I do what I can to talk about feminism. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes I feel that it’s just a nuisance and my ideas aren’t really contributing anything. I’m not going to stop talking about it. I think feminism is perhaps the most important movement around right now. I also think we’re doing kind of a bad job of talking about it properly. In this post I propose a few methods of changing our dialogue so we can move forward. I’m not trying to redefine feminism, rather I’m trying to examine the root of it and expose exactly what it is that makes it so important. I read a lot about people speaking out against feminism, and that discourages me. I’d like to see that change. So maybe I can start by saying what I think. If you find this helpful, good, share it with your friends, use my ideas, go for it, change the world. If you think I’m just doing it all wrong and you hate it, good, your thoughts are also important and you should share them. But let’s not settle back into the same pattern we’ve been in lately of one side yelling at the other.
Today I came across a link on my Facebook feed that led me to this quote:
My response to the “I am not a feminist” internet phenomenon…
First of all, it’s clear you don’t know what feminism is. But I’m not going to explain it to you. You can google it. To quote an old friend, “I’m not the feminist babysitter.” But here is what I think you should know. You’re insulting every woman who was forcibly restrained in a jail cell with a feeding tube down her throat for your right to vote, less than 100 years ago. You’re degrading every woman who has accessed a rape crisis centre, which wouldn’t exist without the feminist movement.
You’re undermining every woman who fought to make marital rape a crime (it was legal until 1993).
You’re spitting on the legacy of every woman who fought for women to be allowed to own property (1848). For the abolition of slavery and the rise of the labor union. For the right to divorce. For women to be allowed to have access to birth control (Comstock laws). For middle and upper class women to be allowed to work outside the home (poor women have always worked outside the home). To make domestic violence a crime in the US (It is very much legal in many parts of the world). To make workplace sexual harassment a crime.
In short, you know not what you speak of. You reap the rewards of these women’s sacrifices every day of your life. When you grin with your cutesy sign about how you’re not a feminist, you ignorantly spit on the sacred struggle of the past 200 years. You bite the hand that has fed you freedom, safety, and a voice.
In short, kiss my ass, you ignorant little jerks.
– via viralwomen.com
It’s been a long road for me to move from a religious right-winged fundamentalist to an outspoken, left-wing advocate for equal rights. It’s taken me a long time to adjust my views, and this path has been fraught with confusion, conflicting emotions and setbacks from those around me. I’ve been writing about feminism now on my blog for a while. I’ve written about it elsewhere in public forums, and I speak about it quite often in discussions and online. Social media is more of my platform for change than it is a way to keep in touch with people. It’s been hard, but it’s been worth it.
And that’s just me, one nearly insignificant guy with an opinion and a love for words.
I can’t imagine how hard it is for other people.
So when I see things like this, the “Not a feminist” wave that seems to be sweeping the internet, my blood boils over. When I see one person dismiss the entire feminist movement of the last two centuries with a joke about rape or bitches or women am i rite? I go crazy. You sire, have no idea what you’re talking about, I politely remark, crack my knuckles, take a sip of water and clear my throat. I then proceed to tear down everything they ever thought they knew and replace it with a more informed, updated and smarter perspective.
Well, in my imagination that’s how it goes. In reality, I kind of get brushed aside a lot. Maybe I should be less obvious that I’m about to start ranting.
Still, there must be something to it, right? Feminism is everywhere today, you can’t not run into it, so there must be some force at work that provokes people to declare themselves “not-feminists.” I don’t want to be the guy who has to define feminism, yet again, especially since, well, I’m a guy defining feminism, but maybe we should have a bit of a talk about that.
What exactly is feminism? The idea that men and women should be equal, right?
What does that mean?
“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago. It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.”
– Bell Hooks, Feminism is For Everybody: Passionate Politics [emphasis mine]
I like this quote. I think it is important: ending sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. That’s good, that’s what feminism should be about. Unfortunately, that’s not what a lot of people think it’s about. Feminism seems to give off the impression that it puts women above men.
And the catch is…
it kind of does.
But we look at that in the wrong way. Any program that tries to benefit someone who needs it must put them before others. Homeless shelters don’t offer beds for rich people. We don’t build wells in New York.
