why i am a feminist

Some time ago I started calling myself a feminist. I’d always been one, but resisted the label; now I’m happy to accept the label. In response to being asked a few times recently what my thought process was for this, here’s what happened.

To begin with, my previous position – a kind of ‘I’d-rather-call-myself-a-humanist’ cop-out – was due to a combination of factors. I misunderstood what the goals of feminism could be and the extent to which they had in fact already been achieved.

I also felt excluded from feminism on the grounds of being male. I once had an English teacher who explained to me that as a feminist, she thought men couldn’t be feminists because feminism was necessarily bad for men.

It’s not like I wasn’t told that feminists are just people who resist gender discrimination. I was told that plenty of times (by one person in particular who really deserves an apology for my stubbornness in acknowledging it).

I also had, underlying the labelling thing, a philosophical commitment to simplifying political language by using -ism terms in their most literal and straightforward sense. That meant I took any word with the suffix ‘-ism’ to straightforwardly mean an ideological position which prioritises the value or concerns of whatever it is that the ‘-ism’ is a suffix of. (so eg, a racist values a race and prioritises racial factors when making judgements; a socialist values society and prioritises that, etc).

So I made a common mistake and took ‘feminism’ to mean the prioritising and valuing of women when making judgements, to the exclusion of other concerns. And certainly some radical feminists do that, but they aren’t representative of all feminists.

In combination with this, I compounded my mistake by thinking that the legal and cultural progress made in the UK and the USA was sufficient for women to now have the same opportunities as men (for the first ten years of my life, a female Prime Minister had governed the UK), and legal recourse for the occasions when they didn’t.

I also observed a number of situations where it appeared that specific women were in fact able to gain advantages over men by virtue of their being able to, for example, make cynical use of their looks or sexuality, or give an appearance of vulnerability. (I’m aware now that this is patriarchal too).

As a result, I thought that while an ideology which prioritised the value and importance of women may have been valuable at other points in history, it was no longer necessary. I considered that gender equality was still a good thing, but preferred a more vague tag like ‘anti-gender-discrimination’ or something like that.

This analysis was extremely naive.

The year before last, a number of things happened.

Firstly, I found myself in close contact with a number of people who considered themselves feminists but who held positions which I found pretty objectionable. Once, for example, I came up against the idea that childcare should be entirely state-socialised from birth because mothers shouldn’t be expected to provide any care for their children, and there was no way you could ever expect fathers to do it.

Sometimes I came across versions of radical feminist claims about the evils of ALL men, or the claim that ALL men secretly hate women and should be punished accordingly. (Essentialist identity politics like this just ends up in ridiculous ‘not all men…’ debates when that is absoultely not the point – the point is that patriarchy and misogyny exist at all.)

There’s even a version of feminism (particularly prevalent amongst young feminists in Brighton) which regularly seemed to take the position that it was legitimate to treat individual men extremely poorly, particularly in the areas of sex or dating, on the grounds that ‘it’s what a man would do’ and that there was, after all, a ‘war’ going on.

It just so seemed inconsistent with the principle of gender equality that I started to despair. I realised, perhaps for the first time, that I was really genuinely concerned with the fate of an ideology that I valued a great deal more than I thought I had.

I also found myself in a position where I was teaching my A-level politics class about feminism, and for the first time I had to do some serious studying of its history. I had to actually read Wollstonecraft and Friedan and Greer (all of whom I liked very much) and Dworkin and Firestone and Millett (who I didn’t like quite so much) and I saw how incredibly rich the debates within feminism are, and yet how all of these people could still call themselves feminists.

And my attention was drawn to some contemporary liberal feminists and campaigning groups, people for whom it naturally followed that because they were liberals, they must be feminists: if you believe that everyone should have equal liberty and opportunities regardless of the chances of their birth, then you have to stand against things which do harm to people or their liberty and opportunities as a result of their birth sex or socialised gender.

Feminism is absolutely not a monolithic ideology with a fixed set of positions, nor is it a closed group; anyone who is opposed to gender discrimination, who thinks people should be considered as individuals regardless of their gender, can be one. Is one.

I also came to see how there’s a deep tradition of men making contributions to feminism ever since my big philosophical hero John Stuart Mill published On the Subjection of Women, and how he stood in Parliament and argued for women’s right to vote, and I didn’t feel excluded any more.

And so when some feminists made claims about ‘all men’, I could finally go beyond just trying to defend ‘some men’, and make a better argument – that their feminism didn’t look like my feminism – which is about refusing to let gender get in the way of people having all the respect and opportunities they deserve.

