Looking Back at Feminism, 50 Years From Now

October 5th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

What will people think of feminism 50 years from now, or however long it takes for a more balanced view of gender issues to permeate society?

The first question will likely be: how could we let it go so far? How could men be seen as the oppressors and sole winners in the gender role system when

  • The vast majority of homeless people and prison inmates are men
  • The vast majority of people who die in work related accidents are men
  • The only group of people forced to fight in wars are men

What kind of patriarchy protects its men in such a lousy way? Well, it’s certainly not a patriarchy designed to give men all the perks while leaving women empty-handed (women are the only oppressed class in history who had their oppressors go out and work in the fields for them, as Farrell says).

The second question would likely be how feminism could ever have been looked upon as revolutionary, when it simply perpetuates the view that men are responsible for society while women are seen as not affecting society at all through their lives and choices. That’s a weird way of looking at things once you start thinking about it, but it is one of the root assumptions of contemporary feminism.

Feminism’s belief that women do not have agency and are constant victims of “structures”, while men have nothing but agency and cannot be the victim of structures, is so simplistic that it wouldn’t have been believable if it didn’t play into our deepest instincts. These deep instincts tell us to protect women and children at all costs, and in turn make us listen without demanding proof when a group of women (i.e. feminists) say that they are victims and need more protection.

Anyone who’s interested in truly revolutionizing gender roles (I’m not, by the way), would have passed a law forbidding men to enter combat while forcing women into combat through an exclusively female draft or military service. However, such a proposal–though truly revolutionary in the very spirit that feminism claims to be representing–will never see the light of day since it violates the most basic principle of our gender roles: protect women, let men take the risks.

Feminists have demanded more freedom and better protection for women, but they have never demanded that women take more risks and that men be better protected. There is no outcry about men dying or being injured at dangerous jobs. There’s no lobbying to have women be better represented in the “death professions” that men dominate.

When looking back at feminism 50 years from now, people will likely say that feminism did get one thing right; it opened up our eyes to gender roles, and that there is a lot of room for improvement in both gender roles. We need movements that work with gender issues, and most of all we need men and women who truly care about these issues. However, feminism is not the movement that can make change happen in a constructive way, being far too polarizing and one-sided to be able to see the full spectrum of gender dynamics.

In fact, as long as feminism is seen as the one-stop shop for discussing gender issues, we run the risk of creating more tension and more of a gender war than was ever needed. But if we can let go of feminism sooner rather than later, we will be judged more favorably in the future, and I won’t have to change the title of this post to Looking Back at Feminism, 150 Years From Now.

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29 Responses to “Looking Back at Feminism, 50 Years From Now”

  1. Chris Marshall Says:

    That was a nicely put together post.

    My favorite sentence was this one:

    Feminism’s belief that women do not have agency and are constant victims of “structures”, while men have nothing but agency and cannot be the victim of structures, is so simplistic that it wouldn’t have been believable if it didn’t play into our deepest instincts

    I believe I’ll be using the point about agency in my dinner party feminism conversations for some time to come ;-)

    Moving the discussion along however …

    I have found that I keep asking myself to what degree feminism is a cause and to what degree it is a mere symptom.

    For the last 50 years, women have become more and more a part of the work force and have developed their abilities in the deeply skilled/trained professions (medicine, law, engineering, …). The countries that figured out how to make that happen were destined to take resources and mind-share away from the countries that didn’t, since they were doubling their workforce.

    There are lots of ways in which powerful people/forces would want to accelerate this process. To name just one, when a woman works outside the home, her labor is taxed, and when she stays home it is not. So those forces in government that seek to increase its power and influence would have reason to encourage women to leave the home and participate in the workforce.

    To name another economic force at work, the family court system in the U.S. is rewarded with federal funds when it increases the total amount of child support paid by fathers. Feminists may like the idea of a woman being able to easily divorce (without having to show fault on her husband’s part) her husband, separate him from his children, and get him to pay for the whole mess to boot (alimony plus child support), but the judges/legislatures who run the show *are paid to make it happen*.

