Monday, January 9, 2012


Feminism, and usually soon after, sexism, keep coming up lately in both my personal life and on the interwebs.  I have some strongly held beliefs on the topics, which I find are seldom represented elsewhere, if at all.  I am a feminist, though many feminists I know will disagree with me.  So, let me climb into my asbestos suit before I continue.
First, let me define my terms.  In a nutshell, feminism is the the belief that both all genders are equal.  It is not women-are-superior-to-men-in-every-single-way-ism, which also appears and fits into the broader category of sexism, one gender being better than the others.  Again, I'm simplifying (read: Wikipedia disagrees with me) but these definitions are sufficient for the discussion at hand.
A trickier term to define is privilege.  As the name implies, privilege is always beneficial for the person being described.  Privilege is also usually invisible, in this context, to the person benefiting from it, such that unless I compare myself to someone outside of my group, I won't notice it.  For instance speaking English has many benefits; these benefits could collectively be referred to as the privilege of English Fluency (or something similar).  One benefit  is that it's much easier to find a job in the US.  It may not seem obvious, if you speak English in the US, but try not speaking it, but if you look into many workplaces, even without the confounding factor of discrimination, people who speak English just understand someone who also speaks English better.  They follow directions better- even if they're less intelligent, because they have a common ground. The Tower of Babel myth comes to mind.
Privileges come with all sorts of classes, whether something biological, as good looks, social, as speaking English, or through accomplishment, like being the CEO to a Fortune 500 company, possibly language as well.  All of these things have their privileges, but as a buzzword in discussions regarding feminism, privilege refers to the rights/benefits/entitlements of men, solely based on their gender, generally referred to as Male Privilege.
OK, now that the tiresome work of defining terms is done, lets talk about the debate.  It's a heated topic, with people on both sides making logical mistakes they'd almost never make in other areas of their life.  Ad Hominem attacks are common- "You think women have it easy?  You're just a misogynist."  "You want me to change my behavior?  You're a feminazi." (FemiNazi is also frequently said with a self-satisfied chortle, as though they invented the term themselves). These are brilliant people- but they seem to expect simple solutions to complex situations.  And sexism is a convoluted situation.
Consider for a moment this checklist.  Many items on it are legitimate.  Most are.  If you're a male, I highly encourage you to read through it for a bit- it's quite instructive.  There are a lot of things which are skewed in our favor, simply because of our apparent gender.  But there are some that smack of over-reaching (#23, for instance).  And some that are just outright wrong (#13, 20); they could be pleas for sympathy, attempts to flesh out an otherwise remarkable list, or something somewhere between these two- I wouldn't go so far as to say they are deliberately deceptive, however.
What I find most remarkable about the list is the absence of female privilege. If we're being fair-minded, for instance, #4, (from the point of view of a male) "If I fail in my job or career, I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities." A significant corollary, indeed one thing that terminates many careers for men, is that there are 20 times as many males in prison as females.  For no reason other than birth, I am 20 times more likely to go to prison than half of the US population.  #22 mentions driving discrimination, but it remains mum on 9% lower insurance. Or #33 "I will never be expected to change my name upon marriage or questioned if I don’t change my name." Changing your name after marriage is viewed askance at the very best or is illegal at worst- if you're male.
My point here isn't to nitpick (though believe me, I want to nitpick, it's sort of my thing), but to gently point these things out.  There are some very good biological reasons for some of the privilege- and some awful social ones.  There are some based in social culture that aren't based in animosity toward women.  Awareness is important, but once that awareness is raised, we need to reasonably recruit the other side to listen to our points of view.  Being a dick (take that, #29) doesn't advance anyone's cause, and for the most part, aside from the most hostile parties on either side, we want some measure of equality, and we're probably willing to listen. That said, fricking listen.  Progress comes much more slowly from a never-ending series of self-destructive collisions.
In large part, sexism is the result of a series of social constructs generally built around the way we have lived for centuries.  Much of them can be dispensed with in a generation or so- the wrongheadedness about women not being able to vote, or marry, or drive, or show their ankles, these have all gone by the wayside.  And, in large part, they needed help from progressively-minded folks.
Chivalry is a favorite point of non-feminists.  They like to talk about holding open doors.  Many of the extreme feminists took this to the other extreme, making a point of opening the door themselves.  What changes?  If you don't want to be pampered, well, it's going to take a lot more than opening your own doors to do it.  (On a sinking ship, I wonder, would the same impulse be as strong to allow whoever was first in line to the lifeboats?) Personally, I hold the door for anyone, because you're (except for the one turtle) a human being.
But this discrimination has a good point, biologically!  The general idea that women's life is more important than male life is true, biologically-speaking.  A population can have its males decimated (literally divided in ten) and continue to survive, reproducing the numbers back to 50/50.  Do the same thing to the female population and it's nearly certain extinction within a couple of generations.  Nature makes us different.  There's nothing wrong with embracing that difference.  And when there are more important battles to be fought out there, the frustrating thing is watching smart people butt heads over it day in and day out with no gains made, when deep down they're both rational and intelligent and want the same (ultimate) thing- a better place to have more arguments.
My advice?  Take care of other people's rights.  There are plenty of places where people love each other and can't marry, where people don't love each other and can't divorce, and brilliant minds that can't get an education.  I'll hold the damn door if I want to.  I'm not doing it to be superior, I'm doing it because I like turtles.  If it offends you, let me know, and I'll let it close in your face the next time- because that wouldn't be rude.  And, for the love of Thor, leave the English language out of it.  But that is a post for another day.

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