Posts Tagged ‘visionary’

Healthy vs Unhealthy Feminism

Friday, March 6th, 2009

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.

The Culture of Victimhood

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Once upon a time it was considered morally desirable to be a person who took responsibility for your own actions. This was before we reached a cultural awareness of how prejudices, roles and external structures affect the lives of different groups of people. Once we gained insight into the ubiquity of these external structures, and how we are all influenced by them in different ways, we seemed to forget the concept of personal accountability.

Contemporary culture has a real tendency to assume everyone to be a victim, in some way or other. We live in a veritable age of victimhood, where people portray themselves as hapless and powerless individuals who don’t have any impact on their own lives.

“I cannot be successful at work because I’m a woman”
“I’m too old to be hired”
“I get bad grades because my teachers don’t understand me”
“My upbringing prevents me from having a good relationship”
“My genes prevent me from losing weight”

As you can see, victimhood goes way beyond being the victim of cultural structures, you can also be the victim of parents, genes, teachers, etc.

What to Do?

I believe that it’s fully possible to reclaim our lost sense of individual responsibility, while still seeing how we’re affected by cultural constructions and external circumstances. In fact, I believe it’s vital that we do this, since being stuck in a victim mentality means that we become passive and increasingly bitter about the perceived injustices surrounding us.

Individual responsibility does not mean that we are to be blamed for the existing external structures and prejudices! Being responsible is simply a recognition that all human beings are moral agents, who influence the world according to their own standards and beliefs. The world may influence you, but you also influence the world.

Regardless of what societal patterns are holding you down or working against you, you have the potential to implement change, and to do the best you can in any situation.

I’m not specifically talking about people who truly are victims of irreversible conditions, such as being born with a physical handicap. Still, you can always do your best given the circumstances you’ve been given, and within those limits you are completely responsible for your own life.

Feminism and Personal Accountability

So how is all of this related to the gender debate? The most obvious connection is the claimed victimhood of women that feminist discourse has never been able to transcend. Perhaps more than any other group, feminist women talk about how victimhood is at the core of their experience.

Somehow feminists haven’t been able to reconcile the claim that women are victims, and the claim that women are strong and perfectly capable individuals. I believe that this internal contradiction of feminism is due to two factors:

1. Feminism fails to distinguish between the personal and the political, instead claiming that “the personal is political”. However, this stance makes it difficult to see that you are always accountable and have significant power on a personal level, even if societal structures limit you in certain ways.

2. Feminism holds men personally responsible for the structures that oppress women, instead of recognizing that these structures have crystallized into being due to survival instincts and biological differences between the sexes. This second failure to see the difference between the personal and structural, leads to women feeling like victims on a personal level. After all, if men are personally responsible for having oppressed women, are women then not personally responsible for having accepted this oppression?

The feminist conflation of the personal and the political, keeps a lot of women from seeing what I believe to be a core truth: there is no contradiction between fully exploring how your gender role has kept you from living the life you want, and accepting full responsibility for your own life!

Future Gender Warriors

It’s also very important for men not to fall into the “victim trap”, once we start seeing and exploring how societal structures and our gender role have constricted or even oppressed us, simply because we are men. Even as we are mapping out how the traditional male gender role is limiting, and how feminist theory has added new ways of keeping men down, we can still retain our sense of agency and trust in our ability to effect change.

Men and women alike who are aspiring to move beyond the rhetoric of feminism, need to avoid making the mistake that feminism made regarding personal accountability and victimhood.

As long as you’re accountable you can also change your circumstances, but as soon as you label yourself a victim you can only endure your circumstances. This is a key distinction! Needless to say, no constructive social change has ever been implemented by people who act or think like victims.

Financial and Social Capital

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

In the current gender debate, feminism often highlights how men tend to work more in the public sphere, and thereby earn more money. Men are said to be powerful since men are usually the primary or only breadwinner of the household, and therefore in control of the financial capital of the family.

While there is certainly some truth in this way of looking at things, feminism completely ignores the corresponding power that women have. Men may be in control of the financial capital, but women are completely dominant when it comes to social capital. So what do I mean by social capital?

Social Capital

In your average human family, the woman is the adult who forms close and loving relationships with the children, since she is the primary caretaker. The man’s relationship to the children very often goes through the mother, since he spends a lot of time away from home and also does not have the skills necessary to form these kinds of connections.

Women are also much more likely to have a circle of close friends; friendships that aren’t dependent on having the same hobby or the same job. All in all women are better at forming and maintaining nurturing relationships, as well as having the emotional self-awareness and ability to express emotions that are necessary within close relationships.

Women get to learn and practice these relationship skills within the traditional female gender role, while men do not get this practice within their gender role, so we need to acknowledge that women very often wield significant power through these close bonds to children and friends. Feminism often emphasizes how the female gender role disempowers women in various ways, while conveniently forgetting all the examples of how women are empowered by their role – and social capital is indeed one way that women are empowered.

What Happens After a Divorce?

