I mentioned in the comments section of a blog recently that 70% of women don’t identify as feminists, but that most agree there needs to be equality between the sexes. I asked what feminism could be doing wrong. I didn’t get a real answer. Why, if feminism is nothing more than equality of the sexes, is there this disconnect? I have a few ideas. I will admit I am biased because I dropped the “feminist” label when I couldn’t find a feminism where I could fit in and after realizing a few of the bullet points I’m going to list. I am outspoken about the tactics that well-known feminist bloggers like Amanda Marcotte and Rebecca Watson use to silence their critics.
Here are some of the issues women might have with feminism:
- Feminism is not about equality, it’s about protecting women and portraying them as victims.
Skeptically Left has a great post describing how feminism actually perpetuates a culture of victimhood. Paula Kirby also addresses the paternalistic attitude feminists take toward women and the dogmatic responses to women who disagree with their tactics. When suggesting that women have responsibility for the choices they make, feminist get angry and go on the offensive. One issue where this is clear is body image. Feminists insist that fashion magazines and “beauty” standards in our society are put forth by men who just want women to look a certain way for their pleasure and yet, it’s women who are buying up these magazine. It’s women who are now writing these articles. It was high school girls who were judging other girls based on what they wore, how they looked, how they acted. This leads me to my second point.
- The idea of the Patriarchy is inherently sexist.
The Patriarchy is this unfalsifiable spectre that controls men and women and places them into their gender roles and holds them hostage there. The word “Patriarchy” implies rule by man or masculinity. It places all the blame on one sex despite the upholding of such roles by plenty of women. When asked about gender stereotypes that negatively affect men, higher suicide rates among male victims of abuse or things like the draft, feminists dismiss these questions as “what about teh menz” distractions and claim that they are a result of the patriarchy and feminism will fix those problems (when they get around to it, I guess).
There’s even this idea that men can’t be feminists but can only be allies and instead of sharing their ideas and opinions about how to achieve equality, they are told their privilege bars them from doing anything other than listening to women.
I won’t argue that women and men have had it equally bad in the past or that women have had just as much freedom as men, or that women aren’t still treated like crap in a lot of places, but blaming just the men while portraying women as innocent victims without agency is sexist toward both men and women.
- Women have it really bad in some places, but it’s sometimes ignored for the sake of “multiculturalism.”
When I hear groups like Secular Women make broad generalizations about “feminism just means equality between the sexes so it’s not up for debate,” they fail to address issues such as multiculturalism in feminism. A large group of liberal, white feminists believe that women in Middle-Eastern Islamic cultures are not really oppressed and to say otherwise is forcing colonialism on those women. Things like FGM and draconian Saudi Arabian customs and laws that forbid women from driving or being out on the streets without a man are also “not up for debate” and they very well should be. Also “not up for debate” would be the faction of transphobic, anti-porn and anti-sex-work feminists who have a lot of media notoriety, like Gloria Steinem and Roseanne Barr, respectively.
- The feminist movement is made up of upper-class white women.
Feminism has largely chosen white leaders and are made up of white groups of women. It is said that pointing this out harms feminism because it causes discord within the movement. One feminist in particular, Amanda Marcotte, has been accused of using material from women of color to rise to fame without acknowledging the work that those women have done.
- Feminists can be really mean to other feminists and they use “check your privilege” as a tactic for shutting up people who question the narrative or who don’t toe the line.
Privilege-checking is an excellent thing for anyone to do introspectively. The concept of privilege is taught in sociology classes and can be explained in very clear ways with examples and statistics. It’s a complex issue and is supposed to apply to groups, not individuals. Being a member of a privileged group doesn’t always mean an individual is privileged. A gay white man has less privilege than a straight white woman, even though a straight white man would have more privilege over a straight woman. “Check your privilege” doesn’t give room for any of that kind of nuance and is a direct ad hominem attack on a person, not their argument.
Recently, Ron Lindsay of CFI mentioned at Women in Secularism that this kind of argument is not helpful. As EllenBethWachspointed out, there were people calling for him to be fired for it. After he apologized and CFI released a statement affirming their support of both Lindsay and women’s rights, some called for a boycott of the organization for not going far enough.
Ron Lindsay’s mistake here was assuming a secular conference sponsored by a skeptic organization would have skeptics attending who would understand how important it is to provide reasoned arguments supported by facts rather than relying on ad hominem fallacies. As he was giving the talk, Rebecca Watson tweeted the very same kind of fallacy he addressed, calling him a privileged white guy.
