Let’s Talk About It: the complexity of feminism

This is something I’m labeling as a “Let’s Talk About It” here because I ended up talking at length about this topic, but it originated from an ask on tumblr. Below is the ask, as well as my answer. I’m posting here because it’s a long answer and others may find it to be of interest, or I may want to find this post again in the future.

Copied tumblr post below:


feministetalquestion

I answered the ICoS questions in a different post so here I’m answering just the feminist question. I split them because whether I consider myself to be a feminist is a complicated/long answer on its own.

You may be wondering why this part took me so much longer to answer. It’s because no matter how many times I started this post, it always devolved into way too many topics way too quickly and somehow it involved a rant. Although you said it was fine to rant, I felt like I wasn’t explaining my thought process well and I kept getting way too sidetracked. To me, everything is interconnected so there are several really big topics that can get pulled in from the simple question of “feminism: yes/no?”.

This is probably try #6 on this post and hopefully this will be the last attempt. All of this is, of course, merely my personal opinion– other people could think completely differently than I do, and it doesn’t make them less valid than me. It simply makes them a human being with a different opinion, which is not something to judge but rather something to accept and even love.

The short answer is that I don’t consider myself to be anything in particular. Without going way too much on a tangent, the way I personally feel about things (others could feel otherwise and be totally valid) is that labels are limiting, both externally by what people make assumptions about based on the label, and internally by what people will allow themselves to think/feel based on trying to fit in with whatever label they’ve self-assigned.

Honestly, I can hardly stand to even use the labels lesbian and asexual with me, not because I find it to be shameful but because every label in the LGBTQIAetc community comes with so many subsets that I find it to be stifling and frustrating. That would probably be a whole conversation all on its own and I don’t know if anyone would even agree with me on anything. But despite that, I use those terms because it’s the easiest way for me to briefly explain to people why I don’t date often and why I’m not interested in guys.

In general, I personally dislike labels and always have, and I’d rather just be myself in whatever capacity that is and not have to try to fit into this or that set of implicit expectations. I understand that for many people labels are useful in the way I said how asexual/lesbian is useful sometimes for me, but as someone who’s always felt alienated and outside of mainstream, my perspective is that more often labels are used restrictively for both the person and their connections around other people. Leading with labels brings too much baggage; leaving with labels dismisses complexity.

That is the briefest I can do at overviewing what to me is a huge topic, so now I will try to as briefly as possible address feminism in particular. Obviously, even now this is a long post, but honestly I don’t know a way to address this in a shorter way without cutting out the breadth of it and being unfair to some side.

I actually have done a fair amount of research on the topic, and there are many things that I already felt on my own for years that feminism addresses as an issue. A few are:

  • The impossible ideal set forth for womens’ bodies, and the damage that creates: Having dealt with undiagnosed anorexia, yep. I agree this is a thing and it’s an issue.
  • Gendered toys: always pissed me off, it’s stupid, needs to be fixed. (See Goldieblox in links below)
  • Gendered expectations: also dumb. I can’t cook to save my life but my brothers rock at it. According to whatever assumptions, this is not possible.
  • BS assumptions that everything a female does is to get a male’s attention, like how she dresses or makeup she wears, etc: as previously noted, I’m an asexual lesbian. I can promise you, the absolute LAST thing I give any sort of shits about is a man’s dick and whether or not he gets it up looking at me. If anything, I find that idea to be repulsive and I would avoid it at all costs.
  • Female characters’ intelligence tied into her looks and how she often only exists in terms of the men around her: this has always pissed me off. If you go back as far as my internet trail goes, you’d probably see somewhere me bitching about how boy + girl = INSTALOVE is the most obnoxious thing ever to me. It’s probably one reason I got into m/m because that bullshit wasn’t even an option there.

That’s a brief overview and there are a lot more topics where that comes from, plus each of those topics are complex on their own, but that’s what I’ll mention for now. Also, addressing many of the issues I mentioned above, there are a number of people/groups I follow or enlightening videos I have enjoyed watching in the past, and I’ve linked some of them below. I don’t agree with everything in all of these but this is so you have an idea of the sort of information I’m aware exists and/or I follow:

You might be asking yourself why I wouldn’t say I consider myself to be a feminist since most of the people or information I mentioned/linked above either self-identify as feminist or are largely in line with feminist ideals. In that regard, yes, I do agree with or understand many of the things people who self-identify as feminists have said.

But the reason I don’t consider myself to be a feminist is because I don’t agree with all of it.

Some feminists will claim that there are people who use the term feminism for all the wrong subjects (such as only acknowledging feminism for white women and totally ignoring women of color or women in other countries– or using feminism as a way of degrading/demonizing men– or using feminism to deny the validity of trans persons, especially trans women, and so on.) In part I will not consider myself a feminist precisely because of the people using the term for those reasons. Some feminists can say, “oh but they’re using the term incorrectly!” but it’s a pervasive use of the term, and if the term is so maligned that such things are commonplace under its umbrella then either a new term needs to be created without that baggage or there needs to be a more concerted effort to disavow the extremist mentality that is misusing the label.

