Monday, July 14, 2014

What is Feminism?

You see how nice and normal feminists are?  :)
It seems pretty funny for me, an older white male, to be describing feminism.  Frankly, I shouldn’t be doing it.  But a number of my older male friends and fellow church members, and a few of my female friends seem to not understand what feminism is or what the goals are.  They’ve been paying attention to the feminist bashers who quote cranky feminists.  It’s easy, it turns out, to be a feminist basher, because the majority of Americans, according to Susan Fiske, find “feminists” as a social group to be unpleasant people.  This is mostly due to a misunderstanding of what feminism is.

My goal is to make a brief explanation of what feminism is so that when we talk about it, we can be talking about the same ideas.

1.       Feminism isn’t just one set of ideas
The core of feminism is the idea that women should be equal to men.  However, there are a number of different ways to go about that and there are a number of ways to communicate that.  There are a number of different kinds of feminism, and I don’t agree with all of them.  But the mainstream of feminism is represented below.

2.       Feminism does not hate men, it hates patriarchy
It is easy to point to a cranky feminist who has made male-bashing speech, but that’s not the feminism I support.  Positive feminism recognizes that Western cultures for the last three millennia have established systems which supported a male-dominant hierarchy, with a male-focused legal system and support structure.  Feminism recognizes that history has been run by an “old boy’s network” in which women were rarely invited, and usually only under duress.  Feminism doesn’t have a problem with a male president or male congresspersons or male governors.  They want a chance for women to hold those same positions.  They don’t have a problem with men providing input to law or science, they just want women to have equal input from their perspective.  This is something that has been missing for three millennia.

3.       Patriarchy hurts men as well as women
Patriarchy doesn’t merely determine a male-only input for how our societies are organized, but it also determines roles for men and women to fulfill.  Just as “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” is a patriarchal statement, so is, “a man without a job is no man.”  Under patriarchy, men are locked into these roles as much as women and are often considered failures by both men and women, because it isn’t all men who are in control, but the patriarchal ideal of manhood.  It is patriarchy which awards women more benefits in a divorce, even as it is patriarchy which awards men higher salaries.  It is patriarchy which shames men who get raped, even more than they shame women who are raped.  It is patriarchy which determines that spousal abuse is always from the man to the woman.  Feminism wants to do away with all role-based logic and allow each case to be determined on its own merit.

4.       Feminism isn’t about power, but allowing women to be heard
The cranky feminist might want to take power away from men because, they say, that men haven’t handled power very well.  Mainstream feminism, however, just wants both sides of the sexual aisle to be heard.  An excellent example of this kind of feminism is the hashtag #YesAllWomen.  It wasn’t about forcing a particular political agenda, but letting women share experiences that they felt were oppressive.  Under patriarchy, men are uncomfortable listening to women and sometimes get angry if women express their opinion when it opposes patriarchy or the hierarchy that patriarchy established.  Feminism gives a place for women to speak, even when it is uncomfortable, and gives them an opportunity to be heard.

5.       Feminism isn’t about breaking down society, but giving options
It is pointed out that some feminists are lesbians and there is the occasional quote by a feminist who is opposed to the nuclear family.  But mainstream feminists aren’t opposed to the nuclear family or stay-at-home moms or a woman taking her husband’s name after marriage.  Feminists want to give women the option to get out of these roles, depending on their choices, opportunities and the circumstances that they find themselves in.  A true feminist never disparages a woman’s choice to quit her job to raise her children, just because it’s not a choice she would make.  Rather, she would be glad because our society is offering women more choices than before.  A feminist would get angry at a corporation who pays women of childbearing age less because of their potential extra expense to the company because that limits a woman’s options in society.

6.       Feminism is for equality of all people, regardless of sex or race
Feminism isn’t about the superiority of women or of a race.  It is true that some feminism has not given equal opportunities to African Americans or to men.  But mainstream feminism allows voices that support equality of either sex or of any race.  Racism or sexism of any type does not belong in feminism, because feminism is about equality for everyone.  Yes, feminism focuses on  women’s issues, but the best form of feminism is about giving opportunity and a voice to everyone, especially to those women who have been silenced because they were women.