The problem is, gender, and people’s assumptions about it, still get in the way of too much. Having had a woman Prime Minister doesn’t mean it isn’t harder for people who happen to be women to succeed in politics, or in business, or in philosophy; and it shouldn’t be. And it is still harder for people who happen to be men to succeed in nursing, or teaching in girls’ education, or being fathers and househusbands, and it shouldn’t be.

And there is still too much gendered violence which wouldn’t happen to people if they weren’t women or girls, and it’s repulsive and of course it’s men’s problem and it needs to stop.

And that’s before we even start on transphobia or social and media perceptions of women and girls and a whole heap of other bullshit that I can’t believe I didn’t think was a big deal before.

So to be honest, I don’t care so much now about the accurate naming of ideological positions. If people who are opposed to these things are called feminists, then I’m going to call myself one, and that’s more important.

Having said that, there’s a further realisation I made since calling myself a feminist. It’s that actually, the word ‘feminism’ isn’t even wrong. It is named accurately. Because it isn’t just women, the biological sex, that need defending and liberating.

What patriarchs really demean isn’t women per se, but femininity.

Patriarchs expect women to exhibit traits which they think of as feminine, and then expect feminine people to be subservient. Supposedly ‘feminine’ traits include the ability to empathise, to compromise and show compassion, and be physically slight and beautiful. But also, in the minds of patriarchs, to be passive and deferential. They want feminine people to be submissive, just look pretty, be able to take abuse and neglect and not talk or hit or fuck back.

This is because ‘feminine’ traits are still considered as being of less value than ‘masculine’ traits: aggression, determination to compete, taking the ‘active’ role, stubbornness, avarice, desire.

All of this goes against the principle that as long as it doesn’t harm other people you should be able to have whatever the fuck kind of personality you want.

But patriarchs do harm people. They mainly harm women, because women are very deeply socialised to be feminine. Women who do not fit this expectation are shouted down, threatened, abused. But patriarchs (whether men or women) harm people who aren’t women, too.

Patriarchs expect and despise femininity in women, and fail to comprehend it in men – and despise it just as much.

Patriarchs want women to be ‘feminine’, and ‘feminine’ people of either sex to be weak; they cannot abide the thought that empathy and compassion can be every bit as powerful and courageous as competitiveness or aggression.

The reason Thatcher was loved by patriarchs is because once she had insisted that they see through her having being born female, she made them see her bullish determination and ‘rugged individualism’, and recognise her as one of their own.

They despise Nick Clegg, a politician who looks for compromises and doesn’t mind earning less than his wife.

This is not to say that the traits associated with masculinity are intrinsically bad; there is a time for them (no doubt Clegg could have done with being more stubborn and bullish at times). But there are also times for strong ‘feminine’ traits, and patriarchy will not allow it. It stands between feminine people (the vast majority of whom are women) and the respect and opportunities that they should have.

I’m aware there will be some feminists who object to this analysis on the grounds that like all men, I’m whining about how men suffer too and trying to make it all about men. I’m absolutely not. I’m in no doubt at all that women get harmed significantly more than men, in all kinds of ways.

But the thing which patriarchy demeans is femininity, and it harms everyone. For the most part, it harms women; and it harms all but the most masculine men; and eventually, it harms those masculine men too. A society which fails to give every individual the best opportunities because of mere chance-of-birth features like the set of reproductive organs they were born with, or the fact that they were socialised to be compassionate and empathetic, is not going to succeed as well as it could.

From this perspective, it is easier to see not just why liberal feminism is necessary; but just what a huge task it has ahead of it. Patriarchal thinking infiltrates almost everywhere and harms almost everyone, often without anyone seeing.

The more people start calling themselves feminists – men included – and defending women and femininity from the ridiculous assumption that the feminine are weak and less deserving, the better we will be.

And this is why I am a feminist.

Advertisements

7 Comments

  1. Brilliant post.

  2. “…I also felt excluded from feminism on the grounds of being male..”

    As a man, you are not excluded from *supporting* the cause of feminism, you are only excluded from the cause itself which is to promote (feminist) women’s interests, not men’s interests or children’s interests or non feminist women’s interests.

    Feminist women often promote their own self interests at the expense of men and children… and other (non feminist) women.