But even aside from that, I also don’t consider myself a feminist because even the feminists I like say things I totally disagree with. I’ve seen feminists speak out against Kit Harrington’s comment about how he feels objectified as a man. To me, it’s ludicrous to tell him he can’t feel that way because he’s a man. I don’t care about this idea of patriarchy and privilege and blahblah. I find the idea of “privilege” to be inherently problematic because in many of the cases where I’ve seen it used regardless of setting, people try to use it as a reason why someone else can’t feel the way they feel.

“You can’t have those emotions! You’re privileged!”

No. I’m sorry, but no.

Here’s the thing from my perspective: every argument you make, you need to be willing to flip it to the opposite viewpoint, and see if you still think it’s a fair statement to make.

Men can’t feel objectified/emotions! They’re privileged!
becomes
Women can’t feel empowered! They’re disadvantaged!

Or even, “Women can’t feel emotions! They’re discriminated against!”

If you feel that the flipped statement is making a complex topic far too simplified and that it is in any way unfair to the subject, then you shouldn’t use the original argument freely. That’s just my opinion, because I was raised on the Golden Rule so I try to live my life according to the maxim that I should treat others the way I would want to be treated. If I would feel that the opposite argument is unfair, I shouldn’t use the argument I’m using, because otherwise I could be employing confirmation bias where I don’t notice the unfairness of my own statement because I’m so certain of the moral superiority of my view.

I feel that if you start making extreme and generalized comments trying to tell another set of human beings they can’t feel or act or think the way they feel, that’s a problem. And that’s a problem not only for people with very conservative views but also people with very liberal views. There is no single viewpoint that exempts you from being an ass to another human being because you don’t understand their life and therefore think it’s okay to judge them for it.

From my viewpoint, if as a woman I have felt objectified in the past, then I acknowledge that any other human being could feel the same. If a man tells me he feels objectified, then I see no reason to doubt it. Because whether or not the context of that objectification is different, the emotional toll that objectification can have on a human mind is the same.

If he genuinely feels that way then there’s a reason for it and I’m not going to tell him that I know his experiences better than he does because that’s insulting. I didn’t live his life. I don’t know how he’s been treated or how people have acted around him. I don’t care what his skin tone is, what his socioeconomic status is, what country he lives in or age he is or sexual orientation or gender identity or anything. If he tells me he feels objectified, he feels objectified.

For me to tell him he can’t feel a certain way because he’s a man, and then to turn around and tell him that as a woman I have all these extra special rights to feel disadvantaged or discriminated against this or that way, would be highly hypocritical in my opinion. And, frankly, not fair to him as a human.

Also, let’s be really honest here: men are objectified. That’s rampant in the m/m/BL/yaoi/etc community. A whole lot of m/m stories or BL manga use a whole lot of tropes to objectify men as sex objects. And even outside of that genre, look at things like Magic Mike. Women think it’s perfectly okay to lust all over men stripping and all that, but how DARE you see a woman only as her body and as a sex object!

Really? This isn’t a problem for people? I honestly do not at all understand that mindset. It’s so bizarre to me.

Similarly, I have a problem with feminism because although even feminists I like say that feminism is supposed to be about equality and that raising women to the same level as men will solve a lot of mens’ issues too (for example, the idea that wearing makeup is demeaning because it’s too girly and that then transfers to even more pressure on people who are biologically male but in some fashion are women internally or like womens’ items externally, and it also causes issues for some gay men who are demeaned for being ‘too feminine’; but if being feminine weren’t demonized than these would not be insults for these people) – and even though I agree with that premise – I also disagree with how inconsistently and infrequently I feel like that equality is applied. As soon as it’s convenient to tout womens’ rights above mens’ rights, or trans rights, or whatever rights, then all those other valid issues other people experience are dismissed and ignored because it doesn’t fit into their predetermined opinion.

The Kit Harrington comment is a good example in my mind, but there are other examples, like focusing so much on the idea of female survivors of rape that even some people who claim to be feminist then completely dismiss or demean male survivors of rape, trans survivors of rape, or any other survivors. I also disagree with how some feminists make everything about the idea of misogyny or some other specific discriminatory thing against women when in my view it’s actually something indicative of a much larger whole, and this is only one of the issues. It isn’t the cause. It’s a symptom of inequality in general.

So, sometimes I agree with what feminists say and I would also say the same things, myself. Other times, I disagree with their stance and feel that it’s too limiting and one-sided.

And it’s important to note that I feel this way about pretty much all labels and the group mentality that goes along with it. I feel that every subset of the LGBTQIA community does this; I feel that people of all viewpoints from liberal to conservative do this; I feel that religions do this. I’m not by any means saying everyone in these labels/groups do this, but that inherent in assigning oneself a label it seems like it becomes way too easy for people to fall into that mentality. I feel that I’ve done this myself in the past, unthinkingly, in pursuit of the continuance of a label or group mindset.

