Sunday, September 7, 2008

Some of my feelings on feminism

Taken from Megan McArdle:
Which brings us to feminism. I view myself as feminist(ish) because I believe the following:

1) Society is set up in ways that limit women's choices and opportunities--men's too (it's awful hard to make the choice to stay home with kids, or become a nurse), but women more. Men are not, for example, socially punished for monogamy the way that women are socially punished for promiscuity.

2) Privilege exists, and is in many unfortunate ways invisible to those who possess it.

3) We should try to change those things.

But the basic thing, to me, is that I endorse the project of changing social values to increase the scope of human possibility.

Personally, I'd like to see feminism take on as expansionist a definition as possible without rendering the concept meaningless--something closer to my list than whatever, exactly in the head of people who label me an "antifeminist". Not because it particularly matters whether I get to wear the proud Scarlet F, but because bringing more people into the tent would make feminism less of a dirty word in many quarters. It would give what I view as the movement's most important work--that of exposing and trying to change the structural problems in society that limit women's choices--more reach, albeit at the expense of driving many radical solutions to those problems.


petpluto said...

Here's my problem: (1) I don't really know what feminists Megan McArdle has been talking to who espouse the views (especially about subsidized child care; the abortion thing I can see) so uniformly. (2) Feminism is a philosophy. It's basic tenet is that women and men should be treated and evaluated equally and on their merits without their gender entering into the equation. So, it is pretty expansionist already in that it holds a myriad of different views within that philosophical framework. Feminism is kind of like liberalism: you can have so many different points of interest and methodologies that it can encompass many different things. Lesbian feminism, radical feminism, pop culture feminism, third wave, second wave, etc., all of these exist out in that exciting world. So we're a pretty divergent population already.

The second problem is that I think feminism has always been much less militant and uniform than the PtB have portrayed us as. But the way to really change that viewpoint isn't to change feminism to get new members with more mainstream viewpoints but to get people with more mainstream viewpoints to call themselves feminists. That way, the movement will be seen in a different light. If more girls (and boys) called themselves feminists, then we would have a wider selection of types of feminists. I'm an ardent feminist, and although I disagree with Megan McArdle on several points, I wouldn't claim that she diverged from feminism or was anti-feminist. She's just got a different take on feminist issues. Which is why I kind of wonder where she runs into the feminists she mentions in the article, because many of the feminists I know have different ideas of what works best to combat sexism and class and gender privilege in the world.

Emily said...

One of the main problems with feminism now is that so many different women consider themselves feminists. Women who have one night stands consider themselves feminists, as do ones that wait until marriage to have sex. Sarah Palin considers herself a feminist, when most people would consider her policies very anti-woman. Stay at home mom say they are feminists, as do working mothers.

In the previous waves of feminism, women had a common goal to acheive. The first one was the vote, second was equal rights in the workplace. Now, women don't have a common goal. Women can't even agree on what feminism really is. It's different to everyone, and until we get together to achieve more common goals, things will lag in getting accomplished, and the meaning of feminism will become more and more diluted.

John said...

Where does Megan's quote end and yours begin? Or is it just a summary?

Regardless, I see the problem with feminism as the problem with any movement or subculture. It's something I will refer to as "scene-ism," which we all know in some form or other from our personal experiences. The people who dedicate more of their time and energy to the movement than others feel they are entitled to say who is a "real" supporter and who is just a poseur. Social groups define themselves by who they exclude as much as by what their members have in common, and activist groups have unintentionally turned the philosophies of their movements into clubs that only the most fervent adherents are accepted to. Feminism is a dirty word because professional feminists have made people who only dabble in feminism feel unwanted. It's the same with pretty much any activist movement. If you're a vegetarian, vegans will accuse you of being hypocritical and weak, while the fruitarians are saying the same thing to the vegans. Ideally, the cause-heads would get down from their high horses and welcome people who share one or more of their ideals, but if they were that level-headed they wouldn't be cause-heads in the first place.

petpluto said...

"Feminism is a dirty word because professional feminists have made people who only dabble in feminism feel unwanted."

John, I'm going to have to disagree here. I think that some of the negativity stemming from feminism may in fact stem from some women feminists; Germaine Greer springs immediately to mind. But I have also seen and heard enough derogatory remarks made about feminists in the media -how we're man-hating, ugly lesbians who don't shave our legs and who are only man-hating and lesbians because we can't get teh boyz. Which is dismissive and wrong and what feminists have faced since there have been feminists to face such criticisms. I think there are numerous reasons why someone may not want to identify with a movement. But feminism is an ugly word because with it comes the idea that women are (a) crazy, (b) ungrateful, and (c) unattractive and someone no man wants. Luckily, I don't care if people think those things about me, but I can definitely see that sort of thing (along with other factors) contributing to young girls and women not wanting to align themselves with the feminist movement.

I would be more apt to agree with you if I hadn't heard the phrase, "I'm not a feminist, but..." so many times in my life. Those people aren't apologizing to feminists for stepping on their toes; they're apologizing to everyone else in the room who could take this message they are now proposing about gender equality and come away from it thinking that they may be one of those dirty feminists.

MediaMaven said...

I only quoted the sections of Megan McArdle's post that I happened to agree with. If you go to the post, you'll see that I only included a portion of it.

mikhailbakunin said...

If the core tenet of feminism is that value judgments should be made without regard to gender, wouldn't any female candidate who engages in identity politics be acting against feminist philosophy? Likewise any woman who bases her vote on gender? Or even considers gender in making her decisions? Or favors affirmative action for women?

petpluto said...

Jer, in a perfect world, you'd be wholly correct about opposing affirmative action. But as Megan McArdle notes, there is definitely still aspects of society that limit women's choices (and men's too), that privilege still exists, and that we need to combat it in order to one day actually achieve the ideal of a meritocracy. Just having feminists stand up and say, "Women and men are equal and should be judged without regard to gender" doesn't make it happen. And sometimes it has nothing to do with overt "isms" so much as it does that we gravitate toward those who are most like us. Hence, boards of corporations may be made up primarily of men not because those men hate women or don't think women could get the job done but because they had more in common or felt more kindred with another (male) candidate for the position.

Two, I have a very large issue with identity politics; or rather, what we consider identity politics. In today's political culture of "We have to want to have a beer with X before any voting decision can be made", I don't see how one could possibly escape from the specter of identity politics. Plus, almost any reason a person has for voting for an individual can be linked to identity politics. You're a white man and you're voting for McCain? Identity politics (funny how that one is rarely used, though, since to be white and a man are still considered the default "norms" in society). You're a woman and you want to vote for Palin? Identity politics. You're black and you're voting for Obama? Identity politics. It is an overarching term that just seems to exist -at times- to belittle someone's reason for supporting a candidate. I've certainly felt belittled when that 'reasoning' has been used to judge my support for certain candidates.

There is one thing I can unequivocally say and that is to vote based solely on gender is indeed against feminist ideals. Voting against a woman because she's a woman is a bad, but voting for a woman just because she is a woman is just as erroneous. That decision stems from essentialist thinking, and doesn't take into account what that person actually believes in and what methods s/he would utilize.

And I think I'm done hijacking MM's blog now...