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.

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matriarchal polygyny: a modest proposal

Introduction

Whatever one thinks about Karl Marx, there is no denying that his friend Friedrich Engels was by far the cooler of the two. It was Engels who had the big parties at his house, and Engels who took Marx out drinking in Soho (and who bought all the drinks, obviously, because he was the one with the money. Which is also cool).

And coolest of all, it was Engels who was prepared to shock Victorian Britain by publishing a book about sex and relationships. Marx himself, lacking Engels’ bravery, kept sex mostly as a personal thing between himself and his wife Jenny. And, notoriously, their housekeeper Helene. (In fact, when Helene had one of Marx’s children, Engels told everyone the child was his. Some think he did this to help Marx avoid controversy. But really it was simply because Engels knew, deep down, that being a player is cool).

Engels worked harder, partied harder, and still lived longer than Marx. And so, shortly after Marx died, Engels published his solo masterpiece, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State. In it, he argued that the “traditional” patriarchal family structure is neither natural, nor moral, nor particularly functional. Before the invention of private property and land, Engels suggested, families were largely not patriarchal, but matriarchal groups of powerful women. These women took husbands, sometimes temporarily, for the purposes of procreation. They then raised the children together communally.

The patriarchal family, he claimed, only developed with the development of private property, as a means for those who had taken control of land and the means of production – who happened to be men) to take control of their wives and families and to subjugate them in much the same way they subjugated the working class and the rest of the material world.

Men wanted faithful wives only to guarantee that their children were their own so they could pass on their property to a legitimate heir, and so control what they owned even after they died. For that reason, they needed to ensure their wives were going to live with them and be dependent on them. With the help of bourgeois marriage law, men were able to make women their dependents and sexual servants, leading to what Engels calls the “world-historical defeat of the female sex.”

Engels views this not just as a bad thing for women, but also for men, who have traded in their own sexual freedom for a means to pass on property, with the result being prostitution and infidelity.

And it is from from this point – that the monogamous nuclear family is ultimately a bad thing – that my modest proposal originates.

 

One’s own children are a burden

It is self-evidently true that women were, through no fault of their own, tragically defeated and gain nothing whatsoever from being in a ‘traditional’ monogamous family group. There is, after all, absolutely no benefit or interest whatsoever for a woman in a relationship with a man who owns property and who has the privelege of going to work while she is left to bring up children. Bringing up children is a task of little value, and certainly not one that a man would ever take on seriously. It is therefore an unjust state of affairs that one person in a marriage has the freedom to go out and work, while another is forced to spend time with their own children.

It could therefore be pointed out that one great and fortunate step for humanity is that, as a result of the advances of feminism, both men and women are now expected to work, so that nobody of any gender has to be left with the odious responsibility of raising their own children. To an extent this has been a victory for both feminism and socialism; with our system of state schooling, we have liberated parents from wasting their precious labour time on the banal task of instilling features like reason or self-discipline in their children. We can now safely expect our childrens’ schools to do this for us, and happily we also have a schools inspectorate which can declare any school inadequate which fails to take complete responsibility for this. Engels himself thought that such a state of affairs could only come about after a communist revolution. Perhaps he was wrong about that.

 

Monogamy is the problem

But the battle is not yet won: there are still problems which are rooted in the basic structure of the monogamous family. Curiously, though, Engels thought that in a communist utopia, people would continue with monogamous relationships, but more in the nature of ‘sexual love’. And this, of course, is where Engels must be modestly challenged. Because it is not capitalism that is the problem: monogamy is the problem.

Nobody wants monogamy really. If we want to know what people really want, we must do two things: consider their nature as they have evolved, and listen to what they say they want. And also, what they say they don’t want.

 

What men want

With men, it is very clear. Men want sex. And they want it with as many women as possible. We know this from what they say when they do not have it, and what they say when they have it with one person and yet still want to have it with others and can’t. They are unhappy with the situation.

There is a perfect evolutionary explanation for this: they want to have as many children as possible, with many different mothers, to increase the likelihood that their genes will be passed on. Contrary to Engels’ claim that only capitalist bourgeois society causes infidelity in men, it is in fact perfectly natural for men to want to have children with several different women.

However, they cannot do this, because the expectations of capitalism are such that they can only pass on their property to the child of one mother. Capitalist bourgeois values have therefore been so entrenched in women that they believe it is in some way wrong to have sex with a man who may be having sex with other women. They know they could, but they believe they shouldn’t, unless they are in a monogamous relationship with him. The result is that many men are frustrated.

Men are also frequently frustrated with the responsibilities placed on them by having so much power in the workplace. As we know, the workplace is where all men are given almost infinite power and opportunity, in comparison with women. But for some reason, they do not want it. And this is understandable, because men are fundamentally incompetent. They feel pressure to work hard and take on more powerful roles with more professional responsibility. Similarly they feel a responsibility to take charge in the home and be the head of their household; and to make important decisions which, deep down, they know their basic foolishness renders them ill-equipped to make.

