Applying Feminism to Third World Countries Is Problematic

October 17th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

While an increasing number of individuals are waking up to the problems that feminist policies create in Western democracies, most people still believe that feminism is just the right medicine for Third World nations. After all, isn’t feminism exactly what is needed in these underdeveloped countries–where men and women still have very traditional gender roles–to bring them into the 21st century? Well, Hillary Clinton, the United Nations and a host of other international players certainly seem to think so. However, it’s the very same flawed gender analysis that has led to feminist thinking in the West, that leads to feminist thinking regarding Third World policies.

Regardless of what culture we are talking about, and regardless of the level of development of that culture (pre-modern, modern, postmodern), men and women are part of the same gender system and are assigned roles and tasks according to what works, not according to any kind of oppression. Therefore the gender system is always some kind of variant of women being protected (and perhaps limited) in order to be safe during pregnancy and when raising the next generation, while men take risks in order to find adequate resources for the women and the children, as well as defend them from any dangers. Instead of taking in the entirety of this gender system, feminism somewhat simplistically postulates that the gender system oppresses women while giving men all the benefits, and this very assumption means that feminism tries to correct an imbalance that doesn’t exist, instead of effectively working towards increased freedom and opportunity for both sexes. This is exactly what is now starting to happen in Third World countries.

One example of how misguided feminism is creating unnecessary problems in poor countries is microfinance programs. These programs usually target women, instead of giving equal opportunity to men. Partly this is because feminism informs these organizations that women’s role will be strengthened by allowing them to start their own business, and the other common reason given is that women are more likely than men to repay these loans. However, neither of these arguments are sound.

Regarding the feminist argument that women’s role need to be strengthened… well, this is nothing but propaganda, since it is notoriously hard to determine what gender is worse off in any given society, and since the two sexes are part of the same gender system, it usually makes sense to help both sexes at the same time. Women may be more likely to repay the loans they are given, but that is because women generally take lower risks when doing business. Assuming less risk may decrease the chance of bankruptcy, but it also decreases the chance of creating a truly profitable company that will end up employing lots of people. Men, on the other hand, tend to assume more risk, and while this may lead to bankruptcy it may also lead to larger companies, industrialization and the eradication of poverty.

When it comes to education in poor countries, feminism states that women should be educated first, since they will educate their children, thereby spreading the knowledge. As correct as that observation may be, it is only a partial truth. Men may not be as prone to teaching their children, but men–as we just saw–are more likely to use any skills, funding or education they receive to start new companies and build prosperity here and now. Educating men can thus lead to prosperity within five or ten years, without having to wait a full generation, which the feminist model assumes is necessary. Why not simply educate men and women alike, thereby creating positive change both short term and long term?

There are many more examples of how the feminist mantra “we must always help women” creates new problems and imbalances in underdeveloped nations, but for now, I just want to say that postmodern feminism is problematic in Third World Countries for two reasons:

  • It is in itself a skewed model of reality that doesn’t produce beneficial results even when applied to postmodern countries, therefore it makes no sense to export it to other countries.
  • Learnings from postmodern societies cannot always be applied to pre-modern societies, even when they are sound. Pre-modern societies need to make the transition to modernity and industrialization, before becoming postmodern. Poor countries are therefore less in need of human rights than they are of industrialization, because it is industrialization that leads to human rights, not the other way around.

This is not to say that there aren’t lots of important gender issues to be addressed in poor countries, just as there are in modern democracies. We certainly need a strong awareness of gender roles when analyzing any given society and its problems. However, feminism is too flawed and too one-sided to be the model that guides us in these endeavors, and I dearly hope that we will soon reach a point where gender issues are discussed more freely, using research and facts as much as possible.

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16 Responses to “Applying Feminism to Third World Countries Is Problematic”

  1. Jay R Says:

    Pelle,

    A cogent and concise summation of why both men and women in more “backward” countries should resist Western feminism with all their might. Why allow your society to be infected with a pathogen that has proved to engender only hostility and mistrust between the sexes, all while expressly seeking the destruction of the traditional family structure?

