About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The women who could be allies but are not (yet)

The recent surge of female groups against feminism is a curious thing, and one that leaves a lot of feminists and their allies befuddled, especially if the women behind antifeminist statements do not seem to be overly religious or motivated by a conservative agenda. Microtrends like this invariably open up old sores for me, too.

Hook, line and sinker

See, I totally understand why most men are apathetic at best towards feminism, and consequently don't spend a lot of time thinking about it, making it easy for them to become misinformed. I also don't lay the responsibility to be feminist at the feet of every woman. I understand that women who have been raised by conservative values will sometimes buy these hook, line and sinker, or that they might be simply misinformed as well.

But what raises my hackles is when I see or hear women speak out against feminism who, by all rights, already espouse and live by a lot of what feminism stands for. I'm talking about women who have struggled against sexual conservatism to express themselves, women who value having a career and resist the pressure to settle down and have babies, women who are unafraid to speak up and make their opinion known - women who have no qualms competing with men and who fight for their personal freedom.

Not some think piece

This is not some think piece where I will berate these women for not reading feminist theory, because it would be especially presumptuous of me - a man - to tell these women how they should be feminist. In fact, what has set some of these women against feminism is probably that they catalog conservative pressures to be a certain type of woman right along with the pressure they feel from some feminists to be a certain type of woman. Let me get back to that in my final points.

For the sake of argument, I'll try to explore three typical anti-feminist arguments that you hear from this particular type of woman who has a feeling of hostility towards feminists.

1. "I'm not against feminism per se, but..."

Let's get this one out of the way first. The assumption usually here is that feminism is a thing that has already served its purpose. This assumption is much more widespread among men, but it's a little myopic to say the least: it's not because you personally have rarely had experiences with street harrassment of haven't experienced sexual coercion or misogyny, that nobody else does, or worse, that it's victims' own fault.

2. "I don't need feminism because I love men"

Obviously feminism doesn't hate men, but wants to bring down patriarchy - a pervasive system that systematically and disproportionally empowers straight men, usually to the expense of everybody else.

I'm sure that women who say this have had great individual experiences with men, might have had caring fathers or cool brothers, and so on. But there's something that's nagging about this statement, which leads me to the next one:

3. "I'm not like those women"

In 'The Gender Delusion', neuroscientist Cordelia Fine noted research that the more women rise in a typically male hierarchy, the more they will start adopting values traditionally associated with masculinity. In a very recent article, Soraya Chemaly has noted this as well.

A perverse side effect of these masculine values - that ulimtately root in patriarchy - is that they relegate women to second tier status. So by adopting the dominant discourse of power, they start seeing (some) other women, or men seen as not conforming enough, as weak and less worthy.

Individual vs social

There is something disingenuous about this. It's one thing to say "I'm not interested in feminism because I don't believe women should be equal to men" (as religious conservatives would say), which is at least a consistent position. It's another thing to - often consciously - put feminism to practice as an individual but work against it on a social level.

So yeah, I feel slightly despondent when I see the next celebrity, accomplished woman or powerful role model express her preference for 'Real Men', pity her own gender as typically weak and emotional (or dabble in the old 'men are like this and women like that' fairytale), and generally use feminist accomplishments as a launching pad to perpetuate a status quo.

You mean they owe other women something?

To be owed something is a very thorny subject in feminism because it is reminiscent of some men who feel that women owe them sex, love or attention for no reason other than that these men want it, the woman's opinions be damned.

So no, this particular type of anti-feminist women doesn't owe feminism anything, but it would be nice if they could turn around to see the flaw in their thinking. Note that this is not me saying: "here's how you should behave", but "here's why I think you're wrong". Those are two different things.

Consistency is hard!

In a broader sense, it's a frank conversation that anyone should be having with themselves, including self-avowed feminists and progressives. Another good example is the generation of Baby Boomers who's built its career and fortune on the institutions they and their parents worked to make more meritocratic, yet is now shutting the door for everyone else. Or how some radical Islamic groups demand respect for their right to wear the headscarf (which is fine), yet deride any woman who doesn't as a slut.

Expecting total ideological consistency from an individual is probably unfair. It's very human to believe contradictory things or to act contrary to one's self-image and ethos. To demand perfection is to buy into the Nirvana fallacy. I'm just disappointed with a segment of women who would probably be great feminist role models (I'm not asking for activists) to be so vicious against the people who could be her natural allies.