The Contradiction of Feminism

Over at Feminist Frequency, Jonathan McIntosh has put up a video listing 5 ways men can help end sexism. What’s most interesting about the video is its discussion of the relationship between feminism and men in general … a relationship that pretty much just reminds me of why I ended up being assigned the “anti-feminist who doesn’t seem to hate women” label, a label that I still relate with to this very day.

And, especially, this one, reading the transcript of that video.

McIntosh starts by trying to clarify what feminism is:

Feminism is a sociopolitical movement with the central goal of ending sexism and dismantling gender-based oppression. … It’s important to note that the feminist endeavor, as it has been defined by women like bell hooks, does not simply seek equal access for women within current systems of power, instead it seeks to transform these systems of power and the values associated with them.

So, by this definition, the main goal of feminism is transformative, aiming to change the patriarchal society to, presumably, one based on equal treatment no matter what your sex or gender. It’s, therefore, going to build a new, and presumably equal, world order when it comes to gender.

Fine. Where do men come into the picture? Given that this is supposed to be transforming society, and that men are part of society, it would seem only logical that they’d have an equal say in how this is going to turn out. Even if we conclude that women are oppressed and exploited by the system and men aren’t, we have to conclude that the society that we build has to consider men and women equally; no one gender ought to have a greater say in what that equal society should be, right?

Well, no, as he says later when talking about how men need to educate themselves and not rely on women to do it:

It’s important for us, as men, to acknowledge that when we talk about feminism, we follow the lead of women. … we should acknowledge that our ideas in this arena originate with women …

Wait … why should men simply follow the lead of women here? Sure, you can make an argument that if they have the most serious threats to their well-being, we definitely need to listen to them, but why should they take the lead here? If the goal of feminism is to produce a new understanding, then that understanding has to be based on both sides have an equal seat at the table. This is especially true if men have been given the gold mine while women have been given the shaft (they split it all down the middle, and then they gave men the better half). If this is the case, then men are going to have to give up some advantages and privileges that they have, but feminism, given that, is more than that: it’s about defining what it means to be a man or a woman in this new order. Women cannot determine what it means to be a man for men. That’s the main problem women faced under patriarchy, if their theory is correct. So the feminist movement must be one that doesn’t privilege the perspective of any gender, and so men should not be following the lead of women any more than women should be following the lead of men in this.

This highlights the main contradiction in the feminist movement, the one that in fact makes me an anti-feminist. By the simple definition of feminist, I ought to be considered one: I think that men and women are and ought to be treated equally. But the feminist movement wants to have its cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, it wants us to consider feminism to be nothing more than this sort of equality movement, one that is trying to produce equality between men and women. And yet, it still wants to focus on the perspective of women, and put women first, and put women in charge, using all sorts of theoretical and philosophical arguments to try and justify that. But how can you build a new, equal idea of gender roles when the perspective of women is given priority? They can argue that we already have the male perspective in patriarchal society, but even if that was true if their goal is to build a new understanding the process of building that understanding has to explicitly include it. What is important to men as men has to be considered, and the solution has to consider that just as much as it does for women.

Thus, feminism ought to be something like “gender egalitarianism” instead of feminism. But there is strong resistance to doing that, and it seems to me that the resistance among feminists to that idea is precisely that it takes the focus away from women, as seen in this comic that I’ve talked about before. This leaves us with two options:

1) Feminism is supposed to be a movement about the impact of patriarchy on women, and focused on women’s issues. Which is fine, but then we need a men’s movement — meninism? — to represent the perspective of men, work on the impact of patriarchy on men, and focused on men’s issues. If men have any specifically male issues and are harmed by patriarchy in any way just as men — and McIntosh’s article is pretty much about how men do — then they can’t rely on having those being addressed by feminism whenever women get around to considering it important, or more likely they can’t rely on it being addressed by feminism only when the problem also impacts women, and can’t rely on the solution that’s formed in the context of the perspective of even women primarily. They need a movement that considers things from their perspective first and can work to ensure that the perspective of men is given appropriate representation as we work to build a new, gender-equal society. While I won’t hold up the MRA as that kind of movement, feminists seem resistant to any kind of men’s rights movement.

2) Alternatively, feminism should be, essentially, gender egalitarianism. But then it’s difficult to justify the focus on women and, more importantly, the name feminism. The only real fear is that in a generic gender egalitarianism women would be ignored, and they still have the most serious issues to address … but if women couldn’t get their objectively more serious issues addressed in a movement designed to address the most objectively serious issues, they have much more serious problems to deal with than, it seems, even the serious problems they need to address. They could argue that they can keep the name to represent the history of the struggle … but this would contradict the feminist principle that words matter, and that a word that implies a focus on women will, in fact, encourage the perception that the movement really is all about women. So feminists can’t use that argument and remain consistent.

Thus, my issue with feminism: it needs to decide what it is. If it’s an equality movement, then it has to lose the presumptive focus on women. If it’s a women’s movement, then it has to stop portraying itself as the gender equality movement. And I’ve seen vanishingly few feminists who have, in fact, actually acknowledged this and made their explicit choice. Until the movement itself makes that choice, I cannot support the feminist movement, despite supporting equality between men and women.

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2 Responses to “The Contradiction of Feminism”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    Alternatively, feminism should be, essentially, gender egalitarianism. But then it’s difficult to justify the focus on women and, more importantly, the name feminism. The only real fear is that in a generic gender egalitarianism women would be ignored, and they still have the most serious issues to address … but if women couldn’t get their objectively more serious issues addressed in a movement designed to address the most objectively serious issues, they have much more serious problems to deal with than, it seems, even the serious problems they need to address.

    Let’s say I’m a feminist (I’m not, and actually probably more anti-feminist than you – but let’s pretend). I read this comment, think about it, and say, “Wow, you’re right!”

    So what to do?

    Perhaps, if the problem is so serious that even in an egalitarian movement women’s issues are being swept under the rug, we should start a separate movement to specifically get women’s issues noticed. Yes…a movement specifically to make sure women get an equal voice in society, but separate from any sort of movement trying to support men’s equality, to avoid men dominating the conversation.

    We’ll call this movement “feminism”.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Well, first, you’d have to show that that’s the case … and they haven’t.

      Second, what is that separate movement going to achieve if it can’t even convince a movement TRYING to promote gender equality that their concerns are important enough to be addressed?

      Third, if that would work, then I have no problem with that, as long as they don’t claim to be promoting gender equality IN GENERAL. If there is a reason for them to have a specific movement focusing only one women, that’s fine, but then they have to essentially admit to that and act accordingly. As I said, the contradiction is that feminists both want to have a movement focused on women that is ALSO the prime movement for gender equality in general. You can’t really have both.

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