Monday, 9 May 2011

Women have the right to choose for themselves

A lot of people who've read this blog and some of my contributions to online discussions think I hate women. I want to assure them that nothing is further from the truth. Some of the best people in my life are women, from my mom to my grandmother (who died in 2008 at age 99) to my sisters to my best friend.

Some of the people I admire most for their talents and skills are women. My boss is a woman, and one of the best bosses I've had--funny, tough, always fair, and you can't help but like her even when she's calling you on something. At my last job, the assistant manager was a woman. She was the one person in management who made the job tolerable for staff, and it wasn't because she baked us cupcakes and sang kumbaya. We used to call her Commandant Shirley. When she left the position, 2/3 of the staff quit.

A lot of people who've read this blog believe I hate feminism or the idea of equal rights for women. This might be a reasonable assumption given some of the criticisms I've offered of modern-day feminist theory and methodology. But I think the distinction can be made that just because someone has a criticism of a particular Vatican policy, this does not automatically make them an atheist or even a non-Catholic, or mean that they hate God, the Catholic church or all Catholics. It just means you disagree, maybe vehemently, with a particular policy or the mindset behind it.

And feminism has given me so very much. The progress of society from what was before to what is now, largely due to feminist activism, gives me the opportunity to provide a decent life for my children. It gives me equal treatment in the workplace, equal pay, maternity benefits and the legal guarantee that I will not lose my job because I had a child. Feminism gave me the right to express my sexuality openly, and the social freedom to admit to pretty much anyone that I write dirty books for money. Feminism gave me the right to decide who I want to fuck and who I don't, to say "no" and have it mean something, or to say "yes" and not have it mean I'm a whore. Feminism gave me the opportunity to work under some really wonderful women all my adult life, to not always have to talk to a man when it's time to talk to my boss. Feminism has given me choices about how much I want to work and how much I want to stay home. Feminism gave me a political voice and confidence that my voice will be heard rather than silenced or dismissed solely because of my gender. Feminism gave me the right to leave my husband even if he didn't ever hit me or cheat on me, and not have my life be ruined by the decision.

Feminism has given me a lot, and I would never, ever want to go back to the way things were before the women's movement. I feel extremely lucky I live here and now, in Canada today, rather than somewhere or somewhen else in the world where women don't have what feminism has given me.

And I think that's part of why contemporary feminism and I have come to our irreconcilable differences. Because I feel fortunate and blessed by all that feminism has accomplished in the name of women--and therefore in my name. And yet it seems that the better things are for women here and now in the western world, the more unhappy feminism seems to be about it, the more work they insist still needs to be done, the more criticism they have of society and how it needs to change, and how if you don't feel the same way you must be a bigot, or fooling yourself.

Christina Hoff Sommers very succinctly and accurately summarizes my own criticisms of contemporary feminism, when she says it first "takes a very dim view of men; secondly, it wildly overstates the victim status of American women; and third, it is dogmatically attached to the view that men and women are essentially the same."

Anyone less than inclined to consider the epistemological nature of contemporary feminism would do well to look at how quickly and thoroughly she was excommunicated (scroll way down to "anti-feminism", where she is lumped in with conservative traditionalists, and those who opposed women's right to vote) by the movement for daring to speak the truth as she saw it. Whether you disagree with her assertions or not, whether they are objectively true or total bullshit, when any organization becomes so certain of its moral or ideological rectitude that it cannot tolerate questioning or criticisms from within its ranks, when it feels the checks and balances provided by concerned or dissenting voices are not only unnecessary but something to be silenced...at that point, the mandate of the organization has become a totalitarian exercise in blind faith.

I've never been a religious person. Believing in something I cannot prove is anathema to me. I've never hated the idea of god or a higher power--I can see why it gives many people comfort and I sometimes wish I could simply feel the rightness of something without requiring some evidence that I am not wrongheaded in my thinking. Perhaps I have an overly analytical mind, because a few of the tenets of modern feminism, once you dig a little into what can be and has been proved with empirical evidence, what is and is not logical, what you see with your eyes and what you see with your eyes closed, require this type of belief. And contrary to what church elders of whatever religion would tell you, belief is something we should always question. Every day.

