Wednesday, 13 August 2008


Ex-expat has beaten me to the punch a little bit, but I'd like to respond to a recent interesting post by Homepaddock about the future of feminism. (This is also a response to Noelle McCarthy. If you're reading this, Noelle, I'd be happy to discuss the issues over a pinot gris - except that like many women, my roles as mother, worker and student don't leave me much time or disposable income for self-indulgence).

Homepaddock questions whether feminism has ongoing relevance, and suggests that it needs to be superseded by peopleism - an approach in which 'issues and concerns are addressed by people because they are people's issues and concerns'. Given the different parts of the political specture HP and I occupy, it's not surprising that we don't see eye to eye on this one; but I think she points to the important challenge feminists face in convincing the world at large that what we have to say matters.

First of all, I don't agree with HP that feminism is in any way 'against' men, any more than anti-racism movements are against white people. I think feminism promotes values with the potential to benefit all of society - and if I didn't, I probably wouldn't bother with it. My son and daughter grow up in an environment where it's OK for both to kick a ball, play with their My Little Ponies, read a book or play with toy cars. They have a dad who has no hesitation or embarrassment in showing his love for them, and helps out with every aspect of their care, from homework to nose-blowing. My partner is one half of a relationship in which either or both parents can be breadwinner or at-home parent at any given time. Violence of any sort, including smacking, is prohibited in our family. Our kids know that, whatever their sexuality, they and their partners will be loved and welcomed in their parents' home. So the males in our feminist household don't have it so bad.

What's more, I don't know a single feminist woman who doesn't care about men's welfare, or cares only about gender issues. Every feminist I know cares about other social justice issues - workers' rights, the environment, human rights issues, colonialism - because we see the relationship between these issues and the oppression of women.

Secondly, as Ex-expat says, if we stop looking the world through the lens of gender, and stop responding to gender issues collectively as women, we lose the ability to stand up against this kind of injustice. Things like the pay gap, domestic violence and eating disorders don't just randomly happen to a bunch of people who just happen to be female. These are structural issues affecting women as a group because we're women. We could look to human rights laws/equal opportunities policies/men/common sense and reason/liberalism/whatever to fix the problems that affect us as woman, but we'll be waiting a bloody long time. Every single advance for women has happened because women identified a structural injustice and stood collectively against it.

HP points to an important problem, though. Why is it that some women don't see the ongoing relevance of feminism - including women like Noelle McCarthy, who acknowledges the gains it's made for women? That it is much trickier issue, and perhaps another blog for another day.


homepaddock said...

"Why is it that some women don't see the ongoing relevance of feminism"

Let's start with common ground: the issues which concern you also concern me. Almost all of the issues which matter to you also matter to me.

I don't think feminism is against men.(Except perhaps the very radical end - and I say that because I was at a seminar in which a speaker said she couldn't see how you could be for women without being against men; but I am sure that view is the exception not the rule).

But by its emphasis on the female, feminism does appear to exclude the male and we'd make more progress by appealing to what we have in common rather than by emphasising differences.

If it's a brown eyed problem I might not see the need to concern myself about it if my eyes are blue; but if it's a people's issue, I'm immediately involved.

That's why I prefer peopleism (although I'd like to find a better word for it) because I don't think any of the issues are just women's issues, I think they are people's issues.

Take childcare for example - if we call that's a woman's issue why are we excluding fathers? Wouldn't we make more progress if it's a parents' issue? Then what about the children? It effects them too so maybe it's a family issue. But then even if those without families aren't concerned with the problems surrounding childcare directly they may be indirectly and certainly could be involved in the solution. So in fact it's a women's and parents' and fammilies' and other people's issue.

Another example is violence. My GP says he sees nearly as many men as women who are victims of domestic violence; although that could be because fewer women seek help. However, it doesn't matter who's the perpetrator and who's the victim, violence isn't acceptable. But again if it's a woman's issue why would men worry about it? Even if it was only men who were violent and only women who were the victims of it, men as the cause of the problem would have to be part of the solution.

Having said all that, I think we're on the same road towards a common goal and just have differing views on the best vehicle to use to get there. After all women are people too :)

Anna McM said...

I share your unease at portraying childcare as a women's issue - it seems self-defeating. I guess it's just a reflection of the historical fact that it's only been of concern to women. I don't see this as excluding fathers - I think men haven't done childcare for a lot of social and economic reasons, including not much wanting to - but whatever the case, including them should be a focus.

You ask re violence, 'But again if it's a woman's issue why would men worry about it?'. I think that is the very problem - that self-interested assumption that if it doesn't affect me, it doesn't matter. I think the answer to this is not to try and demonstrate to men that violence does actually affect them as a group (ie, sometimes women abuse men as well as vice versa), but to change our whole ethical approach, and care about violence happening to other people regardless of who they are or whether or not we are directly affected.

That's why I think feminism is sexy - it offers an ethical code which emphasises interdepedence rather than an individualist focus.

Anna McM said...

And thanks for your comments by the way, HP!

Ari said...

Hey HP- on "peopleism"- I generally call it Gender Rights/Gender Equality, and in practice it's just a slightly broader application of feminism where I get to rant about things like the lack of male-controlled contraception and such. ;)

Women talking about feminism are naturally going to focus on things that matter to them. I kinda think that's a given. But women have by no means excluded men from this type of discussion- people like me are almost scarily welcome in feminist circles. The key is that you really have to be willing to listen to a bunch of things most men never hear directly because women don't often talk about that kind of stuff to men without a significant amount of trust. Blogs have started to bring this sort of thing out into the open a bit more and help, to some extent, dispel that whole "crazy feminist" stereotype.

To put this in your words- people with brown eyes can be worried about the sort of power they get to exercise over people with blue-eyes, what it does to young people with brown eyes, the sorts of attitudes that it promotes, etc... without even a direct concern for people with blue eyes. We're an interdependent and interfering species. :) (hah, I see Anna's already said the same thing :) )

As for violence- it's a men's issue. It's an issue that we have a culture that encourages violence, that we don't prevent it enough, that we let ourselves become violent, and that we're not seen as trustworthy dealing with women and children because of it. Remember the fuss about not seating single men next to kids flying alone? It's that kind of issue that kicks home how much every man gets effected by a male culture that allows systematic disrespect, violence, and sexual manipulation of women. Fortunately, recent work is beginning to make some inroads here and we're seeing people realise that yes, violence is our problem, too.