The Feminist Gadfly

Discussing the problems of feminist identification in the context of gender egalitarianism

Month: February, 2012


by aronjerrison

I know that I had said that I would be finishing up my post on pedantic feminism, but I feel the need to make a minor digression in response to an image that my room mate showed me.

The image about which I shall be talking in this post can be found here.

He was browsing one of the multitude of “funny” image websites when he came across the photo, and, because it said feminist on it, he thought that I might be interested. He was right.

I am not going to discuss the elevator incident, because many people have already discussed it in great detail, and I feel that I could add nothing to the conversation. If you would like to know about it, I highly recommend Manboobz’ post on the topic.

What I want to discuss is what this indicates about the cultural associations that we seem to have with the word ‘feminist’. (Please note that I am well aware that this image came from a comedic site, I just happen to believe that our taste in comedy indicates something about our inner views).

Feminist bloggers the internet over have discussed time and time again how feminism is not an homogeneous thing. People with vastly differing views can still call themselves feminists and be entirely justified in that appellation. Pointing to these two very differing people and trying to draw the distinction between “women’s rights activist” and “feminist” is doomed to failure. Why? Because feminism is a word that refers to a loose set of affiliated political and social beliefs with the primary focus on improving the lot of the 51% of the population who are systematically oppressed and discriminated against on account of their gender.

The thing about this which strikes me as the most humorous is the description of Ayaan Hirsi Ali on her wikipedia page, in which she is described as “a Somali-Dutch feminist and atheist activist, writer and politician [emphasis mine]”.

I do not wish to belabour the point, because I know that my tendency towards pedantry might run away with me. I just wanted to point out that the two are not only mutually compatible, but feminism is a sine qua non for women’s rights activism.


On Fretting

by naomiparker

You may have picked up on the fact that I’m a nerd. In true nerd fashion, I didn’t often go out with friends unless it involved band rehearsals. So it caught me off guard when, as I was preparing to leave for college, the warnings began. “Don’t walk alone at night,” my mother said. “Stay aware of your surroundings,” one brother said. “Don’t drink the jungle juice,” said the other. “It’s not really juice.”

I didn’t take kindly to what I felt was unnecessary fretting. Our campus is small and safe. The rare cases of rape and assault reported are almost never between strangers. The people at big state schools had something to worry about, but not me. Certainly everyone on campus would agree.

But they didn’t. Our first night of orientation, we were lectured about safety. The speaker admitted that our campus is quiet and safe, and that she rarely gave a second thought to walking alone at night. She then admonished that practice as foolhardy and suggested we all try a bit harder to stay safe. Granted, she was a hired speaker. A precautionary measure. Looks good for the school. Certainly all this fretting didn’t infiltrate our everyday lives.

But it did, and it still does. I had a girlfriend, a rather tall and burly one at that, who refused to walk back to her car by herself if it was dark. One of our supervisors prohibits me from walking home from closing shift alone. She has often assigned a male co-worker (whom I don’t know very well) to “walk me back.” In fact, there is a table where I work, among other places, where you can go and pick up a free bodyguard if you don’t want to walk alone. This people were making it very hard for me to be in denial.

So what is it that makes me (and quite a few others) so ill at ease in these situations? I am in support of the bodyguard tables and the hired speakers in theory, but in practice I just don’t like them. I found my answer in an essay by Lisa Maria Hogeland entitled “Fear of Feminism: Why Young Women Get the Willies”.  Most of the essay discusses in detail the points I mentioned in my last post, but then there came a simple observation that I’m embarrassed I didn’t make for myself.

Young women who have not been victims of men’s violence hate being asked to identify with it; they see the threat to their emergent sense of autonomy and freedom not in the fact of men’s violence, but in feminist analyses that make them identify with it.”

I had to admit that I was (and still am) in the mindset of “it can’t happen to me”. This is often viewed as a personal decision, with personal consequences. Unfortunately, it has consequences for the feminist movement, and in particular for rape awareness activism. Going to an event like Take Back the Night, volunteering at a women’s shelter, or even listening to your fellow Gadflies denounce the rape culture is very difficult for those of us who would rather not admit that violence against women is a pervasive problem in our society. Our uneasiness can turn us against our feminist allies, and worse, our apathy can convince people that there is no problem.

