Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Monday, December 05, 2005

To continue the "Feminism debate"....

So far I’ve been called foolish, witless, bad mannered, complacent, poorly educated with suspect intelligence with stereotyped, ill-informed, fanciful ungrateful opinions.
Fair enough – maybe I am and more.
Beth at Brocilli for Breakfast, Maura at Babblogue and Fiona at Mental Meanderings have all posted about my post on female bloggers and feminism below.
While Sinead’s original post on female bloggers didn’t address feminism as such, I brought up feminism simply because I think discussing women and their role in a specific area and the need for more women seems irrelevant to me and also in this case, I hadn’t noticed female bloggers in either their presence or absence.
My 2nd post was only snippets of notes from a talk I gave (I apologise for spelling/grammar errors which I just noticed) to fill in time before I got round to sitting down and replying properly. (which I’m know doing at 2am on Sunday – how’s that for a dedicated blogger?)
I really don’t know how to start answering the above claims, so defining feminism comes first. (Warning this will probably end up being a very long post – and will probably still be called all the things above!)
Yes, there are many definitions of feminism and even more denominations of feminism for one to pick and choose from. Feminist Utopia defines core feminism as the “theory that men and women should be equal politically, economically and socially.” By their definitions I’m probably a moderate feminist (This branch of feminism tends to be populated mostly by younger women or women who have not directly experienced discrimination. They tend to question the need for further effort, and think that feminism is no longer viable. They often view feminism as embarrassing (it's thought that this is the group most likely to espouse feminist ideas and thoughts while denying being "feminist"))
One book that formed my opinions on feminism was Christina Hoff Sommer’s book “Who Stole Feminism?”. In that she distinguishes between gender feminism (which is what I vehemently disagree with and is what my blogger critics would say I’ve stereotyped as all feminism) and equity feminism (about women having the same rights as men – the first wave of feminism) So I’m probably an equity feminist, then.
Another author whose book I’ve read on feminism is Cathy Young (Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality) and she’s just started a blog the Y Files – she discusses definitions of antifeminism. 1 given is antifeminist - someone who does not believe in the social or economic or political equality of men and women. I’m not an anti-feminist.
She includes an exercpt from the introduction to that book - Do I still consider myself a feminist? No, if feminism means believing that women in Western industrial nations today are "oppressed" or if it means "solidarity with women," as essayist Barbara Ehrenreich claimed on National Public Radio in 1994. Yes, if it means that men and women meet each other as equals, as individuals first and foremost; if we remember what British philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards wrote more than fifteen years ago: "No feminist whose concern for women stems from a concern for justice in general can ever legitimately allow her only interest to be the advantage of women."
And I believe we still need a philosophy to guide us on the journey of an unprecedented transition: a philosophy that is not pro-woman (or pro-man) but pro-fairness; that stresses flexibility and more options for all; that encourages us to treat people, regardless of sex, as human beings. If sentimental traditionalism won't get us there, neither will the gender warfare that would destroy our common humanity in order to save it. I don't know if this philosophy should be called feminism or something else. But the biggest impediment to its development is what passes for feminism today.
Cathy Young then calls herself a “dissident feminist” – I suppose I could be one of those.
Apart from the stereotyped i-hate-men-and-think-everything-is-an-oppressive-patriachrical-conspiracy strand of feminism there is another type – the type that implies that to be feminist, one must be pro-choice. I am pro-life – a belief that I am comfortable explaining from a human rights equality point of view or a feminist one. Pro-life feminism is something that is not popular among most women’s groups – so much so that pro-life feminists were excluded from NOW (and then went on to form Feminists for Life) and even recently in the US, members of Democrats for Life, were exluded from the Democrats party conference, because they did not subscribe to the pro-choice vision of woman’s rights. Pro-life, pro-woman feminism is something I’ve posted on before and included this quote - If women must submit to abortion to preserve their lifestyle or career, their economic social status, they are pandering to a system devised and run by men for male convenience. Of all things which are done to women to fit them into a society dominated by men, abortion is the most violent invasion of their physical and psychic integrity. It is a deeper and more destructive assault than rape.... Accepting short-term solutions like abortion only delays the implementation of real reforms like decent maternity and paternity leaves, job protection, high-quality child care, community responsibility for dependent people of all ages, and recognition of the economic contribution of child-minders." - Daphne de Jong
