Healthy vs Unhealthy Feminism

March 6th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

I sometimes hear the claim that feminism cannot be discussed without specifying what branch of feminism is being referred to. However, in some circumstances it is entirely reasonable to refer to feminism as a single entity, for example when discussing what the key assumptions of feminism are. After all, the reason we even have a movement called feminism, is that the various branches of feminism share at least a few basic premises.

I’ve written several blog posts where I disagree with some of the core premises of feminist thinking and analysis. I simply don’t agree with the opinion that men have structurally oppressed women, or that the female gender role is far worse than the male gender role.

However, when it comes to what feminism actually wants to do and implement, it’s no longer possible to refer to feminism as a single movement. Indeed, if we want to make life complicated, we can talk about any number of feminist branches: liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist feminism, Libertarian feminism, Eco-feminism and so on – since each of these ideologies propose different solutions to women’s situation.

But what it really comes down to as far as I’m concerned, is whether the proposed or implemented changes are constructive, and useful to society as a whole. Therefore, when discussing what feminism actually wants to do, I simply make a distinction between healthy feminism and unhealthy feminism, two terms that are pretty much self-explanatory.

Healthy Feminism

Healthy feminism fights for a host of important and highly constructive reforms, many of which have already been implemented in modern countries:

  • Legislation should always be gender neutral
  • Every adult citizen should be allowed to vote in elections
  • The labor market should be accessible for men and women alike
  • Women and men should have the same rights and responsibilities, not only the same rights
  • It’s important to put a financial value on child rearing, instead of only valuing work in the public sphere
  • Works actively with rape prevention and against domestic violence
  • Encourages women to “find their voice” and to live an authentic life
  • Acknowledges that there are issues with the male gender role too

Unhealthy Feminism

Unhealthy feminism lashes out and creates headlines fairly regularly, to the detriment of healthy feminism and other gender movements. The polarized views of unhealthy feminism unfortunately make for some good headlines in newspapers (“Girls Are Being Shortchanged in Schools”, etc).

Unhealthy feminism:

  • Tries to make a case for women being shortchanged in every situation, even in situations where the female gender role is obviously beneficial.
  • Fights for women’s rights, but not interested in the accompanying responsibilities
  • Perpetuates the view that women are weak and fragile victims, for example by claiming that women need affirmative action, and by claiming that only women are the victims of domestic violence.
  • Wants to keep the advantages of the female gender role while gaining the advantages of the male gender role. However, unhealthy feminism is not interested in sharing the advantages of the female gender role or sharing the burden of men. For example, unhealthy feminism will claim that women should have half of the top jobs in society, but not half of the dangerous jobs that men perform.
  • Uses feminism as a tool to avoid personal issues and problems. “If I can blame everything on me being a woman, then I don’t have to face my own issues or take responsibility for the mess in my own life.” Projects all the negative human qualities onto men, leaving women to be sweet and innocent creatures.
  • Makes women feel guilty for the choices they make, by labeling women who don’t work full-time as traitors

Conclusion

The work that healthy feminism has done, and is still doing, needs to be included in a Gender Liberation Movement Beyond Feminism. Indeed, without the work of healthy feminists we wouldn’t have the awareness of gender issues that we have nowadays.

On the other hand, unhealthy feminism is simply a pathology, that has no place in any gender movements of the future. I believe part of the reason that unhealthy feminism has arisen is because since the 60s, men have been too acquiescent and accommodating in relation to feminism, which has allowed a very vocal group of feminists too keep on demanding more and more reforms for women – whether any more reforms have actually been needed or not.

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33 Responses to “Healthy vs Unhealthy Feminism”

  1. Bj0rnborg Says:

    Good post. I believe this must be the startingpoint to bridge the communication-gap between men and feminists. You keep it simple and clear. I really enjoy the inspiration this blog brings, Ive touched upon all of these subjects mentioned in your blog through years of discussions and debating; reading about it in this well-formulated way brings back many dormant insights. I cant help but wanting to add details or small thoughts that might not contribute to the subject as a whole, but might spark an interesting discussion.