This kind of behavior has reflected very poorly on feminism in all its different forms. It’s seen as an exclusive, dogmatic club with no room for debate or new ideas.
- Feminism claims to be sex-positive, but it vilifies male sexuality.
Women should never be slut-shamed for what they wear or for their sexual activity as long as their actions are safe and do no harm. For that matter, men should also not fear reproach for their sexual activity as long as it is consensual and does no harm. Yes, among young males there is the idea that having multiple sexual partners is something to be applauded while girls of the same age are disrespected for doing the same. This is wrong, but it’s changing. What I’m talking about here is this idea that, for example, a man asking a woman for “coffee” in an elevator and obviously wanting to have sexual relations is “objectifying” a woman while a woman wanting sex at anytime for any reason is applauded among feminists.
There’s also complaints about women’s portrayals in certain movie genres, art and video games. They are dressed too skimpy or their bodies are exaggerated. At the same time, no feminist would ever tell a women on the streets that she’s dressed too skimpy. These views are inconsistent. You can’t bash males for drawing attention to the beautiful female body while applauding women for dressing to draw attention to the female body. The human body is beautiful and should be celebrated. When one sex points that out, they are accused of misogyny. When the other does it, they’re seen as heroes. It’s the reverse of the “promiscuous women are sluts; promiscuous men are pimps” problem.
- Feminists latch on to petty things that shouldn’t even be issues just for attention.
Feminism made waves in the past. As we’re rapidly closing the wage gap and educating more and more people about things like enthusiastic consent and breaking strict gender-roles, feminism is running out of attention-grabbing issues. They nitpick comedians about this spectre they call “rape jokes” and complain about characters in video games, saying that those portrayals cause men to be misogynist (there is no evidence to support that video games encourage violence of any kind in gamers). In the recent past, some video games have portrayed women characters as large-breasted and scantily-clad, but that’s actually changed the last few years.
Here’s an example of a feminist complaining that phone manufacturers are making phones too large for women’s pants pockets. No, really, read for yourself.
- And speaking of video games…
One of the latest big-hit video games, The Last Of Us, features a fourteen-year-old girl who is tough, but not so tough in the she’s “trying to be like a boy” way. Laura Croft recently had a huge breast reduction and her game was a hit. What changed? Perhaps women have become part of the target audience for video games. For a long time, they only made up a small proportion of gamers. Was this because the female characters had big boobs? Big boobs never kept me from playing video games. Was it because women didn’t want to play tough-guy shoot ‘em ups? Talking to female gamers, I highly doubt that. I quite enjoy first-person shooters.
Could it be the audience was mostly men and that’s why development targeted male-oriented topics instead of the other way around? How can we tell the difference? It’s a chicken-or-egg argument and it’s not even that important considering the changes the media has undergone in the last few years.
When video games first came out in the 70′s and 80′s, women were still unshackling themselves form the restrictive gender roles placed upon them. A generation later and you have an almost unrecognizable face to gaming. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with some games appealing more to certain demographics. There’s a variety of genres one can choose from. Not all of them are going to appeal to all audiences. (I will never enjoy GTA). Some gamers have argued that those female characters weren’t being oppressed at all like some feminists say, but were rich, complex characters in fantastical stories. Feminists like Anita Sarkeesan are actually the ones turning those female characters into tropes. Anita’s interpretation of characters like Zelda and Princess Peach pigeon-hole and restrict them while ignoring their strength in the face of adversity, their clear positions of power over their kingdoms and the love of their subjects. Anita doesn’t see these characters as fully developed and internationally renowned like a lot of gamers do.
Does pointing out these things make me anti-feminist?
I was accused of telling women “shut up because you have it so good” for pointing these things out. In fact, here’s a comment on John Loftus’s blog that had me laughing:
Yeah, I wish they would have shut up back in the 70′s about shit like that, so I could watch soap operas that show rape as a way of seducing someone that later marries you; or how threatening to beat your wife is really hilarious and endearing.
And that whole THING where women stopped calling themselves Mrs. John Smith instead of by their actually names after they got married. How silly is that – it’s just their name. Right?
I hardly think that pointing out that feminists look ridiculous when complaining about petty bullshit is undermining the work that women did in the 1970′s to solve real issues women faced. Still, I wouldn’t let those same women who were in charge of the movement stay in power today because they got a lot wrong, too, like the idea that a vagina is a sacred, magic machine. (To be fair, some feminist groups do address this issue, but back then, earth goddesses were popping up all over the place, it seems).
