Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Gender Research Is Often Sexist

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Alex B. Berezow – the editor of RealClearScience.com – has written an excellent article about how gender research ends up being ideological and… yes, sexist.

He’s studied a ‘scientific’ paper where women and men were asked to look for sexist behaviors in their life. The result?

Based on a list of behaviors in the paper, sexism was essentially considered to be any differential treatment based on gender, regardless of whether it was good or bad. A man telling a woman to stay in the kitchen qualified as sexism. But a man opening a door for a woman or believing that women should be rescued first in a disaster qualified as “benevolent sexism.” Tired of hearing about sexism? That’s sexist, too.

As it turns out, if everything is defined as sexism, then sexism ends up being everywhere.

In Sweden, gender feminists often talk about ‘putting on your gender glasses’ so you can see all the sexism around you. Well, if you put on blue glasses then everything looks blue! This is exactly what the good dr Berezow has uncovered in his review of this piece of research.

Seeing the world through the lens of gender feminists, also means that you twist any kind of difference between male and female behavior as being negative for women. This leads to the construction of a bizarre terminology such as ‘benevolent sexism’. When women get the better deal then it is benevolent!

I couldn’t make this stuff up…

Gender feminists are also thoroughly unaware that their view of men is inherently sexist:

At the end of the article, the authors declare that men have a higher social status. (Isn’t that a sexist statement?) But worry not. They suggest that men can be trained to be more empathetic. (Isn’t that sexist?) While on a crusade to fight anti-female sexism, the authors overlook anti-male sexism.

Training your man – perhaps similarly to how you train your dog? – is not labeled as sexist. Can you imagine what would happen if a group of men publicly discussed training women to be more accommodating to men?

Finally, dr Berezow puts his finger on what many of us have long suspected. Gender research based on feminism rarely meets the demands of scientific objectivity:

The website of SAGE, which publishes the journal, describes it as a “feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal.” The authors also admit that their goal is to “reduce endorsement” of sexism. However, this constitutes a clear conflict of interest. A journal cannot state an ideological goal and simultaneously claim to be scientific. Would a global warming journal be taken seriously if it claimed “debunking the hoax” as one of its goals?

Let’s hope these kinds of analyses become more mainstream, so that gender research can be infused with a measure of objectivity, and the male sexism rooted out.

Applying Feminism to Third World Countries Is Problematic

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

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.

Looking Back at Feminism, 50 Years From Now

Monday, October 5th, 2009

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.

Where did feminism go wrong?

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

This is a question I often ask myself. How could a movement that originally was fighting to attain the simple goal of civil and legal equality between the sexes, turn into a radical feminist movement that considers all men to be inherently oppressive or even evil?

Sure, there are still many feminists who still belong to “old school” feminism, and they are usually very sane people. The best example is perhaps Christina Hoff-Sommers who has written a couple of excellent books about radical feminism and its unfortunate consequences in the US.

Let’s have a look at the factors that I believe turned feminism into a mess:

  1. There was a lack of clarity from the start of the feminist movement. Was it a movement for gender equality, or was it a movement that promoted women’s rights? This is a huge distinction, and the assumption that these two struggles are always compatible is far from true.
  2. This lack of clarity is also apparent in the name chosen for the movement. If it had been called equalism, then the end goal would have been clear. However, the name feminism implies that the end goal is female supremacy or something along those lines.
  3. By creating a strong feminist movement, men’s issues are automatically defined as being non-existent or at the very least far smaller than female issues (which is something I dispute in my writings). Originally this was less of a problem, since feminism was focusing on equal rights in society, which was an honorable struggle and a process that needed to happen. However, once equal rights had been implemented, feminism still assumed that women were far worse off than men, and more in need of a strong feminist movement than ever–without stepping back and looking at the wider picture, a picture which included men’s perspectives.
  4. Men have been far too silent in the gender debate, a silence which has probably been interpreted as men feeling guilty, or at the very least having no good arguments to counter the increased radicalization of feminist theory. This has allowed radical feminists to get more and more government grants and influence, which in turn has given them more resources to come up with ever more radical theories that make men responsible for every conceivable evil. Gender study departments in universities around the world, can now hide behind the respectable façade of higher education and use tax payers’ money to promote the theories of radical feminism.
  5. Radical feminism absolves women from personal responsibility in their lives. It’s all the fault of the patriarchy, a mythical structure which means that men always get the good deal in life… This is a seductive stance for young women, especially if a university teacher that you respect tells you that this is how the world works. This means that equity feminism and other branches of old school feminism, that emphasize women’s personal responsibility in creating better lives for themselves, have a harder time gaining new adherents.

