The Feminist Gadfly

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

Category: Feminist Identification

Word Order

by aronjerrison

Before I get to the body of this post, I should like to, as much as I hate both the word and the concept, indulge in a bit of “blogsplaining”.

Finals are upon us here at Midwestern liberal arts university, and conscientious students that we are, Naomi, Eddy, and I have let this blog sit on the back burner as we move academics to the front.

That being said, I will be putting my work aside for a short while so as to write about something which has been on my mind for a while.

As I have made my way through the feminist blog-o-sphere, particularly the more radical areas of it, I have repeatedly come across the phrase “feminist man”. Because no disclaimer that I could write would be enough to convince everyone that I am not attempting to “correct”, “educate”, or “fix” feminists and feminism, I am hoping that this meta-disclaimer will make some progress towards that end.

The phrase “feminist man” poses for me, a couple of problems.

The first, and most trivial, of them is that I dislike the double use of ‘feminist’ as both a noun and an adjective. I would much prefer that the term ‘feministic’ see a rise in usage.

The second is its gendered implications. If we accept this terminology, we are implicitly accepting gender as our identifier, with feminist as a mere modifier. I have written before about what a feminist is, but I feel a need to reiterate my point here.

A feminist is, asThe American Heritage Dictionary tells us, “a person whose beliefs and behaviour are based on feminism.” This definition has no gendered implications, and adding them seems counter-productive.

I will not deny that gender is an important thing to take into account when considering feministic (see? it works–right?) discourse, but having it as our primary identifier doesn’t help. When I am discussing an issue and feminism comes up, the fact that I identify as a feminist is much more relevant than the fact that I identify, however marginally, as a man.

This is why, when the issue of identification comes up, I call myself a male feminist. My gender is indicated, but it is not my primary identifier. Men are not monolithic. If I am identified as a man, nothing can be divined about me, the fact that I am a feminist is significantly more telling. This is not to say that feminism is monolithic, merely that having a similar goal provides more of an association than having a similar sex or gender.

I would like to continue this post, but it’s nearly 5.00 AM, and I have papers to write.

-AJ

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“As a Feminist”

by aronjerrison

Although I would like to keep my record pristinely clear of on-topic posts, I have mentioned today’s post multiple times in the past two weeks to both Naomi and Eddy, and I thought that I really ought to write it up to share with you.

As I go about my life, both on the internet and out in the big bad world, I am confronted with far too much anti-feminist rhetoric. I have found that the image of the “humourless feminist” is still a popular one, much to my chagrin. As much as I would love to point the people who accept this stereotype to a link to Jo Brand, in the real world, due to the socio-economic (primarily economic) barriers keeping me from smartphone ownership,  I do not always have that option.

The result of this is me finding myself attempting to break that stereotype by describing myself as having both a sense of humour and feminist convictions often uttering that unfortunate phrase: “well, as a feminist, I…”

My problem with the phrase is not the unhesitating allegiance to feminism to which it seems to pledge me. I have no problem with that. Instead, I fear that I am committing some grievous breach of etiquette for a male feminist (more on the syntax of “male feminist” in a later post). Having seen so many straw-feminists formed out of a misunderstanding and generalising of one feminist’s comments, I do not want to allow my elucidation of my own feminist ideology to reflect in a potentially negative manner on such an important movement.

This may seem presumptuous to even say, but I would hate to see my thoughts pasted around the internet as an example of why feminists are evil and wrong.

What I need to do is find a more convenient shorthand for “this is what I, being informed by my feminist convictions, think about the topic under discussion. Please do not take this as the view any feminists other than those who state it.” Until I find that shorthand, I would like to, as a feminist, say good bye.

-AJ

Pedantic Feminist cont’d

by aronjerrison

For those of you who have seen the comments on my last post, a regular topic of disagreement with Eddy once again reared its head. Although I will be responding to his latest comment eventually, I thought that I ought to finish this post first.

When we last left our blogger, he was discussing how we need to reclaim ‘man’ as gender neutral. What he had yet to truly discuss, was why.

I have, in my short time on this planet studied a great number of languages. Despite never achieving more than a very very basic grounding in most of them, there was a trend that I noticed. A large percentage of languages, when addressed a mixed gendered group, will prefer masculine forms. This goes so far that even if there is only one male in a large group, one would use masculine collective nouns.

For the first fifteen years of my life, I attended a small private school on the east coast. There were no more than 150 students enrolled in the school at any time and that included four kindergartens and first through eighth grade. (an astute observer will notice that I seem to have finished middle school at the comparatively advanced age of fifteen. This is something which I may discuss at a later date.) In the grade above mine, there was a class composed of ten students, of whom only one was male. Despite this gender ratio, the Hebrew teacher referred to the students as talmidim, the Spanish teacher as los estudiantes, and the German teacher as die studenten (seemingly in contrast to the others, but one must remember that all German plurals use the feminine article).

When we learned this standard of pluralisation, I remember being surprised, and a bit shocked. Why were women being subordinated to men in language? I didn’t see them being subordinated in reality.

Why would men be “more important” in religious texts when the only Rabbi of whom I could think was female?

It was years before I realised what this implied. At the time, I thought that it was just a linguistic quirk. Now, having studied the history of western civilizations spanning millennia, I notice the pattern of dismissal of women, and the undercurrent of fear.

The current debate over reproductive rights is another in a long line of manifestations of wermen’s fear of wifmen’s reproductive abilities. There is no more sense in trying to mitigate an individual’s control of their generative abilities than there was in Zeus swallowing Metis for fear of her offspring.

Really, that’s why I call myself a feminist. Sure, there is a great deal more to it than that, but that is the Aristotelian first cause. In the nearly three thousand years since Hesiod wrote of Uranus stopping up Gaia’s womb so that she could bear no more children, we have stopped using amputation and blood-letting as panaceas, we have stopped leaving sickly children out to die of exposure, and we have stopped killing people to propitiate a plethora of gods, why then, do we continue to treat women with less care and respect than men?

Why do we still marginalise them in our language?

-AJ

Digression

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.

-AJ

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.

~Eddy

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.

-Naomi