That modern feminism does not well tolerate the questioning of its ideologies is an understatement on an epic scale. It is even more troubling that feminism often tells us to "not listen" to the other voices out there, lest we become confused, especially the voices that present data in its raw form. That raw information must be "interpreted" and "filtered for context" before it is considered to be trustworthy...well, it reminds me of the days before Guttenberg, when the Bible was inaccessible to the great unwashed save through its verbal translation into the vernacular by church officials. Don't tell me your interpretation of the data is reliable and contextually correct--show me the damn data and let me make up my own mind what it might be saying.

And I'm not unsympathetic to women's struggles, even in this very liberated, wealthy, progressive part of the world. That women should be--indeed, need be--concerned with the issues, struggles and success of other women is only logical. But that women should not be, or need not be, also concerned with the issues, struggles and success of the other 50% of the human population, that somehow the problems of the other half of humanity are not our problems as well, that they will not eventually have negative effects on us as women, as workers, as wives, as partners, as daughters, as sisters or as mothers, or the impression I get that men's concerns should only be of interest if and when they DO negatively affect women...it's an isolationism of compassion and understanding that worries the fuck out of me as I do what I can as a single mom to guide my boys into manhood.

When I think of all the men in the early days of the women's movement who listened to the concern and frustration of women, examined women's disenfranchisement, and helped those women do something about it, even if they worried it might disrupt their lives...those men were probably seen by other men of their time as misguided or even insane. They're viewed differently now, by both men and women, through the lens of 2011.

Now the roles are reversed, and I feel like it's time for women to return the favor. Some of the best people in my life are women, and many of them would call themselves feminists. But still, I look at some of what the movement is engaged in today, and my response is, "Wait...uh, whaaa...?"

I wrote a post the other day entitled "The Female Privilege Checklist", and posted it on a popular women's subforum on reddit. I got tons of hits, and took a lot of flack from some members in the comments there, who took issue with some of the examples on my list. Fair enough. Sometimes there is no common ground to be found on an issue, and I can live with that, I suppose. But what worries me the most--and the fact that it did not surprise me worries me even more--is that out of 377 mostly women who clicked over to my blog from a woman's issues forum on reddit, only six stayed longer than 5 seconds.

And by 9:00 that evening, the post on reddit disappeared from public view and the search engine, and no other visitors clicked over. Whether this was done intentionally by the moderators, or was function of down-votes of my post by members, in either case I'm kind of appalled. Because if it was done intentionally, my voice was censored as if I'd uttered some heresy. If it was a function of down-votes, well, you need a lot of down-votes to be obliterated like that, and since only six people stayed longer than 5 seconds, members were down-voting something they hadn't even read, let alone thought about.

The message was very clear: no matter what you have to say, if we think we might not like it then we're not listening. And we're not going to let anyone else listen to you, either.

I suppose I understand how feminists, and women in general, might feel the men's rights movement runs counter to the interests of equality for women. I don't believe it does, but yes, I can see how it would seem so. And the fact that many of the voices speaking today for men are...well, religious/conservative kooks, doesn't exactly help, either. I can only imagine how horrified Christina Hoff Sommers was, as a self-identified feminist even after the movement cut her loose, to discover Rush Limbaugh was one of her fans. Who likes to be associated with THAT, for crying out loud?

As far as some of the female voices that speak for men's issues? It's hard for someone like myself to take any woman seriously when they want to go back to the way things were 100 years ago, where gender roles were clearly defined and unassailable, a woman's reproductive rights did not exist, and women's sexuality consisted of the advice of brides' mothers to "lie back, close your eyes and think of England, dear." I don't want my daughter to have any boundaries but her own when it comes to exploring her sexuality as she grows into a woman, or to not have a choice as to the kind of relationships she wants. I want her to feel perfectly entitled to enter a physics program in university if she decides she doesn't want to be a kindergarten teacher after all, and not have anyone try to railroad her into nursing instead. I want her to feel like her body is something she owns that she can share or not, as she wishes. I want her to use her astounding talents in math and science exactly as would fulfill her best.

But I don't want her to forget that there's another half of humanity, either, or that we need to figure out some way to coexist with them that is healthy and fulfilling for both, or that we all have rights and those rights mean something, even when they're someone else's and they don't affect us as individuals. I don't want her to think that because she is told men have not historically been disenfranchised (which is inaccurate, but whatever), that men never CAN be disenfranchised. I don't want her to grow up to believe that the gender differences we've relied on for millennia for our survival as a species are a pathology to be cured, or an oppression to be eliminated. And I don't ever want her to stop questioning what she is told. Even by me.

