Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Thing About Feminism

So, today on Twitter, thanks to @, the hash tag #TellAFeministThankYou was trending.  For the most part, the tweets associated are fairly benign, with honest thanks given to women and men who have, in a personal way, taught people that it was okay to be a woman and not to accept less than anyone else gets.

Then there are, as there always are, trolls who look to derail the conversation with knowingly offensive rhetoric (or maybe not knowingly, but that is ever worse...).  Such as:

And probably my personal favorite asinine comment so far today:

What I love about these frankly idiotic tweets is how far off they mark they land.  It seems to me that the underlying argument here is that feminism, in arguing for equal rights for women, has undermined other's agendas/natural rights/what-have-you.  It would seem feminism can be blamed for the unnatural act of speaking a woman's mind, wearing pants, divorce, abortion, failing families, etc. etc.

Obviously, this is wrong, particularly the evils in society that are blamed on feminists, like divorce and abortion.  To claim that feminism causes divorce and leads to women wanting abortions fails to remember that abortions and divorce have been happening for quite a bit longer than people have called themselves feminists.  Or maybe we can retroactively declare anyone who wanted a divorce is really a feminist.  Henry VIII is thrilled, I'm sure.  He held the tenets of feminism close to his heart.

That's an interesting point here: the tenets of feminism, like those of the Occupy Movement and wide-reaching philosophies, are often misunderstood, and actually a difficult thing to discuss.  There are a lot of different feminists and each prescribes to a different type of feminism.  There are feminists that are interested in equal pay for equal work; there are feminist interested in reproductive rights for women (both nationally and internationally); some are more interested in other forms of subjugation, such as the use of burkas in some Islamic communities; some are interested in recognizing that motherhood and maternal work as an equal and valid form of contribution to society (since most things valued in capitalist society have a direct monetary value, this is a worthwhile cause); and so on and so on.  It simply is invalid to blame all feminists for what any one feminist believes, just like it would be wrong to blame all Americans for what one American has done, or all Republicans for what some Republicans believe, etc.

There are as many central tenets to feminism as there are feminists, but the core value is equality.  No feminist worth her (or his salt...but, for the sake of brevity, I will generally use "her" as a pronoun here, where that encompases all feminist of any gender) salt honestly argues that women are superior to men, and that the patriarchy should be substituted for a matriarchy.  There are some who make such obviously asinine claims, but their connection to the feminists is tenuous at best (much like the KKK's connection to the "American Dream" is tenuous, or the connection between German nationalism and the Nazis).  Feminism is interested in shedding light on the inequalities faced by women, and how those inequalities could be balanced.

Now, I'd like here to state, for the record, that I don't necessary count myself a feminist.  It's also important to remind you dear readers that this is not a binary opposition; that is, because I don't count myself a feminist doesn't mean I associate myself with anti-feminists (or that I am against feminists).  I am uncomfortable with the label is all.  I consider myself more of a secular humanist (or a Humanist) or an egalitarian, since my interest in equality has less a focus on gender and more on the indifference between people of all stripes.

That said, I can respect and appreciate what the feminist do.  After all, when we argue that one section of society needs to be treated fairly, that sheds light on some imbalances felt across gender, racial or religious lines.  For example, by raising the debate that women are not treated fairly in the work place, it also raises the question of who else might not be treated fairly (such as racial or sexual minorities).  After all, if society can accept that women should have an equal voice, then similar arguments can be made for others.

Equality for one is equality for all.  (Did someone famous say that?  It sounds like something someone smarter said.)

Actually, it's only by recognizing are enforcing differences that the turmoil mentioned in the tweets above really rises to the surface.  It was by treating black people as inferior people that lead to the slave uprisings and the disputes central to the Civil War; had men offered women equal voices long ago, the Women's Suffragists would not have had to rise up as they did.  In fact, a lot of problems in the world would simply dissolve if, as a common people sharing one planet, we recognized the rational ability of all people.

That sentiment above can slip down the slippery slope of bad rhetoric towards some sort of social relativism, where people will wrongfully claim that if everyone is equal everyone's opinion is equally right.  To be sure, such a relativistic claim would lead to the anarchy of too many cooks in the social kitchen.  Luckily, like all slippery slope arguments, there is no basis for it.

Again, what I am stressing here is that all people have the ability to think critically and analytically about the given problems in society.  That does not mean that everyone is equally trained to do just that.  I've spent the better part of 26 years in school (i.e., my whole life save those first five lazy ones where I learned to walk and talk outside of any institutional support).  I've studied the English language extensively, and can speak with great authority about literature in English.  What I can't do, though, is explain why I universe works the way it does.  Any argument or solution I pose to the problems of the universe is invalid because I cannot buttress my claims with well-reasoned supports.   The same is true of profoundly difficult economic theories, the traces of history, higher order mathematical issues, and so on.  Certainly, in day-to-day conversations, I can talk about why supply-side economics is problematic as a national economic model based on the populist research I've done, but that hardly makes me an expert and hardly supports my bid to be Chief Economic Adviser of the Universe.

What feminism suggests is that women should not be excluded from any conversation simply because they are women.  A well-trained woman is equal to a well-trained man when the chips are down.  And thus by extension, the reverse (or any other well-trained person of any persuasion).

Everyone should thank the feminist, as well as any other group which struggles for the acceptance and equality of minorities, for paving the way toward equality for everyone.  It would seem to me the only ones resisting that notion are people who sit in power now and would like to hold it without explaining why.  Or in other words, lazy bullies.

Thanks feminists.  Keep doing what you do so well.

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