On Feminism, Westerncentrism, the Gender Binary and Generally Not Being a Shitty Human Being
I recently read a blog post rather creatively titled “Feminism.” This seminal work of modern academia shares the author Genna’s opinions on “that hot topic” because apparently human rights are another fad like cutoffs or electricity. Genna opposes feminism on the basis that men and women somehow fulfill different roles in society and therefore operate under separate but equal standards. Her logic presents problems from the start, from incoherent progression of argumentation to simple factual errors. Most laughable, however, is her fundament misunderstanding of the issues mentioned in the title of this essay: feminism, Westerncentrism, the Gender Binary and generally not being a shitty Human Being. Genna discuses what she sees as the central tenants of the feminist movement in order, starting with “political, then “social,” and finally “economic equality.” Let’s do the same.
We see Genna dismantle decades of discourse regarding Women’s position in the politics rather concisely, using a mere 37 words. Women gained the right to vote with the 19th Amendment and since then have seen full equality to men in the political arena. That’s why we have all those female Presidents and way more than 18.7% of the seats in the 133th Congress. Oh wait; we don’t have either of those things… We need to understand something right now: Being enfranchised does not mean that you hold political equality. A lot more goes into it than that. Women do not have political equality in this country for a whole host of reasons that seem to get glossed over by the author. (I’m assuming because she wanted to be as concise as possible here and her manifesto calling women to action in the world of politics just couldn’t quite fit in her self-imposed 37 word limit.) Women did not gain political equality “on August 26, 1920” (mostly because the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18th). Obstacles still existed, and still do exist today to hinder Women in politics. Women are currently the most underrepresented group in the American political system (besides perhaps queer people and intersectional people like queer Women of Color, but that’s kind of splitting hairs). Like I mentioned before, no Presidents, less than 20% of people in Congress and only 3.6% of Supreme Court Justices ever (and only 4 of around 50 appointed after August 1920) have been Women. If political equality existed between the sexes, wouldn’t those numbers be a lot closer to 50/50? So, clearly political equality doesn’t exist the way Genna asserts. The question now becomes why; the answer lies in social issues.
Women and men, Genna posits, “will never be [socially] equal.” This rash claim rests on that same logic that justified slavery in the colonial era, the Holocaust and just about every Human Rights abuse ever: “we have different biology.” A few things on this:
1). Humans share 99% of our genetic code with yeast, 99.5% with chimpanzees and ~99.99% with each other.
2). Being biologically different does not equate to inferiority, or for that matter dichotomization of any kind. That .01% difference in genes doesn’t really mean that much, but under this logic different races should be assigned different roles in society because they have differing allele frequencies that somehow justify segregation. That’s just bull.
3). Differing biology, insofar as it is an issue, only really shows in athletics, not social and academic situations. That’s why men and women compete in different leagues in the Olympics but not for the Pulitzer Prize.
Now, for this little statement that “I don’t want to be socially equal to a man.” My first question would be why. What is wrong with social equality? Why shouldn’t men and women operate under the same social rules? Barring an explanation of this logic, I rest the issue.
Next, we see a humble request from our author for “some examples” of the “negative stereotypes” that Women face. To name a few; slut shaming, strong-willed Women being labeled as “bitchy” or “aggressive,” “she was asking for it,” objectification culture (the constant treatment of Women as sex objects and not real people), arbitrary, unattainable and nonreciprocal standards of beauty… Just for starters. She is so kind as to offer us some examples of her own.
- “husband bashing” and “gossip” This is a weak example to lead off with because its completely non-unique to Women. People of all genders and sexual orientations talk trash about their partners behind their back (and in many cases in front of them). Women do not do this more than men, and I see no evidence provided by the author to the contrary.
- “all he does is sit around and play videogames all day” Really…? Really…? Aside from parents talking about their socially inept teenager, who says this? Oh, yeah. People who know someone who does this. Also, this is another example that could apply to anyone, it just so happens that social obstacles like lack of nonsexualized female (and complete lack of queer) visibility in videogames that this phrase more often employs the pronoun “he” and not “she” “they” “xe” etc.
- “he is such a man-child” Well… Is he? (Helpful Hint: the answer is yes) Not really an example of misandry, more so just an observation on someone who needs to grow the fuck up already, move out of his parents’ basement and get a real job. (AKA this is only ever said about .0001% of the population so why is it even on this list at all?)
- “men are dangerous and rapists” Fun Fact: 99% of rapists are men. So, yes. Statistically speaking, men are dangerous and they are rapists; women aren’t. That doesn’t mean that every man ever is a rapist, but it does mean that this isn’t some kind of wild accusation without basis. I in no way want to marginalize victims of domestic and sexual assault who’s attackers are female, but I think this essay makes it clear who in this situation is really marginalizing a traditionally (or nontraditionally) oppressed group. (Helpful Hint #2: It’s not me.)