    Just because feminist theory justifies increasing the role of women in the workplace and decreasing it in the home, does not mean it had played a decisive role in making that happen.

    I think figuring out precisely which economic forces are at work is at least as important as deconstructing feminist theory.

  2. Toysoldier Says:

    I have generally thought of feminism as an idea that looks good on paper, but one that falls apart when actually applied to real situations. Feminism at best appears to be an ideology that should have been the springboard to something bigger and better. Unfortunately, not only has that not come to pass, but feminists actually go out of their way to prevent feminism from being replaced by a better, all-encompassing movement. While I do not think the men’s movement is necessarily that bigger, better thing, it is certainly a part of it. When history looks back, what will be seen is an ideology that opposed the betterment of half the human population solely on the grounds that those people’s lives appeared to be better.

    Ultimately, I think that feminism will be looked upon in the same manner that my generation, Gen Y, looks upon communism (for the few of us who actually know what it is). It will be something people will hear about or read about and say, “Why would anyone do something like that?”

  3. Danny Says:

    Pelle:
    Anyone who’s interested in truly revolutionizing gender roles (I’m not, by the way), would have passed a law forbidding men to enter combat while forcing women into combat through an exclusively female draft or military service.
    Actually I not forbid men and force women for that would go against equality (but I’m sure many feminists would not complain about such an arrangement). If anything in an ideal world neither would be forced but if the time came then both would be forced. In the spirit of equality and all that.

    Chris:
    Just because feminist theory justifies increasing the role of women in the workplace and decreasing it in the home, does not mean it had played a decisive role in making that happen.
    True but I think that this has been overused by people who are trying to protect feminist theory from criticism. Notice the oratory judo when someone criticizes a feminist’s words and feminists defend the base concept of feminism instead of the words that were actually spoken. Just like feminists say men who don’t actively participate in the oppression are still supporting the patriarchy feminists who turn a blind eye to certain issues (just by luck the ones that benefit feminists and women) should be holding themselves responsible. You can’t say that a man that doesn’t call out the misogyny of another man is supporting patriarchy but then say nothing about the feminists (and I’m saying feminists because they sometimes have a tendency to let each other off the hook for things they would never let anyone else get away with) that perpetuate the idea that the only reason a man is not in his child’s life is because he must have ran out on them.

    TS:
    I have generally thought of feminism as an idea that looks good on paper, but one that falls apart when actually applied to real situations.
    I think the reason it falls apart is because of the people that apply it not the idea itself. At its base feminism is supposed to a movement with the goal of helping all people with an emphasis on women/girls. At face value most people can get along with the idea of helping all people and see nothing wrong with the idea of choosing to help women/girls FIRST. The problem comes when that FIRST becomes ONLY and it happens because of the people that are applying feminism to real situations. On paper feminism would at the least acknowledge (they don’t have to stop helping women to come help men but refusal to acknowledge it is the same silencing they would not and should not put up with when it comes to the systematic mistreatment and hatred of women) that there is systematic mistreatment and hatred of men. It may not be the same as what women experience it may not be as bad as what women experience but it is there. Problem is the people who apply feminism to real situations selectively ignore the systematic hatred and mistreatment of men unless it can somehow be tied back to what women go through.

    In fact TS your site and your topics are a good example of this. You mainly focus on male victims of abuse at the hands of women. You yourself have often commented on how feminists will on one hand proclaim to care about all victims of abuse but on the other as soon as actual male victims start talking they go right into silencing them. Its pretty well accepted that those who are abused and do not heal properly have an increased chance to become abusers themselves. So with that in mind why is it that feminists, in their crusade to help all people, don’t want to hear from male victims until a few decades later when they grow up and start abusing women themselves? Sure they have no problem dragging adult David through the mud when he is a 46 year old violent man that abuses his wife but where is that concern for 8 year old little David is being raped by his aunt and kept quiet because she convinced him that no one would believe him and since she had power and he didn’t he deserved to be abused. Or 18 year old David who is finally 18 and able to try to find help outside his abusive home and abusive/complacent family but is turned away because “women don’t abuse children”?

