Why I am a Feminist

This is really just something I feel I should get out of the way before I go on tackle the theme of gender in upcoming posts. I identify as a feminist, which means that I believe that men and women are equal, and should be treated fairly. This sounds like nothing controversial. I mean, isn’t it a given, in this modern age? It’s like saying that you’re not a racist, or that kittens are cute. Well one would think that it should be, but the overwhelming evidence of my environment tells me no.

It begins with a paradox. We’re all different, yet we’re all the same. Each on its own can be a dangerous extreme. We’re all the same, so a monolithic structure of conformity for us all. We’re all different, so segregate us and assign us, tear apart empathy and fellowship.

Sex difference is one of the most fundamental variations in humans that is exploited by various powers that be for profit and power. It’s no secret that throughout most of human history, men have been privileged over women (not necessarily in every society, ever, but that has been the general trend in western civilisation and globally). This situation is often referred to as patriarchy (rule of the father) and manifests itself implicitly and explicitly in all aspects of society. And under centuries of patriarchy, women were denied rights and autonomy, treated as chattel, subject to socially sanctioned violence and abuse.

But that’s all in the past now, right? Men and women are equal now and it’s all fine! Not exactly. Old habits die hard. And cultural memes that have dominated our society for millenia die even harder.

It’s true that in many ways society is a lot fairer right now than it’s been in a long time. But that doesn’t mean we’re quite there yet. Legally, the fight for equality continues on a number of fronts right now. Abortion law, gay marriage, birth control, the gender pay gap, maternity and disability benefits. More and more we can see the presence of neo-convservative, often religious groups influencing government policy with an aim to rolling back the clock on many of the gains made by us in recent decades. In the name of ‘family’ and economic expediency, society’s most vulnerable are being sacrificed.

And those are just the obvious issues. But the influence of our history of patriarchy is much more subtle and prelavent than that. It’s present in law, language, religion, the media and a whole multitude of social mores and aspects of our culture that we take for granted every day. In a democratic, capitalist society, you vote for your government representatives and you vote with your dollar (pound, euro, etc). This theory gives the impression that things are the way they are because we chose them to be so. But it is a false illusion of choice. Aside from the aforementioned fact that the prejudices of the past teniaciously remain with us in the form of tradition (‘just the way things are’). There are a multitude of powerful interest groups out there with a stake in controlling our culture for their own political and financial motives. The individuals at the head of these interests are more often than not, old white males and to boot, often sexist, racist and arch-conservative as all hell. Our own worst tendencies as individuals to be narrow-minded are encouraged from above.

Just looking at the media around us can show this. Check out the most popular tv shows, newspapers, magazines, advertisements. Women are bombarded with messages telling them that they need to be slim, submissive, attractive and loaded up with expensive consumer goods to be worth anything, especially if they want to attract a worthy man to provide them with the ultimate in fulfilment-marriage and babies! And men are sold the idea of becoming ruthless and successful at some high-flying jobs so that they can afford status symbols as a means to sexual success. But the women in evening dresses draped up on the arms of tuxedos or in bikinis sprawled across the front of rapper’s cars are just more status symbols, products to be bought, sold and traded. Instead of, you know, people who can actually be related to. In fact, popular media does anything but encourage us to relate to each other.

If you look at the images we’re presented with we’re constantly being nudged down a prefabricated construction of our gender roles. Now I am aware that there are alternative views and lifestyles out there but the fact is that the dominant paradigm is highly sexist. By trying to force us to be one way or another, it does violence to our minds, to our bodies. It attacks our identities, our self esteem and damages our ability to form healthy relationships.

So, why feminism? Obviously this oppressive power structure extends to more than just issues of gender, touching on race, class, sexuality and economic status. For a brief overview on how this issues interact and reinforce each other in the dominant power structure, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality (incidentally, a good, and passionate, argument for intersectionality is made here). But by actively pushing for gender equality we thrust a lance into one part of the anatomy of the beast, but it’s still a battle on many fronts.

