Feminist/Gender Theory, Society and Politics

Equalism: The Feminist Alternative?

A/N: This is a follow-on piece to my previous post, ‘A Response to Women Against Feminism’, and some of the comments I received on it, so if you haven’t already it might be helpful to read it – as well as some of the comments – before reading this.

I have always tried to separate emotion from criticism as a writer, but when I came across an article about the group ‘Women Against Feminism’ and scrolled through some of the photos from the group’s members, I did get emotional. At first I was frustrated. Then I was disheartened. Then I began to think about some of the statements from the group more rationally; think about their context, and perhaps their misunderstandings about a cause I believed in, and decided to do what I normally try to avoid – put my honest and emotional reaction into writing. I read about the group in the morning and by the early evening I had finished, edited, and posted the response, thinking nothing more would really come of it.

Somehow a lot of people not only found and read the post, but they shared it, commented on it, liked/disliked it, and even wrote their own response to my response. I was truly overwhelmed by all of it, so, to all of you reading this who did one or more of the above things – thank you. Whether you agreed whole-heartedly or thought I was talking absolute rubbish, I am touched that you felt strongly enough to contribute to this ever-growing debate.

A common trend I noticed both in the ‘WAF’ group and within the comments on my response to them was the rejection or negation of Feminism as a word and/or concept in favour of words and/or concepts such as Humanism or Equalism. While I can’t respond to every single point raised by every single person, nor do I want to directly answer specific questions or criticisms thrown at me, this trend did get me thinking:

Is Equalism really the antidote to the perceived problems of Feminism?

As I made mention of in my response piece, Feminism is a political, social, and cultural movement with over 200 years of history behind it. One of the reasons why it is has remained so prevalent – other than the fight for women’s equality not yet being won – is because of a cycle of continual reinvention. Get ready for a cheesy pop cultural reference: It’s pretty much the Madonna of equal rights movements. It’s history is not defined as simply ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ as many make the mistake of thinking it is, but broadly as Feminism and Post-Feminism, with those two halves then being divided again into four ‘waves.’ From Goddess worship to Cyborg Anthropology, Suffragettes to Riot Grrrls, Feminist history is diverse, militant, creative, crazy, and even unappealing and downright ugly at times.

Isn’t that what keeps a cause alive, though? Isn’t that what keeps a democratic society in general thriving? Constant debate, constant re-examination, constant rebirth… It’s an exciting and fascinating movement, whether you agree with its aims or not.

As long as there has been any kind of women’s movement, there has also been an opposing one. WAF is certainly not the first, and it most certainly will not be the last. From what I can tell, this particular group seem to be saying that they feel brow-beaten, belittled, patronised, or even abused by Feminists (or ‘Femi-Nazis’ as they are affectionately called by some…) And you know what? I do empathise with this to a certain point. Like any flourishing political movement, Feminism’s supporters hold a broad spectrum of beliefs – much like the Left, Right and Centre spectrum of the political landscape as a whole. To put it simply: On one side you have liberal Feminists, and on the other, you have radical Feminists. (Just for the curious – I consider myself to be a liberal Feminist with Post-Human leanings).

Whilst I don’t want to put words into their mouths, I know from research and experience that some radical (really radical) Feminists might argue that women should in fact be superior to men; that all heterosexual sex is rape; and that marriage should be abolished. Liberal Feminists (like myself) might argue that women should be equal to men, and that women should have complete freedom of choice in their lives without judgement or alienation from any other woman or man.

That is not to say that there aren’t points of cross-pollination though. Even as a liberal Feminist believing in gender equality, I hold some beliefs that may seem extreme or odd to some, but are purely personal choices based on my political preference. For instance, I don’t believe in marriage. Does this mean I go around telling every man and woman that he or she shouldn’t get married? No. That belief to me is a personal choice and I am grateful that I live in a society in which men and women can now choose whether or not to uphold this tradition. However, issues relating to marriage such as child-brides and legalised rape within marriage in certain cultures are not personal beliefs of mine – they are global injustices that I think are important to stop.

That is the difference between a personal belief and a global injustice. I think that the point in which a healthy debate turns into a nasty argument is often when we confuse the two.