    However it’s more complex than that. Feminism proposes that men have historically chosen to deliberately oppress women, and that men have been largely successful (hence the need for feminism). Thus feminist theory proposes that men are the group in society who wield power – power which is abused on oppressing women… whereas women are the group in society with very little power, but the wisdom to wield power wisely (for equality).

    For a man to accept feminist theory means he must believe he really is more powerful than women, and that it is his moral duty to sacrifice that power to women, or to serve women, in order to further their moral cause AKA feminism.

    By convincing you that you HAVE more power than women, feminists are able to get you to GIVE UP your power, your identity and your free time to serve the feminist cause – a cause centred around obtaining resources, power, favourable legislation and other things which benefit the self interests of feminists.

    Feminism is a bit like a woman coming up to you and claiming her purse was stolen, but not only was it stolen it was stolen by a man ……. and that as a man yourself, you are therefore partly to blame which means you owe her $50.

    The moment you agree to give her $50 and apologise for her inconvenience it reinforces the notion that she really is a weak victim who needs protection and you really are a powerful actor who’s power and privilege is liable to hurt and oppress other people UNLESS you use your power and privilege to benefit weak victims in society AKA women.

    Notice how this strategy can work even if there never was any purse or theft. Or for added realism the woman might choose to place her purse (with say $10 in it) in plain sight on a street cafe table where it can easily be stolen.

    Groups who oppress and exploit other groups often enhance their own apparent VALUE and VULNERABILITY. A king or queen will wear elaborate clothes, but also impractical and restrictive clothes (long robes, high heels, wigs etc) so that they appear to require our protection (and that means our money).

    If feminists were really fighting for equality (rather than self interest) they would fight to be treated equally in the criminal / legal court system. But instead they seem happy enough to enjoy privilege there, and see men treated much worse than women.

    Feminists oppose violence against women, but the feminist movement does not oppose violence against infants and children. Yet the power imbalance is far greater between a child and an adult than between a woman and a man. And children are far more dependent on their parents (effectively held captive) than any adult woman could ever be to a man. Women can escape to a shelter, but not infants or children. Yet many feminists openly admit to hitting their children and claim the right to do so. They even discuss this on daytime TV. So again, feminism is obviously not about equality, nor is it based on clear principles – such as the Non Aggression Principle.

    Perhaps your initial evaluation (and rejection) of feminism was right after all? 🙂

    “…So I made a common mistake and took ‘feminism’ to mean the prioritising and valuing of women when making judgements….”

    Feminism IS all about the self interests of women ….. but for at least the last 50 years feminism has also been hijacked by the state who use it for their own self interests to:

    1. promote socialism and bigger, more intrusive and more violent government control over everybody
    2. Use welfare to incentivise single mothers in order to drive out the male and destroy the family unit, so that government can take over the ‘alpha male’ role as provider and protector
    3. increase the dependent classes to now also include single women, who (along with poor people) will now also be loyal to government simply because it pays their welfare
    4. get more women into the workplace so they can be taxed (to pay for expansion of government) and also to get the children away from them and into state controlled schools and daycare to be indoctrinated by the state into being good little state worshipping comrades

    And the fact that the state (ie the ruling classes) decided to hijack feminism to promote their evil agendas suggests we DO as a society value women and want to ensure they are treated well. This is the opposite of feminist theory.

    The two most hijacked causes of recent times are (1) feminism and (2) environmentalism. Both have been hijacked because as a society we DO greatly value women and the environment.

    “…And certainly some radical feminists do that, but they aren’t representative of all feminists….”

    Er… do you not see a problem with this? A movement composed of contradictory stances is just a mob, not a legitimate cause. If vegetarians don’t eat meat we might expect ‘radical’ vegetarians to take that stance further and not eat dairy, or not wear leather or not choose to work in a restaurant that serves meat. This stance might be too extreme for the average vegetarian, but it does not go AGAINST any vegetarians core principles.

    And so if feminists do support equality (a claim I dispute) and radical feminists do NOT support equality but support only their own self interests at the expense of everyone else then that is like vegetarians not eating meat, but radical vegetarians eating meat and to hell with cows’ welfare. Do you see? It makes no sense. How can you join such a dangerous mob as this?

    “…And there is still too much gendered violence which wouldn’t happen to people if they weren’t women or girls, and it’s repulsive and it’s men’s problem and it needs to stop…”

    There is also gendered violence against men too. Men are FAR more likely to get physically or verbally attacked in public, and men are far less likely to be rescued from such a situation. The attackers are far less likely to be pursued and caught, or condemned by society, or given the same prison sentences as people who attack women. Historically women were never forced to go and fight and die in wars (surely that counts as gendered violence against men!?). Nor were women expected to do dangerous and life threatening jobs like working down coal mines or in factories. Even today men are 98% more likely to get injured or killed at work than women.

