The Gender Equality Movement

All inclusive gender equality, not one-sided hypocrisy

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Is Feminism Really For Gender Equality?

Posted by Curt on Monday, 17 May 2010

It makes sense that the first post of this blog has to do with my dissatisfaction with feminism.  Feminism is often assumed by many to be all for gender equality.  Thus when I will make my next post about what I see as gender equality when I do not share this view, my position on feminism needs to be addressed and better to get that out of the way right here.

First thing is first.  Feminism is not some monolithic entity.  I say this because it is absolutely vital that if I am to critique feminism, I do not misrepresent it.  That is not my aim, and if you do catch me misrepresenting feminism at all, then please call me out on it.  Many anti-feminists speak of feminism as if it is this one big united conspiracy theory, but such misrepresentations weaken their arguments, even if the points they raise might be legitimate.  Feminism is, in fact, incredibly diverse with feminists arguing amongst themselves over a whole array of things, some of which are rather petty, some of which are quite significant.  To say “all feminists believe [whatever]”, and even to define feminism in any concrete and detailed way, is very difficult to do.  Therefore if you catch me referring to “feminism” or “feminists” in general, please bear the context surrounding it in mind as I’m more than likely referring to a more specific group of feminists rather than the broader movement as a whole unless I state otherwise.

A Symbol of Feminism: Female Empowerment

And here is an instance where I will refer to all feminists.  There is some basis that all feminists will agree on, however broad that agreement may be.  Feminists will all generally agree that women are in some way disadvantaged (how badly may be a point of contention) and that something needs to be done about it to end it (women empowerment – how to go about this may also be a point of contention).  One professor’s definition sums this up pretty nicely:

“You’re a feminist if you believe that (1) men are privileged relative to women, (2) that’s not right, and (3) you’re going to do something about it, even if it’s only in your personal life.”

Finally Feminism 101 defines what feminists want as this:

“To end the perpetuation of gender expectations that, on balance, harm women.”

The idea of gender equality is not present in any of these, at least not primarily; it’s all women empowerment.  This is deliberate.  If you ask many feminists, gender equality can only be attained once women have been empowered.

This is key.  The idea implicit in that view is the notion that men, as a gender, are fully empowered, and indeed most feminists work with the assumption that they are.  Perhaps the perfect example is in the way feminists generally (ie. not all but most) present female genital mutilation.  In a post on Feministing a few weeks ago about the AAP’s advocating performing “certain” types of female mutilation in the United States, you can see that it most certainly comes from the assumption that men are fully empowered, as if male genital mutilation does not exist.  This is evident in this quote:

“Most writing I have seen so far on this is, with good reason, outraged by the possibility of pediatricians being allowed to engage in a “ritual nick,” suggesting that this is allowing a type of misogyny and patriarchy to enter our medical procedures.”

If cutting womens’ genitals is misogynous, is it misandrous to cut male genitals?  Is that also an example of “patriarchy”?  Particularly when male genital mutilation has been performed on the vast majority of all males born in the United States?

Now, I have to back up real quick here.  Female genital mutilation, in practice, is typically more severe that male genital mutilation (the female equivalent of the removal of the foreskin would be the removal of the clitoral hood, which yes, is illegal in the United States and rightly so).  However, this difference is quite irrelevant given that most feminists will justify a prohibition on female genital mutilation with the line that we all have a right to the integrity of our bodies, thus unnecessary procedures like genital mutilation should not be made without the consent of that individual.  And indeed, I agree with that 100% and support the fight against female genital mutilation when done against that woman’s will.  But why isn’t this ideal applied to men with the same enthusiasm as it is for women?  And this isn’t to deny that there are feminists who denounce male genital mutilation as fervently as female genital mutilation either, but why is nothing even alluded to about it in Feministing?  By the National Organization for Women?  In academic circles?  Or any major feminist organization, blog, or anything / anyone that has some leading role?

I know this argument reeks of what feminists deride as “but what about the menz”, but it is a perfectly valid point.  Believe me, I hate it when during a discussion of just male genital mutilation somebody pops in and asks why female genital mutilation is not being discussed, so I can understand why a lot of feminists hate it when the reverse occurs and this is definitely legitimate.  But that is no excuse to not look at female genital mutilation in the proper context of genital mutilation as a whole; otherwise, you get the one-sidedness that runs rampant in feminism and is evident in that Feministing post.

Granted, I’m sure feminists generally don’t give much attention to it because, surprise surprise, feminism is all about female empowerment.  Reasonable enough, I guess.  But if females become empowered when males are not, as I have explained in the above example and will throughout this blog, what kind of society is that going to create?  It certainly won’t be one with gender equality like feminists claim (though this isn’t to say that feminism and gender equality are mutually exclusive, so long as that is balanced with male empowerment somewhere) and this issue is what I hope to address and help rectify through this blog, an integration of men to the notion of gender equality which feminism by its very nature is incapable of doing alone and generally unwilling to.  I advocate for gender equality, the empowerment of both males and females – not just the empowerment of females alone.

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6 Responses to “Is Feminism Really For Gender Equality?”

  1. Cessen said

    Regarding circumcision and feminism:
    I feel greatly violated by having been circumcised without my consent as an infant. And, indeed, the most powerful vitriol I have received about that has been from feminist. But I would point out that the greatest support I have gotten about it has also been from feminists.

    But indeed, it is an issue that does not have any kind of wide-spread support in feminist circles. Which is messed up, IMO, given their talking points about bodily autonomy/integrity. I tend to listen to the feminists that support me on this issues, as I take it as evidence that they actually really believe in their talking points as applying to everyone equally.

