“Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” Good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off people.” ~ Ferris Bueller
In college I frequently took what might be considered ‘chick’ classes, classes with decidedly unmanly titles like, “Family and Literature.” This had the sometimes uncomfortable, but often nice bonus of making me one of the only guys in any particular class (and usually the only straight guy). Taking those classes offered me a fresh perspective that I think shaped my views a great deal in those years. Thanks to a good friend of mine, I had gained a genuine interest in Feminism and the inclusive elements of its main tenets.
There have been at least 3 ‘waves’ of feminism, the 3rd wave beginning more or less in the 90s. At the time, I considered myself a 3rd wave feminist evolving into the as-yet-unlabeled new species, 4th wave feminist. Which is to say, I was susceptible to bullshit titles.
Basically, the 3rd wave feminist had a very simple classification of feminism which attempted to practically label everyone a feminist:
“Do you believe women should get paid equal money for equal work? Yes? You’re a feminist.”
“Do you believe women should be able to follow their dreams as freely as men? Yes? You’re a feminist.”
“Do you believe women can be satisfied without men? Yes? You’re a feminist.”
You get the point. Everyone (who isn’t a backwoods misogynistic moron or True-Believer Religionist) is a feminist. It’s nice in theory, but in reality the term ‘feminist’ is a dangerously loaded word, so much so that even a lot of strong-willed, independent women balk at the label, let alone your average hetero male who respects women but also likes to get laid once in a while.
Since leaving university, I’ve tended not to label myself a feminist. I still am one, I just don’t go out of way to link myself to the movement. I think most ‘militant’ feminists would probably be happy to keep the distance between myself and them. I consider myself a feminist by default, because I do believe in the inherent right of anyone to pursue their own happiness/dreams/ambitions without being discriminated against. But I also love a good sexist joke and my favorite word is ‘Cunt’ (how can you not love it?).
That said, let me say why I do not feel the need to align myself with any wave of feminism, 3rd, 4th or whatever may come next:
Men and women are not created equal. We just aren’t the same. In the mathematical sense of the word, no one could legitimately say the two genders are equal. There is a book entitled Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, coauthored by a pair of evolutionary psychologists, Alan Miller (deceased) and Satoshi Kanazawa. The book’s a couple years old, but well worth a read for anyone. The authors smartly begin with a caveat: They aren’t reporting what should be or even what must necessarily be. They are merely looking into the biological facts of our species and reporting the results of studies and research, much of which suggests a biological component to our behaviors. (Too often, the facts of science are used by people to push an agenda such as Social Darwinism; and then ignorant people use Social Darwinism to attack true science as if they are one and the same.)
There are many fascinating topics in the book, perhaps the most interesting one being the chapter that explores why (hetero) males (of all races) tend to have an attraction to the “Barbie Doll-type” girl. It’s worth reading because it largely disproves the notion that men are just being conditioned by advertising to find that type attractive. I could go on, but just read the book. For now, I want to stay with the question of male/female differences
There are countless ways in which males and females differ. Perhaps most obvious, men are more aggressive while women tend to be more passive. This isn’t a stereotype. This isn’t sexist. It’s a trend that exists across cultures. Not all men are aggressive, not all women are passive. Shock! As with regular biology, biological psychology acknowledges that people are evolved creatures that are the product of mutations and survivalist breeding. All people do not evolve exactly the same (if they did, evolution wouldn’t even be possible). Exceptions don’t prove or disprove the simple fact that males and females in general fall into certain observable, categorical types.
Is everything in this book 100% right? Probably not. Like all of psychology, they are working from theories and hypotheses. Their theories are those that are strongly supported by the evidence. Their hypotheses are those that may have only circumstantial evidence and need to be studied more. But a great deal of evidence does support them (as well as a great deal of history).
To bring this back to feminism, I want to mention Margaret Mead, the well-known cultural anthropologist whose famous book, Coming of Age in Samoa, essentially gave feminists of the mid-20th century a rallying point. Mead purported to have found a culture in which the women took the roles almost always held by men in every culture, that is, the dominant gender. Feminists used this study as proof that women could be leaders, too, and that it was merely the cultural bias of Patriarchal societies that kept men in power.