    But have no problem telling David that he should support feminism while at the same time telling him to be quiet about an issue he knows firsthand.

    The problem isn’t the idea its the people that are carrying it out and that is why you find open minded feminists as well as closed minded ones.

  4. Jim Says:

    Danny, this is the deal with David: actually fixing the problem requries attention to the facts of each indivudla case. That complicates theorizing and makes grand, dramatic totaling pronouncements look more than a little stupid. Can’t have that; that’s what we get paid to speechify on. It means treating people as individuals and not statistics. That doesn’t make you look very academic, now, does it?

    No. And besides, waiting for David to finally break down and act out re-inforces all your comfortable man-hating prejudices you learned at your grandmother;’s knee. men are pigs, they only want one thing, they’re the Big Bad Wolf – all that oh-so-modern, feminist stuff (or at least you have been led to think that’s feminist.) It confirms all the catechism about the Patriarchy you memorized when you got your consciousness raised. And more than that, really looking at David in his full humanity is going to force you to confront and analyze your entire worldview. Figure the odds.

    Really Danny, what are you asking of people?

  5. Danny Says:

    My bad Jim. I suppose asking people to actually investigate instead of using “for the most part…” like descriptions as one size fits all labels.

    And I have to wonder about the people who want to stop little David from being abused but only want to talk about his abuse when it suits them namely when his abuser is male or when down the road he becomes a parent and abuses David Jr. But if the abuser is female or David wants a chance to speak up then its of no use to them

  6. Toysoldier Says:

    At face value most people can get along with the idea of helping all people and see nothing wrong with the idea of choosing to help women/girls FIRST. The problem comes when that FIRST becomes ONLY and it happens because of the people that are applying feminism to real situations.

    The problem is that FIRST typically becomes ONLY. The same thing has happened with every other movement similar to feminism in that respect. The other problem is that one cannot truly begin to address a problem if one always places one group ahead of another. That essentially contradicts the purported purpose of feminism, which is supposedly to create equality. That is why feminism sounds good in theory, but in practice does not work very well. That individual feminists are concerned about men’s issues is a reflection of their individual positions and views, not the ideology they follow, which can be shown by the fact that they often have to change or ignore aspects of feminism in order to rationalize their concern for men.

    Ultimately the ideas must have some effect on people otherwise ideologies serve no real purpose.

  7. Danny Says:

    You know Pelle rereading this post I think what you may be doing is confusing the feminist with feminism. Now I’m not trying to say I agree that feminists should be allowed to hide behind this smokescreen each time a feminist is criticized. I’m just saying that I think the problem is not with the base ideas of feminism but instead its with the people who take those base ideas and either twist them to their own ends, hold onto an incorrect interpretation or the ideas, or apply them only when they suit their prejudices and biases.

  8. Pelle Billing Says:

    Well, I think that the most basic assumption of feminism (the female gender role is worse than the male gender role) is questionable. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it’s a matter of preference. Would you have more freedom and be disposable, or would you have less freedom and be safe(r)?

    The very name feminism indicates that you are sure that women have it far worse than men.

  9. Chris Marshall Says:

    Pelle:

    I’m not saying it’s wrong

    Why would you hesitate to say that the assertion that ‘the female gender role is worse than the male gender role’ is wrong?

  10. Pelle Billing Says:

    Chris:

    Can anyone really know for sure which gender role is worse? What I usually say is that each role has it’s unique set of challenges and it doesn’t make much sense to compare them.

    What is wrong though, is to claim that one knows for a fact that the female gender role is worse. That statement is virtually impossible to prove, and it’s also (to some extent) a matter of opinion what you think about each gender role and it’s specific disadvantages. Like I said, would you rather be more disposable and have more freedom, or would you rather be less disposable and have less freedom?

