Monday, 23 December 2013

The F Word

Reddit, and the internet at large, loves to rag on feminism for misrepresenting the universal struggle for equality. In fact, there's a pretty good question that a lot of people ask when it comes to feminism: how does it differ from egalitarianism and why is it even necessary to distinguish between the two? I'm going to try to address the differences and the reasons as to why I primarily identify as a feminist over anything else. But before I get into the nitty gritty, let me dispel some common misconceptions.

Misconception #1 Feminists want female superiority.
The name throws a lot of people off. Why call it feminism if it's supposing to be about equalizing gender differences, not favouring one particular gender over another? Well, there's a very, very good reason for that! Feminism aims to give authority to the often disenfranchised femininity. Now, now I know that sounds like some tumblr brand of kooky, but hear me out. Regardless of whether it is men or women acting feminine, there's some kind of expectation of weakness, frailty, and diminished agency that accompanies it; femininity is disenfranchised because it is not afforded the same level of respect in our societies directly from birth (heck, even before). Bear with me as I try and explain. Let's take men who cross dress and women who cross dress. In my experience, and I bet you this varies depending on where you're from [and what not], female cross dressers are usually considered weird, but not as weird as male cross dressers. A woman dressing as a man doesn't necessarily indicate to the world that there's something wrong with her, and many of my high school female friends came to school occasionally dressed as boys to no great fanfare.

For Halloween this year several of my short haired female friends dressed as men or boys (pulling it off very well, may I add). Their feminine self-identification was not questioned. But it's a rare sight to see men who aren't outwardly extremely masculine, and thus commonly confirmed and recognized in their gender, dressing as women or girls. If the above type does so, [however rarely], it's accepted as a prank or a joke. It's an acceptable deviation from the norm because their gender identity is already seen as confirmed fact. Men or boys who aren't as popular nor as accepted can face criticism on the strength of their gender identity. If we all fear that a man may become a sissy, how would a man on the margins even begin to imagine dressing or acting in "feminine" ways without intense scrutiny, criticism, and abuse? Why is effeminate a huge diss? And why is emasculation the ultimate social death?

Girls can dress up as men and consequently face some moderate controversy, but it's much harder for men to dress down without the possibility of their sexual orientation, gender identification, authority, and sexual preferences being called into question. Female to male cross dressing doesn't carry the same stigma because male characteristics are not fetishized like the feminine and they are not seen as ultimately inferior.

Male to female cross dressing is associated with strange, perverse sexual tendencies and even more importantly, it is seen as a betrayal of a position of inborn authority. And really, how fucked in the head must you be to intentionally degrade yourself by dressing like a woman? The term feminism seeks to reinstate the authority and respectability of femininity and the features associated with it. It is not about raising the feminine above the masculine as much as it is about bridging the clear inequality between the two.

[For the record, I'm not talking about transsexuality just yet. There's a widespread culture of discrimination against the trans community and that's a subject that deserves a devotion of my time to another full post. But feminism, I think, also must play a critical role in normalizing transsexuality.]

Misconception #2 Feminists hate men.
I love men! But I hate misogynists, whether they are male or female. Misogyny and misandry are two sides of the same coin. The suppression of a particular gender, no matter which, is the exact issue that feminists are ideally hoping to address. In reintegrating the feminine, whether this is even possible or not, we would be benefiting all men too. Yes, so many of these so-called 'feminist issues' focus on the treatment of women almost exclusively. My attention, while also being dedicated to women's issues, primarily encompasses the whole picture that our society has created around gender identification and valuation. I think it's useful to view feminism in two categories:
  1. Applied feminism - or feminism as directed towards tangible, statistical models of discrimination, sexism, and gender issues. How much do women earn vs. men? What are the rates of sexual assault across both genders? How many sexual assaults against men go unreported vs. sexual assaults against women go unreported? How many men or women lose custody of their children due to sex discrimination? How many young girls develop harmful eating disorders? 
  2. Theoretical feminism - or feminism as developed/influenced by cultural/literary criticism, Simone de Beauvoir, and feminist academia, which ultimately includes the above, but with an emphasis on the dynamics of why and how. Why is there sometimes a divide between white feminists and "ethnic" feminists? Where does decolonialisation play into the spread of feminist thought? How does femininity become less valued in agricultural societies? Why does the patriarchy exist? Which prevailing social standards continue to perpetuate the blaming of victims of sexual assaults?
Simply put, there is the very direct, very human, and very material which most people see and accept at least to some degree. There is some debate on whether or not women earn less or whether men lose more custody battles, but there's more acceptance of the applied movement as a whole. The facts of gender difference aren't viewed as evil feminist issues. They aren't as divisive or as demonized. My best friend doesn't hesitate to support the empirically backed, statistically significant changes brought forth by the women's equality movement as much as she hesitates to use the damned F WORD.  Theoretical feminism is crowded by words like patriarchy and colonialism and social justice and agency and disenfranchisement and segregation and the Other and sub altern and marginalization and objectification and the rest of the pompous jargon of academia. It is inaccessible and it is misrepresented. And it often feels to me like there's no nastier, no more inciting, no worse word for a feminist to use in non-feminist company than the word feminist. We must demystify it if we ever want to stand a hope in hell of changing this world for the better.