I think one of the things that bothers me most about contemporary feminism is that it vilifies the Patriarchy for engineering society and gender roles to look the way it wanted them to look. But even if you don't believe, as I do, that human society took what differences already existed as biological tendencies and sort of agreed en masse to formalize and restrict them for the sake of social stability, even if you believe gender roles are 100% socially constructed--if engineering those roles into us was wrong, why isn't engineering them out of us also wrong?

That is, isn't any sort of social engineering kind of an exercise in megalomania for people in charge who don't entertain the tiniest possibility that they got some aspect of their vision wrong? Hell, half the time I'm unsure whether I'm making a right decision for my kids--I don't even pretend to be sure enough of my rightness on anything to decide for all of society. And it's one thing to adjust public policy to give everyone the freedom and opportunity to be who they want to be, and even propagandize the message by portraying men and women as successful and happy in gender-subversive roles and jobs. But when you try to cram society into a certain model--always 100% certain it's the correct one--through legislation, incentives, quotas, demands for equality of outcomes, etc...isn't feminism now putting unfair expectations on people to subvert gender norms? Isn't feminism saying, "sheesh, we don't see women in 50% of elected offices or chief executive positions, this means we've failed as a society?"

There seems to be no room in feminism to say, "hey, let's just open up opportunities for everyone, remind them that women can be truck drivers or executives and men can be kindergarten teachers or nurses and that's awesome," and then let people do what they want to do. The girl who grows up today thinking she can't be a doctor or a scientist or a welder if she wants to...well, that girl hasn't been paying attention, has she? So if that girl--heck, if most girls--just aren't doing those things, maybe we need to accept that it's because they don't fucking want to, you know? If those girls don't want to grow up to work 60 hour weeks and give up any semblance of a work-life balance, and they feel they don't have to because they've never had to before--what's the problem? Instead of trying to convince them to give up a decent relationship with spouse and children in favor of work, shouldn't we be holding them up as examples for men to emulate? "Hey dudes, you won't get quite as much career glory, and you give up $20k/year, but it's fucking worth it"?

I hear men in the MRM say women have a right to opportunity, but not to success. I would tell feminists women have a right to opportunity, but no obligation to take it. MRAs will say, women have a right to equal treatment, but not to equal results. I would say to feminists, maybe the results aren't worth it anyway, once you consider the cost involved. MRAs tell feminists, women have a right to pursue happiness, but not to find it. I would say to feminists, we all have a goddamn right to pursue the happiness that is right for us--even if it isn't the happiness men choose to pursue.

Why are we always judging ourselves against men's definition of success? I don't have any interest in that kind of success. I'll define it my own way, as I always have, and other women have every right to do the same, even if it means they'll tend to make different choices than men historically have.

3 comments:

  1. "out of 377 mostly women who clicked over to my blog from a woman's issues forum on reddit, only six stayed longer than 5 seconds."

    Fucking ridiculous. It only confirms the idea that those at 2XC deny female privilege exists.

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  2. I see that an earlier comment I made is rendered partially moot by this post. But you might want to vlog the essential parts of this some time. ;-)

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  3. I particularly loved that line about feminists judging based on mens definition of happiness. I think you really articulate well how feminists are the only ones who put women down for being well, womanly. They say "a woman can go out on her own and work her ass off and make something of herself"... thereby implying that the only thing that would please any self-respecting woman is making a lot of money and having a job that afforded them social status and power. They are living up to typical male standards of what constitutes happiness. Its like they can't admit that some women might actually already be happy in our "patriarchal" society.

    ReplyDelete

Commenting policy:

All comments are welcome here. I refuse to censor points of view that differ from my own.

I recognize that I may be challenging the deep-seated beliefs of some people, and perhaps stirring up emotions in others. However, I would ask:

- if you care to respond to anything that I have said, please do not simply link to or quote some statistic. Do not simply regurgitate things you have been told are true. Think about what I am saying. Respond with an argument. Offer something from your personal observations, and explain to me how you feel your statistic is connected to your experience.

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Have at you!