July 30, 2002 03:43 AM

Feminism is dead.

Of course, there are still plenty of feminists (mostly x y and z feminists, all subsets of "feminism" that equate to a need to identify oneself with something) circling the corpse. But women can vote, and women can work - they're guaranteed just as much as men are. It's not much, but that's exactly what one should expect in a society driven by capitalist economies.

It's about time we closed the doors on feminism. Post-feminism, too. The very word "feminist" has too many rancorous connotations. The Women's Movement has, historically, been a movement of wealthy white women only. There is still no room in feminism for real equality, as is clearly seen in the many subgroups of feminists, "humanists" and "womanists". Divided among lines of class, race, gender, sexual preference, religion - you name it - feminists aren't even one movement anymore; they're often just a blob of special interest groups with conflicting agendas. Feminists can't even agree on a definition of feminism; how can they be an effective political force?

Failing to bring these diverse groups together isn't a failure specific to feminism. The truth is that no one can truly understand another person's needs and desires, and we don't need to try. We simply need to accept and coexist with our differences.

Even if it were possible for feminists to unite, the world might not gain anything from it. What we really need is equality among all people, allowing everyone to pursue their different courses. Feminism, with the weight of femme in its name, can never truly provide this. It will always carry the notion of advancing women's rights over the rights of men. After all, the major achievements of feminism were based on notions of women as somehow superior to men: for instance, the suffragettes argued that they more deserved the vote because the gentler female nature (once proven by early liberal feminists to be rational as well as gentle) was better equipped to make domestic decisions. And feminists to this day continue to think of women as superior to men, or to think of men as the enemy. How could a philosophy with this inherent bias be widely accepted, let alone provide widespread benefits?

Why be a feminist, then?

Identifying with any group allows you to avoid standing on your own. Women (and men) would be better off and better equipped to handle life if their parents would just raise them to make whatever choices were right for them - damn societal pressures. Too many feminists portray women - especially nonwhite women - as victims of patriarchy and oppression. It's particularly noticeable in our discussions of the body. Third Wave feminists crusading against negative images of women in the media are undermining the image of the rational feminine that was popularized by feminists over a century ago. Instead, they offer an image of woman as incapable of defending herself against attacks on the mind as well as on the body.

This notion is, itself, much more damaging to women than any external oppression. In many ways, feminism itself oppresses women with its notions of women as powerless and its proscriptions for proper "feminist" behavior (these proscriptions, of course, completely avoid the social and biological differences between people). This robs people of the ability to make their own choices.

Of course, the sense of belonging and sisterhood afforded by feminist groups is important. But these groups should accept that their interaction is personal and focus on creating women's spaces (where differences can be celebrated) rather than confusing their personal experiences with political action. Feminism should be reinvented as a new womanism, with groups of like women sharing like concerns - because the truth is that people want and need to gather with people with whom they can easily relate.

What people don't need is feminism playing the role of mother. Feminism creates too many rules for what people can and can't say, do or buy. It's frustrating even for feminists to keep up with, and leads to all sorts of stereotypes, some of them true (yes, the man-hating lesbian feminazi really does exist, and women who choose mothering as their primary carreer are still looked down upon). No wonder people fear feminists - past feminist actions have led to all sorts of distorted images!

It's clear from the divisions within the feminist "movement" that the important work of feminism is done. We live in a post-feminist society. Feminism was important, but what we need now is to dissolve "movements" and "isms" and face each other as human beings.

[This entry was a collaborative piece for On Display. The topic for this month: pick an issue about which you feel strongly and write from the opposing view.

I tried to present a valid argument (I think it's valid, at least, even though I disagree), but I'd be interested to hear from more post-feminists, womanist, individualists, "humanists" [if there are any of the latter out there, please change your "ism" to something that isn't already taken] and other "ists" who share this viewpoint. What did I miss? I suspect that I just came across as libertarian.

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