While I may not be hiring a bodyguard anytime soon, I won’t let my discomfort prevent me from actively and publicly supporting feminism and rape awareness programs. And if your only reason for not attending an event or lecture is “talking about rape and violence is depressing/ uncomfortable/ unnecessary,” then I’m dragging you with me.

Pedantic Feminism?

by aronjerrison

Sitting down to read several hundred lines of Ancient Greek poetry, I realise that I ought to introduce myself in a way closer to that of my fellow Gadflies Naomi and Eddy. It may be the procrastination talking, but I think that knowing more about me might enable you, the reader to understand more about my perspective on the topics about which I hope to write.

I am a third year classics major here at unnamed small liberal arts college, which has unfortunately manifested in a great deal of pedantry in my everyday interactions with the world. Please, allow me to elaborate.

There has, on our campus, been a sign reading “Men Working” placed over the cover of a manhole. The sign is double-sided, and on each of the sides, the word ‘man’ has been altered. On one, it has been crossed out entirely and replaced with the word ‘people’, and on the other the prefix ‘wo’ has been added. I find these “corrections” to be indicative of a larger problem in our society.

Let me be clear, I have no problem with political correctness. In fact, I am a huge fan. It frustrates me when I hear the more “traditionally” gendered terminology used at dances or dance classes, when referring to people as ‘leads’ and ‘follows’ would be less ambiguous and more politically correct. The problem that I have is with a misunderstanding of etymology.

In Old English, the word ‘man’ was gender neutral. The feminine form was ‘wifman’ and the masculine, ‘werman’. Over time, the labiodental dropped out, and wifman became the modern ‘woman’, while man started to be used as masculine while werman fell out of use.

I agree with the principle that the gender norms implied by the “men working” sign are a problem. I do not, however, think that the solution is to change the sign. I think that in order to deal with this problem, we need to bring back werman. I do not want to hear the phrase ‘humankind’ used when mankind would be preferable, I want man to be gender neutral again.

When I have discussed this with Eddy, he has expressed some reservations about the potentiality of this sort of endeavour. He does not think that we can expect to effect a change in our language when we could just go along with what is currently in use. My problem with that approach, is that it leaves us with changing ‘manholes’ into ‘maintenance holes’ and ignoring the rich history of the language which we hold so dear. It leaves us with poets talking about the Herstory of Womankind and ignoring the potential of embracing what was once a fully gendered language.


(this post will be continued with an examination of how this applies to my feminist identification)

Straight, white, cis, male, and feminist

by EddyNorthwind

I’m an eagle scout, a member of a social fraternity, and a self-identifying masculist. Three strikes and I’m out on the whole “feminsim” thing, I guess.

…Except that’s horse shit. My mom was part of the first generation of women engineers to graduate from Duke, and is now the owner of two small businesses while still finding time to listen to me whine about whatever silly and transient problem is eating at me when we talk. My dad is Certified Nursing Assistant, which is like being a male nurse, only you also have to deal with the stereotype that you’re either too stupid or too poor to be a Real Nurse. The role of primary caregiver flipped between parents throughout my childhood depending on work schedule and barometric pressure. They didn’t raise me to be a bigot, and I like to think that I’m making them proud.

I am a loud proponent of Scouting For All, both within and outside the BSA. If you pass out drunk at my fraternity, we carry you to an extra bed, stay with you until you wake up, and offer to walk/drive you home, without even raping you once! I’m also one of those silly masculists who believes that masculism and feminism are complementary, i.e. that rigid gender roles and their enforcement hurt everyone, and that there is no way to deconstruct femininity without also deconstructing masculinity.