Another reason why I feel particularly strongly about gender equality is because, of course, it’s personal. On the one hand it just comes from seeing how the women around me, whether they be family, friends or lovers, get assaulted by this level of bullshit. Assaulted with words, assaulted with denied opportunities, and downright assaulted physically and sexually. On the street, in the workplace, out on the town. Because of their tastes, their clothes, their tendency to stand up for themselves and not take shit. For daring to educate themselves and articulate their opinions. Punished for being good, thoughtful, interesting people just just happened not to comply meekly with what men around them thought they should be. And sometimes for just having the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and the ‘wrong’ gender.

These are more than just individual abuses by individual people, there is a sickness in the system that perpetuates this. On the other hand, as a man I have also been personally penalised in different ways by refusing to conform to the accepted stereotype for my gender. As a man with long hair, piercings and some unconventional tastes, I get treated more negatively than I otherwise would. Now I know this isn’t anywhere near as bad, and I can stray quite far from my gender ideal while still retain a lot of my default male privilege (gentleman readers, I refer you to http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/). Worse off still are my transgender friends, who are only all too aware of how society beats down those who won’t fit into the box.

So for these reasons, I’m going to be right-on, PC and to some, a crushing bore (because of course, bigotry is what makes life exciting, right?). Being feminist isn’t being anti-fun. And it doesn’t mean that if you like being a girly-girl or a macho-man, that you can’t. It’s just about respecting the fact that not everybody wants to be that way and it’s wrong to force them. Playing with gender roles can be fun, as long as we know they are actually roles we play, not essences. Being sexually objectified can be lots of fun, as long as it’s when you want to be! Telling politically incorrect, obscene and fucked up jokes can be fun too, but it has to be in a safe space where trust is present, because at the end of the day, there are power relations involved in any social situation, and words and social norms, even humour, can be a tool of oppression and social control. So I’m going to point sexism out when I see it, with friends, family, co-workers and politicians. Just as how I’d point out racism, homophobia, classism and transphobia. And I met get called a pain in the arse, by people who want to be able to bully others from a safe places. And thats fine. Because they deserve a pain in the arse.

I just want to be free to be who I want to be, express myself and have my fun without hurting other people. Not just for myself, but for everyone else. It’s a difficult, perhaps impossible ideal given the inevitability of conflict in life, but the more it’s practiced the more pleasant the world would be for everybody. It’s fucking unfair to automatically make that so much harder for over half of the world population right from birth.

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~ by theserpentscircle on December 20, 2011.

2 Responses to “Why I am a Feminist”

  1. The role we should play in life shouldn’t depend upon the way our chromosomes are arranged. +1

  2. Excellent article my man. Quite deep stuff here.
    I do agree that in modern media, we do get an uncomfortable image of what women are… they are either the motherly type, the stern almost frightening monster or the sex object. But rarely do you get the middle… or the average represntation of women… but mainly it is because, at least in film or television standards… it if surprisingly dull and so these characters are created. The same is found with the male point of view, men are either extremely macho idiots, sex objects or uncomfortablely awkward. In that retrospect, it can be seen as equal.
    I do believe though that while society is become oversaturated with all these negative stereotypes and cliches on female behaviour, roles and empowerment that there is growth… very slowly yes, but there is. More so in the West than in other countries of which we can not honestly know about. Women can become empowering, individual and independent… they just have to take a lot longer to get there sadly. Will there be a point where it will be so much less of a hassle for them? Hell yeah, but it is them battling off centuries and centuries of being stuck within those traditional roles. Unlike race which is now becoming common ground and have less of a backstory to them each time, women have a lot more to overcome instinctly. Overall, I say that we may rant, we may moan about the world changing or in this case, lack there of, being put forward into the mainstream spotlight for all to see… but it will take time for everyone to understand it all… we are all pretty much terrified of each other and everytime, more people need to bite the bullet and accept it as the norm. Sure, her we have these kind of women, but they always have that uncomfortable stigma floating around their heads. Not just in the West, but all over the world with religion, tradition and so on…
    But yeah, back to beginning. Great stuff man. 🙂

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