This is all in part due to what I said earlier about the limitations of labels. If you label yourself a feminist, you might feel beholden to championing the idea of women and womens’ rights to the exclusion of all else, which after a point can cause you to become part of the problem and no longer the solution. Same with any other label/group I listed and any others I didn’t.

The solution itself is not one group of people, nor one viewpoint. The solution is everyone working together, acknowledging the same issues, working on the same concerns, and using their equally valid viewpoints to create a complex and holistic understanding of the issue itself.

That’s why my general belief is:

Presume humanity, don’t assume inequity.

How does anyone think the gay rights movement finally started gaining traction in the US, to the point that astoundingly it’s now legal to marry the same sex anywhere in the US? That happened, in part, because the LGBT community stopped assuming everyone who was straight as well as all the religious organizations (especially Christian) were all evil people who had no interest in, or understanding of, LGBT issues. They started reaching out; humanizing the “other” which then let them be humanized themselves for the opposite side. Once people start seeing each other as human beings first, they tend to be better about listening, integrating the information into their own lives, and seeing it from a new perspective.

This is something that I think should be applied across the board.

No matter who you’re dealing with, no matter what their opinions are, assume first that they are a human being with a complex history, life experiences that drove their understanding of the world and most likely their opinion on this topic, and that they have the capability of change if it should be something that is of interest to them. See them first as a human being, and only second or third as whatever other labels you’ve assigned them or they have assigned themselves.

If you do that, you’ll find that civil conversations are easier to be had, and through that mutual respect and civility there will be many more opportunities for real and lasting change.


2 Comments

  1. It’s a fascinating cndrnouum this. I am committed to reasonable feminist ideals and regard myself as much a feminist as a male can be. I am committed to equality and the sharing of respect and trust. I abhor violence against women and the all too pervaisive climate of fear in which many women need to lead their lives. Yet, the over-zealous femmes who want to right the wrongs by use of the same mental attitudes they rail against really harm the cause. I can certainly understand their anger and sympathise with their frustration but recognise that their approach is not going to solve this most fundamental and complex of issues.

    Reply
    • I agree 🙂 Well also, I think any man can be as much a feminist as any woman. That’s just my personal view, because theoretically being a feminist ultimately just means wanting equality for men and women (and anyone else) so there shouldn’t be anything that says an individual man can’t want that as much, or even more, than an individual woman. My brother considers himself to be a feminist, which is funny since I don’t.

      But like you said, it really needs to be approached correctly or else the way people cover a topic does more harm than good to the topic itself. I don’t think this is confined to feminism. I see this all over the place, on all sorts of political spectrums, all sorts of topics… it’s simply that I don’t believe the way to change the mind of someone else, or to win any sort of debate or “argument”, is to start out by alienating other people and/or dismissing their thoughts. And the problem is that using anger to argue for any sort of human rights, equality, or other topics, is only going to weaken the argument itself and, at worst, treat allies as enemies, and create more people against the topic instead of for it.

      This gets into something else I’ve been thinking of writing a post about but haven’t yet; the idea of privilege. I think the way this PC world uses the idea of ‘privilege’ is inherently problematic because it conflates different concepts into one word or one topic, which then is assessed a negative connotation, which ultimately is oversimplifying a complicated topic and also can, at times, be used as a weapon against people simply because of how or where they were born. To me, that is problematic because I don’t believe a person can ever truly argue for equality if their very argument is founded on inequality. But that’s a whole other topic and I’d have to do more research to verify that I’m not misrepresenting things in my viewpoint.

      Along the lines of what you said, I think the anger that I see over-zealous feminists displaying is misplaced. Men are not the enemy, other women are not the enemy, nothing is the enemy other than problematic cultural norms, and those are the sort of things that can be changed once we all work together and pay a lot of attention to the topic. If anything, when I see an overzealous feminist going after men, even though I’m a woman I’m insulted by this because of all my male relatives and friends. They shouldn’t feel attacked just for being born. They shouldn’t be devalued just because of their gender identity or genitalia. They are not the problem. The same way I would argue that women shouldn’t deal with the same thing from the other side. This is not a man vs woman thing; it’s an everyone thing, because when you look at the BS men (straight and gay/bi/etc) and transgender persons have to deal with, a lot of that comes down to homophobia and/or misogyny being used against them. So they are all symptoms of the same illness. If the illness, the issue, itself is addressed then everyone wins in the long run.

      I think the awesome thing, though, is part of what will change this over time is people having civil conversations about it, and being more active bystanders when they come across an issue. So in that regard, I think you’re already doing a lot 🙂 And I hope you never forget the value in yourself and never let anyone tell you anything negative just because you’re male. Thank you for the comment and for reading my post! And feel free to keep talking if you’re still interested, or if you aren’t don’t worry about not replying either 🙂 I hope you have a lovely day!

      Reply

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