    Men in those societies will be told not to worry, that feminism will eventually lead the way to a better life for men as well as women, so they should remain quiet, and be patient. But we men in the West, still waiting, and suffering, after 40 years (and still mostly quiet), know this is a lie. The folks in those emerging societies may be “backward,” but they are far from stupid, and they can see what has been happening to men and their families under the iron boot-heel of feminism in the West.

    How DARE we consider using those vulnerable societies as experimental laboratories when the West has itself been so UNsuccessful in countering the toxicity of feminism — which continues to wreak havoc with our family structure, and indeed with our entire social fabric.

    It is utter nonsense to think that there are no other ideologies or practices besides feminism which are capable of bringing improvement to an emerging society. The basic Judeo-Christian-Greek democratic principles that allowed the West to flourish had nothing to do with “feminism” — thank God! In fact, it is hard to see how feminism (or Gender Marxism, as it has been actually implemented in the West) could possibly play any postive role in facilitating a traditional society’s detente and engagement with the more “modern” world. (Maybe they’ll decide not everything “modern” is all that great!)

    Feminism is born of the arrogance of a too-rich society — and less-rich people are certainly capable of perceiving this.

  2. Toysoldier Says:

    Instead of taking in the entirety of this gender system, feminism somewhat simplistically postulates that the gender system oppresses women while giving men all the benefits, and this very assumption means that feminism tries to correct an imbalance that doesn’t exist, instead of effectively working towards increased freedom and opportunity for both sexes.

    I agree, although I would add that part of the problem stems from the lack of knowledge and understanding of the cultural and social dynamics that feminists wish to change. We have witnessed this on a larger scale with the US wars in the Middle East. The United State’s attempt to “bring democracy” to the Middle East has not worked primarily because those trying to do this failed to understand the way those cultures and countries work right now. While the systems those places use may be flawed, they serve a purpose in the society. In order to change them they would have to change naturally, from the want of the people in those countries, not based on the wants of outsiders.

    The feminist model does not seem equipped to handle those kind of issues. It is more of a one-size-had-better-fit-all solution that even in Western countries has failed on many occassions due to its inherent inflexibility.

  3. Feckless Says:

    As long as the west doesn´t really understands the east this is nothing but arrogance. I doubt even the feminists in those countries don´t believe that the solution is western feminism.

  4. Chris Marshall Says:

    Pelle:

    Excellent work!

    I was aware of the micro-loan concept being discussed in the media, and was also aware of the fact that it was being targeted at women, but I didn’t stop to wonder at the inequality of that.

    Now that you’ve pointed it out, it’s an amazing demonstration of the protect-women-sacrifice-men meme.

    How can anyone defend that stance with a straight face, given all the high-minded talk of equality we westerners pride ourselves on?

    Some things have to be believed to be seen. As much as I have consciously thought about the disposibility of men, I still needed you to point it out to me.

  5. Pelle Billing Says:

    Thanks Chris :)

  6. unomi Says:

    From what I understand, micro finance programmes target people who are too poor to get a loan from a commercial bank, usually because their loans are too small to be of interest to them. Within this segment, it has been found that women are better than men at repaying their debt.

    Choosing borrowers based on their likelihood to repay a loan is how financial institutions around the world operate. (Maybe not in the US over the last few years, but that’s another story.) It is called making a risk assessment and without it no bank would be able to function.

    Moving away from the very poor in some third world countries, men appear to be just as likely as women to repay their loans. If they weren’t, you can be sure that the banks would be demanding higher interest rates from men than they do from women.

    The statement: “women generally take lower risks when doing business” alludes to the results of a study that the authors admit was the first of its kind, and so is a gross exaggeration. And the claim that only male-owned businesses can eradicate poverty is an ideological, not a factual, statement. If anything, fewer risk takers would mean less of the boom and bust cycles we have seen in recent years.