The problem with our treatment of feminism is that we hold it to a standard it isn’t even categorized under. We expect feminists to cater to everybody as though every problem laid before them is of equal importance. This is simply not true, or would it be fair even if it were. There’s another idealism that a lot of us haven’t heard of (it’s still new to me). Egalitarianism, as in, the idea that everyone should be treated equally. This is usually how we define feminism, but that’s just not accurate enough anymore, as evidence by how many different definitions there are for feminism and how many people still misunderstand it, and how we’ve just gotten ourselves into an even bigger mess with anti-feminists and Men’s Rights Activists. Our working definition just doesn’t work. Feminism is not the idea that everyone should be equal… not quite.
Feminism begins with the premise that sexism exists.
If I may be so bold to propose this hypothesis, I think the reason feminism receives so much blowback is because we haven’t done a good enough job explaining it. Most of us can agree that equality is important, paramount, and yet we’re still having these arguments. Allow me to express this philosophically.
Premise 1: everyone should be treated equally (egalitarianism).
Premise 2: women are treated unequally.
Conclusion 1: therefore women are at a disadvantage in the equal treatment of everyone.
Premise 3: to fix this, we need a different approach, one that acknowledges the mistreatment of women while still pursuing equality.
Conclusion 2: therefore feminism must take a slightly different approach than egalitarianism.
This is a rough premise/conclusion summary, but it works.
Feminism cannot work unless we acknowledge the premise that women are beginning at a disadvantage. If we treat everyone equally starting now, we’ll still be left with an unbalanced system. In order to fix that, we need to spend some time working to eradicate the sexism that unbalances our society. This is where the feminist movement came in.
Acknowledging the existence and pervasive influence of sexism is no fun. Nobody wants to do it. I think this is our first challenge. This is why we spend so much time talking about sexism, why we have so many awareness-raising events, why we can’t just shut up and enjoy things. It’s why we complain when an otherwise awesome movie still has a predominately male cast, or when a TV show disrobes its female cast but doesn’t disrobe its male cast. It’s why we push for female voices in the media, why we can’t let anything slide.
Because if we let sexism off the hook, feminism itself becomes useless.
Famously, the actress Shailene Woodley is not a feminist. For a while, neither was Taylor Swift. Why? By all means they seem like they should be feminists, after all, both of them support the idea of equality (Swift, of course, is now an outspoken feminist). Woodley however, subscribes to egalitarianism, and she may actually be ahead of the rest of us. I have no problem with Woodley’s defence of her views, she’s actually spot-on, she just doesn’t identify as a feminist. Perhaps she shouldn’t.
It doesn’t really matter though, because sexism is still rampant in society. And feminism is the view we use to deal with that.
Fact is, women are at a disadvantage. Men run around freely, suffering almost none of the blowbacks of sexism because we’re perpetuating it. It’s our fault. Yes, sexism hurts men too, and so we need to bring that to light as well. Feminism, in this way, works for everyone.
Feminism is for everyone, absolutely.
However, we need to recognize that sexism absolutely exists, because if we don’t, then all of our efforts, all of us who band together under the banner of feminism, well, we can’t really get much done.
I never used to be aware of how much sexism there is in the world. Now I am more aware every day, and it’s difficult. It’s not easy at all. Some days you just want to crawl back into bed and forget about all the problems we’ve created for ourselves. But we can’t. It’s up to us to fix this. It’s amazing what we’ve done just this year. It’s also detestable how many setbacks we’ve seen happen. My guess is this all goes back to that very same problem, we just don’t understand why we need feminism so badly.
We just don’t see how unequal the world is.
Feminism rests on the premise that women have a disadvantage to men, and that is what we’re fighting to change. We can’t focus on equality for everyone until we actually have a society that lets us do that. It would be like trying to build a free-market in a society that doesn’t even have a town.
So if you’re not a feminist, I’m sorry, but you don’t understand what you’re talking about. You need to do more research. Feminism is perhaps the single greatest movement of our time and it’s happening right now. We need everyone to understand what it is, understand it clearly, and know that when you declare yourself to not be a feminist, you’re hurting us because that sets us back and renders our efforts spent on nothing.
You want equality? Good, so do we. But the road to get there is longer than we think it is.