Oh, and I call myself a feminist. I do prefer the term gender egalitarian, but that’s unimportant (and more on that in a later post)

Something quiet and wonderful happened between the second and third wave: Feminism worked. If a straight white cis male from a well-off two-parent household in suburbia is arguing with his fraternity brothers about whether or not a particular nominee for a bid is conscious enough of personal boundaries to be admitted, someone did something very, very right.

Trouble is, some of us — even us third-wavers — are still stuck in the 1960s mindset that everyone is against us. I don’t mean to say that there aren’t very real issues that we face today — rape and rape culture are serious business, women are still making $0.77 on the dollar, and the idea of the hegemonically masculine male as the norm and everything else as “other” is still insidious and everywhere, to name just a few. Still, “the radical notion that women are people” isn’t radical at all today.

What is radical is the idea that a guy who fits the mold of hegemonic masculinity okayishly enough to fool a passing glance is Not A Real Feminist (And Is Probably Just In This To Get Laid). And I don’t mean radical in the good way, here.

Certainly, not everyone who calls themselves feminist feels this way. I don’t, and I’m pretty sure the rest of the Gadfly doesn’t. I’d even go so far as to suggest that most self-identifying feminists don’t. That doesn’t make it any less shitty when someone does voice these opinions. In high school, the sentiment was enough to drive me away from my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (admittedly, a different movement, but we didn’t have an in-house feminist group), despite the fact that roughly 2/3 of my social group at the time was at least a little queer.

Now, imagine what that attitude does to someone who is generally sympathetic to the whole “women are people” thing, but has heard some nasty stuff about man-hating feminists from some people and doesn’t really know what to think about the group of girls and a gay guy passing out SlutWalk fliers.

If we want to change how society views people, we have to be confrontational about some things. However, it’s important to make sure that we’re attacking ideas, not people.


Edit: I suppose I should mention that I no longer identify as straight. At time of writing, I had been in denial of my own homosexual attractions for about 6 years and was in the process of getting honest with myself. For the whole story, see this post. The short version is that I am and have always been a 2 on the Kinsey scale (primarily heterosexual with more than incidental homosexual attraction) and that I am currently still closeted to my family and some groups of friends.

Rare On-Topic Post

by naomiparker

I am a 5’2’’ tuba player.  I am a woman studying math and physics.  I am a lesbian with a boyfriend.  It’s safe to say I’m not overly concerned with “fitting in”.

Except with the feminists.

I’m terrified of the feminists.

I know that the vast majority of feminists are reasonable people who support the ultimately docile goal of human equality.  The feminists I know are generally intelligent, thoughtful, and cautious.  Some are even men.  These people are not the unfortunately popular image of the man-hating, bra-burning feminazi.  I have no reason to feel uncomfortable around them, let alone terrified.

I was hesitant to enroll in our university’s introductory level Women and Gender Studies course.  I much prefer my neutrinos and dynamical systems, but being the least unattractive of the diversity requirements, the WGS course was a necessary boredom.  I was surprisingly comfortable there, interested even.  My classmates were reasonably insightful, and I generally had no protests against the ideas presented in class.

Eventually the day came when I had something to say.  Not the kind of something to say where you answer a question or contribute some small insight to reassure the professor that you deserve those ten “class participation” points.  I came to class that day with a carefully constructed rebuttal to one of the assigned readings that I found offensive and frustrating.  I just had to come to class and say it.  Easy enough.

As one of my classmates gave a summary of the reading, I realized, to my horror, that she was completely fair and neutral.  I realize that this is good summarizing technique, but I was honestly expecting at least a little outrage.  I tried to read people’s faces, to see if they agreed with the clearly biased and misguided points the girl was so calmly repeating.  Nothing.

It dawned on me that no one was talking.  She had opened the discussion up to the class.  My hand should have been in the air, but it wasn’t, and I couldn’t explain why not.  No one made a sound for what seemed like hours.  Worse, the professor, an older Second Wave feminist with a very noticeable presence, was silent, waiting to either enforce or tear down the argument no one was making.