Having presented these not-at-all-in-any-way-shaky examples, the author asserts that they harm men cause they hurt their feelings. Here’s the thing about that: men hold a position of privilege and power in society. When “negative stereotypes” “hurt” men all that happens is they feel sad for like 30 seconds. When these stereotypes are perpetuated against women, they see actual consequences. She ends this discussion by regurgitating some new-age reimagination of the cliché “actions may speak louder than words, but words damage the heart and soul of a person. Two things: 1). Kudos on the one use of nongendered language in this entire blog post. 2). Fuck you.
In regards to economic equality we see a lot of “analysis” on the statistic that women make $.77 for every dollar a man makes (and also a lot of incorrect information [“This part makes me laugh”]). To be clear, according to Harvard University’s Henry Lee Professor of Economics Claudia Goldin a wage gap (not earnings gap, which also exists and is just as much a legitimate issue) exists between men and women in the same position, with the same credentials and same work-ethic and performance and the gap rises at higher paying jobs like law and finance. It is not because men work longer hours, it’s because the Patriarchy favors men (surprise, I know). So, none of this stuff about “cotton candy” and “bricks.” This metaphor didn’t even really make sense. If there is a pound of each, they are the same weight, but they don’t have the same value. A pound of cotton candy would cost a whole lot more than a pound of bricks (mostly because a pound of brick is literally one brick). If anything it is a metaphor against the argument presented because the same weight (i.e. the same work) does not equal the same value (wage).
Now that we have settled the issues brought up explicitly by the author, we need to discuss those things that exist implicitly in her blog post; Westerncentrism and the gender binary. At this point, we are breaking away from mainstream feminism and branching into a more holistic, inclusive brand of the feminist tradition that has not really been explored in the academic (and non-academic) community but really should be.
Westerncentrism, like it sounds, refers to a focus entirely on Western ideas and values, without regard for other traditions and lifestyles. This post serves as a classic example hereof because there is not a single mention of a nonwestern value, nor any evidence presented that is not based on American and Western experiences. This means that the analysis is also entirely based on an assumption of Whiteness. Fun Fact #2: not everyone is White. Ignoring these groups in an analysis of feminism is detrimental to any argument because non-White and non-Western Women are the people who most need the feminist movement at this time. All these statistics I’ve given throughout this essay usually make this same mistake, but to rectify that all you have to do is imagine the problem, but 10 times worse. (Sometimes 100, and in other cases 1000.) Newsflash: being a Person of Color and a Woman is kind of a really shitty thing in the status quo and I sympathize with (and will never be able to fully understand the plight of) the people who do it everyday.
The Gender Binary. So, all those times I used the word “queer”? And that time the pronouns “they” and “xe” made an appearance? Yeah, those were critiques of the gender binary, or the idea that only two genders exist and everyone fits nicely into one of them. Fun Fact #3: Two genders do not exist. Fun Fact #4: There are thousands of people (trans, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, gender fluid, intersex etc.) who do not fit into the gender binary and are therefore very much in need of feminism. See, all that social equality that Genna wanted no part of? It puts a lot of pressure on people to fit into a box that says M or one that says F (it also gives preference to the M’s but only if they were born an M. And straight. And White.). Traditional gender roles hurt people who can check that M and feel comfortable doing so because they are told not to cry and to be a man and to play sports and not be a pussy and a million other things. They hurt the F’s cause… (if you read anything up to this point you know why). They hurt everyone else because these people are alienated. They are Otherized. They are dehumanized and humiliated. That fucking sucks. A lot.
In summation, feminism is not the new cutoff. In fact, it’s older than the women’s suffrage movement by several hundred years, non-Western feminism has been around for centuries and is sort of mind blowing. Men and Women, and nonbinary and trans and genderqueer and gender fluid and… and… and… are not politically, socially or economically equal. They should be. I want them to be. But they aren’t. Until that day, and after (because even if all of these things have been accomplished what’s the harm in identifying with them and wanting to maintain them) I will be a feminist.
H. Reece Thompson
Generally Not Shitty Human Being
P.S. RE: the comment on the author’s Facebook thread for this blog post “except for tech schools, F-M ratio at most universities is 60-40 and approaching 70-30 in some cases.”
Aside from Vassar, which was a women’s college until 1969, no elite college or university in the US has a gender distribution anywhere near 60/40 in favor of women. All college and universities in this country have an almost equal enrollment (i.e. within ~1-2%) or they favor men by around 5-10%.