They dislike this, and would like nothing more than a life with absolutely no power or responsibility, where they are able to relax and have sex with many women. But current family structures and working traditions deny them this possibility.

 

 

What women want

Women, meanwhile, are completely different. Women know that they could easily have sex with a man at any time: they simply need to ask. But they don’t. While it is natural for men to want to be polygamous, and also natural for them to demand complete commitment from their partners (in order to ensure their own genes are passed on), this is not the case for women. This is because, as everyone knows, women are far less likely to cheat. It is almost like they don’t know how.

This may be because, as outlined above, bourgeois capitalism has taught them that they must know who the father of the child is so that he can pass on his property. Or it may be because, since they bear children and never have the worry about whether the child is theirs, they evolved simply to desire security for their babies, rather than the spreading of their genes.

Either way, women do not ever complain, as men do, that they are not having sex with enough different people: women complain that they cannot find ‘the one’. Women just want to find one man who will give them those babies. It is no wonder they so easily fell victim to the capitalist bourgeois men who promised them this, in exchange for stripping them of all power.

For unlike men, women still do not have the power they deserve. Women are clearly more sensible and intelligent than men, but even in post-feminist societies with socialised childcare, they still do not earn as much as men on average. Women deserve the opportunity to work longer hours to earn money, to gain the power, and these opportunities are routinely denied to them. With this economic power would come the possibility of making more important decisions around the home, which women also know that they would be better at.

What women need, therefore, is not simply equal responsibility, power and opportunities to men, but more responsibility, power and opportunity than men. Otherwise they are never to achieve truly equal responsibility, power and opportunity.

 

A modest proposal

In summary: Men want sex with many women and can’t get it; but they don’t want power, either at work or at home, which they are ill-suited to and yet are given it simply by asking. Women want power and are kept from it, while knowing they could have easily have sex but not really just wanting one man to love them.

There is an obvious solution, a new kind of family structure which, if adopted, would solve all the problems of men and women alike: Matriarchal Polygyny. Polygyny, to clarify, is the practice of one man being partnered with more than one wife. This should not be confused with polygamy, (either gender having more than one spouse) or polyandry, (which is a wife having many husbands), or the grotesque free-for-all that is sometimes called ‘polyamory’. It is specifically polygyny.

One man would have anything between three and ten wives.

But there is a twist to this: my proposal is not like standard polygyny, the way it is practiced by Mormons or many Muslims in the Middle East. My proposal is for matriarchal polygyny: in every case, women would be in charge.

There is no doubt that if responsibility was taken out of the hands of men, and the job of running both families and society was taken over by women, as a sisterhood together, things would be better. Men don’t want to get things done and are naturally competitive; but women are both immune from such laziness and, as we know, never compete with each other.

The role of women would therefore be like a combination of queen bees and worker bees in a bee-hive. They would, together, do the work that needed doing, arrange communal schooling and socialisation for the children of all so that they did not have to worry about their own children’s upbringing, and take on the economic power and responsibility at work that they have always desired but been kept from attaining, and make the important decisions for the family that they have been prevented from making.

Women could, in family groups together, have it all. These would not be traditional families – they would be ‘mammilies’.

Men, meanwhile, would be relieved of their responsibilities and kept as drones are in a bee-hive. Their role would be to relax and enjoy their new role as sex-slaves for their many wives. It is, after all, what men have always dreamed of.

Everybody would be happy.

 

An apparent problem, and a solution

A critic might point out that there is an obvious problem for this: there would be too many men (as least to begin with, while society waited for technology to make it possible to grow the exact number of men that were required in test tubes). With this would come a danger of male babies being born unwanted, as there is a chance that mammilies would not be able to find enough wives for them.

There is, again, a modest but obvious solution to this. We can easily do swapsies with Chinese families, where the one-child policy has male babies considerably more desirable than females. No doubt the Chinese government, exemplary as they are in knowing what the people of China want, could facilitate this. Perhaps it could even make a Sino-Western world war less of an inevitability.

 

Conclusion

There is work to be done. Changes in government policy must be made in order to ensure that this family structure becomes the norm as swiftly as possible, and it should be acknowledged by all that groups of women should be in charge, should have a man to love them and to give them babies (this is, after all, the only thing men are good for) and to take all the positions of power that are required to make the world right.

Which is – to return to where we began – how Karl Marx’s family actually worked. After all, Karl never worked or earned money, so he never had any economic power over his family. And everyone knows that the real brains and power, the Queen Bee behind the Marx hive, was always Jenny. She got things done and kept her family in order – with the help of the housekeeper, of course – both of them using their drone, Karl, to satisfy their sexual needs and bringing all the children up together, while giving Karl enough spare time to write Capital and go drinking with his very cool friend Engels without having to worry about pesky things like responsibilities. And everyone was happy.

Matriarchal polygyny: if it’s good enough for the Marx mammily, it’s good enough for the rest of us.

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