I did have 1 particular encounter with a well known Irish feminist campaigner during 2002 referendum on abortion which served to highlight how integral the right to abortion is to the understanding of feminism – she asked me if I was raped, would I keep the baby?. From my point of view, then and now, as a woman who has thankfully never experienced any form of sexual violence, I believe that I would keep the baby – I can not see myself ending the life of an innocent person, regardless of the horrific circumstances of his/her birth. In response to my yes, she told me “enjoy the rape”. I was completely stunned by her response.  It’s probably wrong to generalise from this one incident, but her callous response crystalised for me, how far away I was from mainstream feminism.
So in summary, rather than classify my fairly critical view of modern feminism into about ten million categories which would look something like “pro-life-Catholic-fiscally conservative-dissident-moderate-equity feminist” who likes country music, I don’t call myself a feminist. Yes I believe that men and women are equal, but at this stage of the game, I think that’s taken as a pretty much standard view for all members of democracies everywhere.
I did say below that I hate feminism – yes, I do – I hate the man-hating, women-as-victims form of feminism which will not rest until their idea of equality has been achieved (for every man everywhere in society there should be a woman).
I also hate 2 things in discussions about women in power –
First – that we need parity on company boards, governmental agencies etc and that anything less is sexist. I posted a quote before from Gerardine Jones, the joint managing director of Dolmen Butler Briscoe where she siad in the Sunday Business Post that “She has 'no time whatsoever' for the view that there should be a certain quota of women on public boards. 'People should be on the boards of public companies if they have the skill and experience to be there, and for no other reason."
Second – that certain women are refused the public acclamation for being a woman who got somewhere if she doesn’t sign up to a full feminist agenda  - and if she’s anyway conservative, she might as well be a man – I posted about this before as well - A woman is not a "sister", practically not even a woman, if she dares deviate from the narrowly defined politically correct views that a group of feminist dinosaurs have decided on. Condaleeza Rice is a case in point. Apparently she was sucked into the vast right wing conspiracy, was brain washed and is now paraded around as a "token" woman in one of the most important jobs in the world to prove that Dubya doesn't hate all women. Perish the thought that she just might be have a brain of her own and is willing to use it. This kind of independent thinking in a female is enough to make any sensible feminist reach for her smelling salts.
I do apologise for my sarcastic generalisations, but the above opinion about Condi was articulated to me by a feminist friend. This is also the reason why I mentioned ovarian opinions below – radical feminism is predicated on the notion that women have the same political opinions – this is why political parties have women’s groups and the National Council for Women feel they’ve a mandate (womandate? Wimmindate?) to produce pre-election manifestos on behalf of Irish women.
Beth in her comments below says that “Feminism is NOT about men-hating ball-breakers and shoulder padded macho managers; moreover, feminism IS about the ongoing battle for egalitarianism between the genders which at its very core seeks to provide those women who you refer to as those 'left behind to sweep up the glass fragments' of the ceiling smashers, with equality of pay, access to the judicial system, property rights and sexual rights amongst others. I am a feminist and proud to say so. I do not wear dungarees, doc-maartens, nor am I a lesbian. I have never once monologued about my vagina, nor do my opinions come straight from my ovaries”
Fair enough – but the battle for egalitarianism between the genders is pretty much over now in the Western world now that women can go to college (more than men do) and get jobs wherever they want. Women also have equal access to justice and property. Any inequalities in access  that apply to women must also to apply to men of different social groups as well. Equality of access is what we all must strive for, for everyone, but equality of outcome is totally different – we should not measure women’s progress simply on statistics or the ability to show parity.