As Miller and Kanazawa present in their book, however, another cultural anthropologist, Derek Freeman, came out with research a few years after Mead’s death that threw her whole book into question. He provided evidence that Mead’s original interviews might have been based on lies (or a joke) from the women she interviewed. Some people dismiss Freeman’s evidence, and certainly there is reason to at least be cautious in accepting his view. But if you’re interested in the truth and not just a politically correct pat answer, it’s worth your time to consider Freeman’s evidence (even if only to prove him wrong).
That’s beside the point, though. Even if the Female-dominated Samoa culture is a reality, it represents only one such culture among the thousands of male-dominated cultures. Only a bad scientist would consider one counterexample as proof that the whole paradigm should be thrown out wholesale, especially if that example is on tenuous ground. The fact that nearly 50 years of feminism was rooted in this (possibly faulty) research is why I feel the need to separate myself from the feminist movement.
It shouldn’t be a question of gender equality or biological predisposition. If a job is done, it should be rewarded based on the quality of the work regardless if the worker was man, woman or alien. To get bogged down in gender ‘eqaulity’ is to miss the point. I understand that when feminism was starting out, women needed to argue that they were equal to get any footing in the debate. (The same thing had to be done for blacks in the civil rights battles.) It’s been a necessary tool of this fight to blindly compare apples and oranges like they’re the same fruit, but with the initial walls fallen, we shouldn’t be so hypnotized by the rhetoric that we forget that men and women are not the same.
Let me put it another way: Yes, women and men should be paid the same amount of money to do the same jobs. But that doesn’t mean that every man should be paid the same as every woman no matter what. If a man does the job better (or quicker, or whatever is desired), than the man is entitled to higher compensation, just as the woman would be if she were the one doing a better job. It’s common sense.*
The problem with trying to make feminism a giant rendition of “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” is that it makes women and men competitors, and even friendly competition can turn people into enemies. Plus, as any feminist should be aware, the gender lines aren’t always that clear. There are gay men and lesbians, transsexuals, transgendered people and probably many other classifications. Instead of arguing that men and women are equal, we should acknowledge that there is a vast spectrum of gender in which a person may fall in. If it’s bigoted to reduce an entire group to a ‘type’ in order to dismiss them, it’s just as bigoted to reduce one group to a ‘type’ in order to include them.
This is why I like the LGBT movement. Like feminism, it is seeking equal rights, but instead of couching the conversation in the language of comparisons, it is actually going quite the opposite route: It says we are all individuals, very different and despite those differences we should all be able to live together in a fair society.
I know there will be some feminists that will disagree completely with my assessment of feminism, and rightly so. 3rd wave feminism always made the point that anyone can be a feminist and a feminist can be anything (President or Housewife), and with such a wide net there is no way to generalize the whole movement. But, so often, a movement comes to represent something that the individuals do not stand for. Again, I consider myself a feminist in the sense that I believe in equal rights for women (and all biological classifications of people). I do not align myself with the -Ism of being a feminist because I think the movement in general leads down an unnecessary path of bitter disputes, often based on ignoring gender differences in a way that is either ignorant or blatantly false.
The battle for equality (whether it be women’s rights, gay rights, racial equality or any other form) isn’t won when the numbers of your group reach their highest peak. The battle is won when your group doesn’t need a label at all.**
*You could legitimately see this as an argument against Affirmative Action but that is a different and larger subject with broader issues to consider. If I were to make a quick generalization, I would say that Affirmative Action has its necessary uses, especially in the university setting where many social factors could explain discrepancies in test scores and the such, but I think Affirmative Action in the work place is a bit more dubious and I have my doubts that it fixes any problems.
**I want to acknowledge that Sam Harris made a similar argument for why people should lose the term ‘Atheist’. While I have had these thoughts about feminism for a while now, it had never occurred to me to think of atheism in the same light. I think it’s a great insight.