In a traditional couple, the man thus has better access to financial capital, whereas the woman has better access to social capital. As long as the couple stays married, the man will share his financial resources with the woman, and she will share her social resources with him. This way a reasonable balance is achieved that benefits both partners.

But what happens after a divorce? Does each partner take his or her resources and leave, or are they obligated to share some of their resources with their partner?

In all modern countries that I know of, the financial resources are split evenly in case of divorce, and in some countries the man is also obligated to pay monthly alimony to support his previous wife. It’s safe to say that there is a real transfer of financial capital from the man to the woman, though the exact amount will depend on the laws of a certain country.

However, in no country that I know of is the woman obligated to share any of her social capital with the man! One could of course argue that it’s impossible to legislate anything about human relationships, but even culturally speaking, outside the legal arena, there is no moral agreement that financial resources should be matched by social capital.

If children are part of the equation, the scenario usually becomes even more unfair from the perspective of the man. Whenever there is a custody dispute, courts tend to favor the mother, since she is the primary caregiver. This leads to yet another example of the man having to pay money without getting any social capital back.

A man who pays child support without having regular access to his children, is giving up part of his income but not getting any social capital in return. The woman, on the other hand, gets to keep all of her social capital (her connections to her children), while still getting financial capital from her former husband.

What Happens When We Help Only Women?

As we just saw, most modern countries have laws that protect women after a divorce, whereas men have no safety net. What are the consequences of only caring for women?

The message that is sent to men is that men are only valued according to how they perform in the public sphere, i.e. how much money they can earn for themselves and their (ex-)family. When there are no legal or cultural codes that defend men’s rights to have access to the social capital created by the family before the divorce, we tell men that their role as father and loving parent is not valued or important.

During the past few decades women have been taught how to make a living in the public sphere, and cultural and legal changes have been made to accommodate this transition. If we want men to not only be silent providers without an emotional connection to their children and spouse, then we need to teach men how to form and maintain close, nurturing bonds. Furthermore, on a societal level we need to make the cultural – and perhaps legal – changes necessary to support men in navigating this transition.

For example, one legal change that would be perfectly plausible is to always connect child support to shared custody rights, unless it is demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the father is unsuitable to be a parent.

I’m not saying that men will necessarily choose to stay home with their children to the extent that women do, or that women will choose to work as much outside the home as men do, since those choices rest with the individual. But what is clear to me is that overly polarized gender roles have become outdated, and when we transcend these outdated gender roles, we need to help both sexes, and understand where each sex is coming from.

Feminism is a lousy name…

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

… for a movement that wants to create a better world by reforming gender roles.

I’ve often heard the claim that feminism is about achieving gender equality, and rectifying all kinds of social injustices that exist around the world. But there is a clear disparity between the word “feminism” and the agenda that the feminist movement claims to have. The word “feminism” implies a movement that focuses on women’s issues and women’s rights; it does not imply a movement that is working to reform gender roles for both sexes in a constructive manner.

At first glance this might seem like I’m nitpicking. After all, didn’t we need a women’s movement to allow women to enter the public sphere where they could work, vote and have their voice heard? We certainly did need (and in some countries still need) a movement that fought for women’s rights and responsibilities in the public sphere; however, I don’t believe that feminism was a good choice of name for such a movement. The intention that a name sets is tremendously important, and ‘feminism’ irrevocably sets the intention to only look at gender issues from women’s perspective, and to always assume that women get a bad deal in every situation – or at the very least a worse deal than men do. Furthermore, ‘feminism’ seems to imply that the end goal is a world where women are on top and where women dominate men.

I truly believe that a gender liberation movement was needed around the time that feminism arose, and that it has been needed ever since. What I don’t believe though is that it makes any sense to name such a movement ‘feminism’, whether we’re talking about the present day or the end of the 19th century when feminism crystallized into being. The intention to change gender roles for the better would have been much better served by calling it a “gender liberation movement” or a “gender equality movement”.

A gender liberation movement would be at liberty to look at gender issues freely, taking the perspectives of men and women as needed, thereby noticing that the gender role of men is as constricted as that of women. Men have a unique set of challenges to face, many of which are unknown or ignored by mainstream media, and as long as the word “feminism” denotes the only strong voice in the gender debate, then all male issues will continue to be suppressed. I’ll be writing a lot more about these men’s issues in coming posts, since I believe that men (and women) deserve a much more nuanced and accurate description of what gender roles really mean for both sexes, not only how women have been limited by their gender role.

Letting go of feminism wouldn’t mean any loss for women either, since a gender liberation movement would continue to look at all the issues women face, and work to improve them. In fact, I believe that a gender liberation movement would be much more effective in achieving real results, since men and women have co-created this world together, and we will only be able to change it by working together. The only thing that women stand to lose by letting go of feminism is the false sense of victimhood and entitlement that feminist theory can sometimes instill.

The time has come to move beyond feminism, and to liberate men and women alike. Are you ready to have your notions about gender issues challenged?


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