Mere feminism

Feminism has been around for long enough to have developed quite a few branches and sects and different ways of seeing the movement. Thankfully, I have not yet seen a "nae true feminist" fallacy. I hope it's not actually out there and I just missed it. Which brings to mind one of my favourite jokes, about a visitor to a small Scottish island who tells his guide how impressed he is that there are three churches on the island, to which the guide replies, "Ay, there used to be two, but they merged."

I was a Christian once. I was and still am interested in the history of the Christian churches, and of religion in general. Nothing like studying religion to keep one at arm's length from it. Christianity has been around for much longer than the feminist movement, roughly 2,000 years. There are more flavours of Christianity than you can count. All claim to be valid ways of practising the faith, and many if not most disagree with the others. The writer C. S. Lewis proposed something called "mere Christianity," a kind of stripped-down essence of the faith, in a book of the same name. He wanted to get away from the in-fighting over things he thought did not matter.

Might there be such a thing as mere feminism? Can a person be somewhat politically correct and still be a feminist?

As I have written before, I cannot even imagine myself not supporting the full equality of women with men. Working to create a world in which the only "archy" is not patriarchy or kierarchy but rather "human-archy" is the only thing that makes sense to me. All of this encompasses things like equal pay for equal work but goes beyond. It's good to strike at the branches, but it's the roots that need attention. Oppression of women anywhere in the world is not just a fundamental injustice; it has been demonstrated over and over again that it holds us all back, men as well as women. Men cling to their power to the detriment of all.

And yet (you knew there would be an "and yet") after all these years, feminism has accumulated cultural baggage, at least some of which I can't accept. And I don't feel that my acceptance is a requirement for me to be a feminist. I consider certain aspects of feminism, or at least of some people's conception of feminism, to be outside "mere feminism."

Das Kapital

For instance, I have read so much that links patriarchy with capitalism, and there are many who want to destroy both, and indeed who consider it impossible to get rid of patriarchy without getting rid of capitalism. And yet I am neither a socialist nor an anarchist. I am not a supporter of the kind of system that passes for capitalism these days, but I firmly support free enterprise. The drive to create, to sell, to buy, to bargain, to exchange, and for all to profit from the activity created is fundamentally human. Sharing is also fundamental, but so is pride in individual accomplishment.

Socialism is an inhuman (or perhaps non-human) system, which is why it has never worked. Englightened systems incorporate aspects of socialism into social democracy, to be sure, but always in balance. There must be economic security, but not without economic freedom. If there is no danger of failure, there is no possibility of success, and worse, no striving toward success.

Enterprise is good for women. It might not look that way from a western university, but it does on the ground. Women in developing countries have no desire to be equally poor. They want to create, to grow, to sell, and to accumulate wealth for themselves and for their families.

It is certainly the role of feminist economists to point out the gender (and intersectional) biases in the current system. But it is important to promote reforms that help women, not hinder them. We know the bathwater is dirty, but if we throw out the baby too, then the dirty bathwater is gone, but so is the baby.

Sex, please

There is also the disagreement among feminists about being "sex positive." Some women's groups focus on getting women out of the sex trade. Others consider that at least some women engage in sex work by choice and that there is no degradation in making good money out of the trade. Some groups consider all pornography to be degrading to women. Others celebrate pornography and even create what they consider to be feminist porn. Some consider being the "s" in "D/s" to be compatable with being feminist. Others look askance at such a relationship.

I dislike the implication that "sex positive" is "pro-everything-sexual-no-questions-allowed." I consider myself to be quite sex positive and yet I personally am pretty much kink-less. I'm totally into letting consenting adults do whatever gets them off. But I do wonder sometimes if certain relationships are as healthy as the participants claim they are. I'm unsure about sex work and porn. Again, far be it from me to interfere with someone's free choice, but I also think there are at least some women who would be better off away from such environments. I also think that not everyone who thinks she's making a free choice really is. And some free choices are still poor choices.

I'm also rather annoyed that the hard-fought distinction between sex and gender that was a hallmark of feminism seems to be getting muddled again. I do think that biology plays a role in the fact that the majority of men are to some degree stereotypically masculine and the majority of women are to some extent stereotypically feminine. But that does not mean that feminine equals female or masculine equals male. It's one thing to realize that your body isn't the right one. It's quite another to dislike the gender role that people tend to expect, and the two should not be confused. People should be free to express gender however they wish without reifying gender expression into something that it is not.

The party line

I tend to question everything. For me, nothing is dogma, nothing is taken on faith. Everything must be tested, and if it's true, it will be all the stronger for having been tested. But often I avoid asking questions, at least in certain forums, because I'm afraid I will be breaking an unwritten rule or two. I know how to have passionate but civilized discussions without any ad hominems. I also agree that writing can be offensive without the writer intending to be offensive. But I also find that if we walk on eggshells to avoid possibly offending anyone, nothing will be said. I understand that people need to be safe and feel safe. But the world is not a safe place, and we can't make it safer by retreating into a fuzzy blanket. We should deal with issues head on. Sometimes, we will break some eggshells.

I don't know if there's room in feminism for politically incorrect feminists. I hope so, not for my sake but for the sake of the movement. We have come so far within the last few decades, but at this point we are facing a serious backlash. The Republican war on women's health care is only one symptom of a much larger problem, a problem that include far too many women both saying they are not feminists and eschewing the values of feminism.

I hold true to those values, which I think we need now more than ever. I think it's vital that we resist and overcome the backlash. I see feminists concerning themselves with the problems women face worldwide, and think that's absolutely necessary. Equal pay for equal work among educated white women in western countries is only one small aspect of what we fight for. Given what women still face after all this time, I really think that we can't afford not to leave aside some of our differences and fight together.

I might have offended someone with this post. Sometimes when I do so, I realize there are things I have to learn better. Sometimes, I say what I mean and mean what I say with no apologies. I hope I have the wisdom to know the difference.

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