29 June 2008

"Feminism" is not a dirty word

A few weeks ago Google Reader deposited this to my page. It refers to a definition from Urban Dictionary, a sometimes amusing, sometimes educational website with definitions of common slang, jargon and other colloquialisms. Thanks to UD, I've learned terms like CH, gay crashing, and the definition of dumbass.

Urban Dictionary can provide countless minutes of etymological entertainment, but it seems to also provide an unmoderated outlet to assholes and jerks who think it's clever to post factually inaccurate, often insulting "definitions" that have little to do with the definition and lots to do with the prejudices of the person submitting the definition.

The definition of Feminism is what sparks my current contempt.

1. feminism

A movement to promote women's interests at the expense of men.

Despite claims by some moderate (and misled) feminists to the contrary, feminism is not a movement for the betterment of men and women. If it was, it would be called humanism.

(Emphasis mine)

This is one of almost 60 definitions included. Some later entries display a bit less bias (some others swing the other way) but the majority are just inflammatory and serve no educational purpose and little entertainment value. Some border on misogyny. It doesn't appear that the entries are moderated (other than to make sure that non-celebrities are named in entries) and so all kinds of divergent viewpoints are extolled, which is both a pro and a con of the site.

Despite only being an excerpt, I'd like to address some of the claims of the definition quoted above.

Firstly, the idea that Feminism is a movement that takes place "at the expense of men" is fallacy. Feminists are not now, nor have they ever been interested in taking rights away from men. An example of a common anti-feminist notion is that feminism is responsible for putting men out of work. A closer version of reality is that many families require two incomes to sustain the basics of life. Who shall we blame for that? Or should we assume that salaries would have kept pace with the cost of living (plus the numerous luxuries made available to us through capitalism) had women stayed at home in the kitchens, nurseries and laundry rooms? At one time, men did most work outside the home (be it hunting, farming or lawyering), but I'd say industrialization was more effective in making that scenario obsolete than any organized protests or political action by women. I won't make up stats about it. I just think that machines and outsourcing have more to do with people losing jobs than women forcing men out.

Secondly, to the idea that feminism would be humanism if it included equality for men, I have to say that one needn't trump the other. Humanism advocates ethical treatment of all human beings. It is a secular belief. It supports democratic principles, but is not necessarily a political
movement. Feminism complements humanism, but adds some important distinctions. It recognizes that women are biologically different from men and as such have differing medical needs. It considers gender politics as a whole, including LGBT politics. It focuses on equality for women including:
  • wage parity;
  • media bias;
  • sexual objectification;
  • eating disorders;
  • mental health services;
  • violence against women; and
  • child-bearing and child-care.
And that's a partial list.

Yet there are still those who think that feminism = extremism. I've even had conversations with female friends who think that feminists are crazy, short-haired, shaggy-armpitted man-haters. It's only recently that I re-associated myself with the term. While I generally believe that labels are too imprecise to describe ones beliefs, they can be convenient too.

Years ago I belonged to a women's centre at my first university (of three). I helped plan two Take Back the Night marches and an International Women's Day event. I hibernated for a while; for some reason I became ashamed of my association with the "cause". But after some rough encounters with misogyny (sexist boss, abusive relationship, etc.), I have been slowly waking up. Since discovering human rights work four years ago, I've discovered that women are by far the largest percentage of victims (again, I won't make up a number), and men are the largest perpetrators. So, while humanism addresses that people need to stop treating each other like crap, it does little to create the social structures and supports needed to ensure that women do get an equal shot.

I fail to see how such a belief can be logically (even respectfully) equated with genocide. And if someone wants to claim that feminism is about extremism, they would do well to make their suggestions without threatening to rape me or suggest that I need to be put in my place.

1 comment:

tousquireste said...

just to complicate this, though do understand that i'm on your side here: i think it's important to recognize feminism*s* - many people may lay claim to the word, yet have downright opposing views. sex work as work vs/prostitution is inherently violence against women is one classic example. and there are plenty of rifts along lines of race and class, as well as sexualities. i agree that in general, the term shouldn't be considered a bad word and is too easily used to invoke tired stereotypes. but i also think it's useful to draw attention to the fact that it's not an entirely unified movement/perspective.