Posts Tagged 'feminism'

Femininity/Masculinity is not Femaleness/Maleness

image from harpersbazaar.com

I Blame the Patriarchy has a really interesting post about how the performance of femininity is inherently problematic in that it isn’t really a choice, though perhaps the degree to which we participate is.

I don’t consider myself one who does much performing of femininity – beyond a bit of eyeliner and mascara (i.e. no heels, no uncomfortable clothes that restrict movement, etc) – though I don’t know how a video of my conversations with the world would hold up to scrutiny. I don’t think I do meek/giggly/etc, but I can’t be sure.

IBTP’s stated test for femininity is to imagine a member of the dominant class performing the action in question. If it seems asinine, then voila, we’re looking at a gendered behaviour.

Does the opposite would hold true? Would a performance of masculinity look foolish if done by a female? To some extent the female might seem tomboyish, but not mockable the same way a femininity-performing male would.

What would we say were masculine behaviours? Harassing women? Liking tools/sports/cars? Being unemotional? Being violent?

What would the world look like without gendered performance? Where people’s behaviours exclusively reflected personality and inclination rather than socially dictated roles?

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Those Pesky Feminist Bigots

Evening Standard Headline


This is the cover headline on today’s Evening Standard (article here).

My first thought on reading this headline was, naturally, ‘this is news?’ followed closely by ‘why is this on the cover?’

In actual news today, Moscow’s Domodedovo airport was bombed, and leaked papers give fresh insight (maybe) into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Also, two Sportscasters get the boot after making sexist comments on air.

Part of me thinks that some lame politician that no one’s ever heard of (Dominic Raab. See?) decided to start broadcasting his sexism and ignorance to get attention, and that the best way to deal with such a deluded nincompoop is to treat his comments with the contempt they deserve.

But of course, London’s (kind of) respected free evening paper had to go and make it the cover story, which lends a kind of second hand dignity to Raab’s asinine comments. Really, Evening Standard, is this an argument that needs rehashing? Do people really need to be reminded that feminism is about equality, and feminist activism is about drawing attention to cultural and infrastructural issues that cause and sustain bigotry? Is the appalling stupidity of claiming that “some of the most flagrant discrimination [is] – against men” not painfully obvious?

Do we really need to point out the false dichotomy Raab invents when he says that if you say people are inherently equal then you can’t complain about extrinsic inequalities? That Raab refers to the “outdated and obsolete equality and diversity agenda” just exaggerates the painful irony of his statement. (As does the image which accompanies the article – a posed portrait of Raab and his wife).

It’s not even a case of the pot calling the kettle black – it’s more like the pot calling the mirror black.

Really, Evening Standard. Is it ever a slow enough news day to make ‘moron says sexist crap’ the main headline?

Even if the subtext is ‘Conservative MP Voices Underlying Sexism and Racism in Party Platform.’

Le Mot Juste

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Everyone has there own personal pet peeves when it comes to misuse of language.

“Irregardless” sounds to some like nails on a chalkboard. They mean either ‘regardless’ or ‘irrespective’.

“Could care less” is lazy phrasing – try putting the n’t back in.

“Begs the question” does not mean raises the question, it refers to a logically fallacious statement which assumes itself to be true without proof.

And “Feminist” does not mean angry man-hating lesbian .

But, since so many people seem to take it that way, feminists – who are really most sensible people if the correct definition is used: a person who believes the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men – have to refuse such a title with abject horror.

Nadine Robinson in the Daily Observer (via Equality Myth), says “Please don’t use the “f” word. I may be a feminist, but I don’t want the label.” She goes on to describe experiences of sexism in school and at work, being held back and having to actively deny being feminist to avoid castigation.

People who genuinely believe that women belong at home raising children and keeping house benefit from using ‘feminist’ like an epithet and confusing it with some sort of sinister anti-male agenda, because, supposedly, if the woman is not at home making babies and muffins, this makes life worse for men. As they cannot perceive a co-existence of feminism and love for men or attractiveness or calm and happiness, they conflate the word with the opposite of all of those things. If people who hold this to be true are in positions of power, then women within the same organisation have to deny the (misused) label in an attempt to maintain or gain status.