    • Curt said

      Yes, I agree. I think that feminists are far more likely to support banning male circumcision than the general population is – I think I’ve said that in another post. It falls right in line with their support of bodily self-determination. My issue, however, is when they act as if men have it all easy in regards to genital mutilation when discussing female genital mutilation, as I showed in this post – it’s dishonest and one-sided to the point of skewing their worldview to something based more in fiction than reality. While FGM may be worse than MGM, it’s all an unnecessary violation of one’s body and thus they should oppose both for the same reason, otherwise they’d be engaging in hypocrisy.

      Feminism itself is a movement geared toward female empowerment, not male empowerment – thus their not addressing male circumcision makes sense. And it can be a part of a broader gender equality movement, it certainly doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive to it. The thing is that feminism alone won’t do it, and that’s the justification I built my blog upon.

      • Aware said

        It’s a piece of skin. Grow the fuck up. I’m more mature than you, damn. What next? Your going to want to sue your mother for not feeding you from both breasts evenly?

  2. Jazzi said

    You have, within the context of your post, already pointed out the issues that I have with your reasoning: Feminism is not one singular entity, and therefore rejecting feminism as a whole based on a singular example of what you consider to be short-sightedness is nonsensical; this reeks of “what about the menz.”

    As one of my professors would say, “Is racism detrimental to white people as well as people of color? Yes, but it’s not the same.”

    Women are more oppressed by the system of patriarchy than men. Similarly, trans*-identified individuals are more oppressed than cis-women, and people of color are more oppressed than white people. Recognizing that, not sweeping it under the rug because “everyone suffers from oppression to some extent“, is the foundation of much of feminist theory and, I believe, the first step towards true equality.

  3. Ariza said

    I applaud your goal and will follow your writing. Thank you. I just wanted to point out, regarding your specific example of genital mutilation, that female genital mutilation takes place in a very different context than male genital mutilation. Not only is it done in unsanitary conditions, often using broken glass as a tool, and not only is the clitoris often cut off and the labia sewn shut (equivalent to having the penis cut off and the scrotal tissue cut up and swen together) but this is done EXPLICITLY to preserve female chastity and to ensure the future husband’s sexual pleasure and exclusive sexual access. Girls are castrated, in massive numbers accross the world, so that men can control their fertility and get more sexual pleasure.

    Male genital mutilation, aslo known as “circumcision” began as a religious tradition meant to symbolize a covenant with “God.” This God hated sex and women ruled over human kind using fear. The continued practice of male genital mutilation is a result of the unexamined traditions of a sex-fearing, body-hating religious legacy (a legacy which feminism has taken many hits for criticizing). It is not done, as is female genital mutilation, to give an advantage to the opposite sex. Few people who are not feminists have given any of this much thought, so I commend you for at least attempting to not alienate your most likely pool of supporters.

    Frankly, feminists don’t make a big deal about promoting the empowerment of men because we are genuinely really busy working to rectify the varying degrees and permutations of female oppression. We are also working in a historic, and sadly contemporary, climate in which men oppresses or continue to oppress women. This unfortunately places women and men in adversarial positions and makes it hard for many women to feel empathy for those whom they feel have mistreated them, denied their full humanity, utilized them, or otherwise hurt them.

    No other social movement is asked to represent the interests everyone. Neither the labor movements nor the civil rights movement nor the GLBTQ movement is asked to represent everyone. I understand how many men could feel left out, especially in our culture where women are relatively empowered (i.e. not having their heads cut off by their fathers, or their genitals hacked at by their mother’s so that they are mariagable, or being denied the ability to leave their house without male permission, etc.). Patriarchal culture has long depended on men to take pride in their oppression and to call it empowerment. (Many) men boast of their heroism even when it maims or kills them in war – even when that war is fought not to protect country and kin but to enrich the economic elite. Men take pride in smashing each other and themselves up in violent sports. Men define themselves, in opposition to women, by their lack of emotional expression – even when it causes grave harms to their health, relationships and life expectancy. Not surprisingly(many)women do the same thing. When Betty Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique” was published the majority of negative responses were from women.

    When our identities and sense of purpose hinge on our adherence to “real man” or “real woman” definitions of masculinity and femininity we find it threatening when those definitions are questioned. For the woman whose only meaning in life has been found through homemaking and motherhood, the idea that she could have lived more fully had she taken wider opportunities only inspires regret and shame. Better to reject the notion that women can or should do anything outside the home than to adopt the idea that she has accepted, perhaps, less than she should have. For the man who has worked his entire life to support a family but who lacks any real connection to that family because he struggles with authentic emotional expression it is hard to hear that his isolation could have been avoided had he rejected notions of masculinity that require the mutilation of natural emotional expression. We too often kill the messenger.

    I think that a movement to end oppression of all kinds is long overdue. I do not think that it should (or could) take the place of more targeted movements. The movement for human empowerment is not mutually exclusive with a movement for the empowerment of women, or indigenous people, or workers, or the disabled, or children, or slaves, or any other fraction of humanity.

    If you continue to effectively mitigate a reactionary response to feminism you might be surprised by how many feminists really support your work. With inter-gender cooperation to change oppressive gender norms we might just stand a chance at reaching more of our innate human potential. If you are able to find a way to advocate for male empowerment and female empowerment simultaneoulsy in all areas then you will have truly accomplished something tremendous (and tremendously overdue). I wish you all success.

    ~In Solidarity

  4. Danielle said

    PHEW! I was afraid this was just going to be a hate blog on girls.
    Yeah, I hate it when ANY gender thinks they are better than the other.
    Boys aren’t better than girls.
    Girls aren’t better than boys.
    We are equal =)

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