Women get paid the same for the same work done. Is there any Irish company that operates 2 different payroll rates? It’s the same rate, despite the difference in average pay overall, considered to be caused by the fact that feminism won, so to speak. Women can now choose to work what hours they want and also choose to make lifestyle decisions that are relevant to them with regard to promotions etc. They can also choose to work in the home – something that our very own Mary Robinson (who, while I consider her radical, would not be viewed as a waaay-out-there radical feminist) finds very disturbing – she views it as a “cop out”. She believes that it is very worrying that young educated women choose full time motherhood instead of “seeking to have society adjust to let them continue to fulfil their potential”.
As a young woman who will soon be receiving bank statements with “Dr” as the title, I plan to take substantial time out of my career to become a fulltime mother, I don’t find Robinson’s view of my future decision that friendly. In fact her comments only make me want to distance myself even more from feminism.
As for Beth’s comment about sexual rights, that’s not something I’m going to get into now, mainly because I’m waiting for my copy of Feminist Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy to arrive from amazon (check out Wendy Shalit’s review and the Slate’s book club) and I’ll tell you all about my opinions on the sexual landscape for young women when I review it. Suffice to say I think that it’s fantastic that women can be as much as a Samantha or as a Charlotte as they want, but we must take responsibility for many problems (STDs, teen pregnancy, pornography and the ever increasing sexualisation of women everywhere) that the sexual revolution brought as well.
I agree with Tom Wolfe in today’s Sunday Times about the “de-moralisation” of sex”. Which is covered in his latest novel I am Charlotte Simmons (It’s a really good read, but deserving of the worst sex scene writing award which it won) . “It was going to all these colleges that made me realise that sex has been de-moralised. And I really don’t think de-moralised sex is as much fun as good old evil sex.” Wolfe inclines to the belief that sexual repression is one of the most distinctive things about human beings; removing it, therefore, threatens our humanity.
A new site, modestyzone has been  set up by Wendy Shalit (and I really recommend her book Return to Modesty) and is well worth a read for those feminists among you who are interested in thinking about a new sexual ethic!
So to sum up!
My identity as a woman has nothing to do with me being a feminist.
Yes, my life would not have been possible without the sacrifices of feminists before me. Yes, I realise that much of what I take for granted, both in my philosophy and the opportunities I’ve had, are thanks to feminism and to the women who called themselves feminists and often made sacrifices like not getting married, or worked climbing career ladders while someone else watched their children grow up. Thanks to them, I can choose to do the opposite (watch my own children grow up if I ever have any!)
Should this gratitude extend to my incorporating feminism into my identity as woman, as a citizen, as nobody’s girlfriend at the moment, as someone’s future wife, as a blogger who despite suspect intellectual credentials has opinions on everything?
I think not. As saint commented elsewhere Just because the feminist movement achieved freedoms doesn't mean that women most be adoring femenists. Correct me if Im wrong the aim of the feminist movement was to give women the choice to do what they wished including not liking feminism.
I’m not a feminist. This may make the hate-poster-child for all feminists everywhere, but I’m fairly happy with my position.
Many feminists would view women who don’t call themselves feminists as enemies from their own ranks, whose defection is leaving parts of the front unwomanned (unmanned!). They fear that in through these little gaps the darkness will seep back. Women of all shapes and sizes have headed off into the world, (or back into the kitchen) to do their own thing, and these greying trailblazers are left holding the flames of feminist righteousness, facing down the retraction of universal suffrage, or the demolition of the creche or some other unthinkable anti-feminist act.
While this must be lonely and bewildering for feminists of all stripes, they should be celebrating. Women who might have abandoned the feminist identity are unlikely to abandon the comforts of the modern world nor the fundamental principles of equality and justice (which are not exclusive to feminism). If the threat arises, they are highly unlikely to be so drugged on the excitement of homemade pasta or so obsessed with their new bundles of joy to forget to stand up against any backward moves; they are unlikely to be so caught up in the independent dream of the perfect career to suddenly turn around and demand to be barred from the boardroom.
Feminism has come so far that women can afford to not to be one. Women can choose to not be one.
I have. I’m not a feminist. And 2,500 words into my longest post ever, I honestly hope that you all think that I least have that right.