There are many more factors of course, but these are some of the key points in my opinion. Feel free to add your own points in the comments.

Research dismisses the validity of gender studies

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

A couple of months ago, a Swedish researcher called Helen Lindberg presented her doctoral thesis called Only Women Bleed?: A Critical Reassessment of Comprehensive Feminist Social Theory.

In her thesis she has evaluated four different feminist theories, with regard to internal coherence, and their usefulness as theories in a research context:

Is there a viable specifically feminist social theory that can serve as heuristic devise in our social research? This thesis is a critical reassessment of the ontological and normative assumptions of four social theories with specific and clear claims of being feminist. These are Catharine M MackInnon’s Radical Feminism, Anna G Jonasdottir’s Theory of Love Power, Luce Irigaray’s Feminism of Sexual Difference and Judith Butler’s Queer Feminism.

The English abstract only summarizes her findings on the internal coherence of these feminist theories in very general terms:

The feminist social theories are examined and critically discussed according to their internal coherence and their external relevance; which includes the normative political implications that can be inferred.

However, in the more extensive Swedish abstract, she clearly states that all of these four feminist theories show a lack of internal coherency, meaning that they are filled with contradictions that cannot be reconciled.

Similarly, when she talks about the usefulness of feminist theory within the context of research (such as the entire field of gender studies), she is very conservative in the English abstract:

The thesis claims that implicit in every comprehensive feminist approach, there is also a specific view of science. Then follows a meta-inquiry of comprehensive feminisms as social science and as social theories, including a discussion of the effects of comprehensive ideology on social science research in general, and of the relationship between ideology, theory and a scientific approach in particular. The thesis concludes that it is highly problematic to do science feministly, but that we do need the critical questions feminists raise in order to reevaluate concepts, theories and research priorities. It is argued that feminist social theories are perhaps most helpful as ideological guidance for political action.

Still, if you read the parts I made bold, you realize that her criticism of feminist theory is pretty severe. I will also translate part of the Swedish text, so that you can grasp the full extent of her criticism:

The thesis demonstrates that these four feminist theories about society each turn out to be unsatisfactory as tools in social science research since they rest on strong ideological premises and demonstrate a lack of internal consistency. Even though the theories appear to be different, they display two common theoretical weaknesses where one follows logically from the other. First of all, they all use structuralistic and therefore deterministic assumptions about the relationship between the individual and society which leaves little room for individual agency and thinking, which in turn leaves little room for developing and changing society. The theories therefore display a theoretical and empirical ignorance of the multidimensionality of society, and variance at the individual level. Furthermore, the thesis discusses the political goals and action plans that can be derived from their ideological and theoretical content, and finds that where they aren’t Utopia-like, they are unilaterally reduced to a monolithic identity or are normatively underdeveloped and unclear. Finally the relationship between science, politics and ideology is problematized in a general way, and feminism as science, politics and ideology in a specific way. To be able to conduct social science research about gender relations-the author claims-it isn’t useful to use the examined feminist theories, since they are too ideological and theoretically underdeveloped. They should instead be judged and valued the same way other normative and ideological theories are, such as Marxism, especially when it comes to their critical role in defining problems and acting as guides in political practice.

The short version of what she’s saying is that using feminist theory as the basis for conducting research, is about as useful as using Marxist theory to conduct research. This confirms what I’ve long been suspecting: gender studies are not a scientific discipline, they are a method for applying a certain ideology onto whatever data you collect during your “research”.


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