Other women have noted this seeming change in definition, particularly among younger women. In the BBC 4 documentary, ‘Women’, Vanessa Engle interviews women with children, stay-at-home and working, looking at the division of labour in running the households, some of whom refuse the label of feminist (and whose husbands start to feel really awkward when Engle starts asking who does the chores), and the parents of some younger activists who also dislike the term and seem confused by the activity – one woman’s parents thought she was hypocritical because she was an activist but also wore make-up. These were in glaring contrast to her interviews with aged activists who, either smiling and active or ill, sad, and reclusive, still felt that feminism was undeniably necessary. (The documentary raised a lot of questions for me about the current focus of feminism, and drew some criticism for its focus on middle class white women and exclusion of key activists and groups).

I’ve mentioned before the problems of sexism, as well as the problem with ‘isms’ in general, but in this case, whatever one thinks of the validity of the label, its meaning has been perverted through misuse.

Although English is a bastard language – happy to steal and happy to change with the vernacular – it is broad and deep enough to contain precision. It is wonderful when people can claim words that have been used as derogatory, slowly drowning the ugly connotations with dark humour and a defiant, oppositional joy. (I’m thinking of the ‘n’ and ‘c’ words and perhaps that other ‘f’ word – in both cases, there is still a ways to go before they entirely clean, and of course there is constant refreshment of other equally insulting terms – I’ll leave my wroth for ‘that’s so gay’ for another time).

I think in this case, as with begging the question and ‘irregardless’, we can embrace our inner Lynne Truss and engage in a zero-tolerance campaign for accuracy.

Feminism is about a belief in equality between the sexes (and has a historical record of avidly supporting other people seeking equality and civil rights). It’s called ‘feminism’ instead of ‘equalitism’ or whatever, because at its inception, men were in the position of power, and the term needed to refer to the people it represented i.e. women.

Don’t let people tell you it means something else. If someone started using ‘Protestant’ to mean ‘psychotic vegan pterodactyl’ it wouldn’t gain any wider use because clearly that is not what it means. Obviously, no one really gains anything from that definition.

A heavier and more accurate example might be if someone started to use the term ‘Jew’ to mean, oh, let’s say ‘money-grubbing, baby-eating, messiah-killer’. Is this accurate use of the language? No. Does the fact that some groups of people do say and/or think this mean that Jews should have to change their name? NO, because clearly there is an agenda behind this misuse of terminology. An evil, hateful agenda, the prevalence of which is disgusting and encourages all sorts of violence.

No one is yet trying to kill feminists – well, except for abortion providers – but the attitude is the same; by trying to redefine the term, they weaken the situation of the people it describes and/or attempts to assist through mockery and dismissiveness in order to maintain the status quo or retreat to a supposed golden age where men were men, women were house-keepers and nannies, and everyone knew what was what.

In the face of this we should be defiant. We should refuse out of belligerent logical accuracy to allow this term to be corrupted by those who want to refuse and deny the right equality.

Because even if they eventually pull some irrefutable god-writing-on-a-wall proof that women are genetically inferior and flourish only in domestic and child-rearing environments (in spite of the billions of women evincing the contrary), their use of the word would still be inaccurate.

I am a feminist. And I know what that means.

Slacker Feminists?

After reading this article by Clive James on the BBC (a transcription of a radio piece, I believe), I wondered if, as he posits, there was indeed a disinclination among Western feminists to acknowledge the average difference in physical strength between men and women. His article speaks of the new female elected MPs in Kuwait, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and criticizes the absence of support for these women from feminist pundits in the news, which he supposes to be the result of this disinclination.

While I dislike considering the physical advantage that, on average, men possess, since there is still something within our culture that makes domestic violence and rape feasible and thinkable where it should be the rare act of a sociopath, I don’t think any feminist is naïve enough to state that the biological difference in muscle mass has anything to do with social conditioning.