Most of these extremely radical beliefs seem to be in the minority though, and whilst I would speak against any Feminist who promoted something I didn’t agree with, I would not tell him or her that they couldn’t believe in those ideals, just as I wouldn’t tell anti-Feminists they couldn’t be anti-Feminists. I would – and did – however, present my side of the argument for their consideration. If you believe in a cause strongly enough you will always defend and promote it. Whether you manage to convince the opposing side of your point, well, that depends on the strength of your argument.

Whether you are a radical or a liberal, all Feminists (Female Supremacists aside…) are united and bound by the goal of reaching total equal political, social, and cultural status with men. We may take different roads, but the destination will always remain the same.

The question I ask now is: With so many different beliefs, theories, and splinter-movements to pick and choose from within the rich history of Feminism – and indeed other movements for similarly oppressed groups – what does something like Equalism really offer you as an alternative?

Reading the comments and statements of its supporters and champions, the central ideal of Equalism for many appears to reject movements that cater to a specific oppressed or disadvantaged group – e.g. Feminist groups for women, Men’s Rights groups for men, Civil and Racial Rights groups for people of colour, Disabled Rights groups for disabled people, or LGBT groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people – in favour of lumping them all together in one easily digestible package of equality.

This is all well and good in theory, and I certainly support Equalist ideology, but the fundamental problem I keep getting stuck on is this: If you’re focussing on everyone, who are you making them equal to?

The point of these individual pressure groups is that they recognise that they belong – not through choice – to a marginalised and disadvantaged faction in society, and so seek to advance themselves to match – not surpass – their comparative dominant and over-privileged faction. Their goal is to level the playing field by bringing the oppressed side up, not the oppressive side down. Very often, the toughest battles to fight are on a culturally systemic one – where this oppression is so inherently indoctrinated into an oppressive group, that they may not even be aware that they are enacting it, or when they are made aware of it, they find it hard to accept and reject it completely.

Identifying the most privileged/least oppressed group can be tricky, as it is usually bound up in varying socio-economic and cultural systems from country to country. Certainly in most of the Western world – the perspective I write from – this group appears to be white, able-bodied, heterosexual, and middle to upper class men. This does not mean that this group suffers no oppression whatsoever, but that they suffer the least amount compared to the others.

The most privileged and least oppressed group in a society therefore provides the ‘pinnacle’ or set standard that any disadvantaged group strives to reach.

This gets more complicated when you begin to crossbreed the perceived disadvantages with one another. For example, a black woman may experience more oppression than a white woman. A gay man may experience more oppression than a heterosexual man. A disabled, transgendered Asian woman may experience more oppression than a disabled, bisexual white man. You can see how complicated this can get, and how the levels of oppression can multiply and multiply based on numerous social and political stigmas.

Each of these groups has completely different obstacles to overcome, completely different experiences of life, and completely different needs to be fulfilled to feel like they are truly accepted within a particular society. Or maybe they don’t even want to be part of a society at all. Maybe they want to be part of their own.

Therefore, if the goal of Equalism is simply ‘to make everyone equal’ then how is that going to be achieved in practical terms? This definition, as sweet and simple as it is, seems to be just that – too sweet and too simple.

Of course, you could say this of Feminism – that the goal is too big and the target group too diverse. Except that Feminists have already recognised this, and, as I said earlier, split into various splinter groups and waves that aim to address the needs of all kinds of different women. The one common thread that weaves through them is that they are all women – biological, Cis, or transgendered – whatever their definition is. Feminism also practices what it preaches. Better women than me do more than write ranty blogs, sign petitions, donate to charities, and join in on ‘Reclaim The Night’ rallies. They physically go out into disadvantaged communities and directly make a difference in people’s lives. Brave and intelligent activists like Malala Yousafzai, for example.

Furthermore, if your definition of ‘everyone’ really means everyone, does that include the most privileged/least oppressed groups as well? What is the measure of equality for the group that sits comfortably at the top? There is nowhere else to go for them except up or down. In this case, the terminology would need to either be Disenfranchisement or Advancement, not Equalism. Surely, it seems more sensible to focus on enabling the groups below them to first reach their level at the top before we decide how to advance society as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong. Just like Equalists I really do want to live in a world in which everyone is equal, in which no child is brought up in a world that will punish them for the circumstances of their birth that they do not have any chance of changing – nor should they be forced to. I want to live in a world in which difference and diversity is so accepted that those words have lost all meaning.