    For instance this;

    “Wants to keep the advantages of the female gender role while gaining the advantages of the male gender role. ”

    And since unhealthy feminism, and often healthy aswell, have been idealising the male genderroll and are unaware of its cost (health, sparetime, closeness etc) the result of women beeing socialised into trying to go for the best of both the female and male genderoll is usually dire; double work, occupational fatigue, depression.

    Wich ofcourse is blamed on “Patriarchy”, and not seen as a consequence of unhealthy feminism and a gynocentric perspective on males and the male genderroll. The theory of the “patriarchy” is one way for unhealthy feminism to not take responsibility for the hurt they cause women, and directing it towards men as a collective instead.

  2. Pelle Billing Says:

    Excellent comment, Bj0rnborg.

    It’s only recently that I’ve begun to grasp the extent to which feminism hurts women too, by creating unrealistic expectations. It’s almost impossible to work full-time and raise children at the same time; you simply have to have at least one parent that is not working full-time.

    Furthermore, some women who work really hard to have a good career, and then try to start a family when they’re 35, have to face the painful realization that they are no longer fertile.

  3. Jim Says:

    Ha!

    “Feminism Hurts Women Too” as a counterpart to “Patriarchy Hurts Men too”

    Excellent.

    The real issue is bogotry – that first list is egaltarian and the second list is bigoted positions.

    Bigotry is a pathology and the feminism you call is a bigoted pathology.

    As you may be aware there was a rift in feminism in the early 90′s in the US in which the equality feminists were basically bounced out of the movement and labeled anti-feminists.

    Christina Hoff-Summers was one of these feminists and wrote extensively about it at the time. You can find her stuff through Wikipedia.

  4. thebigmanfred Says:

    Jim:

    “Feminism Hurts Women Too” as a counterpart to “Patriarchy Hurts Men too”

    I had that thought also when I read Pelle’s comment. Haha.

  5. Pelle Billing Says:

    Jim,
    Yeah, I’m beginning to learn about that rift between American feminists. I’m reading “The War Against Boys” at the moment, by Christina Hoff-Sommers, and that book makes some really good points – backed up by scientific findings.

    Fred, good to see you drop by. It’s great that we can laugh about this stuff too :)

  6. Danny Says:

    “Feminism Hurts Women Too” as a counterpart to “Patriarchy Hurts Men too”
    All I can say to that is wow.

    I think what you have here is a good starting point. While I’m at it I would like to add an item to the list of unhealthy feminism that I see often:

    “Banding and Disbanding at one’s convenience. 1. To some feminists when one woman is a victim of a crime its “a crime against all women” but when a woman commits a crime suddenly “we don’t speak for all women”. 2. Praise/Criticism. When feminism is praised no one asks for clarification but when feminism is criticized sudden the critic must specifically state which brand of feminism or exactly which feminist they are critiquing because feminists are not a monolithic group.”

  7. unomi Says:

    It’s almost impossible to work full-time and raise children at the same time; you simply have to have at least one parent that is not working full-time.

    Given that there are virtually no decent part time jobs, and given that people who work part time are usually the last to get a promotion, that’s the same as saying one party has to throw their career down the toilet. Let’s just be clear about that.

  8. Bj0rnborg Says:

    “that’s the same as saying one party has to throw their career down the toilet”.

    Agreed. As long as we are talking about newborn children. With older kids it should be possible for both the parents to have a fulltime job. 2 points on that though:

    1. The vast majority of men and women are not in a position to make career to start with. Thats a middleclass perspective, the majority of people are still working class. An assistant nurse or a storeman for instance wont be hampered in their career by staying home with the kids half a year or so. To be home with the kids is a welcome relief from the jog trot of a monotonous job.

