Saturday, 14 January 2012

Why I will never be a Feminist

    Scary stuff, testosterone. I remember over twenty years ago as a spotty young oik, suffering the full effect of having large amounts of it coursing through my veins. For a rather difficult few years my brain felt at times like a barely manageable mix of aggression and carnal desire with a sensory focus between my legs.
    I guess my contemporaries must have had the same experience, though their reactions seemed to be different. Slipping as I did into a cycle of depression that lasted for nearly two decades I never really participated in the meat market of teenage dating, they seized their new challenge with enthusiasm.
    Against this background as we make the difficult move from teenager to adult we form a lot of the views and prejudices that stay with us for the rest of our lives. I pity young women in this situation, faced as they are with young men of their age driven crazy by their hormones. Their adult impressions of men in general are formed by observation of the gauche sex-crazed youths who employ ever more desperate tactics in an attempt to seduce them, and not surprisingly some of them exist in an atmosphere of contempt for what they see.

    It's not the most attractive of traits, instinctive contempt for a group of people.

    It's easy enough to foster. If a group tells itself another is worthy of contempt for long enough and it passes without challenge, it becomes received opinion, an attitude beyond reproach. The pages of history books are full of episodes of the unpleasant aftermath of those moments when contempt has been fostered between countries or ethnic groups.
    I guess we are all guilty of it, to a greater or lesser extent, I for instance would readily admit to an instinctive contempt for the staff of some British tabloid newspapers. But that's a matter of personal taste rather than outside influence.
    Contempt starts to worry me when it becomes a central plank of an ideology. And I see contempt at the heart of the ideology of Feminism. It's received opinion among Feminists, that you can advance the most outrageous statements about men, or even those born male-bodied, and they will pass without comment, be applauded even. And subscribing to an ideology within which such casual misandry is acceptable is not healthy.
    Now you're probably getting ready a comment here about how laudable feminism is, and how I've got it so wrong. And at face value, you have a point. But take another look at the preceding paragraph. I've talked about Feminism with an upper-case F, as shorthand for its use as an Ideology, a Cause even. Consider the difference between a conservative and a Conservative as a parallel, or perhaps a democrat and a Democrat if you are American. With a lower-case f, feminism is self-evident. I doubt there are many women who would not call themselves some kind of feminist. I certainly think of myself as one. My concern is that with that upper-case F, Feminism is not doing enough to ensure that it does not become just another twisted ideology sustained only by hatred for an enemy.
    And that is why I will never be a Feminist, only a feminist.

19 comments:

  1. Feminism is so varied, though, that your distinction between "Feminism" and "feminism" doesn't make a lot of sense. Indeed I think the "Feminism" you're talking about is a bit of a straw figure. Is it the misandry and transphobia of some radical feminists that you don't like? If so, state that. It's messy arguing to make these vague claims about "Feminism" without supporting them - it makes it sound like everything you know about feminism you learnt from the mass media - which is, most of the time, decidedly anti-feminist and anti-feminism. In fact, perhaps the argument about "Feminism" has a lot do do with the representations of feminism that are offered and circulated through the mass media?

    I say this as someone who has also had huge issues with certain feminist ideologies, practices and people - to the point where I considered giving up the label of "feminist" altogether. So, I *think* I understand where you're coming from, but I think you are capable of a much better argument than the one you're making here.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As the McCain oven chip says, 'I'm completely lost here'! (for those who actually watch British tv adverts)
    I am not sure what you are trying to say here Jenny but perhaps what you are saying is that you are a feminist at a personal level and simply don't agree with the feminist action groups and those making an issue of feminism.

    Shirley Anne xxx

    ReplyDelete
  3. As it happens I carefully avoided examples because I didn't want this to be about individual people or outlets.

