Skepticism

What is a feminist…

The comments discussion on my last post got WAY off track because we couldn’t agree on what a Christian is. (The discussion was very interesting, but I think most of us will have to agree to disagree at this point.)

To get back on track to the topic of our reading selection for the month, let’s talk about how we each define feminism. (As part of my book review at the end of the month, I’ll talk about how the author of Full Frontal Feminism defines it.) So take a crack at these questions in the comments:

  1. How do you define “feminist” or “feminism”?
  2. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
  3. Why or why not?
  4. Are you a man or a woman?
  5. Is feminism in any way related to skepchickism (or vice versa)?

I’ll be abstaining from this discussion because I really do have to get some work done this week, but here are my answers:

  1. I think a feminist is anyone who believes that women and men are equal and should be treated equally as individuals and in society.
  2. Yes, I consider myself a feminist.
  3. Because I believe what I’ve stated above.
  4. I am a woman.
  5. I don’t think feminism is related to skepchickism, because there are a lot of feminists who believe really weird stuff. I find it disturbing that feminism is often linked to new age superstitions and to really bizarre concepts, such as the idea that all male-female intercourse is rape. However, I do think skepchickism is related to femism, because the main point of skepchickism seems to be to get more women into the skeptical and science communities and to provide equal opportunities in science education for women. So although feminism doesn’t necessarily lead to skepchickism, I think skepchickism is definitely a form, or maybe a subset, of feminism.

So, have fun and duke it out! I look forward to seeing what you all have to say.

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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45 Comments

  1. 1. A feminist is one who believes that men and women should be treated with equal justice and respect, that our society doesn't yet live up to this ideal, and most especially that we as a society have a responsibility to do something about it.

    2. Yes, I consider myself to be a feminist.

    3. Following what writerdd said, cause I fall under what I just defined in #1. Admittedly, I haven't been part of any activism, but I've still tried to represent my views as well as I can in my everyday actions.

    4. I'm a man.

    5. I dunno how much I can say about skepchickism specifically, but I can say that I see some relation between feminism and the skeptical movement. Both are about having an implicit distrust of unchallenged assumptions, though they apply to very different arenas.

    Like writerdd, I'm also a little weirded out by the prominence of mysticism within the feminist movement. However, I don't think it causes any incompatibility with even the more skeptical elements of feminism. The opponents of feminism are the same as the opponents of skepticism: those who promote historical methods and philosophies on the grounds that "it's traditional" or "it just feels like the right choice", even when those old ideas demonstrably cause harm.

    …really bizarre concepts, such as the idea that all male-female intercourse is rape.

    That really is bizarre! I frequent a number of feminist blogs that are significantly more radically feminist than I am, but I've never seen anyone actually make that argument. Has anyone encountered this statement actually being made by a feminist? I suspect this may just be a myth.

  2. Might as well weigh in, since I used the word a lot in the previous discussion…

    1. How do you define “feminist” or “feminism”?

    Feminism is the position that men and women deserve to be treated with equal justice and respect, as individuals.

    This includes, but is not limited to, equal justice under the law and equal respect in the workplace. It also includes, but is not limited to, the right of a woman to be treated with respect should she freely choose to fully or partially adopt a "traditional" role in her life.

    A feminist is someone who believes this, and follows the principle if it arises.

    A lot of people are "feminists", including those who might not use the term to describe themselves. Knowing that someone is a feminist might tell you very little about the other opinions, though it is correlated with a general respect for human and civil rights, and a general desire for all human beings to be given the freedom to achieve their full potential.

    2. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

    Yes.

    3. Why or why not?

    Like everyone else, I used a definition of "feminism" that fits my beliefs.

    4. Are you a man or a woman?

    Man.

    5. Is feminism in any way related to skepchickism (or vice versa)?

    Skepchickism is, as writerdd said, a proper subset of feminism.

    One disclaimer: It is not inconsistent with feminism to appreciate biological differences between men and women, as long as this does not conflict with the right of an individual to be treated with equal justice and respect as an individual.

    I'm not sure if I worded that well, though. What I want to say is that, in my opinion, a woman has a right to safe, legal access to medical procedures (e.g. mammograms, pap tests, pregnancy termination) which for a man may not make any sense.

    In addition, it is not inconsistent with feminism to have no problem with the fact that a police department's "dog squad" is comprised of mostly men because a requirement of joining is the ability to lift a fully-grown german shepherd over a six-foot-high brick wall. Provided that no woman who can do the job is barred from doing so, there is no problem. (This is a based on a true story, BTW.)