    As for feminism correcting an imbalance that doesn’t exist: been to Afghanistan much lately?

  7. Chris Marshall Says:

    >As for feminism correcting an imbalance that doesn’t exist: been to Afghanistan much lately?

    So it’s clear to you that you would be better off as a man than a woman living in Afghanistan?

    I would like to know how likely men/women are to be violently killed or maimed or unjustly imprisoned. How much you want to bet for men it is far more likely?

  8. Pelle Billing Says:

    @unomi
    “As for feminism correcting an imbalance that doesn’t exist: been to Afghanistan much lately?”

    Your statement here confirms how male issues have been made completely invisible. You think that it’s enough to even mention Afghanistan, since male issues aren’t talked about, only the female issues.

    But as Chris points out, male issues include being violently killed or maimed as well as being unjustly imprisoned. Other issues include performing all the dangerous jobs (and there are lots of those in underdeveloped countries), as well as being forced into warfare against your will.

  9. Eivind Says:

    Pelle,

    Given the conversation we had about the huge national fundraiser for Care recently, I thought at first that this blog entry was inspired by that conversation. But now that I see that it predates that, it just further confirms to me that something is not right with how we are looking at this 3rd world aid thing.

    CARE are quite proudly announcing their stats that suggest that when women get money, 90% goes back to the family and when men get money, 40% goes to the family (the rest generally goes to drinking, gambling and other shenanigans).

    I was really concerned when I saw one of Norway’s most famous male politicians comment on and confirm this. He said that when “men are given money, WE spend it on alcohol and gamling and such things”. Then he laughed somewhat shamefully. Here you have a, by most standards, powerful man, but I swear I saw his dick shrink as he said that. Talk about pounding your own gender into the dirt with pride. There is a self-destructive tendency in men these days due to the demonization at the hands of feminists that has reached to the very apex of the Norwegian power structure. Nobody seems unaffected.

    I would like to see these statistics, for I assume that they are based on real research. But when Obama’s sister – herself a CARE representative, flown over to Norway for the occasion – in a talk show was asked whether she had seen real life examples of these statistics being true, she laughed somewhat embarassedly before she confessed “no”. “But don’t call me a feminist,” she shrieked.

    Now, isn’t that interesting!

    Yet, let’s still give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that men in THIRD world countries only give 40% back to the family (I’m pretty sure that minister fares somewhat better, even though he was owning the shame as if it were his own), let’s look for reasons why? Could it be that the masculine psyche in these areas of the world has been completely broken after centuries of slavery and submission to imperialistic forces. Could it be that what is going on now – cultural imperialism, with feminism as the essential ingredient – is FURTHER DESTROYING that psyche? Are they just severely traumatized?

    I’m not seeing the problem being solved in that case. I’m just seeing fifty percent of the population being thrown to the dogs because we Westerners have decided that they are unreliable, violent and not altogether useful human beings.

    What a beautiful TV report they showed. The man used to be so violent. He was drinking and beating his wife every day. But the wife got money through CARE so that she could get him help and feed the family, and now everybody is happy. The wife saved the day and now the man has transcended his own base and evil ways. “I don’t beat her anymore,” he said with shame and some traces of relief.

    This, of course, is how it is with all families in Africa, not to mention the world. Women being beaten and drunk men beating. Yep, that’s it. Listen to the minister. He owns that shame just fine.

    Let’s stop the shaming, guys

    Eivind
    http://www.masculinity-movies.com

    PS! I give CARE money every month.

  10. unomi Says:

    As for Afghanistan, I would rather live when I’m alive and not be locked away in some man’s house my entire life. Learning how to read would be nice too.

    men and women are part of the same gender system and are assigned roles and tasks according to what works, not according to any kind of oppression

    Even if being a man is far from great, there is nothing that says that being a woman can’t be worse in some places. There are degrees in hell. Gay people and straight people are also part of the same “system” (whatever that means), but that doesn’t mean one group isn’t oppressing the other.