    It seems feminists have convinced you that YOU have all the power and privilege and that women are these poor helpless victims who are only ever acted upon by men. Feminism is a power fantasy about men!

    Having accepted your role as powerful patriarch you now feel like an outsider. The only way to buy your way back into society, and regain that sense of belonging is to sacrifice yourself to women, by becoming a feminist.

    They sure reeled you in hook line and sinker!

    “..So to be honest, I don’t care so much now about the accurate naming of ideological positions….”

    Perhaps you should be. Feminism greatly affects government policies and therefore everybody’s livelihoods, safety, treatment as well as our children’s futures.

    Vague causes which are justified by irrational (but very emotional) threat narratives have led to countless disasters and atrocities throughout history.

    Feminist theory is really no different to the threat narratives about Jews which became popular in pre nazi Germany…. or the threat narratives about blacks which were popular a couple of centuries ago.

    When specific groups are depicted over and over and over and over again as having power over us, it eventually becomes almost inevitable that society ends up viciously persecuting that group. Jews were considered a threat to German people. Blacks were considered savage beasts who were lurking around every corner ready to rape your daughter (cue evil laugh). Depicting these groups as all powerful did not make them untouchable… it made them vulnerable to being beaten up, gassed, ostracised, tortured, tied to trees, shot against walls and spat on in public.

    The group currently being built up as ‘all powerful, schemers and a threat to society’ is men. Do you think our current socialism promoting governments will protect men, seeing as how the removal of the ‘alpha male’ provider and protector will only create more of a gap for government to expand and fill?

    “..What patriarchs really demean isn’t women per se, but femininity….”

    That is obviously not true. ‘Patriarchs’ (by which you mean traditionally masculine men) adore femininity and women. They will open doors to women, buy women meals, work themselves to the bone to provide for women, protect women at their own risk, go and fight wars for women.

    For these men femininity is only demeaning IN A MAN. This is partly due to how men are raised BY WOMEN. Women (mothers, aunts and in adult life girlfriends and wives) raise men to reject feminine traits and feminine concerns such as the desire for comfort, fine clothes, safety, protection, health, a concern with one’s one appearance and emotional sensitivity. Women subtly let boys/ men know that if they want to find a girlfriend they must eschew these things because women do not like men who are like that. They also train men to view these traits and concerns as demeaning FOR MEN…… but divine and perfectly justified in a woman.

    Why do you think women encourage men to eschew such ‘feminine’ things for themselves, while adoring women who embrace such feminine concerns for themselves?

    1. Men who are rugged, manly, aggressive, decisive, emotionally detached (or emotionally broken) who have little regard for their own comfort, safety and health make much better providers and protecters of women, and of the family and community as a whole. When life was tough and whole villages routinely starved to death it was a *survival strategy* to raise boys to be as manly and rugged as possible. This is why men have always been heavily socially pressured into rejecting anything remotely soft and ‘feminine’. This isn’t too hard to do as men are biologically hard wired to want to provide for women and be tough. Testosterone sees to that. As technology has reduced the harshness of living men have been able to explore their more feminine sides without everyone starving to death….. just as women have also been able to explore their more manly sides because household chores no longer have to be done by hand and cooking meals doesn’t mean growing your own veg, milking the goat, making your own cheese and jam and skinning a rabbit by hand (these days we can just pop a ready meal in the microwave allowing us to try our hand at martial arts, or rock climbing or football).

    2. By securing a monopoly on ‘nice’ things, comforts, fine clothes and bedsheets, cushions and even emotional connection in conversations women have always ensured men HAVE to go to women to enjoy these things. Now that men are more socially/ economically free to explore their feminine sides and enjoy comforts and ‘girly’ pleasures like fine clothes, fashion, intimate chats and visits to health spars men today have less of a need to hook up with women (and share his income with her) in order to enjoy these things. This makes a lot of feminists very, very angry.

    “…But patriarchs do harm people….’

    There you go. No need for evidence. No need for a balanced set of data.

    This is perfect brainwashing….. As a man you harm women and society by default. You are sooooo powerful and dangerous and out of control ….. unlike women who are weak, feeble, child-like and can’t take care of themselves. This is feminist theory in a nutshell.

    As a man you are a threat. And THAT is why you must sacrifice yourself to feminism.