  3. I already answered some of these, to an extent, in the previous thread…but I see no reason to do so again, more concisely, here.

    1. I define feminism as, at the base, believing that the genders should be treated as essentially equal, and that laws and power structures should reflect this better than they do now. But I also incorporate into my definition an amount of fringe, radical politics, and a certain amount of (understandable) anger often misinterpreted as attempts at attaining superiority rather than strict equality.

    2. No, I do not typically consider myself a feminist.

    3. As I said previously, despite believing that neither gender is superior or inferior, and that everyone should (in fairness) be treated as equal in practice and under the law, I don't consider myself a feminist. This is moreso because a) I am not involved in any strict feminist organizations or causes (IANAFBIL= I am not a feminist because I'm lazy rather than IANAFB= I am not a feminist but…) and b) Because the term feminism has acquired a distinct amount of baggage and leads people to make other assumptions about an individual who defines themself as such. For instance, to be a "feminist" usually conjures up images of far-left politics, nearly to the point of radicalism, and as I'm not a far-left leaning person I don't want people to make that assumption.

    Also, during my time in academia I've encountered a ton of totally wacky things said in the way of female "empowerment", from Luce Irigaray's famous branding of E=MC^2 as a "sexed" equation to any number of film reviews reading patriarchal and anti-female themes in works ranging from "Ice Age" to EVERY movie of classical Hollywood. While some cases are legit, many are stretches (to put it mildly) and as I do not want to associate myself with THAT crowd, I do not think of myself as a feminist.

    4: I'm a man. Manny-manny-man..ma-ma mayon… (Perhaps not the right place for a DVDA reference, but oh well)

    5: I think Skepchickism and feminism are related, but not quite yet coupled in a way that would be advantageous to both. As has already been pointed out, way too much of feminism (mostly from the louder radical voices who drown out the more moderate ones) is related to one form of woo or another. Even academically (again speaking from my own area of Film Studies) much of feminist criticism, following the popular psychoanalytical "Grand Theory" model, draws from pre-neurological concepts of the way the brain reads an image or text, priviledging early speculation from Freud and Lacan over anything that has come since. Here, empiricism is seen as a bad word, a word priviledging "male" science rather than "female" intuition.

    I think that feminism would be enriched and could even be more widely accepted if a healthy dose of skepticism were applied to the more radical elements in order to shrink their influence. If the concept of straight gender equality and freedom of choice were the focus of feminism, rather than the (apparent) focus on attacking some vague form of patriarchy, I think things would improve.

    Further, I think that Skepchickism can benefit from many of the questions raised by feminism. Questions like, say, why there are fewer females in science, or at least fewer prominent ones, and what to do about it. If feminists can work around this and get more women into science, we'll have more skepchicks as well. Then EVERYONE WINS. :)

  4. …any number of film reviews reading patriarchal and anti-female themes in works ranging from “Ice Age” to EVERY movie of classical Hollywood.

    A basic tenet of feminism (AIUI) is that sexism can be entirely unintentional and unconscious on the part of the person perpetuating it. I think it's totally reasonable to point out sexism when and where it appears, intentional or not. Sexism is sexism whether it's nasty or well-intentioned, and whether or not it's deliberate or merely the unconscious propagation of unexamined ideas.

    Which is not to say that if someone says "That's sexist" that it's off-limits to challenge that or offer an alternate opinion. Rather, it's just that sexism is more likely to be correctly identified by those that it harms, rather than those who (whether or not they want to!) receive the benefits of it.

    Hell, many of the people and art works I admire and enjoy (respectively) have problems with sexism. Well-known physicist Richard Feynman is a good example. He was very smart, very witty, very inspiring, and also very much a chauvinist. I still admire the guy a lot and love his books, but it would be hypocritical of me to avoid mentioning any bad aspects out of respect for the good ones.

    Here, empiricism is seen as a bad word, a word priviledging “male” science rather than “female” intuition.

    I agree that this argument, when it comes up, is total BS. I don't come across it very often at all, though; maybe I'm just hanging out in the "wrong" parts of the blogipelago. How recently were you involved in academia and Film Studies?

