Thursday, 16 January 2014

He-man, she-woman: how to think about the feminist debate.

When feminism comes up, you frequently hear reasonable, open-minded people suddenly burst into little snippets of aggressive language. "Who gives a f**k what feminists think?"  "Feminists are man-haters and unhygienic." "Feminists drive me bat-shit insane." "Feminists are just ugly little women with big round owl glasses and too much orange lipstick" (Taken from real people).

Of course, the reality is, Feminism is an umbrella term for many different movements and ideologies centred around the issue of equal social rights for women. 'How' and 'why' differ between the schools of thought, as do theories on what the differences between men and women are, and whether or not politics, economics or media are relevant to the debate. Particularly in terms of whether we should be politically active in stopping things, or work through improving cultural ideas.

This actually makes feminism a little hard to stereotype. For every Gail Dines, there's a Joss Whedon. For every Gloria Steinem, there's a Shira Tarrant. Nevertheless a highly unflattering stereotype does prevail. And like many images that prevail in the social subconscious, one has to ask where it really comes from and how many people have actually thought it through.

Certainly in my own experience, I had a very negative view of feminism, which I somewhat thought through in that I then met some feminists who I found to have an unpleasant world-view that they were quite forceful in presenting to me. But this wasn't really 'thinking it through'. I had a presupposition, and then found confirmation for this presupposition. Any good epistomologist will tell you that one can always come by confirmations for presuppositions. In this case my specific mistakes were that a) my presupposition coloured my interpretation of these feminists b) it created a sense that I'd given more investigation than I had (I'd still only met a handful of feminists and never read on the subject) and c) it caused me to skew the relevance of 'the evidence'. Truth is you'll always be able to find people who seem naive and ignorant, but are forceful/anti-rational about their position, no matter what movement we're discussing. Including all the good beliefs you and I both hold, reader.

I would take a guess that these anti-feminists memes have their roots in sexism, even if the people who now hold them aren't particular sexist. By 'sexism' I here mean, old fashioned, non-subtle sexism. 'Women shouldn't work', 'women should be feminine', 'women should know their place' type sexism. I can't do much to argue this point, since memes are so hard to trace, but this would seem to fit. It would fit with both the historical facts of feminism and also what the memes imply. These slogans of feminist-hatred tend to: assume the hypothetical feminism is a woman, criticise her for not looking feminine, and treat her position as one aggressive towards the male interest.

When I thought back to where my anti-feminism presupposition came from, I eventually remembered. I'd overheard two people mocking feminists in my church kitchen as a child. I'd learnt from that conversation both what the word meant and how to think about it. It was the presupposition I carried with me from then on.

All this said, there are some common feminist ideas that seem misguided (there are also plenty that most people think are misguided, but I personally believe, after looking at the issue, are on-point). One is signified by the picture above. Does the feminism underestimate how pervasive and dangerous many gender memes are, for BOTH men or women? Does there need to be more of a focus on making gender memes truly a choice, and not a pressure or a trap?

The He-Man thing is a little silly, since we consider those two cultural icons in terms of the effect they seem to have had. There is a problem of more and more young girls becoming anorexic. There isn't a problem of young boys trying to look muscle-y.  But there is a problem with: male aggression, men attaching a sense of self-worth to being strong, feeling pressured to not have personal problems, and pressure to be dominant and get people to comply with them.

The real crux of this thing is that there's no room for one side to lack empathy with the other if progress is to be made.

Take the example of dating, where everyone loses by the same bad ideas. For instance, there are schools of pick up artistry that speak of women as guided by these irrationalities that need her to be controlled and dominated in certain ways, which are available to learn through a formula. You first get through her 'bitch shield', then you use playful insults and other techniques for her to develop this dependence on your approval and attraction, such that when you go for the 'close' she won't reject you. Now, unfortunately I can't take for granted that this is obviously not very nice for anyone, because it plays into quite common ideas and fears people have about courting. Some girls really do need to be played in this way to consent to sex, and that's unfortunate for her as it doesn't give her much control over her own happiness and pleasure in that area. But should we take advantage of such peoples insecurities for our own ends, or is that fairly mean-spirited? And how common are such girls? Well, truthfully it's a small group, and constantly stinking as sex attitudes improve. This view mostly just works against the majority of women who feel bullied by non-consented to sexual domination, and wish to communicate to the opposite sex as the regular people that they in fact are.

And the often over looked victim here are the men, who are force fed this cynical view of the world where there aren't good women they can go out, meet, have a fun interaction with, and it lead to a sexual attraction. That the odds are so stacked against them they have to behave as to hack women to get sex. The fact that it also won't work except in specific cases, will also disadvantage such men from having enjoyable dating experiences.

Of course, no one can get into these more specific and important ideas to have interesting and meaningful discussions about them so long as anything that sounds a bit feminism invokes a huge meta conversation where feminists will be unfairly stereotyped and talked about in hideously personal ways, from the very people who might be able to offer more insight into male-disadvantages.  

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