    With the greatest respect I think as a victims of brainwashing you need help …. and I hope my ramblings have helped free your mind in some small way 🙂

    • Thanks for trying to free my mind. Also, thanks for your gender essentialism, your crude view of both men and women and your frankly quite offensively narrow view of what feminism can be. It’s a pity that you’ve missed the point, but I appreciate the time you’ve put into it.

      Charlie

      • “..your frankly quite quite offensively narrow view of what feminism can be..”

        Feminism is offensive, not me. Feminism is offensive to men because it defines men (including you) as sociopaths who chose to oppress women and have must continually fight against the urge to rape ….. and it is offensive to women because it defines women as weak, stupid, helpless victims with no agency who are so inept they have been unable to negotiate their own gender roles and gender identity throughout history.

        That is not ‘my’ view. It is the essence of patriarchy theory, which forms the basis of feminism. You cannot BE a feminist without accepting men as sociopaths, and women as weak and stupid objects with no agency.

        You defend feminism in terms of ‘what it can be’ rather than ‘what it actually is’. Defending something based on some vague potential which has never actually been realised is what people do when they have no defence …… (“He hits me, badmouths my friends and spends my wages on booze, but you mustn’t call him a bastard because deep down I know he has the potential to love me and treat me well”)

        The reason why you defend feminism is NOT because it actually does any good in the world (it doesn’t), or because it is based on reason and evidence (it is not). You support feminism because you don’t like the idea of harming women and feminists have convinced you (as a man) are harming women – and that only by becoming a feminist can you help to stop their suffering and oppression – and redeem yourself in the process. Feminism is your penance for your crimes committed against women – even though you have never actually committed any crimes against women in your life.

        It is all a trick.s There is no suffering and oppression inflicted on women as a group by men as a group. Feminists are using your good nature against you, just as ALL con artists use people’s good nature against them (see also: religion). First you convince people they have sinned, and then you offer them a way to redeem themselves….. usually by supporting your organisation, doing whatever you tell them and giving you lots of money. Feminism is, among other things, BIG BUSINESS.

        The so a called ‘patriarchy’ which you think harms women was invented BY women and FOR women, at least as much as by and for men. The idea that the ‘patriarchy’ was invented exclusively by and for men is absurd.

        For most of history obtaining the resources necessary to live required huge amounts of manual labour. Do you honestly believe women WANTED to work down mines, plough fields, fish the seas, build the roads and work in foundries? Do you honestly believe men PREVENTED them from doing this manual labour (claiming it as a ‘male privilege’!) and they FORCED women to stay at home against their will?

        If manual labour is so liberating and privileged how come today, when given the choice, most people (men and women) CHOOSE to do non-manual labour rather than manual labour? …. and this is despite the fact that manual labour today is 1000x safer and more comfortable (and better paid) than it was 500 years ago (or even 50 years ago).

        Do you see how absurd the feminist myth of oppression by men is? (being ‘chained to the kitchen sink’ etc)

        Do you honestly believe throughout history women fought hard to win the right to do men’s work, and BY SHEER COINCIDENCE they only succeeded in this struggle at the precise moment technology made the working environment a largely safe comfortable, indoor, centrally heated, air conditioned, mechanised, carpeted environment? LOL

        ‘Patriarchy’ just means a society which revolves around the needs and wants of women, in order to best serve the needs and wants of the children to ensure the greatest chance of survival for the next generation (and the species as a whole).

        Feminism ALSO places the needs and wants of women at the centre of society. And in this sense feminism is the modern day expression of patriarchy. But feminism is patriarchy BY and FOR feminists….. and not for women as a whole and certainly not for children as a whole.

        Feminism is patriarchy ON STEROIDS.

      • Wow. You really are very angry.

      • ‘Angry’ implies an emotional reaction which lacks reason (which is probably why you picked that word).

        ‘Angry’ is not an argument, it is just a mildly derogatory remark.

        Feminism is harmful to society in the same way that, say, racism is. Calling someone ‘angry’ for opposing feminism is like calling someone ‘angry’ for opposing racism. It doesn’t actually mean anything.

        Do you have an actual argument or some facts or some genuine criticism of what I wrote?

      • Yes. In the post that I wrote. Where I gave a definition of feminism which is so fundamentally different to what you seem to think it is, that I don’t see how we can really have any kind of meaningful dialogue about it. I mean, how do I argue with “Feminism is Patriarchy ON STEROIDS”?


Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s