  5. Incidentally, I totally agree with (and have the same answers as) writerdd for points 1-4. I mostly agree with her point 5, but in the interest of skepchickism, I would like to direct you all to the following snopes article which exposes the "all sex is rape" myth (you were right, carbon): http://www.snopes.com/quotes/mackinnon.asp

    Although, on an abstract level, I agree that there are some crazy ideas in radical feminism, which turns off a lot of people, even if only 0.00001% of feminists believe said crazy ideas. Which is kind of frustrating when people reject all feminism out of hand because of that. Also, there do seem to be a lot of feminists that believe in a lot of woo, but I would suggest that in my experience, I've found it to be no greater than the proportion of the general population, and in many people it's incidental to their feminism rather than part of it (although that could just be because the main feminist blogs I read are run by atheist, woo-free feminists).

  6. 1) I try not to. And that's not just me being flippant. But if I had to, I'd say that feminism, to me, is really about respect. It's not about being the same as men or anything, because no two people or groups or people are ever going to be the same. But it's about treating everyone the same. Under the law, yes, that's the most important part, but also culturally. Treating women with the same respect you'd give to a man, all else being equal, is just as important as having equivalent legal status. Because while laws are vital, culture is what we live in.

    2) Absolutely! Because I try to live up to that definition I gave above. I try to treat all the women I know the same way I'd treat a man with the same intelligence, personality, etc. And on top of that I politically support that definition — not as actively as some other things, perhaps, but I do.

    3) I'm a man. Or, rather, I'd just I'm a guy. As in: just this guy, you know?

    4) I'm just gonna point at Donna's post, because that's what I would say. Feminism is a really, really broad movement, and there are definitely some groups within the movement that don't do so well with the critical thinking and skepticism stuff. But there are other parts that do. So while I think it's possible to be a feminist who's not a skepchick (or skepchick sympathiser), I don't think it's possible to be a skepchick (or etc.) who's not also a feminist.

  7. I guess one problem is that the more extreme feminists are likely to get publicity out of proportion to their numbers, quite possibly to a large extent from media sources happy to see them make fools of themselves.

    For many people who believe in equality in general, there isn't any obvious need to define themselves as feminist rather than generally egalitarian (or more specifically, non-sexist), and even the slightest chance they might be identified with the more extreme opinions can be offputting.

    Not calling oneself a feminist isn't rejecting feminism out of hand (in the sense of rejecting any egalitarian ideals), even if it may be rejecting a label that one sees as unnecessary.

    It's certainly possible for someone to look at an individual with egalitarian views and say "They're what I'd call a feminist" whilst acknowledging that the individual wouldn't describe themselves the same way.

  8. I have to take exception with writerdd's definition of a feminist as:

    "I think a feminist is anyone who believes that women and men are equal and should be treated equally as individuals and in society."

    While I agree wholeheartedly with the second part I think the first part is plain wrong or too vague. Men and women are not equal. Men have penises, women have vaginas. Women can give birth to children, men can't. It remains to be seen how big psychological differences are, but it seems safe to say that there are differences in psychology as well. To say men and women are equal is either trying to redefine reality or twisting words.

    I also find it interesting that most people here define feminism in a sex-neutral way, i.e. both sexes are on equal footing in their definitions. If we lived in a matriarchal society we could take the same definitions to apply to "maleism". In light of that, shouldn't we just call feminism "humanism" from now on? ;-)

    Having said all that I hereby nonetheless declare myself a feminist.

  9. Addendum to my post:

    "Equal" does not mean "the same." I'm fully aware, as noted in one comment, that men have penises and women have vaginas and so forth.

    Regarding the "all sex is rape" being debunked on Snopes, sorry but I've read this idea in several books and articles by feminist authors. MacKinnon may not have said or written this, but it definitely has been said and written. I can't give citations because these were library books and magazines that I've since thrown away, so I can't go onto my bookshelves and look up where I read this.

  10. I'm gonna skip the catchism, and jump to a more fundamental question: why is feminism so difficult? And yes, I think there's a real answer to that!

    Like all higher animals and many not-so-higher animals, humans generate dominance hierarchies in their social groups. Like many of the animals, and primates in particular, gender is significant in human dominance. (There's a long digression available about what determines the gender factor in dominance; for now, suffice to say that among primates, there are fairly clear correlations with various physiological factors, and humans fit neatly into the pattern.)

    I interpret what I see around me as: "with respect to the classic four-rank pattern, males get a half-rank dominance advantage over females". This is then complicated by human intelligence — we have a few extra tricks for maintaining dominance over each other, and those tend to introduce positive feedback, thus exaggerating the "instinctive" advantage.