The crux of what I’m saying is that Equalism certainly has it’s heart in the right place, but I’m just not convinced that it offers any practical solution to the problems of the individualised Equal Rights groups. In fact, the blind rejection of the hard work these groups have done in favour of lumping them altogether seems almost offensively simplistic. If there is a real, working Equalist agenda that sets practical and achievable aims as to how each and every person in our society can be made exactly equal to one another – I’d really like to see it. If you think I’m wrong – Change my mind.

In the meantime, I will continue to support individualised groups tailored for individualised needs and hope that one by one, or in collaboration with one another, they win every battle, and continue to change every heart and mind set against them for the good of our society as whole.

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20 thoughts on “Equalism: The Feminist Alternative?

  1. 300bpm says:

    I think that WAF is definitely a reaction against the extreme, radical leftist elements of feminism. I mean, come on . . . when you actually take a look at a lot of the feminist theory that has taken over large parts of the western university curriculum, you can SEE the insanity. Even the liberals I know cringe at it.

    I say extreme, radical leftist elements because that’s what it is. And I am no right-wing nutter either. No Toby Keith hats or dog-eared King James bible at my bedside. I’m simply very familiar with various ideological and philosophical concepts because of my educational background. And my education shows me that much of ‘institutionalized’ ideological feminism is based on Marxist critical theory. A smattering of Baudrillard. Some Foucault. Bettina Aptheker. Simone de Beauvoir if you want to get old-school . . .

    Women like Aptheker, and to this day Gloria Steinem, aren’t just ‘feminists.’ They’re often quoted as saying things like the ‘entire system of patriarchal capitalism’ is itself oppressive, that the ‘patriarchal family system’ needs to be done away with, etc, etc. These women aren’t talking about EQUAL RIGHTS; they’re talking about the basic dismantling of western/Judeo-Christian/capitalist culture. They’re true RADICAL LEFTISTS in that sense. Hence the ‘seeing the entire system as rotten’ routine.

    Another branch of feminism, closely aligned with its cousins in the ‘cultural studies’ departments (gay studies, etc), apparently wants to do away with the idea of traditional sexual morals altogether, to the point where our culture devolves into complete hedonism. This whole schtick is from Eric Fromm, another whacko leftoid the insane academics can’t let go of. When you read what these people actually SAY, it’s crazy. We have complete garbage courses in our colleges like, ‘The Dominant Image of the Phallus in Patriarchal Societies’ or whatever. It’s utter nonsense. There are no academic standards at all in these courses. It’s just some insane maniac holding students hostage.

    The majority of women in this country are – wait for it – somewhat center-right. They believe in things like God, the family, hard work, and – gasp – the idea that it’s probably not healthy for their 13 year old daughters to be in active sexual relationships. And that explains the WAF thing. It’s a hard-line reaction. You’ve allowed the nutjobs in your camp to take over, and they’ve alienated regular, hard-working, family-oriented women. And the ‘regular’ women have fired back.

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    • Thank you! I appreciate your thoughts here. I’m a Christian feminist and an author who constantly calls “the Christian church” as a whole into repentance for male dominance issues that are obvious on my website. In the same vein, I refuse to denigrate other groups–divided into any sort of oppressed cages–and I pray for them whether it be the Muslim, homosexual, African American, mentally different, and etc. I am extremely weary of the Christian population taking the Bible out of context so they can, as Jesus Christ said, try to take a speck out of someone else’s eye while we have a bloody plank in our own. I’m a Christian woman–and I know what it is to be judged by the very people I trusted to love me in sacrificial love biblically. I didn’t get that across my 40 years of being a Christian. It was shocking to me to face it. Now, I’m a Christian feminist. I have forgiven that world but I certainly appreciate discussions like these.

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  2. This is exactly my problem with the concept of Equalism… the fact that it’s a concept and little more. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice concept – compact and non-controversial – everyone should be equal to everyone else. I absolutely agree.