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Anonymous that girl said...

Regardless of whether you are or are not a feminist isn't the point. The fact that you have a right to express your opinion on the matter, have it heard and discussed is. If it hadn't been for the women's movement I doubt whether any of us would have that right.

December 05, 2005 9:22 a.m.  
Anonymous Sinéad said...

There was me thinking a little post about women bloggers might provoke the odd comment....I had no idea it would spark off a cross-blog feminist debate.
I completely agree with the comment you quoted from The Saint - we should all have the right to choose what we want to be and as that girl points out, we largely do, because of feminism. Whether or not you're a feminist is your right, and you should be able to express it and have your views - whether others agree with them or not - respected.

December 05, 2005 11:04 a.m.  
Blogger Maura said...

Auds, in your post you identified with several kinds of feminism, and at the end you stated that you are not a feminist.

You are perfectly entitled not to call yourself a feminist, but apart from disliking sections of the movement, and particular people involved (I don't know any movement where you couldn't say the same), I'm not sure what the issue is apart from the label itself.

Feminism has come so far that women can afford to not to be one. Women can choose to not be one.

Of course you can choose not to identify as a feminist, but believe me if every woman become so complacent that we thank that we "can afford to not be one" then we would be heading towards a dangerous place.

Rights can be taken away, eroded, etc. I think it's important to be watchful, and to continue to require parity and equality in the work and domestic realm - that's what we deserve after all. If you do some research I think you'll discover that women continue to be underpaid, significantly, compared to their male colleagues. Sure, it shouldn't happen, but it does.

Yes, we should be promoted and given jobs based on our merits, and not our gender, but that implies a level playing field. The field still has bumps and hillocks in it.

We, as women in the Western world, live in a much better world than the previous generation, but that doesn't mean that there isn't work ahead of us yet.

December 05, 2005 11:11 a.m.  
Blogger Fence said...

See, this sort of thing is why labels are evil :)
I'd be quite similar in my viewpoints. I wouldn't describe myself as a feminist, but I do hold some feminist principles.

So I think that our society is equal, no. On the surface yes it is, but there are still a whole heap of attitudes and expectations about what it is to be a man or a woman. And at the moment, I would say that there is a huge need for work on the issue of male equality with regard to children, while I wouldn't go as far as John Waters often does, a lot of what he says strikes me as true.

But I'm getting way off-topic here.

December 05, 2005 11:14 a.m.  
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December 05, 2005 1:16 p.m.  
Anonymous Pampooties said...

This just in: We don’t need feminism anymore! Complacency is officially o.k., kids! Rejoice!
Also in today’s news: All Voting Rights Rescinded for Wexfordians; USA Banishes Native Americans to Lichtenstein; and Le Pen Appointed President of EU Commission. In our weekly supplement you’ll find our regular helping of celebrity gossip, fashion pages and sports news, designed to distract you all from actually caring!

Perhaps I should get a job in “the meeja” instead of trawling the corporate depths. But back to the issue at hand…Auds, your blog regarding this subject worries me for a number of reasons.

Firstly, complacency is almost more dangerous than fanaticism or extreme ideologies, as some forms of feminism have been labeled in this discussion. Fanaticism in support for one set of values espoused by one section of a community, if it goes unchecked or without a counterbalancing voice in the debate, invariably leads to the erosion of value placed on other groups, which may, for any number of socio-economic or historical reasons, not fit in with that narrow world view. So too with feminism. Identifying with feminism should not mean that women ought to seek to disregard men, supplant them, eviscerate them, degrade them, or any such thing. It simply means that women need to struggle to maintain an equality with men, parity of esteem if you will. This is not the case at present, and I can attest to that. Women do not receive the same rate of pay, as you claim. Some educated women may; those who can join the lofty perches of the professions. Largely however, rate of pay and equality in the workplace, particularly at managerial level, is a direct function of one’s ability to wield a golf club in the right club, usually a men’s only club. Thus shall it ever be if we abandon useful arguments on the basis of a movement’s stereotyped image.

I don’t care if someone wishes to not label themselves as “feminist”; it’s just linguistic consensus that the movement is called that. I do care that someone may believe that feminism has nothing to say to them and is of no relevance to their lives.

Interest, involvement and action are what counteract the development of exclusionary forms of behavior, which left unchallenged become accepted as societal norms and in extreme cases state law. Civil liberties for Catholics in the North, any number of hyphenated Americans, and women (that’s us by the way, ladies) were all achieved through the dissemination of information, development of awareness, identification with the movements in question by substantial numbers of people, and the actions taken by a few. Women’s rights, along with others’, are guarded by people taking interest, and are furthered by involvement and action.