    Perhaps this deserves a blog post in its own right: Which Gender Role Is Worse?

  11. Chris Marshall Says:

    Pelle:

    Can anyone really know for sure which gender role is worse?

    I don’t think you can prove which role is worse overall. You can certainly make strong arguments about specific ways in which each role is worse than the other. I certainly agree that trying to accurately weigh the male and female disadvantage lists and conclude that one is worse is nonsense.

    Which is all the more reason to look down on a statement like ‘the female gender role is worse than the male gender role’ by saying that it is ‘wrong.’ You seemed to be backing away from claiming that.

    The only objection I can see to saying that ‘that statement is wrong’ is that that can be interpreted as saying the statement ‘the male gender role is worse’ is right, which is equally absurd.

  12. Pelle Billing Says:

    I agree Chris.

    I might still do a blog post about it, cause it’s an interesting subject.

  13. Jay R Says:

    Chris,

    Go ahead and pick any objective measure: rates of suicide, homicide, disease, injury, incarceration, family alienation, poverty, death, etc., and try to argue with a straight face that women’s roles are not IN FACT generally better than men’s. Women’s primary complaint is that, throughout history, they have been the protected, privileged class. Now they want all the same protections, but do not want to pay any price in terms of restrictions, responsibilities, respect for men’s sacrifice, etc.

    Of course the ultimate measure of success for any organism is reproductive success. Genetic studies inform us that, through the ages, 80% of women reproduced. In contrast, only 40% of men ever reproduced. As the precious, protected source of children and childcare, women had to live with some restrictions. Men, often, didn’t get to live at all. Who had it rough?

    It was tough being a man, and it still is. Men continue to MAKE most of the money, while women continue to SPEND most of the money. The difference? Men USED to get a little respect, and maybe even a little affection, for sacrificing themselves for women and children — literally.

    The primary promoters of women as wage-and-tax slaves? I agree these are government and business, using feminism as their “useful idiot.” However, the primary promoter of the current hostility toward everything male? Feminism, which is, notwithstanding any “version” of the philosophy, by the very term, inherently exclusive of male interests, and thus dismissive of, if not outright hostile to, men. A basically corrupt philosophy can never be applied in anything other than a corrupt manner. The problem is feminism itself. Something which is inherently biased can never be the source of “equality.”

    Pelle, excellent work, as usual.

  14. Danny Says:

    I certainly agree that trying to accurately weigh the male and female disadvantage lists and conclude that one is worse is nonsense.
    Yet that does not stop feminists from selectively bringing up which gender has it worse and oddly they only bring it up when females have it worse.

  15. Jim Says:

    “I don’t think you can prove which role is worse overall. ”

    If the contention is that gender roles are culturally based, and it generally is forr the feminist side of the debate, then it is absolutely to be specific about which culture(s) are being considered or commented on, because cultures vary.

    Totalizing comments such as “For the past 10,000 years blah blah” should just be dismissed as undergraduate twaddle – lazy and illiterate.

    Comments that drag in examples from Saudi Arabia should be denounced as simple bad manners, because the commenter is unilaterally changing the subject. “Sorry your mother died before she could teach you any manners, but you obviously still need to be house-broken” is a start.

    The issue is the cultures we find ourselves in and grow up in. These are generally Northern or Western European (where women are often favored in law and custom, often in quite substantial ways). Those generally are not Southern Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Indian or African. We can start with this simple rule.

  16. Chris Marshall Says:

    JayR:

    I sympathize with the points you make in your post. I just have a different style. Being overtly confrontational has just never gotten me anywhere in life.

    Of course the ultimate measure of success for any organism is reproductive success. Genetic studies inform us that, through the ages, 80% of women reproduced. In contrast, only 40% of men ever reproduced. As the precious, protected source of children and childcare, women had to live with some restrictions. Men, often, didn’t get to live at all. Who had it rough?

    The 80/40 numbers you mention are a great way to put history into prespective, especially as a counter to the oft heard ‘women have had it so rough for 10000 years.’

