progress as a woman. It's okay for me to not fight for equal pay because we've come so close to that, who's going to bother? It's okay for you to claim that me reporting sexual harassment is a bad thing because at least I don't have to offer sex for career advancements anymore.

It's not okay. It hasn't ever BEEN okay, and the more that we say 'it's okay', the more rights we lose, the more choices we lose, the more decisions are taken away from us. Right and left, women are allowing conservative hate radio and conservative hate columnists to point them back into the kitchen, and back into a subservient role to their husbands because that is what 'family values' are. Slowly but surely every one of our rights will be eroded if we continue to say "it's okay", and not be the odd one out who says 'It's not okay'.

My post at Utopian Hell was mainly to say I'm not going to say 'It's okay' anymore. I'm not going to hide what I am. I'm not going to hide my beliefs, and I'm not going to stand in a corner thinking there's something wrong with this. I'm not going to hide the title of the book that I'm reading, or smile politely when someone says something outwardly sexist. If we're to pick up the torches we originally dropped when our mothers handed them off, we've got to be a lot more proactive, and we've got to hide a lot less.

I'm sorry that so many male names in these comments have problems with the word 'feminist', but you're just going to have to deal with it. When it comes time to declare your equality, you can name your movement whatever the hell you want. Until then: hands off, boys.

But, the very fact that the word 'feminism' makes you feel uncomfortable is evidence as to how well conservative hate media has trashed the word, and how little movement has actually been made.

There is a great deal of apathy by men towards feminism. Unless something happens to their mother, sister, girlfriend, or wife, they tend to not understand just what it is like to be a woman in modern America, especially when you're watching your freedoms and rights start to get stripped away.

Can men call themselves feminists? Sure, they can, but there are a few rules, such as not naming the movement, not telling us where the movement can go, and generally not getting in the way. The road is sticky and paved with crushed dreams. If you're going to walk it with us, you're going to have to mind your step.

8/06/2004

 
Blogger mythago said...

Hm, I'm a radical feminist, and you'll pry the movement out of my cold, dead fingers! Ha!

Because, really, when people say 'radical feminist' what they really mean is 'a person whose feminist beliefs push my comfort zone.' Really, have you ever heard anyone give a non-insane definition of a 'radical feminist', other than vagueries like "hates men, thinks everybody should have abortions" which make it clear they're referring to a caricature.

8/06/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, some self-described feminists write nonsense like, "All
transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves," or "Rape is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear." But I don't see this as an extreme version of sane feminism. I see it as raving lunacy. Or, as an extreme version of the poor thinking that everyone commits from time to time. --Omar

8/07/2004

 
Blogger Earnest said...

Saying "radical feminism doesn't exist" is like saying Nascar Dads don't exist. Even if no group of men ever considered themselves "NASCAR dads," the demographic has been created by those who need a way to categorize a specific subset of a group. The fact is that feminists don't all think alike, and there are plenty of women who consider themselves feminists but want only gender equality and the ability to define a role for themselves in the world, and then there are those who would like to see women more powerful than men, eventually, and that latter group is considered radical while the former group is considered conservative. As is the case with any group, those in the middle tend to disavow the extremists on either end. Just as leftists tend to marginalize the Greens and the socialists. Just as protestants would marginalize the mormons and evangelicals.

Of course the people who are denouncing (radical) feminism are going to be men. Most of the people who denounce patriarchy are women, but I don't find that interesting, I find it normal. Why is it not OK for a man to have a comfort zone he doesn't want pushed? I have no problem with women in society assuming a fully equal role and responsibility as men, but I don't want to see men's importance diminished to the point of passivity. I would wager most men and good amount of women feel that way-- not just conservative columnists and hatemongers.

It shouldn't be a dirty word, so, please, take back the word Feminism. I just think it will take a lot of hard work and probably even examination of the movement itself.

8/07/2004

 
Blogger Ron said...

I can understand your reluctance to men using the term feminist, but feministe-sympathiser is just too cumbersome and sounds wishy-washy. If one of you fine (women) feminists want to come up with something better for your male supporters, I'll use that. Until then, I like calling myself a feminist. It reflects many of the values I hold.

8/09/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think they commit raving lunacy because they "would like to see women more powerful than men", exactly. I think they've allowed the normal human impulse towards generalization to create groups of faceless oppressors in their maps of the world. Also, some (e.g. the anti-transsexual loon) appear to've accepted religion-influenced memes without thinking much about them. Having adopted insane world-views, certain self-described feminists act irrationally in an attempt to fight the inhuman oppressors they fear. It doesn't seem like a more extreme version of 'equal-rights feminism'. It seems like an instance of poor thinking, much like the common picture of "feminists" in general as man-hating loons. -Omar

8/09/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Earnest, you seem to think these "radical feminists" see the world as you do, but hold different goals. I think they see the world in a different way. (A way that I happen to view as insane.) I also think that, with some exceptions, insane views have little influence on mainstream feminism -- and that poor thinking in mainstream culture can explain exceptions (such as anti-porn crusades).

8/09/2004

 
Blogger Astarte said...

I have a great one for you Ron: Real Man

8/09/2004

 
Blogger Astarte said...

Could someone please provide some proof of these radical feminists that wish to destroy all men?

8/09/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you, remember. ;)
I'm beginning to think a "radical" feminist is a feminist who disagrees with a man, especially one who feels that feminism would be more pleasant if men got to define the terms.

8/10/2004

 
Blogger Ron said...

Real Man - how I hate that term. It evokes memories of sexist women criticizing me for not fitting their world-view. Perhaps you are right & I should (re)claim the word. I’ll think about it.

8/10/2004

 
Blogger Astarte said...

Ron - You should. Call all those other 'real men' plastic men. Real men don't need someone to tell them what is manly and what isn't.

Amanda - What scares men, I think, about radical feminism is that it prescribes role changes for both men and women. You can't possibly change a society that is bent on patriarchial leadership without changing both sides of the fence. What they fail to understand (because the definitions are more often than not warped before they're handed over to them) is that the prscribed role changes are just as much liberty for MEN as they are for women. So, what really scares them is the concept of changing at *all* . So, yeah, you're pretty close. :)

Astarte, who's wondering if the horse is dead, yet.

8/10/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Yes, it would be liberating for men. However, they may get dishpan hands. And that thought is downright terrifying.

8/10/2004

 
Blogger Astarte said...

LMAO!!

8/10/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Have I suddenly become invisible? Sybil! Sybil, can you see me?"
"No, I can't dear."
"Well, then I think I'll go have a lie down. No I won't, I'll go and hit some guests."

I think I made a mistake suggesting that Janice Raymond hasn't thought much about certain issues. I think she has plenty of after-the-fact rationalizations for the memes that control her. -Omar

8/10/2004

 
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Bob struck the gong and sure enough a voice on the other side of the wall screamed "Hey your jerk its 3 o'clock in the morning!"

11/03/2005

 
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11/05/2005

 
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11/06/2005

 
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11/06/2005

 
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11/08/2005

 
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1/06/2006

 
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1/07/2006

 
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1/16/2006

 
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1/27/2006

 
Blogger Hillary Templeton said...

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3/01/2006

 
Anonymous richelle hawks said...

ha--'keen on death.' that is silliness.

4/26/2007

 

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