    Of course that begs another question: why is in necessary to interfere with this? For that issue, I'll fall back on a couple of classic reasons:

    First, the "human advantage" doesn't start with "intelligence" as reasoning ability. Even before we get to that, we have a more basic advantage in dealing with the world, which is variability. Any group of humans is confronted over time with a variety of different threats and other challenges. Our "special trick" is simply that a strong group of humans can almost always come up with one or more individuals who have "a talent" for dealing with the challenge at hand.

    But sometimes, dealing with a challenge involves group actions, which require negotiations about group behavior. If half of the individuals are being ignored, and not allowed to help with the problems, that's a major hit to the group. (This is just a lower-level version of the "wasted talent" riff.)

    The second reason is based on the "iron law of institutions": those individuals leading a group are prone to favor their own power within the group, over the welfare of the group as a whole. But the human genders are interdependent, and if the specific interests of either gender are neglected, the whole group suffers.

    Therefore, I consider it vital to the welfare of human groups, that they take measures to counterbalance the effects of sexism, in order to ensure that all members of society get fair representation of both their individual interests, and their voice in the community governance.

  11. Personally, I shy away from the term feminist since I don't see that my using it to describe myself would bring me any obvious benefits, but it may lead to people making incorrect judgements about what I think. Possibly it might impress someone concerned with labels, but I'm really not interested in impressing people concerned with labels.

    Equally, I don't see that how I label my views brings anyone else any obvious benefits or makes any difference to the lot of women. What would matter is what I do, what opinions I express, and what actions I support.

    However, in a real sense there's no problem with other people giving me the label 'feminist', since most people doing that would likely be using a definition of feminism that was basically compatible with what I think.

  12. Carbon: I was just in film studies academia from last September to this September, getting my masters. This doesn't by any means make me an expert, but it does at least demonstrate that a lot of these concepts are still alive and kicking, not the least of which being semi-blind adherence to the hodge-podge of psychoanalysis, semiotics, and PoMo known as "Grand Theory" or the Theory. While most of my professors claimed they didn't actually entirely AGREE with the theory, they still seemed to feel it was a viable point of entry for looking at films, and much of the time I rather distinctly disagreed (not the least because it rendered EVERY movie into the same freaking thing)

    As per what you said about INTENTION not being important in sexism: to an extent I can go along with you there. There's plenty of stuff that just makes casual assumptions or implications about the role of the sexes. Plenty of it is evident.

    HOWEVER, I'm gonna have to disagree with your "as says the offended, so goes the offense" overview of the subject. I don't find it any more valid when, say, the religious use it to say someone like Dawkins is offensive than I do when people start pulling messages out of movies that seem dubious at best. In those cases I think the offense more often actually lies with the reader/viewer's sensibilities than it does in any given text, by which I simply mean that a lot of people go out of their way to be offended and the vast majority of people would never interpret a particularly harmful message in whichever text is in question.

    This doesn't mean the negative message doesn't necessarily exist…I'm well versed enough in liberal arts academia to know we're well beyond the point where anything an author intended is irrelevant to what the critics perceive. This also shouldn't be interpreted as a "blame the victim" message, as I think there are genuinely hurtful and negative films out there and that sometimes messages, whether intentional or unintentional, have an effect. I guess you could call it a "blame the critic" mentality, in that I don't honestly believe many people would read the same message, or even be affected by it "subconsciously," as a critic will.

    And as to your other point, that it's possible to make a case against a film being sexist by challenging or offering an alternative opinion: well, again, to an extent it is. But for the most part few people will listen. In reading various essays and what have you this past year, it was more than obvious that the people who FIND offense are quick to tar-and-feather those who disagree. I don't, personally, think it makes me sexist to say that X movie is NOT sexist and that X critic/viewer is (under the guise of having one's eyes OPEN to the patriarchal order's insiduous ways) simply looking to have their feelings hurt. But were I a professional in the field rather than someone somewhat glad to have gotten OUT of it, I'd be attacked for proposing that.

    The best word for it, I think, is "groupthink." A common affliction in any subculture, but particularly in those with a self-advancing agenda.

  13. Expatria:

    I don’t, personally, think it makes me sexist to say that X movie is NOT sexist and that X critic/viewer is (under the guise of having one’s eyes OPEN to the patriarchal order’s insiduous ways) simply looking to have their feelings hurt.