    Also, it would be nice to know where exactly women are being educated at the expense of men and what the size of the problem is.

  11. Chris Marshall Says:

    As for Afghanistan, I would rather live when I’m alive and not be locked away in some man’s house my entire life. Learning how to read would be nice too.

    What do you suppose men are doing when they are outside the house in afghanistan?

    I would imagine, largely, manual labor under harsh conditions, with every minute of their day accounted for.

    You make it sound like the hardest decision they face all day is which restaurant they are going to have lunch at.

    As for reading, I’ll bet there are lots of men in afghanistan who would like to learn how to read also.

    It would be interesting to know what the male vs female literacy rates are.

    I tried finding it in the world economic forum’s report but they didn’t cover Afghanistan. I wonder why they omitted it? I suppose it’s too dangerous right now to gather data. I couldn’t find Iraq in their list either.

    Even if being a man is far from great, there is nothing that says that being a woman can’t be worse in some places.

    True, and there is nothing that says that men can’t have it worse in other places (in reality I mean, not feminist fantasy), such as their likelihood of being violently attacked (or maimed or killed) during their life. Or the likelihood of someone taking a knife to their genitals without anethesia under non-sterile conditions (a near certainty for men in Afghanistan).

  12. Pelle Billing Says:

    @unomi:
    “Even if being a man is far from great, there is nothing that says that being a woman can’t be worse in some places. There are degrees in hell. Gay people and straight people are also part of the same “system” (whatever that means), but that doesn’t mean one group isn’t oppressing the other.”

    Sure, women can sometimes have it worse, and men can sometimes have it worse. Conditions flux and flow in any given society.

    However, oppression is something else… As Ken Wilber likes to say, “the only way a group can become oppressed is if it is fewer, dumber, or weaker than another”. Gays are fewer that straight men, therefore they can easily become oppressed. Blacks in the US were fewer than the whites, and could therefore be oppressed. However, women aren’t fewer than men, meaning that they need to be dumber or weaker in order to be oppressed – which is not a conclusion most women would appreciate.

  13. unomi Says:

    Women, on average, have less muscle mass than men do, they weigh less, and are shorter. There’s your “weaker”.

  14. unomi Says:

    Chris:

    Oppression in this case is about what men do to women, or vice versa. It is not about what men do to other men.

    Black people in America were not not-oppressed just because white people were killing each other in wars, in the streets, etc.

  15. Eivind Says:

    Unomi,

    By making the above statement, you conveniently leave out the ENORMOUS power present in feminine sexuality and emotionality.

    It is unfortunately an inevitable conclusion – whoever argues that women are victimized by men must also hold the opinion that the qualities inherent in the Feminine are not very powerful. Of course, this is the source of the widespread bias AGAINST the feminine among feminists.

    That said, that very power is so awesome that entire power structures have been erected to control it – the church comes to mind. So I do agree that oppression has taken place. Defining the modern woman based on resentment for things that happened hundreds of years ago (or happens today in other parts of the world) is not very helpful.

    I’m not saying you do that – don’t know you well enough – but many feminists do.

    Eivind

  16. Chris Marshall Says:

    Unomi:

    Black people in America were not not-oppressed just because white people were killing each other in wars, in the streets, etc.

    True, but the average black person was obviously worse off than the average white person. The slave masters were oppressing the slaves and deriving an obvious benefit from doing so. For example, a plantation owner would force a slave to work in his fields and sell the crops raised, only giving the slave food to eat and a place to sleep.

    You are suggesting that the average man’s lot in life could be as bad as or worse than the average woman’s in a country, and further suppose that women as a group could be oppressed by men as a group.

    If women are indeed oppressed in that sense, that would make them the only oppressed class in all of history whose oppressors went out into the fields every day and worked for them.


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