Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Human Issue

By Elizabeth Winkler

Today – for the second time in my life – I heard a guy describe himself as a feminist. I’m not saying that I haven’t met men before who didn’t support gender equality (although they might not have put it in quite those terms), but it is undeniably rare to hear the word ‘feminist’ issue from the male mouth. As a feminist, I’ve learned to expect this, though I’ve never ceased to be disturbed by it. And so the question must be asked: what is it about feminism that has rendered it so taboo, for men as well as for a surprising number of women?

The inequality of men and women – in legal terms, the business world, popular culture, and the home – has been distorted as a problem that pertains only to those who stand in an obvious position at the receiving end of inequity. These inequities have thus been termed “girls’ problems” and “women’s issues." However, when women are abused at college parties, sexualized in the media, refused the right to control their own bodies, silenced, condescended to, or even sweetly praised for their ‘attempt at being taken seriously,’ what is ultimately at stake is their humanity. The unfair treatment of any individual or group of individuals has been seen in history – and must continue to be seen – as a violation of basic human rights and dignity.

I propose that feminism is not a “women’s issue” but a human issue. And, if I may be so bold, I propose that all of humanity, men very much included, have suffered the consequences of this violation. For over two thousand years half of the human race has been oppressed, though, over time, the oppression has managed to manifest itself in increasingly subtle and perverse, yet no less detrimental, ways. How can humanity possibly have benefited from such a total subjugation of half of itself? How can our world exist in any semblance of balance and harmony when one sex dominates at the expense of the other, and even of itself? It is time that anyone who cares about human life begins to care about the life of human women.

But calling the cry for gender equality a “women’s issue” does more than pervert its human relevance. By semantic association, it immediately robs it of legitimacy and importance. After all, something that chicks worry about can’t be that serious, right? I mean, women’s issues are tampons and make-up and shopping. Feminism? Just another women’s issue, dude. But this – the dilemma of dubbing equality a “women’s issue” – brings us right back to where we started: anything associated with “women” is negative, frivolous, insignificant, and even – God forbid – cute. It is that very association that feminism seeks to correct.

Unfortunately, the term ‘feminism’ has been radicalized, turned dirty, made to carry in its wake all sorts of unpleasant baggage. I would attribute this both to the distorting of the aims of feminism over the decades, as well as to the simple fact that a woman standing up for herself – no matter what that action is termed – often cannot help but be seen as a radical one. But feminism, at its heart, is not a radical idea. Unless, of course, you want to claim that equality and justice are radical ideas. But no one wants to claim that, do they?


At September 27, 2008 at 7:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though I tend to disagree with a lot of what is said in this particular post, I would add that the term feminist, from the male perspective, even has an inherent sexiness about it...the trivilization/infantilization/sexualization/gamification of the concept undermines any and all possibility of constructing or enacting a viable movement. The terminology listed is all centralized in a sexualized framework: it draws from, tampers with, and reproduces the ideology of negation. Just some thoughts.

At October 3, 2008 at 10:29 PM , Blogger Steven said...

"After all, something that chicks worry about can’t be that serious, right? I mean, women’s issues are tampons and make-up and shopping."

At my grocery store tampons, pads, etc. are in a section called "Feminine Needs."

By the way, I am male and am proud to call myself a feminist. And I agree with much of this post. Feminism's backlash does much to obscure the reasonable and valid goals and ideology of feminism (just as a similar mechanism has invalidated animals rights).

"And, if I may be so bold, I propose that all of humanity, men very much included, have suffered the consequences of this violation."

This point rings true with me, I believe that all relationships with out at least some implicit (although preferably) gender equality are poor relationships. How can you truly love someone when you see them as trivial?

At October 7, 2008 at 2:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your reference to "Feminine Needs" is interesting because it brings up the problem of biological determinism. After all, when it comes to that particular category of "women's issues" what else could the aisle possibly be called? This is the difference, though, between recognizing biological distinctions of male and female, and extrapolating absurd conclusions about behavior, ability, psychological condition etc. from biological facts.

Antiquated male writers often pointed to supposed 'tendencies' in female behavior - to complain, be emotional, without sound judgment, intellectually weak, prone to hysteria etc. - to highlight their inferiority. But, as de Beauvoir points out, what these men are pointing to are not biological conditions, but conditions brought about by the socialization of women (especially earlier in the century) as inferior beings.

Freud, in this sense, is particularly aggravating, arguing that women are in fact "mutilated creatures," that recognize their inferiority and submit to their femininity when they recognize their anatomical weakness. (the famous penis-envy theory) His argument suggests that women are incomplete, atrophied men, and thus that men are in fact the only complete human beings.

This is the absurdity of biological determinism, and yet we still see it in effect today as various old geezers question, for instance, the emotional instability and intellectual capacity for women to take on the presidency. Or even in Harvard president Larry Summers, who stirred up controversy a few years ago with his assertion that men were biologically better suited to studying math and science...


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