    I disagree with your implication here that feminists think of the patriarchy as being a kind of conspiracy. Jokingly saying "IBTP" aside, the patriarchy as a concept is about the fact that sexism, in general and at present, favors men and disfavors women, and that therefore there's social momentum keeping it that way.

    That's why I prefer "feminism" over "humanism" or "egalitarianism". Not that I don't think the latter two are good things, but that using them as a replacement for "feminism" deliberately ignores the situation as it is now: the cards are for the most part stacked against women.

    But anyways, getting back to the major point…

    Expatria, you used the word "offense" a lot in your post above, but at least personally, I don't feel that feminism is about preventing people from saying things that cause offense. Rather, it's the reason that offense is caused which is important.

    The reason I have a problem with sexist subtexts is because they're offending anyone, but because they promote sexist ideas. So, it's not like the religious argument at all. I don't care about people promoting atheistic ideas, or religious ideas. I do care about, and want to do something about, people promoting sexist ideas.

  14. Without reading any answers here are mine:

    1. How do you define “feminist” or “feminism”?

    Feminism is a social movement to force society into granted women the same rights that men have and thereby granted both genders equality.

    2. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

    Yes.

    3. Why or why not?

    Society unfairly disciminates against many groups. Women outnumber men so form the largest group and should therefore be tackled first.

    4. Are you a man or a woman?

    Isn't it a little soon to be forcing gender roles on people? OK man.

    5. Is feminism in any way related to skepchickism (or vice versa)?

    Indeed it is. Only by questioning the roles dictated by society (honest questioning is skepchickal) can we challenge society to amend them.

    When I get home I shall read some of the other answers.

  15. Regardless of the semantics of my word choice, carbon, you are missing the point. What I'm saying is that if someone wants to find a subtext hard enough, they WILL. Believe me…as a master of BS in terms of both of my degrees, it's perfectly possible to find just about anything you want in any text.

    Is it, then, equally valid for people to make whatever claim they want because they are looking for such a claim? Is it, then, always on the shoulders of people to DEFEND themselves against such a claim or say "::sigh:: FINE, I'm unconsciously propping up a patriarchal ideology with my film?" I don't particularly see that as fair or valid, regardless of who's got the deck stacked against them.

    I don't like "feminism" as an -ism any more than I like humanism, egalitarianism or anything else, personally. I allign myself with atheism and skepticism, and one of those isn't even a proper -ism (atheism= a-theism not a-theos-ism, for me).

    Do women get an unfair shake? Absolutely. Should they? Absolutely not. Does decoding sexist concepts/ideas in popular culture help feminists reach their goals? Probably, to an extent. But that should by no means insulate them from the occasional (or frequent, even) call of "bullshit." Especially because so much of what I've encountered, in this area, deals with the presumed effects rather than addressing or acknowledging potential root causes.

    And, as always, sexism is a two-way street. As a man, I shudder when I think of what "manhood" is supposed to be…"The Man Show", the whole crop of shows featuring a stupid jackass man married to a smart supportive woman who puts up with his incompetance (Raymond, King of Queens, et al) all of these things are offensive to me to some degree or other. Let's not even get into the slew of commercials about hardware, lawn care products, automotive, beer, etc. I identify with none of those things but they prop up a particular image of what a man should be.

    Now, just because, as you say, women have the deck stacked against them…does that mean I should ignore my own hurt feelings and focus on those other (copious) places where women are put into an ill-fitting role? I don't think so. I'm against BOTH forms of stereotyping and denigration, whether one group is at a disadvantage or not.

  16. PH – I agree that not calling oneself a feminist does not necessarily equate to not being a feminist. However, in my post I was thinking of sexist people I know who hear things like "feminists are man-haters" and "all sex is rape" and think, hey, if these women were in charge, life would suck, so let's fight to keep them in their place. These are reasonable people who might give up their sexism if they were exposed to more rational feminist thought, but they're so scared by the word that they don't even listen when anything approaching it enters the conversation. This is a far different situation than "I just don't like the baggage of the word".

  17. Someone sent me this comment on this thread on a knitting group (of all places) and said I could post it here for those who are interested:

    …about the "all hetero intercourse=rape" thing… it was actually Andrea Dworkin, not McKinnon, who said it. It was one of the central themes in her book "Intercourse," which I thought really sucked, but then I decided long ago that I am not into postmodernist lit…

  18. Expatria – Are you seriously suggesting that feminists who point out sexism in pop culture are insulated from being called out? I can see how that might be the case in a liberal graduate humanities program, but in the rest of the world, doing so is like a bullshit-call-bat-signal.

