Friday 29 April 2011

My Beef with Modern Feminism...

...or my manifesto on female agency and gender equality:

Why am I writing this manifesto? It's simple. I believe that modern feminism (with the aid of its silent partner, chivalry) has done a huge disservice to women that's a mirror image of the disservice it's done to men, and that is fostering continued weakness and dependence in women, while placing a hideous and unfair burden on men.
According to modern feminism, all women are the default victims of male dominance--even if only by proxy. We are told non-stop by feminist organizations that we're afraid, we are oppressed, we are kept down, we are persecuted, we are victimized, and that there is nothing a woman can do on her own to get out from under this enormous, nebulous burden of fear and misogyny that is still an "epidemic" in our western society. We can only be liberated through things we are given--subsidies, incentives, a leg up, kid-glove handling, uneven application of the law, and hampering men with handicaps the way we do pro-level players in amateur games. Modern feminism casts all men as predators, but in doing so, feminism casts all women as prey. I am not prey.
I've always felt that it's not The Patriarchy, or men in general, who have oppressed women. What has always oppressed them has been their dependence on these systems. At one time, that dependence was enforced by law, social pressures and lack of opportunities, but that isn't the case anymore and hasn't been for decades.
But the mindset of feminism continues to be colored with the implication that men act, while women are acted upon. Men must make/take opportunities, while women must be given opportunities. Men must make their own way, while women must be guided and assisted through social programs and legislation designed to help them succeed--because lord only knows, they'd never be able to become scientists or engineers on their own.
And at the same time, men can never be victims of women. Even when women commit heinous crimes against men, the man is still almost universally cast as the villain--"She stabbed him? He must have been abusive/cheating/driven her to it." "She had an abusive upbringing." "She was disadvantaged."
And men are never allowed to seek help--"Your wife beat you up? Stop being a sissy." "Make your own way in life, lad, because no one's going to do it for you." "Can't get a job? Fucking deadbeat."
Life is pretty sweet for women these days--we have all kinds of career opportunities and earning potential handed to us, an artificially uneven playing field in all the jobs we actually want, daddy government to help us with our financial burdens, and punishments for female criminals that often amount to standing with your nose in a corner for time served, while blame for our behavior is shifted onto The Patriarchy. Men are still expected to buy us dinner, even when they earn less than we do, and if one dares to raise a hand against us, we have the monopoly on DV shelters and programs, and an application of the law that is almost always unbalanced in our favor. We have all the say in reproduction, from our right to abortion to the leeway to decide exactly how and how much the father of our children will be allowed or forced to contribute to their wellbeing. We've even seen due process almost completely done away with when it comes to accusations of rape and sexual assault.
Women have been elevated to the status of princesses, and men doomed to be servants and scapegoats. So why aren't we happy? Why aren't we satisfied with what we have? Why hasn't the feminist movement declared "mission accomplished"?  
Because women today, under a feminist social structure, still have not attained the elusive prize they long for, and which they can never win by the methods they currently employ. That prize is agency.
Under extremist modern feminism, there can be no female autonomy or agency because though we have freedom and opportunity, there is no corresponding expectation of self-sufficiency, accountability, or responsibility placed on women. And there can be no male autonomy or agency, because for men there is only self-sufficiency, accountability and responsibility, while freedom and opportunity is becoming a thing of the past.
If chivalry infantilized women, feminism does the exact same thing. Only instead of running to tell daddy/Sir Galahad about all those horrible brutes who are so very mean to us, we're supposed to run to daddy government.
But I have news for modern feminism. Some of us just aren't that interested in feeling like victims. Being victimized is something that happens to people, and is often completely outside our control. But we DO have a choice as to whether we see ourselves as victims, and choose to live our lives as victims, or not. Modern feminism wants me to feel like a default victim. And I am NOT a victim. Victims are passive. Victims are acted upon. Victims lack agency. That's not the way I will ever choose to view myself, and it saddens me that so many women have been convinced to see themselves this way.
Feminism is not about female empowerment. It was, at one time, but no more. Empowerment is the ability to stand up for yourself, to take care of yourself, to be active instead of passive.
And there can be no self-empowerment without personal responsibility and accountability. Sometimes that means accepting part--or indeed, all--of the blame when something bad happens. But women are so rarely held accountable for their actions and decisions and burdens to the degree they should be as human beings. If a woman can't be successful, it is because the business world is sexist. If a woman wakes up after getting black-out drunk at a party full of horny young men to discover she was violated, any hint that perhaps getting black-out drunk at a party full of horny young men is maybe not the smartest decision anyone ever made, means you're blaming the victim and you're an awful human being. If a woman takes five years off from the workforce so she can be a stay-at-home mom, and her re-entry into her career is less than spectacular, it's never because sometimes life comes down to making a choice between something you want and another thing you want more--it's because government/society doesn't do enough to help her.
When you constantly point at other factors as being completely at fault--the patriarchy, discrimination, sexism, even sexual predators--what you end up with is a whole group of people who may feel empowered, but they aren't, and subconsciously they know that they've been further disenfranchised on a deeply human level. If you are never held accountable for your decisions, you're being told that you're essentially as ineffectual as a child.
Empowerment is about owning your own shit, and that is the basis for agency. Agency is about more than rights and opportunities and freedoms--it's about personal responsibility and accountability and shouldering your own burdens. Agency is not only about having the power to succeed--it's about having the power to fail. To be the primary arbiter of your fate.
This is MY life. I am the architect of it. If I fuck it up, it isn't something that merely "happened" to me--I was an active participant in the sequence of decisions that led to the fucking-up. I may not live in a vacuum, but I have the power to respond to outside influences, and depending on how I use that power, I will succeed or I will fail. Help is appreciated, but not expected and never, ever required, even if that means the chance of failure will be greater, or I might not be as successful as someone else. 
My grandmother was born in 1909 to a family of 8 children, and raised in abject rural poverty. By the time she married, she was the manager of ladies' wear at a large department store. My grandfather worked in construction in the summer and as a rural mail carrier in the winter. They had three children in the first decade of their marriage, during which time, my grandmother took over management of the general store in her town and was eventually offered the position of postmistress. At a time when the glass ceiling was nanometers above the kitchen ceiling, my grandmother, with her grade 8 education, became a respected career woman. My grandmother had agency.
Women today, on the whole, do not have agency--what we have is not patriarchy, but it's still a system where we're told we need to be taken care of, and where we eat that line of bullshit as if it's ice cream. And as long as that's what modern feminism is about, the movement will never be self-limiting--because as much as we might wish it otherwise, rights and opportunities will always be finite, but there's no limit to the privilege one can demand. And make no mistake, modern feminism isn't about women's rights. It's about women's privilege. It may not look like privilege to everyone, but that's what it is.
That's not agency, it's an insult to women like me, and women like my grandmother was--a career woman born in 1909 who made her own opportunities just like any man raised in rural poverty would have had to, and who always, always owned her shit.

There's no greater empowerment than having earned your own success, on standing on your own feet and shouldering your own burdens, and even accepting your own failures. 
This is my shit. I own it.