    2. Making a career have been too idealised. To truly make a career (and indulge in the male genderroll) means alot of sacrifices. Alot of overtime, networking on your freetime, bringing your work with you home etc. (health, time, closness to children and family) Is the trade-off worth it?
    I believe most people would say no, I certainly would, still so many women are beeing socialised into this ideal. If the male experienced had been incorporated into the equality discourse, this could have been avoided.

  9. Pelle Billing Says:

    “If the male experienced had been incorporated into the equality discourse, this could have been avoided”

    Excellent point.

    For some reason the feminist discourse assumes that it’s wonderful to work full-time and horrible to be a full time or part time parent. If the male perspective had been incorporated, the men could have told feminists that working class jobs are usually dangerous/heavy/dirty/boring, and middle class jobs often mean very long hours + bringing your job home + never seeing your children.

    We need a new discourse, one that acknowledges the pros and cons of working full-time, and the pros and cons of staying at home (part-time or full-time).

  10. Eivind F S Says:

    Wow, it’s really exciting to tune into this vibrant place with such prolific, balanced thinkers.

    Thanks for this post, Pelle. Hey, I find I really like healthy feminism! Can you dig it? I think the point about putting a value on child rearing is particularly important. Maybe this value doesn’t even have to be monetary. Maybe there are better and more valuable ways of appreciating the roles of mothers than just throwing money in their direction. Maybe we actually need to respect and LOVE them for their generosity and sacrifice. With our hearts and minds, and not just our wallets. What a concept! We have become so cruel towards the authentic feminine…

    As you well know, women who stay at home are viewed with a certain amount of contempt here in Scandinavia. They’re not seen as dignified women, letting themselves be oppressed into the role of the submissive housewife. But there’s a very strange thing going on here in Norway; the numbers of women who work part-time last I checked are soaring. I’m not the numbers guy here, but I remember it is vast! So there seems to be something about women that makes them want to work less and stay at home with the kids more.

    Now, isn’t that a big fucking surprise. That is a cornerstone of the feminine. She is the nurturer. She embraces, loves and holds gently. These qualities have been put out back, in the trash can of the past. Yes, we truly threw the feminine heart out with the bath water.

    It breaks *my* heart to see the contempt some women have for the feminine. And in return, they turn hard and masculine, which in turn leads to soft, pussywhipped men. You know, all of this is all very good – it’s a step forwards from the rigid genderroles of the past, but just because we CAN now act like the opposite sex doesn’t mean we should – unless that corresponds with who we are at our core. Nothing wrong with masculine women and feminine men, as long as it’s a reflection of individual truth, and not sociocultural pathology.

    Unhealthy feminism is nothing but a headgame. It can only perpetuate itself by disconnecting from the truthsaying qualities of the heart and body and spin off into intellectual lala-land. Sounds like the immature masculine, does it not? All those women are miserable, living with a broken heart, crying silent tears in the twilight hours.

    We must have compassion for them.

    We must be masculine for them.

    So they won’t have to anymore.

    Eivind

  11. thebigmanfred Says:

    Pelle, you’ve brought out a lot of good points. I’d add to your list of unhealthy feminism “creating zero sum games.” I’ve seen some feminists create zero sum games whenever a debate about resources comes up. For example, if money goes to combat male domestic violence it will hurt female victims of domestic violence. This argument comes up routinely in domestic violence debates. The zero sum game though is extended to other areas in which resources have to be allocated. Unhealthy feminism can sometimes put victims against victims (like male domestic violence victims against female since they’re both fighting for resources).

  12. Pelle Billing Says:

    Fred:
    “I’ve seen some feminists create zero sum games whenever a debate about resources comes up. For example, if money goes to combat male domestic violence it will hurt female victims of domestic violence.”

    Good point.

    Unhealthy feminists believe that they are fighting a horrible, patriarchal system that hates women and therefore whatever we do to help women is nothing but a drop in the ocean. So even mentioning that men too are the victims of domestic violence, is doubly threatening to them. First of all, it may take away resources from women, and secondly it threatens the very foundation of their worldview. If men are the victims of domestic violence in up to half of the cases, then do we really live in a world where men have all the power?