    Are you also seriously suggesting that the Man Show is more problematic for its treatment of men then its treatment of women?

    Incidentally, I agree with you about the troublesome nature of society's idea of the male role and the male persona. I absolutely think the media creates problems for both men and women. I've heard this phrased as "the patriarchy hurts men too", which is another reason feminism is good – it helps men as well as women. Also, you seem to have forgotten that Ray Romano, Kevin James, and all the buffoon husbands on tv sitcoms are all highly paid famous comedians headlining their own shows. Keep in mind that the women in these cases have to take the role of the no-fun straight man, because they're secondary. Of less worth to the show and network than the headlining men.

    Here's a link that might interest you: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2007/04/26/
    (disclaimer – i don't read that blog, but I ran across this post and liked it)

  19. I call myself a feminist because to my eye, men and women share enough of the same virtues and flaws that there's no reason to privilege one over the other. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I have no gender prejudices — once you're a human being, that's enough for me; you can't get any worse.

    A young woman I know, a friend from high school, got an undergraduate degree in Women's Studies and then went off to law school. At a New Year's party several revolutions of the Earth ago, she mentioned some capital-F Feminist author she'd had to read for class. I wish I could remember the name, because the essay in question made the "all heterosexual sex is rape" claim — to which my friend's response was, "Somebody has never had a good lay."

    I took one day of a Women's Studies class, actually. As I mentioned to Expatria last night (with regard to some other random topic), MIT has a truly Byzantine system of humanities requirements, full of acronyms and classifications which serve no discernible purpose other than perpetuating the department. In trying to meet one of those requirements, my (gun-shooting, truck-building, Texan) roommate and I visited the aforesaid Women's Studies class, just to see if it was worth signing up for.

    All I can remember from that day was a story about some guy named Zack who was becoming a woman named Zoe, and when he said to his friend, "I'm changing sex," the friend replied, "For the better, I hope."

    That line has, in fact, become one of our running inside jokes, which we pull out every now and then to confound anybody else who might be part of the conversation.

  20. writerdd – If you had read the snopes link, you would have seen that the quote has also been falsely attributed to Dworkin, and that she explains her position on the matter.

    There's a further explanation, more relevant to the book Intercourse at this link: http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/LieDetect

    (I have never read that book, by the way, but it seems reasonable to conclude that when the author adds a preface combating the story, it is false.)

  21. kellbelle1020, I didn't read the book or the Snopes entry because I don't really care. I know I've read that in several places myself so I know it's a real issue that has been written about. I have no reason to think the person who told me that was lying. Have you read the book she mentioned?

  22. Kellbelle1020, you nailed it when you said "liberal graduate humanities program"…THAT area, academia, is where it is insulated, and is the area about which I was primarily thinking. In more mainstream circles it is surely not the case. But that still doesn't mean that we need to favor the side MAKING the claim of sexism, or accept all claims as valid until proven invalid.

    As in any other area, the burden of proof lies on the person who makes the positive claim and not the other way around. That's my point, and I also think this is what makes a lot of people nervous about feminism. Not the concept that women are no better nor worse than men, but the way that people go about labeling others as sexist or holding sexist views or liking sexist movies, and the SERIOUSNESS of that charge, esp. when coupled with how difficult it is to defend against it.

    And yes, I UNDERSTAND what you're saying about The Man Show and all of that. I certainly did not mean to suggest it was MORE problematic for its treatment of men, and don't like that that's the implication you took from it. But that doesn't mean its treatment of men is NOT problematic, too.

    I agree with what you (and that blog post) say about the "lead" vs "supporting" role in those shows, by the way. But I don't think it totally excuses the connotations of those lead portrayals, either. There's still a reason why the "wacky, funny" side of the lead male always comes down to laziness, irresponsibility, and ineptitude with children. A great show for MANY reasons, but also useful here, is "The Cosby Show." Both Huxtables were smart, somewhat responsible, and well-represented on the show. They had their quirks, but Cliff Huxtable was a capable parent and didn't show TOO many hallmarks of the "man-as-idiot" stereotype. What I'm interested in is why there aren't more shows like that. It doesn't have to be an either-or, sexist one way or the other, deal. (And yes, before someone points it out, I'm aware that Cosby was the star and namesake of the show and thus 'more important' than Phylicia Rashad, but I'm speaking solely about the way their characters were portrayed.)