    Actually, I would strengthen the part about ‘women had to live with some restrictions’ in the direction of sympathizing with men more. I don’t think the restrictions put on women were any worse than the restrictions put on men. Isn’t being forced into battle (or otherwise a risky life style) a restriction?

    My bottom line on gender is this: society encourages men to take great risks with their lives and discounts their close relationships with their families, while it encourages women to raise families and discounts their ambitions (in commerce and education). It’s not a big deal if a man dies in a war, or early from the stress of running a company. It’s also not a big deal if a talented woman doesn’t get much of an education, or doesn’t get to start a company.

  17. Jay R Says:

    Chris,

    Thank you for the thoughtful response!

  18. Danny Says:

    Isn’t being forced into battle (or otherwise a risky life style) a restriction?
    It most certainly is. Why do you think the government decides when and who to fight but its the military not the government, the ones that chose to fight, that does the fighting.

    My bottom line on gender is this: society encourages men to take great risks with their lives and discounts their close relationships with their families, while it encourages women to raise families and discounts their ambitions (in commerce and education). It’s not a big deal if a man dies in a war, or early from the stress of running a company. It’s also not a big deal if a talented woman doesn’t get much of an education, or doesn’t get to start a company.
    I agree with JayR that this is a very thoughtful. All too often when it comes to people of gender rights we will speak of the suffering and plights of one group while actively denying the suffering and plight of other groups (I don’t say “the other group” on account of people who do not abide by the two gender binary of male or female). You’re not going to fix the world by telling some groups to “wait and see” while other groups get full attention.

  19. Jim Says:

    “You’re not going to fix the world by telling some groups to “wait and see” while other groups get full attention.”

    No. But you are going to pander either to a self-image as the fainty dainty who needs and can demand protection or to a self-image of th big, bad-ass protector.

    “My bottom line on gender is this: society encourages men to take great risks with their lives and discounts their close relationships with their families,…’

    Warfare is the common extreme example people use to illustrate this, with the standard response “Well how many men does that really affect these days” (As if that objection is ever allowed when the 10,000 years of patriarchal oppression are dragged out.) The better examples are the dangerous jobs many, many men still do and the overwhelmingly male incidence of workplace death and injury.

    Juyst now there is a lot of opining that mens’ tendency to take risks is what landed the US/Uk in the present economic mess. Womens’ consumption habits had absolutely nothing whatsoever do with it, naturally. The opining continues on to say that women would not have made the same mistakes. Of course not, that’s the point. Women “have people for that kind of thing.”

  20. Toysoldier Says:

    Just now there is a lot of opining that mens’ tendency to take risks is what landed the US/Uk in the present economic mess. Womens’ consumption habits had absolutely nothing whatsoever do with it, naturally. The opining continues on to say that women would not have made the same mistakes.

    That will likely be another aspect of feminism that in 50 years will be looked down upon in the same way that we now look down on the hypocrisy of the founders of the US demanding freedom while keeping a large portion of the population enslaved.

    It is a difficult sell to say that all bad things stem solely from one group’s risk-taking while claiming that another group’s constant consumerism has zero impact on the decisions that were made, particularly since the economy is driven in part by the demands of the market. It could reasonably be argued that if there had not been such high demands for low mortgages, loans and other goods that those on Wall Street may not have made the decisions that eventually crippled the US economy, which in turn damaged the global economy.

  21. Pelle Billing Says:

    The Swedish bank that has taken the largest and most stupid risks, thereby coming the closest to bankruptcy, has a majority of women on its board. This is not to say that men don’t take more risks, because men do take more risks. However, male risk taking has built our civilization, so it certainly has its upsides too.

    Risk taking is a good thing, if it is properly managed by laws and regulations.

  22. Toysoldier Says:

    Unfortunately, that insight has been lost on many in the media who instead choose to frame risk-taking as an inherently bad thing.

  23. zaskoda Says:

    Very well said. Thank you.