Finally, the girl leading the discussion caved with a hesitant “I mean…I…didn’t agree with everything she [the author] said, but…you know…”

That was what I needed.  I needed assurance that the class of thirty young, enthusiastic feminists (and one old one) wasn’t going to rip me to bits for questioning the author, and if they did, at least this girl would be hesitant about it.  I made my point before I had time to doubt myself again, and most of my classmates were vocal in their support of my rebuttal.

I realized then to what extent the misinformed stereotype of the harsh and judgmental feminist was ingrained into my consciousness.  It had made a decision for me.  I’m positive that it keeps others (particularly men) from expressing their views as well.  Those repressed opinions generally aren’t even questioning the ideals of feminism as much as they are contrary to the assumed ideals of the stereotypical feminists.  At first I thought the debate over the connotation of “feminist” and the movement to abolish the stereotype were minor concerns.  Now I believe they are the biggest obstacles we face while expanding the feminist movement.


Surprise! My First Post Will Be Off Topic.

by aronjerrison

I’ll be doing an introductory post for myself later on, but I had a conversation lately that set me in the bloggin’ mood.
Last night I was deep in conversation with friends (including a couple fellow gadflies) about asexuality inspired by this post by figleaf. One of those present was a friend to whom I shall refer as Lucy (name changed to protect the ignorant) who expressed some confusion over what precisely asexuality is. She seemed to be confusing celibacy and asexuality, that is, a lack of having sex with the lack of desire to have sex.
In the course of clumsily attempting to explain the difference to her the question of why she chooses to remain celibate was raised.
Her answer surprised all of us there and, speaking from my own perspective, was appalling.
She told us that (regarding her virginity) she would not “give it [to a prospective partner]” until she had the potential to “get half of his shit”. She then proceeded to give us a bullshit pseudopsychological causal analysis of income gaps in marriage and likelihood of a man (and she did specify a man) cheating. She seemed to be implying that she had no desire for sex, and the only reason that she would be having it would be to get something out of it.
The idea of getting something out of having sex is not one with which I disagree, pleasure can be derived from it quite efficiently. The problem that I had was her apparent moneygrubbing approach to sexuality. Her view of sex seems to be fundamentally transactional. This view is one which I, and many others, believe contributes to a rape culture.
It is possible that I am being a bit harsh in my analysis of her statements. However, I find it difficult to let these small things go, because they build on each other.
Not more importantly, but perhaps more relevantly with respect to the stated purpose of this blog, her comments betrayed a fairly firm belief in the false dichotomy between men as the sex class and women as the no-sex class, the idea that figleaf was speaking out against in the post that sparked our discussion. She seemed to be saying that she will only be able to trust a man to not go out and have sex indiscriminately unless she had some sort of collateral, because men want sex all the time.
It may not be fair of me to put my own personal feelings into this, but I would hate to be in a relationship with someone who had so little trust in me.


The Obligatory Introductory Post

by thefeministgadfly

This blog arose as the result of an argument. However, before we explain what argument was, we ought first to tell you who we are.

We, the contributors to The Feminist Gadfly, are students at a relatively centrist Midwestern undergraduate liberal arts university. We span a large range of genders, sexualities, socio-economic classes, and geographic origins. (Unfortunately, we have yet to span a wide number of races.) Our differences in backgrounds give rise to numerous disagreements on many topics. The thread that binds our discourse together is feminism.

…or gender egalitarianism. This, you see, is where our argument got its start.

The question was raised “if the goal that we are trying to achieve is that of gender equality, should we not move away from the term ‘feminism’ with its negative popular associations and implications of gender bias?” Our responses divided us.

In our various postings on this blog, we shall attempt to deal with the question of feminist identification outside of the limited context of a gender studies classroom. Do we need a separate movement to deal with the problems men face? Is the gendered nature of the term feminism too divisive for our purposes? Is the negative popular perception of feminism enough to push us away from the term?

Being college students, we are congenitally incapable of avoiding distraction. Therefore, it might behove you to expect much in the way of off-topic discourse. However, as with our differences in views, expect the running theme to be that of gender egalitarianism.

-The Feminist Gadfly