    Anyway, you're right, patriarchy DOES hurt men, too. But that is precisely my point…when you get across that line, I don't know if feminism is exactly the right word so much as perhaps "anti-ignorant-ass-ism", if that makes sense. I'd gladly refer to myself as an anti-ignorant-ass-ist any day.

    Also, Blake's paraphrasing of Mark Twain more or less covers my feelings most of the time :)

  23. writerdd – I clearly mentioned in my last post that I've never read the book. I don't see how that's relevant, because I have read several articles in which Dworkin herself denies having ever said or believed it, and clarifies her position. I won't bother linking to any more of them, since you don't care.

    Bottom line – I've only ever heard that idea be attributed to Dworkin or McKinnon, and, knowing it to be a false attribution, I attempted to remedy it in the interest of honest discourse. If you've read other people (not "quoting" either of the above) make this argument, fine. I'm going to go on under the assumption that it's a myth, unless I'm proven wrong with a citation. But don't try too hard. I don't care, and we may as well get back on topic now.

  24. Expatria – thanks for clarifying! It would appear we're pretty much in agreement then. Although, on all those shows, it totally bugs me how the men are generally unattractive and paired with hot women! I demand a show with a generally unattractive (yet totally hilarious) woman paired with a hot man! :)

  25. What, Kevin James isn't hot? :-P

    In all seriousness, yeah, you're right. Why the hell was there never a Phyllis Diller show where she was married to, I don't know, Paul Newman or something? Or why didn't Maude have Steve McQueen as her husband???

  26. A person who self-identifies as "feminist" and misquotes Dworkin or McKinnon to the effect that "sex is rape" would still be endorsing that viewpoint (in addition to practicing bad scholarship, of course). I think it likely that such people exist, on the general principle that nuances of positions tend to get lost during memetic spread.

  27. kellbelle1020, well I shall have to get the book on interlibrary loan to read it myself and see just what it does say!

    Blake, it may not be misquoting but rather misunderstanding or misinterpreting what was written. Or maybe it's unclear writing on the authors' part. As you stated, however, it really doesn't matter if such-and-such author said that all sex is rape if a lot of individual feminists are saying it. That's still enough to make me find it distasteful and to understand why some people would rather not wear that label.

    And without having read the books, it does make me wonder what the authors meant and said. I know a lot of authors say things in convoluted terms just for deniability if the shit hits the fan.

    So much for me staying out of the discussion….

  28. OK, finally just reset my password and got on here! I didn't want to be arguing with anyone by proxy, so I apologize writerdd if you felt I was doing that.

    In any case, I am the person writerdd referred to who mentioned having read Dworkin. I think the problem is that while Dworkin did not publicly say "all hetero intercourse is rape," it *is* a common interpretation of some of the theories advanced in her book Intercourse. The problem with adademia, academic writing, academic feminsim (much of it of the socio-cultural Marxist sort), and postmodernism in particular is that it specifically invites interpretation, reinterpretation, and debate. That's its job. Dworkin qualified some of what she said in Intercourse, but really what she's saying is that under an oppressive patriarchy, heterosexual intercourse is equivalent to rape. And it's clear that she believes quite firmly that we live under an oppressive patriarchy. So clear logic would then lead to the conclusion (based on the above conditions) that currently all heterosexual intercourse is taking place under that conditional, no matter how liberated we all feel.

    As to bad scholarship, well, perhaps. I was in college at the time this was all hitting the fan, so to speak, and I felt like a lot of the discussion that went on was pretty ridiculous (in my gender studies and lit classes). But, I don't think that to have that interpretation of those texts is to endorse those viewpoints. I do consider myself a feminist, but I think that (much like Christianity), feminism is not a monolith and it seems that people are free to a large extent to define what that means. I see a big difference between academic feminism and "in the trenches" feminism that truly affects peoples lives. I realize that I definitely come from a place of privilege (and academia; my professor husband and I have over 18 years of college between us), but I have definitely struggled with feminism's meaning to me and it's flavor-of-the-moment incarnations (I think, for my generation and those 5-10 years younger, a backlash to a lot of the more militant feminist ideas has been the "do me" feminism that, for various reasons, I think has really backfired).

    But I digress.

    I define feminism as being able to be a person first and a woman second, to work to have choices in your life and in the lives of others despite past (and present) efforts to take those choices away, and to respect the differences between men and women without devaluing the things that make women different (I recently read the Motherhood Manifesto, which really got me fired up about the sacrifices that women make to have children because of many of our cultural assumptions about gender and parenthood).