    It's not a trans thing but a bloke thing in this case. I look at the world through scruffy bloke eyes but not with scruffy bloke eyes, and sometimes I see things from people who should know better that disgust me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. But without examples, your argument (if you're trying to make an argument) is wishy-washy. Also, I don't understand your oft-expressed dislike of "Ideology" and "Causes". There's nothing inherently wrong with a cause, nor is there any space outside of the workings of ideology (in general). Lower-case-f-feminism is a cause, it is an ideology. I often feel that what you write here displays a real anxiety or discomfort with politics and activism - not the particulars of doing it, but just that it exists. That impression is supported when you don't give examples of what you're talking about - it makes it sound like you just don't like it when the status quo is challenged too much. I'm interested to know if that really is the case?

    (BTW, I'm not trying to defend anyone in particular here. There are dickheads in feminism as there are anywhere, and people don't magically stop having shit attitudes and behaviours because they are or label themselves "feminist"!)

    ReplyDelete
  5. On further thought, maybe "the particulars of doing it" is exactly what you're talking about?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Blimey, that's one of the best comments I've encountered here :)

    There might be some truth in the idea that I am writing from the viewpoint of a small-c conservative. However I don't fee that it is activism in general that invokes my ire.

    I guess WRT activism it is a case of looking at the different types of activist. Do you know person X as "an activist" and do they present themselves in that way, or do you know them as "The person who did all those very worthwhile things for that cause". There's a big difference.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Heh, I hope by "best" you don't mean "most obnoxious"!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm such a small feminist that the 'fe' is missing when describing me.Fortunately or unfortunately I am not a fighter for anything but I am known to ask questions such as "do you think that abuse of men is as common as abuse of women"? I think it is.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Before commenting here, I took the trouble to look up he meaning of "feminism" by "Googling" the term. The most popular definition seems to be the one by "Wikipedia", which reads as follows"...

    "Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.[1][2] In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist is a "person whose beliefs and behavior are based on feminism."[3]

    Subsequent listings describe Marxist, Lesbian and as 'nixwilliams' points out, an endless variation of the central theme which I tend to envision as simple empowerment.

    An example of that can be found in one of my pet peeves, which is having my views dismissed by all-knowing blokes. My husband does this to me at his owm peril. It usually happens when we disagree and he just does NOT want to listen to my reasoning.

    This is not to say that I am always right, but I do believe that I shoud be afforded the courtesy of a reasoned response as oppossed to being shouted down, (rarely happens), ignored, or simply dismissed by moving onto another topic.

    What this tells me is that my opinion, my views based on my experience is deemed not worthy of considertion. Knowing that to be factually UNTRUE, I will sometimes take exception and fireworks ensue.

    I find it ironic that those that CAN, do....while those that cannot, "teach".

    ReplyDelete
  10. I don't know what you mean by "Feminism" with a capital "F." The kind of people you describe aren't anything like the feminist women I know, including myself.

    Sagebrush

    ReplyDelete
  11. I was going to reply to this, but then I read the comments and nix has already said everything I was going to. :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Two quotations:

    Cheris Kramarae. “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”

    Margaret Atwood: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

    If some women are angry at men in general, given that women are still raped and murdered every day by men in far greater numbers than men are abused by women, I understand that, though for my part I am working to be peaceful.

    You're in an interesting situation, having lived as a male while knowing you are female at heart, but you have had male privilege because you were perceived as a bloke. Here are two links to "male privilege" information. You may find it useful.
    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/
    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/faq-what-is-male-privilege/

    ReplyDelete
  13. Morning everyone,

    Blimey, I find myself agreeing with my commenters. I'm obviously not trying hard enough.

    Idly thinking about all this yesterday I was imagining an 18 year-old arriving from Mars, being given their first polling card. Which party do they vote for, Labour, Lib Dem or Conservative? If capital-F Feminism were a political party, would you choose it?

    I have slight problems with the final anonymous comment. It's completely true. Women are the victims of rape and murder. And many other privations. And male privilege is a very real thing. Trust me on this one, I have an insider's view you'll never have. You don't have to tell me.

    Let's disregard that I'm trans for a moment and consider my male exterior. Like many men I'm not a rapist, murderer or woman-abuser and have no desire to be one. I work in an industry in which there is no glass ceiling, way up to director level my bosses are women. Women who I see as role-models, people I can learn stuff from.