    The zero sum game is actually hurting women and feminists alike. If they could instead acknowledge that men are also the victims of domestic violence, perhaps just as often as women are, then stereotype of men as strong and having all the power would be harder to maintain. And isn’t one of the main goals of feminism to change that stereotype?

  13. Pelle Billing Says:

    Eivind, thank you for sharing your passion and pointing out some controversial facts. Why are women in Scandinavia still choosing to work part-time when politicians and the media consistently advocate working full-time?

  14. Jim Says:

    “Given that there are virtually no decent part time jobs, and given that people who work part time are usually the last to get a promotion, that’s the same as saying one party has to throw their career down the toilet. Let’s just be clear about that.”

    This is the crux of that particular issue. as long as we have a money-based economy where income comes from outside work and you can’t live without an income, we are going to have this problem.

    Another example of this problem is married couples in which one partner has a career that requires moves that interrupt the other partner’s career. This has been a problem in the US for at least three generations now. What ususally happens is something has ot give. In the case of my boss’s boss – male, the wife has the better career, so he has been follwing her around the country. That is not how it usually works out.

    Here’s away out – equal parenting along with equal careers. The obvious answer is that the women’s movement has been advocating this form decades now. The asnwer to that is – mmmmmmmm, not really. The women’s movement has been saying one thing and doing another. For thirty years theyre have been articles calling for men to do more in the home, help raise the kids, and in all that time women’s group have been the first to oppose any change in statutes or public policy that give men equal rights to parenting when it comes to child custody after divorce, consent to adoption of illegitimate children, etc. The intent is very clear – men are expected now to do half the work – so far so good – and often shoulder much more than half the financial burden – hey, wait a minute – but authority and control is the natural prerogative of the woman – unh hnh ; same old patriarchal/traditionalist shit.

    A movement that claims to want equality can’t square that claim with this kind of biased advocacy or even with neglect of equal advocacy for equal parenting.

  15. Pelle Billing Says:

    “The intent is very clear – men are expected now to do half the work – so far so good – and often shoulder much more than half the financial burden – hey, wait a minute – but authority and control is the natural prerogative of the woman – unh hnh ; same old patriarchal/traditionalist shit.”

    Yes, rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. This is what I keep repeating, almost like a mantra.

    If women want the attractive jobs on the labor market, then they also need to take part in the unattractive jobs (i.e. the dangerous, dirty, heavy jobs).

    If men are expected to do more work in the home, then men also need to get the corresponding amount of power/rights in the home.

    This is probably the main flaw of feminism: failure to emphasize rights *and* responsibilities in every situation.

  16. Danny Says:

    If women want the attractive jobs on the labor market, then they also need to take part in the unattractive jobs (i.e. the dangerous, dirty, heavy jobs).
    Not only that but they have to be willing to take on the not so attractive parts of the attractive jobs. A woman can’t expect to make the same money a man makes when he is willing to travel, work long hours, spend time away from family, etc. and she it not (and vice versa).

    That is what has always made me scratch my head on the wage gap thing. Feminists will just shout “women only make 77 cents to every man’s dollar.” but I wonder are they taking things into account like risk, travel, long hours, experience, senority, etc.

    If a woman is making 77 cents to the dollar of a man that has been with the comapny longer, in the industry longer, works longer hours, and spends more time away from home than she does then whats the problem.

    If a woman is making 77 cents to the dollar of a man that has been with the company the same amount of time, in the industry the same amount of time, works the same hours, etc. then we have a problem.

  17. ballgame Says:

    Great post, Pelle.

  18. Bj0rnborg Says:

    If a woman is making 77 cents to the dollar of a man that has been with the company the same amount of time, in the industry the same amount of time, works the same hours, etc. then we have a problem.

    In sweden when taking all factors measurable into account, the wage gap is somewhere between 2% and nothing, and then add those unmeasurable factors and you can see where we are at.

    Its just a big lie, or spin, from the feminism movement to agitate women and gain support. Unfortunately it works.

