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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Feminist/Gender Theory, Pop Culture, Society and Politics

A Response to ‘Women Against Feminism.’

Imagine this:

The year is 2014. You are a white Western woman. You wake up in the morning in a comfortably sized house or flat. You have a full or part-time job that enables you to pay your rent or mortgage. You have been to school and maybe even college or university as well. You can read and write and count. You own a car or have a driver’s licence. You have enough money in your own bank account to feed and clothe yourself. You have access to the Internet. You can vote. You have a boyfriend or girlfriend of your choosing, who you can also marry if you want to, and raise a family with. You walk down the street wearing whatever you feel like wearing. You can go to bars and clubs and sleep with whomever you want.

Your world is full of freedom and possibility.

Then you pick up a newspaper or go online. You read about angry women ranting about sexism and inequality. You see phrases like ‘rape-culture’ and ‘slut-shaming.’ You furrow your brow and think to yourself: ‘What are they so angry about? There is no such thing as sexism anymore.’

Now imagine this:

The year is 2013. You are a 25 year-old Pakistani woman. A few months ago, you married the man you love. A man you choose for yourself. You are also pregnant with his child. You see your life stretching out before you, filled with hope and happiness. Suddenly, you and your husband are dragged away from each other. You are both beaten with bricks and batons. You can’t fight back. You can’t escape. No one comes to help you. Through your fading vision, you look up, and look into the eyes of one of your assailants: into the eyes of your father.

The year is 2013. You are a 23 year-old Indian woman. You are a physiotherapy student with a promising career ahead of you. You are sitting on a private bus travelling home alone on a warm December evening. You gaze out of the window as the buildings of New Dheli rush past you and feel content. Suddenly, a blunt force hits the back of your head and you fall to the floor of the bus. A group of strange men are standing over you. They bring the metal bar down on you again and again and again until all you can taste is the blood filling up your mouth. You pray that you will die soon. And you do, but not then. You are raped, beaten, and tortured over and over again. Death is slow and agonising.

The year is 2014. You are a 13 year-old girl from Niger. You no longer live there though. You are now living in the neighbouring country Nigeria, sitting alone in small room on a small bed in a small apartment high above the city of Kano. You are not allowed to leave. Your stomach is swollen from the unwanted life growing inside of it. You had no choice. The father is a man in his 40s. He is a businessman. He has bought you as his wife. You were a penniless, uneducated girl when he came for you. You don’t know of any life you could have had. Neither did your family: just one less mouth for them to feed. You still have the body of a child, and it’s straining under the pressure from the one inside of you. You feel like you’re about to be split in two. You don’t wonder if you will survive the birth. A part of you doesn’t want to.

These are fictionalised accounts of real events that have happened to real women living in our world today. They follow the past 250 years of women and men campaigning for women to be given equal rights to men to prevent these kinds of injustices and abuses on the grounds of gender taking place. Over the course of this time, campaigners – Feminists, both female and male – have been locked up, beaten, tortured, and even killed, in the pursuit of equality. They did this with pen and ink and print; they did this with their voices; they did this with their bodies; they did this with art and music; they did in courts of law and halls and houses of government that they fought be to allowed into.

They did this so that women would no longer been seen as property, livestock, breeding machines, sex objects, punching bags, or infantile morons. They did this not just for themselves, but also for their daughters, and their daughters, and their daughters for generations to come. They did this for women they would never meet – women who lived across countries, across vast oceans, across the entire globe, and even across time.

They did this so that women like me – a white Western woman – could attend school and university; to learn to read, write, and think critically; to gain a degree; to get a job and be paid an equal salary to a man in the same position; and to sit here with my own computer and type all of this.

Feminism is a movement for freedom, equality, choice, love, compassion, respect, solidarity, and education. We may argue, we may disagree, we may struggle to understand the choices and perspectives of others sometimes, but these core beliefs of the movement have never changed, and they never will.

That is why I am a Feminist.

If you feel that you have so far lived your life unaffected by even the mildest form of sexism – anything from feeling uncomfortable when a man catcalls you in the street, to feeling scared walking home alone at night in a secluded area – and are treated with love and respect by every man in your life, then to you I say: I’m glad for you. If you don’t think you need feminism, then that is a victory for the movement. You have fulfilled all those dreams that every suffragette being force-fed in prison and every ‘witch’ burnt at the stake dreamed you would one day.

But perhaps take a second to consider the life of the Pakistani woman who was beaten to death by her own family for marrying a man of her choosing. Or the life of the Indian woman who was raped, beaten, and murdered on a bus by a gang of men. Or the life of the little girl in Niger who was sold to a man more than twice her own age and forced to carry a baby that may kill her to deliver. Do they still need feminism?

And perhaps take a second to consider this too: Even in our liberal, Western world, why do women still only fill 24% of senior management jobs? Why are more women than men domestically abused or even killed every week at the hands of their male partner or ex-partner? Why is there still a pay gap (in the UK specifically) of 15% for women doing the same jobs and working the same hours as men?

And what about on a cultural level? Have you ever noticed how comedy panel shows usually only have one female panellist compared to 4-5 male ones? That almost every dieting product on the market is solely aimed at women? How a lot of newspapers and advertising campaigns will use a sexualised or pornographic image of a woman to sell news or products that have nothing to do with sex?

Or perhaps on a personal level: Do you choose to wear certain clothes because you want to or because you feel ‘unfeminine’ if you don’t? Do you choose to cover yourself up because you want to or because you feel ashamed or intimidated by a man looking at your body? Do you shave your legs and underarm hair because you want to or because you will look ‘ugly’ if you don’t? Did you parents dress you in pink as a baby because they liked the colour or because you were born a girl? Do you want to have children because you want to or because you are a woman?

When you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, do you see yourself through your own eyes, or through the eyes of the men that will look at you when you walk out the door?

The fact is, like it or not, you still live a world where gender matters. Where gender controls not just the entire course of your life – but the lives of women all over the world. Every second, a child will be born female in a country where she will persecuted for this random biological occurrence for the rest of her life. So before you hold up your anti-Feminist placard proudly and smile at your own sense of empowerment, think not what Feminism can do for you, but what it can do for that one girl. She needs someone to stand up for her. That someone could be you.

UPDATE: Click here to read my follow up to this article: ‘Equalism: The Feminist Alternative?’


This is a response to ‘Women Against Feminism’ groups on Tumblr and Facebook.

The stories of the women mentioned in this post were sourced from these sites:

http://feminist.org/blog/index.php/2014/05/29/pakistani-woman-stoned-to-death-for-marrying-a-man-of-her-own-choosing/

http://feminist.org/blog/index.php/2013/01/02/indias-tipping-point-death-of-rape-victim-sparks-global-outrage/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-27619295

Other facts and statistics were sourced from here:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/international-womens-day-2014-the-shocking-statistics-that-show-why-it-is-still-so-important-9177211.html

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