When an angry academic feminist rails against men who perpetuate the patriarchy by refusing to see women as people or when an angry academic feminist raves about men who objectify women, it's a lot easier to get rid of the "filler" in the middle and it's a lot easier to say that the angry academic feminist just hates men. The angry academic feminist just hates men, refuses to shave her hairy pits, burns her bra, and uses fancy words to show everyone that she is better than them, and through the [understandably] complex history and [reasonably] difficult to grasp concepts, feminism becomes a dirty word. Education is the way to the future and I strongly believe that amendments in public education that would open feminism up to school curriculums would greatly serve the mission of equality and respect in our world. 

Misconception #3 Feminists are angry, hairy, resentful virgins.
So what if I haven't shaved my hairy arm pits in a week? So what if I have never had sex and refuse to do so? So what if I have slept with more people than I can count on my fingers and toes? So what if I'm not conventionally attractive? So what if I'm pretty but also opinionated?

A woman's face, body, and sexuality are the subject of public interest even if her mind and opinions are deemed to belong to the private. Sexuality rules the gender divide: who can screw who, when, where, how, and why bounces around our collective minds all the time. Men are mindless, sexual monsters with insatiable appetites while women are walking dual Madonna/whores. You're screwed if you [as a a man] refuse to be as sexual as society says you must be, thus making you an effeminate pansy, and you're screwed if you fulfill the stereotype, becoming a grade-A, womanizing douchenozzle. You're screwed if you [as a woman] are a virgin by choice, refusing to sate the societal lust for exposure, thus becoming a prude, and you're screwed if you admit having to having and even [goodness gracious] enjoying sex, making you an insatiable, improper slag.

In a world of intolerant rigid gender norms, the functions of sexuality and gender variance become unnavigable negatives. How can we possibly accept human sexuality without hangups or recognize the spectrum of gender identification and expressions when feminism, the modern guiding force behind correcting these flaws, is stigmatized and so misunderstood by pop culture?

Make no mistake, I identify as an egalitarian too, but why do I espouse the views of feminism more so than egalitarianism when in a gender issues debate?
  • because feminism is exclusive to the topic of gender issues 
  • because feminism has a rich, progressive history that I strongly identify with, more so than egalitarianism 
  • because accepting the historical subjugation of the feminine is integral to solving the gender struggle
  • because egalitarianism must depart from the universally recognized premise that all people are equal but it can't do that when one gender and its gender associated qualities are seen as inferior 
  • because feminism serves to educate the world on the equal value of femininity, feminine characteristics, female social roles, and female biological abilities TO masculinity, masculine characteristics, male social roles, and male biological abilities [which are more favoured]
  • because masculinism would be just as valid and reasonable if the world we lived in was a male-intolerant matriarchy
I hope this inspires some discussion and/or debate. Please respond or comment below! If this informed you, please share. Until next time, adieu! 

3 comments:

  1. "Feminism aims to give authority to the often disenfranchised femininity." - so it IS about power. From dictionary.com: "Authority - the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine." There is no reason this should be based on something arbitrary such as gender, it should be based on merit and leadership ability - if people aren't giving you authority over them, there's a bloody good chance you don't deserve it and would exercise your power irresponsibly. It's never going to happen because people instinctively know an abuse of power when they see one, and recoil from it, no matter what methods of doublethink you try to employ.

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    1. The whole point is that femininity has less authority in comparison to masculinity. Our society values men and gives them authority simply for being men. Your definition includes the word jurisdiction. When predominantly male, older men attempt to legislate female rights to contraception and abortion, that is a significant imbalance in terms of jurisdiction. Why should women not have jurisdiction over their own bodies? And furthermore, is there anything wrong with equalizing authority?

      Authority in self-determination and agency are fundamental human rights. In many places in the world, women has diminished authority in that regard and attempting to regain this agency is not an "abuse of power" as you suggest. While I agree that power should NOT be based on the gender, the reality is that it is. Power is rarely earned and often it is tied with the family you are born into, the country that you live in, and in this case, the gender that you are.

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    2. Well, the people who put our leaders in power aren't exclusively older wealthier white men.

      http://www.elections.ca/res/rec/part/estim/estimation40_e.pdf

      In fact, it appears as if voters are roughly even with maybe even a slightly higher amount of women.

      Law's shouldn't be dictated by the people they affect. That would be chaotic, there is a reason why we choose to vote for people who represent our interests. It's not like criminals make laws governing criminals, businesses making laws governing businesses, etc.

      What a citizen can do to change laws is vote in someone who has the same interests.

      Also, one problem I tend to have with feminism is the huge amount of support they have for affirmative action. I absolutely despise affirmative action. It's runs completely contrary to the principles of meritocracy. I believe admissions for university, admission for university should be purely merit based, they should be race-blind, gender-blind, and disregard everything but grades, and the supplemental portion of the application.

      Anyways, I feel feminism isn't necessarily bad, but there are definitely many extremists who actually agree with the points you tried to refute above. It's definitely not a tiny minority either. I'm actually completely for equality in as much as possible. I believe in equal pay for equal responsibility, equal respect for both genders, and equal opportunity (in the sense that there shouldn't be discrimination, of course not everyone will have the same kind of chances as other people, but that's exactly how democracy and capitalism works, if you happen to be born to a rich family it's the same deal).

      In essence, I would like everyone to be judged by the same standards. No special treatment for anyone.

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Well?