selective equality
October 19, 2003 08:33 PM

Eris poses her first question on WHB today, and it's a tough one (one of the things she does best): Is feminism really about equality, or is that equality selective? Of course, she also gets all German on us - it seems like every third word is capitalized, but I won't hold that against her. Ha.

One of the largest critiques of Feminism is that, despite its official mantra of being “about equality”, feminism as a whole tends to lack support for men and people of color. From this perspective, it would seem that Feminism is about “Selective Equality”.

Feminism, like any other movement or political group, is too often defined by people outside of it, by its critics. And it's time-consuming for feminists to spend much time defending against misapprehensions from outside the movement - particularly as some of these criticisms are so simplistic and off-target (the "feminazi" thing, the assumption that feminists are mostly lesbians or vice versa, and - of course - the contention that being for rights of women is to be anti rights of men).

As the simplistic definitions of critics will show pretty clearly, there is a strong tendency for people in general to assume an us-them duality. The more obvious effect of this is the "we're okay, they're confused" attitude that most political groups share. Less obvious but equally present is the tendency for group members to assume other group members share traits with them beyond what is essential for group membership. So, I might assume most feminists share an acceptance of the gay community and gay culture, but that isn't necessarily true, nor is it a requirement for being considered a feminist.

What I am saying in this circular fashion is that feminists, as much as but not more so than any group, do assume that others are like them. When the most vocal, most visible spokespeople of the movement are white, middle class, straight, etc., there will be a tendency for them to assume the rest of the movement resembles them and a tendency for them to speak from their own perspective as if it represents the movement. Additionally, even if they are aware and point out that they can't speak for everyone, they will still be assumed to do so.

I've recently experienced this as an "owner" and spokesperson of the WHB site. I had several email conversations with a guy who was convinced that I was selectively censoring him in favor of a "matriarchist" viewpoint that Morgaine had expressed pretty clearly as her personal opinion and with which I don't agree. Neither Morgaine nor I purported to speak for the other or to hold the same opinions, but because we are members of a group, we were presumed by someone outside to share not just some but all opinions on the subject of women.

Absurd? Yes, but also the way humans are socialized and a real factor of our daily and political life. When the voices of non-mainstream feminists, of women of color, men, transfolk, or any other group are not adequately represented in the feminist mainstream (say, Ms. magazine), it is not a conscious exclusion; it is a lack of conscientiousness from those who represent feminism (inside and outside the movement) in including other voices and perspectives.

That does not, of course, absolve feminists - or anyone - from recognizing that they can't represent the opinions of everyone and that the movement isn't homogenous. Quite the contrary - it's important that the space be made available for all those different viewpoints, which requires the mainstream to open its doors and the "fringe" to step up to the microphone.

If you have chosen to carry around the moniker of “Feminist”, explain how you tackle these two issues in your personal daily battles. For example: Do you take into consideration other culture’s histories before saying anything about how “all women….”? Do you stand up for a man’s right to equality in unjust situations?

If Feminism is about Equality, what do you do to emphasize that point? What could you do better?

Is it the business of feminism to specifically defend the rights of men? That is, where the interests of men and the interests of women don't intersect, does feminism need to stick up for men? In probably 90% of issues, men's and women's rights come down to the same thing - the same choices need to be available to people of all genders. But there are a very few instances where that might not be true - I'm thinking, for instance, of the question of a male partner's legal ability to influence the decision to have an abortion. In those few cases, I tend to side with the person whose life is most influenced by the issue - as perceived by me (which could certainly be considered inequitable).

Like anyone, I certainly make generalizations about various groups without accounting for the individuals who make up those groups. But as a feminist, I don't think I can do this about women and men in general, be there cultural differences or not - there are just so few things that are true for all women or all men, and even the woman/man division is getting blurrier. This just seems like common sense to me.

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