  24. Ashiata Sheimash Says:

    In a sense, feminism is subverting many many assumed forms of behavior in our Western world. What women are now finding are new breeds of behavior from men that are puzzling, frustrating and shocking. Men are finding new survival techniques amongst these new social mores. In many cases men are avoiding women altogether.

    As far as workplace policy goes, if a company put men and women into separate departments, there would be a huge boost in productivity. Feminism will not have that, because it aims to take the fruits and prestige away from men.

  25. hampus Says:

    Chris says:

    “My bottom line on gender is this: society encourages men to take great risks with their lives and discounts their close relationships with their families, while it encourages women to raise families and discounts their ambitions (in commerce and education). It’s not a big deal if a man dies in a war, or early from the stress of running a company. It’s also not a big deal if a talented woman doesn’t get much of an education, or doesn’t get to start a company.”

    I do not know the debate in your country, but in Sweden it actually IS a big deal when women do not get their desired education (even in a situation where 60% of college graduees are women in total, and the discussed educations have severly skewed gender representations, in some cases as far as 90% women compared to 10% men)) and it IS a big deal here when women do not achieve economical or political power. And it seems to be a big deal in Europe en large, since positive affirmation is being popularly considered in several countries for what is regarded as power-sated top positions in European societies.

    Here in Sweden, (a bit summarizing) our media is simultaneously argueing against positive affirmative actions when men as a minority group apply for college educations e.g., but condone at the very same time for such actions to be desirable if and only women are identified as being the gender that is being discriminated.

    And at the same time, men are being blamed for all war actions.

    So, in Sweden, yes it is a big deal if a woman is not granted political or economical power and yes it is a big deal when men kill people, during war duty (this making men evil, but not exploring the fact that the young man was forced into battle), only recently having been abolished. But already media is gathering arguments for mandatory military male service…

    And it ISN’T a big deal in each and every case where men’s disadvantages in society have been identified, just as it ISN’t a big deal when women find themselves in very advantageous positions versus men.

    By the Swedish feministic debate.

    Now, of course, you may have a view upon gender roles that each gender is expected to fulfill certain duties, but feminist rethorics neither acknowledge the need of demands to be explained female careerseekers nor mens sacrifices, where women always and continously are being portrayed as victims no matter of what, and men as evil perpertrators of all evil crimes imaginable.

    I would very easily agree on dimorphic gender roles, but only if these are being evaluated in a fair mannner.

    In short, regardless of whether you believe in a genderbased dimorphic society or a total equalistic one, wouldn’t it in either case be a very moderate and fair expectation of a society to acknowledge both genders on equal reasoning basis?

    And this is where I disagree with Chris: no, men and women are not being equally judged, appreciated nor compared under a feministicly influenced debate.

  26. Andreas Dahlin Says:

    It’s an interesting post, I ‘ve also been thinking about it. Where will it all end? For Sweden and most of Europe, feminism is clearly gaining more and more power as an ideology for the government to follow and never disobey. For instance, gender-quoutes for people in companies is becoming reality in the form of laws.

    I think eventually people must realize the madness we are giving in to, but it may well take more than 50 years I’m afraid. We will look back at the 21st century and wonder how we could have been so stupid. This is pretty much what we do every century I guess.

  27. Chris Marshall Says:

    Ashiata Sheimash wrote:

    What women are now finding are new breeds of behavior from men that are puzzling, frustrating and shocking.

    I am curious what new behaviors you are thinking of here.

  28. Marichy Says:

    a-d, that’s not really an aptropriape question.Brad Wow, I am so not up on feminist theory, I can’t even begin to tell you the answer to either of your questions. I’m an in-the-trenches, learn-as-you-go kind of feminist rather than a Womens’ Studies Major kind of feminist. I’d try looking up a Womens’ Studies program syllabus to find the current state of feminism, and hunt up a blog on feminist theory for your other question.

  29. ボッテガ バッグ Says:

    Fascinating site, I like it very much. Good work ! Nice post.


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