When he claims that “Women, on the whole, would naturally like to do something else, whereas an army, for too many men, is a home away from home, and often their only home.” That seems to fall prey to the idea that feminism does critique, being that men are somehow inherently more violent, whereas if there is a preference it is more likely to be the result of a culture that emphasizes the value of power in men, and submission to a strict hierarchy, rather than some innate enjoyment of killing people in large numbers, and that women are naturally squeamish about violence, which is perhaps the idea he means to critique.

Stating:

And since many western feminists are still convinced that the social stereotyping of the West is the product of fundamental flaws within liberal democracy itself, they have a tendency to believe that undemocratic societies are somehow valuable in the opposition they offer to the free countries which the feminists are so keen to characterise as not free enough.

is surprising – I know of no feminist who suggests that oppressive regimes in various countries around the world are somehow superior to the Western democracies simply because their culture is misogynistic in a different way. In the US, and I’m sure in the UK, activist women were alerting Congress to the oppression of women under the Taliban in Afghanistan for years before 9/11.

Without knowing to whom, exactly, James is speaking, (beyond a mention of ‘pundits’) and having never seen evidence of such casual dismissal of the accomplishments of women fighting for safety, let alone equal rights, in countries where stoning or beating or murder is common punishment for anything that, in Women’s Studies 101 terms, challenges the patriarchy, I conclude that he has created a straw woman of sorts – is there a feminist pundit who, in criticizing the remaining levels of misogyny or patriarchal structures within a Western liberal democracy, suggests that some exotic regime based on a yet-more hierarchical and patriarchal model might be a superior form?

Perhaps someone made a comment about Communism.

One hopes that James knows that feminism is, at the heart, about equal rights and equal treatment. Any physical difference (including strength) between the sexes does not reflect inherent tendencies towards or away from violence or anything else, and should not, therefore, determine the career or lifestyle of any individual, and society should be such that systematic violence towards women is non-existent, and any that does occur be met with swift justice, not silenced by a cultural shame or fear.

image from newsweek.com

Marry Young

from msnbc

Saudi Arabia’s most senior Muslim cleric as saying it is OK for 10-year-old girls to marry.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper also quotes Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Baz, the country’s grand mufti, as saying that those who believe women should not marry before the age of 25 are following a “bad path.”

This is his response to human rights groups agitating to prevent such marriages.

My question is, what else is on this ‘bad path’ – financial and emotional independence? Perhaps growing intellectually mature enough to question the rites and traditions of their religion?

This actually reminds me a bit of this article in the Atlantic (Lori Gottlieb, March 2008). I don’t think that the author was recommending marriage of minors, but her argument is to settle because, as she claims that if you “ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child)”..

By this logic, yon cleric is right. All we ladies need, really, is the stability of a marriage wherein we can, once sufficiently physically developed, make babies. All that career talk, that’s just gab.

Now, Gottlieb argues that people settle anyway, she’s just being ‘different’ by treating it like it’s good. I would argue that people aren’t ‘settling’ so much as maturing to the point where they understand and appreciate the complexity of human nature and relationships, rather than expecting a flawless, indulgent, semi-parental figure to cheerlead and provide everything.

The problem with both of these viewpoints is that they fall into the trap of assuming all women are the same. You’ll notice that the cleric isn’t urging men to marry before the age of 25, and that Gottlieb doesn’t have a male counterpart urging men to marry so they aren’t left childless and alone, regardless of what security they might find in their career, financial independence, or various non-marriage relationships.

That people still make such generalizations, and use their position to advise the untaught masses, baffles me. Both Abdul-Aziz bin Baz and Gottlieb assume that even as adults, women won’t be able to make the choice that is ‘right’ – i.e. making babies and marriage a priority. The Sheik thinks, therefore, that they should be married as soon as they’re weaned, before any life experience or schooling gets in the way, and Gottlieb that they should ignore or discount said experience and schooling and just jump right in and make with the babies, in a wholesome, ‘traditional’, nuclear family.

Women are grown-ups, too. Let’s stop assuming that we are incapable of making choices about what is best for us, individually.


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