If hard won human (that’s us also by the way, ladies) rights, and the slew of equality legislation (for women, the new Irish, or hell, anyone) are left festering in a vacuum of complacency things like superpowers invading countries at will, media corporations silencing the voices of journalists, and exploitation of cheap overseas labour would all be….shit, that’s already happened hasn’t it! Oh, well not to worry. At least I got to see Man U get trashed, and Paris Hilton’s latest high society faux pas.

My second issue with your post is that it engages in the use of stereotyping that movements such as feminism seek to eschew.
That in itself may be a problem with any debate of this type: The cacophony created by the sheer number of rights-based discourses, competing in a fragmented, granular media world ultimately renders all voices powerless – no one voice can be heard above the din. Is the blogosphere the great democracy, or does it have an oedipal urge to kill that which created it? In this context, the multilayered shades of any reasoned argument will become a touch too “subtle” to survive. The result of this is the use of polemics and “shock tactics”, which in turn creates a primordial soup, ripe for the breeding of the kinds of stereotypes now being applied to feminism. We see it all the time in some sectors of the traditional print media, where giving good head(line) is all that matters. And we see it here.

Maybe the ultimate question in all this is not “are there enough women in the bologosphere?”, but rather what we are seeking to do in this new departure from traditional print media.

December 06, 2005 10:23 p.m.  
Anonymous abhcoide said...

I agree with Maura's insight on this; "You are perfectly entitled not to call yourself a feminist, but apart from disliking sections of the movement, and particular people involved (I don't know any movement where you couldn't say the same), I'm not sure what the issue is apart from the label itself."

Your main objection seems to be an association in your mind between feminism and liberalism, athiesm and pro-choice outlook. Your statement; "the battle for egalitarianism between the genders is pretty much over now in the Western world now that women can go to college (more than men do) and get jobs wherever they want. Women also have equal access to justice and property. Any inequalities in access that apply to women must also to apply to men of different social groups as well. Equality of access is what we all must strive for, for everyone, but equality of outcome is totally different – we should not measure women’s progress simply on statistics or the ability to show parity." Misses the point about an "ability to show parity" entirely. Until women have partiy we are wittingly or unwittingly excluded from important decision-making. As individual women have many different views on any subject this may not have an effect in the sense of legislative or corporate outcomes, although a failure to consider family-friendly flexibility or child care arrangements is one of many difficulties which comes to mind). However, the effect of there being no female role model is significant as is the lack of female 'symbols' of authority or leadership. I should explain this more fully, quite simply the reason that American's ask "Is America ready for a female President" is that whenever they think of President they think of a man. The two become synonymous, it becomes a criteria required for the job itself, thus barring consideration of female candidates for political office (and not just offices as powerful as that of President). This is a barrier to change. Fortunately, over time the idea of what a Dr., professor, or lawyer might look like has changed for many of us but I still catch myself at times expecting to see either a woman or a man in gender stereotyped roles, i.e. when I think secretary, usually (unthinkingly) a woman comes to mind, and when I think engineer a man does. This is changing for all of us but the suggestion that Feminists can all sit back, be complacent and declare mission accomplished is frankly ludicrous. Also, as I have said before, the position of women in the third world is still very much as second class citizens. I doubt they would find such complacency comforting.

May 15, 2006 9:01 p.m.  
Anonymous abhcoide said...

Fence, you state that you agree with some of what John Waters says. If you are referring to his notion that feminism is responsible for the situation in family law cases in Ireland where custody is almost always awarded to the mother rather than the father, then you, like John Waters have made a fundamental error. The reason custody continually goes to women rather than men is rooted in the patriarchal assumption that women are the primary parent and that a man is merely a breadwinner. Women and children are always lumped together in the same braket and it is assumed that in a marriage partnership or cohabitation the woman is virtually solely responsible for caring for any children of that relationship. Both feminists and pro-feminists have done a lot to undermine this kind of unfair gender stereotype and the manner in which this affects men as parents.

May 15, 2006 9:09 p.m.  

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