    Of course I have benefited from male privilege. I have it with bells on, I'm a very big bloke.

    But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I was born with it, and as a trans person I'm considering losing it entirely.

    A surprising number of blokes share a lot of the above. Castigating them for something they can't help having alienates them.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'd probably vote for them... but I'd want to check out their policies first - might still be more likely to vote Green! ;)

    I think what you point out ("Castigating them for something they can't help") can be a real problem. But rather than blaming feminists entirely, I'd put that back on the men who get riled up about it. Male privilege exists, amongst other privileges, and most men/male presenting people (cis men, sometimes trans men, sometimes not-out, non-transitioning trans women, sometimes others) benefit from it - some more than others, some lose the "advantage" due to -isms other than sexism. It doesn't really matter whether these people want it - they've got it. (I'd include myself here, because I do have it most of the time as a usually-read-as-cis-trans-man.) Rather than complaining about feeling like they're being castigated for something they can't help, maybe they could put their efforts into trying to work against the system that confers the privilege on them and denies it to women and other folks.

    One of the things I've learned from watching identity, community and internet politics in progress over the years, as a person with the privilege under discussion (e.g. white, middle class, etc), is the mantra, "If it's not about me, it's not about me". That is, if a person of colour is talking about the ways that white people have fucked her over, rather than saying, "But I'm not like that!" I should pipe down, listen and learn how not to be like that, or maybe what to do if I find that actually I am like that, or think about how to stop other white people doing those things. The same goes for men - if a woman talks about how men benefit from or use male privilege (either consciously or unconsciously), rather than saying, "I'm not like that/I'm not a rapist/I don't make sexist jokes/I'm not in an industry where men get promoted more!" They/we can think, "It's not about me personally", actually listen to what and where the problem is, learn how it really does affect women, think about how to form alliances with women in order to help counter that system of privilege.

    It shouldn't fall solely on the underprivileged to coddle the privileged into understanding - I firmly believe that task should fall at least in part to the people with the privilege (who often don't have so much at stake in these discussions - emotionally, and sometimes physically, financially, socially).

    If anything, transitioning and realising just how much male privilege exists - and benefiting from it, even though I might not want it - has made me more of a feminist than I was before. It also makes me more pissed off and impatient with men who have hurt feelings when women and feminists point this stuff out. I don't really give a shit if they don't *want* male privilege - they've got it. What are they going to do about it? Nothing? Be annoyed at the people who tell them they've got it? Or do something to change the system?

    /RANT! Sorry about that - it's a big peeve of mine at the moment!

    ReplyDelete
  15. 'tis true, I fell into that trap somewhat, didn't I. I guess what I was trying to say was "I KNOW!".

    But to dismiss such alienation as the petulance of the privileged is not constructive. It's very real, it harms the cause, and engendering it unnecessarily does no favours.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'm not dismissing that alienation as a real problem, I just think that saying the problem lies with feminism (or capital-letter-F-Feminism, in your OP) is misplacing the responsibility.

    I guess I see it more as the work of feminist men or male feminist allies to point out to the petulant men that they're being dickheads (probably in less-blunt terms!). The problem is a system that privileges some (in this case, mostly cis men) over others. Different feminisms attempt to counter this in different ways. I think the issue is to get men to understand that it's the system that's the problem, rather than painting feminism (whatever distinctions you want to draw between little-f and big-F) as the bad guy.

    Sorry about leaving such enormous comments - I'm (re)thinking this through WRT some issues in my own life at the moment, and I appreciate the chance to clarify. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Brilliantly said, Nix. Than You.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hey, all comments welcome, no matter the length. The purpose of blogging for me is to solicit lively responses rather than to enforce a community of yes-(wo)men.

    ReplyDelete
  19. @Sagebrush, my apologies. Your comment had found its way into the spam folder.

    Of course the feminists you know won't sound to you like the ones I've described. You've never encountered them as a bloke.

    ReplyDelete