Feminism’s mixed feelings

The discussion of gender equality makes your head spin, doesn’t it?

It was weeks ago when I heard about Harry Potter actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson’s speech on gender equality to the U.N., but only yesterday that I watched it on YouTube. I was told it was awesome, and after watching, I agreed it was. I watched it a second time. Then I made the mistake of reading  comments posted below. I was hoping for validation of my thoughts — but after reading several unfavorable thoughts toward Watson’s speech, I started to hope for one, just one YouTube user who agreed with what she said. Anyone? Anyone at all?

It’s probably a feeling many feminists face at some point or another along the battle lines for gender equality — the hope that someone, anyone will understand what this is really all about. Because it’s not about the burning of bras or the refusal of traditional family values, and it really isn’t about man hating — or shouldn’t be. It’s about equal rights for ALL. Equal pay (for the same work), equal safety, equal opportunity.

Public domain, remixed by Poasterchild

Public domain, remixed by Poasterchild

Obviously, from other responses on Watson’s speech, many people do think she did a fantastic job expressing ideas that many of us either never thought before, ignored, weren’t sure how to express, or did express but failed to encourage into action.

Personally, I have long avoided identifying with the word “feminist” — for many of the reasons YouTube commenters also seem to believe. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in equality. It also doesn’t mean YouTube commenters don’t believe in equality. Much of the resentment for or criticism of Watson’s speech isn’t so much directed at Watson or her words as it is the movement she represents, “He For She,” which, as many have pointed out, is a tad on the hypocritical side when it suggests that gender equality can happen only when men stand up and make it happen. If it really represented equality, as a Time writer wrote, it would be called “He and She for Us.”

I’m not saying anything new here.

What I seek to do is embellish on Watson’s speech, to back up her words more than back up the He For She movement, which, I’ll agree, pressures men to join feminists and become feminists and, sure, okay, hasn’t tried to find a more appropriate word than “feminist” to describe people who believe in gender equality.

But for the record, feminism, like democracy, isn’t supported by perfect people. We all can make it better and will make it better as we ourselves improve.

So instead of perpetuating arguments though point/counterpoint, I would rather sum up my ever-changing feelings on feminism with a question:

Would the movie Wedding Crashers still be funny if Vince Vaughn’s role and Isla Fisher’s role in that “midnight rape” scene were reversed? Discuss.



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4 responses to “Feminism’s mixed feelings

  1. It’s not feminism, it’s just what other women can do just like any other men can do. I have seen a lot of women does it better than men.

    • Thanks, Jason. I agree. I haven’t studied the feminism movement too much, but from my understanding it started as a cause by women for women. Not that men can’t get in on that, but when they do I think it becomes something else. That, in addition to all the super-eccentric feminists that give feminism its bad name, is why it’s a good idea to consider a different name for a movement in which men and women unite for the equality of both.

  2. Chipper Bittie

    Hi Josette,

    You hit on some interesting and relevant points here. I strongly agree with the notion of “He and She for Us,” and I want to up that discussion by tying it into the larger struggle, which IMO is the struggle for a classless society. Call it, “He and She for Us against Capital.”

    I was a sociology major in college and took a fair number of women’s studies courses during that time, as many pioneering feminists were also sociologists (e. g. Charlotte Perkins Gilman). I also consider myself a male feminist who is always on the lookout for the gender angle to social inequality, even though it is not the only angle — just as race and ethnicity are important angles, but not the only angles. However, using the gender lens can be a very powerful tool for opening up previously obscure points of view and bringing new light to studies of structural, society-wide oppression and disadvantage.

    That said, I am first and foremost an anti-capitalist who is involved in a number of left-wing political causes such as labor unionism, and I find the language and techniques that some of the more myopic, single-issue(?) feminists often use to advance their cause to be brittle, combative, and alienating, even to male allies such as me. From an anti-capitalist perspective, I believe that feminism ought to be a vehicle for the inclusion of previously excluded voices within the working class so that we do not fight amongst ourselves and so that we can achieve a more complete understanding of each other and a better state of economic and social democracy. I hardly think any feminist will disagree with this, though sometimes I don’t think we agree on the larger picture (particularly more liberal, not-necessarily anti-capitalist feminists). Also, I believe there are some limitations to conflict-based strategies of feminism.

    Specifically, I am entirely on-board with conflict-based approaches to workers’ rights struggles because the roles of capitalist and worker — regardless of whether we are talking about male, female, or intersex capitalists and working people — are entirely artificial (i. e. socially constructed and arbitrary), and there is no need whatsoever, natural or social, for these roles to exist. That is, there is no need to allow 1% of the population to hoard 99% of the resources under their private control, and the industrial infrastructure which makes modern life possible and which is treated legally as the capitalists’ private property can and must be collectivized, to be owned and managed by the working people who serve it and are served by it.

    In the case of biological sex, however, XX and XY chromosomes are not going anywhere any time soon; they are natural facts. Aside from redefining and reharmonizing gender roles to be more equitable (i. e. social expectations of the behaviors of biological men, women, and the tiny minority of intersex people), there can be no dialectical resolution of “man” and “woman” as there can be of “capitalist” and “worker.” Therefore, it is not clear to me what the more combative feminists are looking for by alienating their male allies. They cannot just bash men out of existence, nor attempt to silence us inappropriately without reprisals. (While this is definitely not possible in the male-oriented society at large, it has happened to me personally within smaller, hyper-gender-conscious left-wing groups, where I was trying to do union organizing.)

    So I say, yes to feminism, no to working class infighting under the guise of feminism. Otherwise, we do the capitalists’ work for them of keeping ourselves divided. Let’s keep our eyes on the bigger picture and listen to each other about gender issues so that we can have a more equitable society…while keeping in mind that ultimately it is the 1% capitalist class which is really standing in the way of all this.

    P. S. I went to elementary school with you.

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