  19. Pelle Billing Says:

    @ballgame: Thanks :)

    @Danny and Bj0rnborg: Yeah, the wage gap is a big fat lie and doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny. If women really made less money for equivalent work, then why would any profit driven industry/company choose to employ men? It doesn’t even nearly make sense…

  20. Jim Says:

    “big fat lie ”

    Jesus, where do you people find the time to get so good with idiomatic English?

  21. Pelle Billing Says:

    “Jesus, where do you people find the time to get so good with idiomatic English?”

    It’s do or die for us non-natives ;)

  22. Danny Says:

    I’m still mixed up on the wage gap. I’ve heard lots of stories about women getting paid less than a man for the same if not more responsibilities. But at the same time I all I ever hear are anecdotes and the occasional shouting of the 77 cents/1 dollar stat.

  23. Pelle Billing Says:

    Warren Farrell (and others) have thoroughly disproven that there is an objective wage gap. Women actually tend to earn more than men when controlling for factors such as education, hours worked, experience, readiness to travel, profession, etc

    Read this article that includes sources, and watch this Youtube clip.

  24. Jim Says:

    “It’s do or die for us non-natives ”

    Ja, troesklet foer oeverlevnad aer ju mycket laegre aen det. Haer paa USA vaestkusten arbeter man med folk som staendigt tar fel paa verbtempus, och aennu gaar det.

  25. Paddan Says:

    About the wage gap.

    I truly cannot believe how easy it is to dismiss the 77cents/1 dollar (or in Sweden 80/20) argument. For example, if you’re a Swede (or can read the swedish language), go to http://www.scb.se (statistiska centralbyran). There you will find rapports about the wage gap, especially the one from the year 2004 if I remember correctly, adresses this issue.

    If you take into account some of the measurable factors you get a picture that says that women earn 8% less than men. So just by looking at some of the obvious FACTS, we can immediately dismiss the 80/20 argument. Now, this doesn’t mean that women aren’t discriminated against (this is of course a lot more complex) but it at least balances the discussion.

    So even if we are sceptical that the wage gap is, like Bjorn says, between 0-2%.. we can probably safely say that it’s well below 10% in Sweden. The feminists need to acknowledge this and get with the facts BEFORE they throw their statistics around the room.

    There are even some numbers suggesting that women earn more (in some type of jobs) than men when looking at the age span 20-30 year olds. Isn’t that discriminating against the male gender? The same factors taken into account and men get less pay? *sigh* When will we ever learn that if we have a theory (however wrong or right it may be) and apply it when looking at statistics, we will get the results WE are LOOKING for! Take off the feminist glasses and try some other glasses on for a change, switch back and forth and observe which differences arises when interpreting the data.

  26. Bj0rnborg Says:

    Paddan:

    Have you ever noticed that you never get any replies when you talk about the reasons their is a wage gap with most feminists? Though ive mentioned this so many times, every time the wage gap comes up, Ive never heard a feminist disscuss it with any kind of argument. Its just ignored, and the original dogma of the wage gap repeated. “There is a wage gap. Wage gap is discrimination.”

    It is just not possible to claim to work for equality if you are not interested in the facts. Thats a part of the unhealty, or pathological feminism, it has turned into something more similar to religion than to politics. Facts are only interesting as long as they fit in with the established view, if they dont they are dismissed right off hand.

    Female “empowerment” seem to be more important than equality, not realising that empowerment without equality is discrimination.

  27. Paddan Says:

    You are so right Bjorn!

    Exactly my experience as well, no doubt about it. There’s a silence, a disbelief, a kind of “are you serious?” or “you’re a male chauvinist pig” look to their face, and then it’s ignored and it’s business as usual.

