Why I Am A Feminist

Posted by on August 2, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts, Uncategorized | 14 comments

 

I’m really just formulating my thoughts on this subject, and there are many reasons I can think of, so forgive me if this piece seems incomplete. I will revisit this topic over the coming weeks.

The argument around feminism, misogyny, rape culture and equality continues to rage on the web at the moment, and I only see this as a good thing. We need to talk about this issue, and hopefully, we can come to some level of understanding, if not agreement, on the elements involved in the conversation. As disheartening as many of the comments on this topic may be, at least we are seeing the real monster, the beast that must be defeated to move the conversation forward.

While the conversation has varied from agreement to fervent disagreement on the topics of misogyny and rape, and while the tone has generally been good and receptive, I have also been accused by some of being hysterically reacting to the calls of misogyny in the skeptical and atheist community. Some have even gone so far as to say I am trying to stifle their freedom of speech and expression! Believe me I am trying to approach this with as level a head as I can muster, as I think it’s an important topic to cover.

One of the things to come from the conversation is a perceived division between people on what exactly feminism is. There are also some very large misconceptions of feminism, at least feminism in the way I approach it.

Some see feminism as an attempt to disenfranchise men from their place of privilege in society. Many men rail against feminism because they stand to lose what they perceive as their position of power in their homes, workplaces or cultures. People who perceive feminism in this way are often vocal about how female organisations like Secular Woman are an exclusive “girl’s club” and that organisations like this only stand to divide the people even more. I have seen some who oppose feminism because of this perception.

This is not how I see feminism at all.

One reason I see myself as a feminist is an aspect of humanism. Secular humanism can be described as “The philosophy or life stance secular humanism embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, philosophical naturalism, while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision-making.” (from Wikipedia.)

I see myself as embracing this description as a secular humanist, and within that I think each person has the right to a life free of pain inflicted by others, and will work toward this. It seems that it would be remiss of me to proclaim my secular humanism and not be acutely aware of the injustices in the world served up by governments, religions and cultures, and that the biggest victim of these injustices are women in particular. Not only are women not treated with the same degree of respect as men, but in many cultures they are treated as little more than belongings. We see a returning trend in the USA for  the role of women to be pushed back to time before they introduced womens’ suffrage. In Afghanistan we see a tendency for women to not only be treated like belongings, but a tendency for the women to disappear altogether. In many areas of Africa and Asia, education is simply not offered to girls and women, especially in the poorest communities.

Studies have shown that, while women make up 50+% of the global population, they also represent a staggering 70% of the world’s poorest people. There is no doubt that educating women is the best way to bring communities up from poverty; in this article for the UN Chronicle, Hoon Eng Khoo, Acting Vice-Chancellor and Provost of the Asian University for Women, Bangladesh writes:

“There is no question that educating girls is a prerequisite for eradicating poverty. Education empowers and transforms women. It allows them to break the “traditional” cycle of exclusion that keeps them at home and disengaged from decision making. Education, especially higher education, can prepare women to take on roles of responsibility in government, business and civil society. Women make ideal leaders: numerous studies have demonstrated that they tend to allocate resources more wisely than men. For example, women spend a larger percentage of their income on food and education for their children. Thus, strengthening the economic and political role of women directly benefits the next generation. To provide an excellent university education for women is to make long-term investment in their and their children’s futures.”

Education for women goes well beyond just strengthening their communities. It also has an affect on population; women who are educated are far more likely to make better choices surrounding having children, as this study shows. The education of women could be the solution to not only their own localised problems, but to global problems also. From the article:

“Education promotes a shift from the quantity of children in favour of the quality of children. This transition reduces the future number of people using environmental resources and enhances the capacity of individuals and societies to cope with environmental change.”

Apart from that, a recent Bloomberg article cites a study that shows companies with female board directors do better on the stock market. From the article:

Net income growth for companies with women on their boards has averaged 14 percent over the past six years, compared with 10 percent for those with no female director, according to the Credit Suisse study, which examined all the companies in the MSCI ACWI Index. (MXWD) The net-debt-to-equity ratio at companies with at least one female director was 48 percent, compared with 50 percent at all-male boards, and the study showed a faster reduction in debt at businesses with women on the board as the financial crisis and global economic slowdown unfolded.

There is no doubting that the liberation of women, in the form of social and gender equality, can only have positive effects on the world. So whence comes the resistance?

From those who stand to lose the most, and those who are convinced that it’s the “wrong way to do things”; these can be religious people (whose holy books say again and again men are the masters, and that women are second-class), or members of the general public (those who stand to lose their perceived power in their jobs, communities and families), or people who see their way of life as the only way life should be (those who can’t see that any other way of life could be pleasurable, or even desirable), or people who claim it is unnatural (woman have their lot in life, and their job is to stay home and make babies and provide for families). But I ask you, how can we function as a world society when half of our minds and bodies are not allowed to work to their full potential?

I am not part of any group, though I willingly gave my money to Secular Woman. While they are a fledgling group, I have every confidence that they will be able to meet their objectives “… to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women.” This is a worthwhile pursuit, and I wish them all the success they can get. I am an independent person who realises that support of women is of the utmost importance in the world today.

One does not have to be a woman to see the problems women face in society. One does not have to be a woman to stand up for the rights of women. One does not have to be a woman to be a feminist. In this sense, my feminism IS humanism, and the only reason I make a distinction between the two is that women as a group face far more hurdles than men do in general. I’m supporting those who need the help most.

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14 Comments

  1. Hear hear.

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  2. Aside from some minor points, you’ve articulated my thoughts, too. Well said, Martin.

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  3. Bravo! 
     
    Feminism is not misandry, it is an extension of humanism. Well said, Marty. 