    But the fact that equality is the goal implies that we currently live in a society that is not equal. So to move forward from the nice comfortable equality concept, we actually have to start analyzing the society we live in and asking tough questions. Which groups are the most disenfranchised in our society? What’s the root of this oppression? What needs to change before this group can be full and autonomous members of society? How do the needs of one disenfranchised group differ from another?

    If you want to get anything done, you have to start addressing the needs of individual groups. Very few people have the capacity to work for equality on all fronts simultaneously – they do what they can while trying to be mindful of intersections of oppression and not hurt anyone else’s efforts while advancing their own. More equality all around is a great goal to strive towards, a nice banner to march under, but it’s not a useful for getting work done. Unlike feminism, or any other long standing rights movements, it has no critical lens, no unifying discourse, no academic weight, no activism toolbox, no theories or framework backing it up. It’s an umbrella term.

    And honestly, the only people I see using it with any kind of regularity are the same people trying to derail conversations about specific systemic oppression, such as sexism or racism.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brittney Bathke says:

    I think most people take feminism for granted. They don’t understand the full aspect of it, nor do they understand the effects. It’s ridiculous, that woman get treated like absolute shit, mind my language. It’s volatile. Men should learn to control themselves, and not slut-shame, or victim-blame women.

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  4. John Doe says:

    While the idea of Equalism is extremely appealing, history has shown that individual rights groups are much more effective at attaining civil rights goals than abstract notions of equality. Personally, I think a network of individual rights groups should work together to maintain checks on each others’ power (e.g. feminism addresses the lack of female presence in STEM, while masculism (or some other term) would work to increase male presence in education, etc.).

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  5. james watkinson says:

    i understand what you are saying in this post, but when you comment that if your lumping everyone together, and trying to make them equal but equal to who.. its a case of equal to each other.

    this is done through education, which is the primary tool of egalitarianism, or equalism. through education you can teach people to see through colour, sexuality and perceived handicaps. enlighten minds. as martin luther king jr once dreamed of a world where his children would be judged by their character not the colour of their skin, that sentiment should be bowed across gender and sexuality as well.

    yes there is a logistical hurdle, but the goal is to give everyone the same social, economic and political rights as everyone else. giving them the means to dictate their futures on equal terms with one another regardless of who they are or the circumstance of their birth, be you a black male, or pakistani woman.

    all groups are fighting for the same reason, to remove their persecution and take their seat at the table.. be it a gay man persucted for his sexuality in uganda, or a muslim woman in saudi. the goal of egalitarianism… is give them a world in which they no longer feel fear.

    egalitarianism is the way forward.. and it will be achieved through education.

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  6. TheGentGuy says:

    I should really go ahead and read more than just a single entry I’m linked to on Facebook – this post pretty much makes my entire reply on your WAF post redundant.

    To counter your point about how egalitarianism is hopelessly optimistic – that’s completely untrue. Human rights groups campaign for hundreds of different problems across dozens of countries. Even in feminism, you see people campaigning for individual injustices. Slut walks, letter campaigns against the Sun, everydaysexism – different groups under one large umbrella striving for equality piece by piece, regardless of the term.

    However, that’s not to say the umbrella term isn’t important.

    Let’s look at the Men’s Rights movement. A few people have legitimate complaints – domestic violence against men goes underreported, with public opinion being that such men are “weak” and “can’t control their women,” opinions that demean both genders. Another example: Men are 50% more likely to kill themselves than women, yet there are very few ad campaigns aimed at getting men to talk about it. However, these are eclipsed by the sheer number of misogynistic campaigns claiming female privilege, or phantom persecution of men, or the idea that rape in marriage isn’t rape – all of which bear the banner of “Men’s Rights.”

    Campaign for one thing, get painted with the same brush.

    So really, it does all just boil down to names. Can we ever truly have equality when we insist on using different labels? You may want the right to dress provocatively without threat of sexual assault, and I may want the right to kiss a guy in public without threat of physical assault, but our aims would be mutual. Why, then, have two completely separate camps, rather than two projects in an ongoing coalition?