    But somehow all of this is really paradoxical and quite funny when you think about it. Many of my feminist friends are well aware that statistics can’t be trusted. They are well aware that newspapers lie now and then (actually they think that 99% of what the newspapers say is a lie). They even sometimes say that facts can’t be trusted because there are hidden agendas, ideologies, that twist the way we view the world. And so on and so forth. HOWEVER, if Aftonbladet writes that the wage gap is still 80/20 and that it’s discrimination, this fact/story/narrative is NEVER questioned. It’s never questioned how they arrive at that conclusion. As long as it jives with Judith Butler, Gudrun Schyman or whatever, then it’s positively a truth and an undeniable fact. Brainwashing anyone?

    Your facts Bjorn, and mine, and a lot of the people on here wrinting and commenting, are all highly subjective and socially constructed. ;-)

  28. Patrick Brown Says:

    One of the most common topics of conversation about gender issues where I come from (UK) is why women can’t “have it all” (i.e. a successful career and a family) just like a man can. It ignores that the workplace is competitive and not all men can have a successful career, and that a man’s chances of having a family are drastically reduced by not having a successful career. But it misses an even more important point.

    It never even seems to occur to the “have it all” advocates that if a woman wants to have a career and a family on the same terms as a man, she can’t be the children’s primary caregiver, and can’t expect to be financially supported by a higher-earning spouse. Virtually no man in the world has ever “had it all” on the terms they’re demanding, but they seem to take women’s role as primary caregiver and right to financial support completely for granted.

  29. Pelle Billing Says:

    Excellent points Patrick. Feminists want women to have the advantages of the male gender role, but not the disadvantages, while hanging on to the advantages of the female gender role.

    If a woman wants to have a successful career she should marry a stay-at-home husband, except that women don’t tend to be attracted to that kind of man.

  30. Paddan Says:

    True Pelle… my girlfriend seems to be the exception though… I’m the stay-at-home guy, cooking almost all of the time and taking care of the domestic part. She brings home the money. I pick out which flowers we should buy and she decides how much money we spend on stuff. ;-) haha

  31. Bj0rnborg Says:

    I believe there are potentially many stay-at-home-guys out there, staying at home is seen as a luxury to most men, at luxury we men can start indulge in the way society is heading. I believe that the biggest barrier for this to happen though, is that too many women cannot release their percieved (genderroll) right/power to the domain that is home. Chances are that most women will second-guess or just outright wrestle home-control from their partner the second he does it his way and its not to HER liking, and still pursue a career.

    If that theory holds up, it would be another indication that points to that women havent come as far in their fight against their own genderrolls as the continusly claims while at the same demanding men to change. Personally I believe men have come much further in this gender liberation movement, women hardly havent scratched the surface, they have been to busy dismissing responsibility for their own situaitons or society at large and blaming men, to do any kind of relevant soul-searching.

    Im thinking this headstart for men will be good for something. In the future. But first we need to get rid of the artificial guilt that are placed on us, after that life and happiness is ours for the taking.

  32. Vladimir Says:

    Sorry for coming late to the discussion, but I also have to reaffirm the point that stay-at-home guys don’t really attract women. Even if they make less money, they don’t attract women.

    And I have seen this in few examples.
    Some of the people I know, well educated but without a decent job(Balkans is in a major economic downturn), ended up single because their partners made more money. Usually doing work where visual beauty is a requirement (PR for example).

    Later on, most of those women ended up with über-successful businessmen. Sometimes even the newly rich “overnight with a bit of risk involved” guys. Engineers, programmers and anthropologists can not hope to get that rich doing decent work. Even harder when they have to work dead-end jobs because the economy is in the gutter.

    When(and I seriously doubt that), stay at home guys become just as desirable(seriously, not just a short fling or a few years before the “I don’t love you anymore, and I’ve met someone else who makes $hit load of €£$¥”) as stay at home women, that is when the equality will happen. This way, men are STILL traped in their gender role.

  33. Pelle Billing Says:

    Hi Vladimir,

    Yes, there have been a few articles in the British press about how stay-at-home men end up losing their partner and/or being cheated on. I haven’t seen any proper research on this yet, but I’m sure it will come. Evolutionary psychology suggests that women don’t tend to be attracted to stay-at-home men, at least not if that is his long term ambition.


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