I don’t even watch soap operas, but I will point out they are still wildly popular among women and men are not a part of the target audience for such shows. That’s not patriarchy, it’s just what some women like. Like I mentioned about the fashion magazines that are flying off shelves, at what point do we hold women responsible for consuming the products that are allegedly so oppressive? As to marriage titles, I think it’s pretty clear we won that battle a long time ago and without much blood. I never said that marriage titles were something women should ignore. Identity is a personal choice. I changed my last name when I got married and it was my own decision. My husband didn’t care one way or the other. Knowing my maiden name, you probably would have, too, but that’s beside the point. I never said women keeping their own names was “silly.”
Am I Denying Sexism Exists?
I’ve seen sexism in its ugliest, most insidious forms. It’s a lot more prevalent in lower-class, poor neighborhoods. How do I know this? Because that’s where I come from. I spent years in seedy places and put up with sexism, racism and compromised my own values for drugs and alcohol. I saw what poverty and drug addiction do to families. When I entered Alcoholics Anonymous, it was the same kind of people doing the very same things, except sober. Women who rely on the rapidly-dissolving safety net are forced to rely on men who make more money doing unskilled work than women do. At this level, the wage gap is most apparent because the kinds of jobs available to non-professional men and women are different. A man can get an unskilled job at a factory or a construction site that pays more while housekeeping, hotel cleaning and maybe secretary work pay much less. There’s the ever-present McJob promising a few quarters an hour more for the “Crew Trainer” position than the “Crew Member.”
If I point out that upper class white women “smashing the glass ceiling” are doing a disservice by ignoring the women in these trenches, I’m not saying that women shouldn’t fight to be represented better in leadership roles. A Kiva group I donated to was a three-woman group in Iraq who couldn’t even put their faces on their pictures because they could be targeted by religious extremists just for running their own business. These are the issues feminists should concentrate on. White women in the Western world are well on their way to getting their glass ceiling offices and fancy benefits packages. I’m just pointing out that those things are hardly the measures of success that feminists think they are. A better barometer would be what we are doing for all women, not just putting a few in business suits and pushing them up the corporate ladder.
I’ve also worked in a field where the majority of workers are women. Do men automatically assume there are less men because of the sexism of women? Nope. I couldn’t tell you why more men don’t pursue jobs in that field because I don’t think there’s been any studies on it, but I haven’t seen any reason to think it’s from pressure by women.
I’m not anti-feminist, but I’m also not a feminist because of the points listed above. I was a liberal with social justice leanings long before I became an atheist and so I’ve adopted the title of Humanist. I think it fits better. I think that feminism has made excellent strides in the past, but when it tries to shield itself from criticism, it simply becomes dogmatic and stagnant. As a skeptic, I try to avoid those things, which leads me to my next and last point:
None of this has anything to do with atheism.
Notice I haven’t touched at all on the subject of religion and feminism. That’s because as an atheist, my views about abortion, sexuality and the women’s role in a relationship are secular views.
When I go to an atheist group to talk about women’s issues in atheism, I talk about those that directly affect atheism. My atheism makes no difference on whether or not Zelda is a good role model or what I think is the best way to to calculate the gender wage gap. Frankly, I think its condescending that some outspoken feminist atheists assume that those are reasons I became an atheist or became involved in activism. I became an atheist after applying reason to my beliefs and I go to atheist groups to talk about atheism and theism. If I wanted to talk about my magic vagina and how Barbie is destroying the souls of little girls (yes, I’m being hyperbolic), I’d start a feminism club. Leave atheism to atheists. Focusing on the issues and fractures in the broken parts of feminism is going to drive away the people who want to focus on separation of church and state or the wider acceptance of atheists in the public eye.
I’m not saying drawing women into the movement is bad, but how we go about doing that can make all the difference. Marrying skepticism to feminism without allowing skepticism of feminism has already slowed our momentum and caused huge rifts and infighting.
That’s all of it. It’s a lot, I know, but these are all things that have been brought up by feminists that I had to think about before I had formed an opinion. Addressing them online piece by piece has proved to be futile as the people I’m discussing it with often move from point to point to prove another point, so here they all are. Trying to express my questions about these topics usually ended with me being called names anyway, so I’ve put it in a blog post where I can’t be interrupted. Cause it’s my blog, bitchez. (I mean that word in the gender-neutral way).
Don’t expect me to respond to anyone’s point-by-point strawmen comments telling me how much I hate women because I’ll know they just don’t get it and didn’t shit up and listen. ;)
- Clarity (westcoastatheist.wordpress.com)