    Ultimately, equality lies in perception. A lot of people would ignore everyday sexism because they consider it “normal,” and don’t question that for a moment. A lot of people would object to the idea of rape culture, for example, purely because the name implies that rape is encouraged, when in reality the term reflects society’s tendency to blame the victim and fall back on deep-rooted double standards. The same applies to choosing to brand equality for women as feminism. It implies all the things people believe about fundamental feminists, that they seek abolition of negative discrimination while reinforcing positive discrimination.

    The egalitarism vs feminism debate isn’t a matter of being pedantic, or optimistic, or naive. It’s a matter of whether campaigns for human equality should be divided and categorised. After all, if your morality is represented by an us-verses-them title like Feminism, how can people tell how you genuinely feel?

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  7. Phloxy says:

    Personally I’ve always liked the idea of both individual rights groups and equalism. I feel that if the individual rights groups work towards their goals of living in a more fair world, equalism will just kind of fall into place. However, without people fighting for specific areas, I doubt much would come from equalism.
    If this will help make more sense: It’s kind of like cancer research- there are many different specific ones that are being worked on, but the end goal is to find more effective treatments and cures for every type of cancer and not just one. 🙂

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  8. B_C says:

    Thanks so much for your insights! I’m really glad you put yourself out there so people like me can become more informed and helpful in discussions.

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  9. Andy says:

    If you’re focussing on everyone, who are you making them equal to?

    I gave up there as I thought that was a bit stupid. The question answers itself; everyone equal to everyone else. Ie- equality. I agreed with you up until this point.

    Focusing on equality on a broader basis is what I believe in. As you said you can believe whatever you want as it’s your personal belief and the issues you want to campaign against affect you and your gender so i understand why personal choices differ as personal circumstances differ. As a man I don’t call myself a feminist, but an equalist, (even though i support many feminist view points) as it’s all the inequality that exists in the world that i am against. I don’t like that feminism, just by it’s name, cuts itself off from many other things i care about. For me it’s like someone campaigning against racism but only that which affects their own race rather than the issue of racism as a whole.

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  10. pecminor@gmail.com says:

    When feminism starts calling out the radicals, stops writing articles against equalism (this one was the only one not outright rude), stops attacking MRA groups, stops protesting naked and burning down buildings in ukraine, killing almost 30 people, when they stop praising female dominant universities or dominant anything, when women actually want to be equal with men, not more equal or less equal, when women stop being victims, when men’s issues are EQUALLY important (not more or less or compared to), when men have EQUAL say and articles that say they don’t are not praised, rather scolded, when women are ready to abandon gender specific rights groups, call me. I’m an equalist, and I have a plan to get the world back on track. The prerequisite, is abandoning MRA/feminism and joining me so we can unite the world, together.

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  11. TriangleWalks91 says:

    I think what the problem feels to me is that these things are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Just as being so broad minded that you miss the individual needs of groups results in a lack of equality, so does being so narrow minded that you fail to appreciate the wider context of what you are working in. We need people who are looking after the needs of individual groups as well as people who are working towards equality as a whole (and I’m not meaning to imply that these are necessarily separate groups of people) I largely agree with what you are saying, particularly in reference to equalism not having a clear plan or basis but that may simply be due to its relative youth as a concept. I think it could come to reflect the need for ongoing consideration of changes that have already come about, and re-evaluating the way forward based on our current position.

    Anyway thanks for putting your thoughts on a subject I have been thinking about for a long time for myself down so I can read and comment on them!

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  13. I just read your blogs on feminism & equalism, and trawled through some of the comments. What struck me in the comments is that most of those who disagree with the feminist analysis accept a need for change in ‘Other’ societies where women are grossly oppressed, but seem blind to the reality of gender inequality in developed societies – or at least unwilling to consider changes that might threaten what I assume is their own position of privilege. Given the historical gains of Feminism, each generation of men (and women against feminism) starts from a status quo into which they were born and they must fight their position from there. Hence, in developed nations we hear squeals against gender equality in the strucures of market capitalism, claims that women have more rights and power than men (?!), and much ambivalent discussion and outright denial regarding rape and violence against women, while elsewhere the fight still has to be waged against child marriage, selling of women and girls, etc., etc. … much easier to be shocked by.
    Those who do best in any society are (almost necessarily) blind to the inequalities they profit from – perhaps in order to live with the situation and maintain a sense of a moral self,

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