Saturday, September 3, 2011

Actually, I Rather Like Men.

It has been a long time since we've had a "women's issues" post. I think we're overdue one.

Now, I'm not usually a fan of conspiracy theories. And there's one issue that skirts a little close, in my opinion - so I don't like to read into it too much. I don't want to draw the obvious conclusion... or even suggest that it truly damages feminism as a concept, label aside.

But it is an issue that really, really annoys me. It is the concept that feminism is misandry.

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I love men. I get along just as well, if not better, with men as with women, and they are nice to look at, among other things. I am a strong supporter of men's health, men's mental health and issues such as woman-on-man rape (and, for that matter, man-on-man rape) and domestic violence. Violence against men in the home is massively underreported and a big issue for me. We women have woman-only shelters and things to run to, foundations to support us, while domestic violence against men is swept under the carpet.

Feminism is about gender equality. It's not solely about women. But recall, in many countries women could not vote a century ago. Power has stood with men for a long time. So first and second wave feminism focused mostly on the liberation of women from roles focused solely around the home, or as nurses or secretaries and nothing else. We're at a stage now where there are still assumed gender roles, and in many professions there's still a glass ceiling, still a pay gap. There are still chauvinists and sexist pigs in society. But things are significantly better than they were, and the focus now is as much on men as it is on women. 

And not only men and women. We are no longer limited to thinking there are only two genders. Third gendered individuals are all but invisible even today, and must occasionally (or, unfortunately for some, continuously) select "man" or "woman" and conform to it publicly. English, so wonderful in so many ways, has not presented us with a suitable genderless pronoun. I think this change - accepting the third genders as full and equal socially - will be slow and long in coming, not because of any sort of inherent prejudices (although these will exist) but because of the cultural shifting that will need to take place.

I tend to think that the vast majority of women in Western societies nowadays are probably feminists by default. If you choose to live a "traditional" home-maker life and allow your husband to take the reins in all your family decisions, but feel women should be able to live whatever life they choose, I would still count you as a feminist: your choice is your choice, you aren't asking all women to live as you do. It would be hypocritical for me to want to push you to enjoy a similar lifestyle to myself. Similarly a pro-choice woman may never elect to have an abortion herself, yet will support the rights of others to make that choice for themselves. Indeed, I tend to think of most men as feminists as well. Why would they not be? They love the women in their lives. I have to think they accept us as equals both at home and in the work place. I know that this is not always the case, but it is what I expect. It is what I expect from every man I meet. When I bother analysing that expectation, I have to think that it is the best view to take. This should, after all, be considered the norm. As far as I'm concerned, it is.

Feminists do not agree with one another on all issues - see, for example, the rows over whether the sex industry is dehumanising or empowering (or both). There are some women who call themselves feminists that I would consider sexist at best and misandrists at worst. Are they still feminists? One wouldn't want to fall into a "No True Scotsman" fallacy. Yet I do think that feminism is about equality, not about elevating one gender above the other; that would be counter to the ideals of feminism as I understand them. Replacing a patriarchy with a matriarchy would help no one, simply replace one set of stereotypes and restricting gender roles with another. Equality is the aim: the right for any person to be understood as a person, as themselves, not limited by what gender they identify with - or indeed what parts they were born with.

So where does this idea that all feminists are misandrists come from? Is it simply that those women are the loudest? That they are the only women who publicly identify as feminists, so some believe they are representative of feminism in its entirety? Or - in that conspiracy I mentioned earlier - is it some sort of attempt to discredit feminism as a whole?

Personally I want to believe that those who try so hard to discredit feminism as man-hating and hypocritical have no understanding of what feminism is, perhaps have only come across a handful of women who identified themselves outwardly as feminists and were (as some are) disparaging to men and humourless about women. I don't want to think of every person who dismisses feminism as some sort of misogynist. 

We have girls saying they are certainly not feminists. I stand with my jaw dropped - how can they possibly not want to be considered the equal of boys? Of men? How can they blow off feminism on the one hand and demand their rights on the other? Are they not aware that those things are one in the same? Apparently not - and it angers me. It angers me that feminism is associated with being "butch", a man-hater, or a lesbian (as if all three of those things were negative and interchangeable). It angers me that feminists past, their writings, and the rights and social freedoms they fought for that we now take for granted may be disparaged by this horrendously narrow view of feminism.

I don't think we are going to take many steps backwards in women's rights because of this issue. Many people may not think of gender equality as feminism, but will still support gender equality, and that is the important thing. But a pet peeve is a pet peeve, and this is an irritation I will not soon overcome, I fear - and the hatred and scorn levelled at those of us women who do identify as feminists is not acceptable. Especially since those taking the flak are unlikely to hold the views those who are stereotyping them believe them to hold.

Above all, let us not forget that in many parts of the world, women are still fighting for things some of us in Western societies take for granted now. Feminism is not something relegated to the past, clung to only by those women who want to elevate their gender above men. It is living; it is many movements, not just one; it is an evolving concept, relevant now as it was in the 70s. And, I think, more aware of men now than it was then, and the import of freeing men from their own stereotypes and restrictive gender roles. Moreover, equality does not mean we have to be the same.

Feminism is a huge umbrella, with a multitude of arms. (Mixed metaphor. Sorry.) For me, feminism has always been about one primary concept: Women are people.

Further Reading:

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