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  4. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said. If this is what feminism is, then I am a feminist. However, feminism sometimes goes beyond this. It sometimes makes empirically unsupported claims about the biological equivalence of the sexes, and it sometimes appears to be overly focused on the peccadilloes of “rape jokes” or “sexist language” when far more important matters are at stake. It’s priorities are wildly to distorted; feminists are sometimes more eager to nitpick at the crumbs of sexism in enlightened countries while ignoring entire banquets of misogyny in less enlightened countries. This may be due to the difficulty of caring about people in far away places, but I suspect it goes deeper than this. I suspect that the obsession with the trivial may be due to a “hyperactive agency detection device,” where the agents detected are not gods or spirits, but rather patriarchal conspiracies or subtle signs of dominance and oppression. Much like the religious see gods and spirits in every gust of wind or bolt of lightning, some feminists see patriarchy and covert misogyny in every turn of phrase and display of body language. Whenever scientists discover a gender difference in test scores, salaries, sexual proclivities, or career goals, feminists are eager to claim that it is a result of discrimination, sexism, or oppression.  In this regard, they are somewhat similar to Freud in assuming that every psychological phenomenon is a result of unconscious desires. But Freud was wrong, and so are many feminists. Sometimes there simply is no sexism, discrimination, oppression, or unconscious desires. Sometimes men and women just have different talents, ambitions, and career goals due to differences in biology. The dogmatic unwillingness of feminists to acknowledge this possibility has turned me off from feminism. I don’t want to call myself a feminist because I don’t want to be associated with this anti-scientific, overly conspiratorial attitude.  I don’t want to call myself a feminist because I don’t want to be associated with their distortion of priorities and their obsession with the trivial. The truth is, any of the positive aspects of feminism can be arrived at through other values: equality, justice, basic human decency. One need not appeal to the word “feminism” to justify any of the things that feminists stand for. The word is superfluous and too often a distraction from the issues of real importance. And so I do not call myself a feminist. Instead, I call myself a person who cares about equality, justice, and basic human decency. Feminism is too often used as a tribal badge, and it is a badge I choose not to wear. 

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    • [email protected] It is a good thing you choose not to wear the feminism badge because you are not remotely close to being a feminist. 
       
      Feminists do consider their biology and generally are more interested in fairness than equality.  Having urinals in the women’s room is equality.  It is also ridiculous.  Women need accommodation for child bearing, but when the family leave act was instituted it gave the same leave time to men.  While this is nice for men it is not necessary.  A man’s body is not messed up for a year due to pregnancy and labor.  Women need this time to recover from the pregnancy and labor, both of which carry real physical dangers.  While bonding is good, the leave time is not primarily about bonding.  If bonding were not taken into consideration, women would still require the recovery time. Men wouldn’t.
       
      As for the different academic abilities, Studies have shown that, the higher the gender inequality, the wider the gap in math (http://www.livescience.com/5482-girls-math-culture-skewed.html).   The gap is closing.
       
      Where did you get your information about feminism, mra sites?  You description of feminism sounds very similar to the mra’s.

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  5. This is what a feminist (blog) looks like. Well done.  

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  6. @see this blog post

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  7. Well said Martin.  Feminism is so important in our world today.  It does not in any way mean misandry, yet this is how so many opponents of feminism view things. 
     
    The article you quote is brilliant.  Women are 50% of our population but are certainly not contributing to 50% of production.  The reason for this is often sexism–in the many forms that you point out.  The way for a better quality of life for all of us, particularly for women, is through feminism and education.  Well said.
     
    Men who “stand to lose the most” and oppose feminism do not like to be labelled sexist.  However, they are a part of the problem–perhaps the biggest part of the problem.  If they do no like the label, they should not condone and take part in that sort of behavior.

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    •   “Women are 50% of our population but are certainly not contributing to 50% of production.”  That should read paying jobs that contribute to production.  Women contribute more than 50% when you count all of the unpaid labor they do.  The majority of the work of raising children, maintaining a home, and providing emotional support is still done by women.  There are rare househusbands and men claim they “help out”, but women hold the responsibility.
       
      Before dismissing this idea, consider the description of “housework” using male terms.  Housework involves mental labor and project management.  When “men do project management it is a real and  difficult skill to teach.  It requires intuition, good judgement,  round the clock vigilance, physical, and mental labor. 
       
      “Project management is one of the highest paid and most prestigious positions men reserve for themselves, because its the hardest and most important, and not everyone can do it, or is willing to do it.”  Managing a house is a project management type of job.  From when to water what plants to coordinating schedules to knowing when food and other supplies have to be bought falls to women the majority of the time. 
       
      A man may bring home a loaf of bread, but generally doesn’t take an inventory and buy groceries (aside from maybe beer) on his own.  He has to be asked and told what to do.  In this instance the woman is the responsible project manager and the man is unskilled labor.  Women do this without pay so it is not even recognized as work, but without such work the level of productivity for men will drop and its cost will increase.
       
      Think about it carefully and you may change your mind about the level of women’s productivity.

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      • I forgot to cite my quotations.  They are all from a blog called Femonade (http://factcheckme.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/the-dishwasher-dilemma/)

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      • [email protected] No need to change my mind…I agree with you.  I meant paying jobs in the workforce when I said production.  I find it abhorrent that the “workplace” still has so many glass ceilings and in many cases, such as my wife’s job is still overtly sexist.   In no way did I mean to disparage women who run a household–that is a serious job!  I apologize if my original wording was unclear. 

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  8. Beautifully written Martin. Thank you.
     

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  9. This essay has been eye-opening. I have become increasingly interested in secular humanism and feminism over the course of the last several years and it is always encouraging to see one so adamant about valuing life and supporting those in need.

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  10. I agree wholeheartedly, I just don’t make the distinction from humanism.

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