    I am a feminist.

    I am a feminist because I think I have to be.

    I am female.

    And I think that Skepchickism is definitely related to feminism in the way many others here have stated– that independent thought is a hallmark of feminism (and to digress into academia again, I hated the sort of Groupthink I saw going on among students in some of my Feminism courses… it seemed to me to be quite the opposite of what Feminism is supposed to be about), and in that women are underrepresented in the sciences and so forth. (And funny, I really never thought about feminism being related to New Agey woo-woo stuff, except among maybe my parents generation where it was part of some of the legacy of the Hippie generation).

    And I'm supposed to be working!!!!

  29. 1. How do you define “feminist” or “feminism”?

    Equality of the sexes AND the removal of expected gender roles and ideals.

    2. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

    Yes.

    3. Why or why not?

    I never labeled myself a feminist until recently. I just thought it was common sense to be a "feminist". Also I have some horror stories and other personal anecdotes about sexism/unfair pressures on women I’ll share when the “Full Frontal Feminism” review gets posted.

    4. Are you a man or a woman?

    I am a man.

    5. Is feminism in any way related to skepchickism (or vice versa)?

    I think skepticism is about independence, intellectual empowerment, and making your own conclusions about life, so naturally it can and should be applied in feminism.

  30. 1. Feminism is the view that both genders are equal (not the same but equal) in value and should be treated that way.

    2. Yes. For a long while I didn't and I am still very uneasy about the sub-groups of feminism which advocate female superiority. That doesn't seem like what it should be all about. Positive discrimination is still sexist and to me anti-feminist.

    3. Why? Well if I hadn't given a definition at 1. that I agreed with then my answer to 2. would have been different! It's a bit self-fulfilling this question.

    4. I'm a woman.

    5. I think feminism should be related to skepchickism and wider skepticism to the benefit of both. Skepticism is a great tool to apply to the claims of traditionalists about "the place of women" etc.

    I also agree that many of the aims of feminism could be achieved within humanism or egalitarianism. I am still a feminist because that seems to be where the work needs to be done but I have interesting discussions on this with my husband. He doesn't consider himself a feminist because he doesn't like the word. He sees it as clearly something that is working for women (FEMinism) and he think the problems of sexism should be addressed with an even hand (under the banner of something like humanism). If that work happens to help women more than men because they are the more disadvantaged in our current society then that's all good.

    I may not be representing his point very eloquently since I don't really agree. I think work needs to be done directly on behalf of the disenfranchised be they women, atheists, homosexuals or ethnic minorities.

  31. Yes, Blake and writerdd, I think you're both right. But then the question becomes, do a lot of individual feminists believe this? I think the answer is no. I think this goes back to what I said earlier, that 0.00001% of feminists believe some crazy idea, but then critics get a hold of it, spread it around, and make the general public think that 80% of feminists believe it. For what it's worth, I hang around a lot of feminist spaces, even some radical ones, and I've only ever seen this argument debunked. Also, I know I said I wouldn't give any more links, but this one is really interesting, gives passages from the book in question and everything: http://radgeek.com/gt/2005/01/10/andrea_dworkin/

    Anyway, on a completely non-Dworkin related note, I find it interesting, flygrrl, that you're a feminist because you think you have to be. Why do you think you have to be? Would you not be one if you didn't feel whatever pressure that is?

  32. Ooh! I just realized I forgot something relating to point 5 in my first post. I think one reason some feminists are turned off by skepticism and science in general is that science, or more accurately the media representations of it, claims to uphold that women are "naturally" inferior to men. I'm talking about "studies" that say women evolved to like pink, or women can't have a sense of humor because it's related to testosterone, or women are naturally less intelligent, etc. Now, crap studies like this are usually either methodologically flawed or grossly misinterpreted by science journalists (or both), but women without a skeptic background are often turned off by the whole field because of this perceived sexism.

    Which is why we need skepchickism! Teach more women the tools of skepticism, and also tear apart those sexist "studies". Two birds, one stone.

  33. If a woman, who has the freedom to make her own choices as an equal member of society, chooses not to be a feminist, is she still a feminist?

    Well, she could still be a feminist by one definition of the word even if she disclaims membership under another definition of the word.

    Anyways, my mind remains solemnly unblown. I was built with contradiction-proof crumple zones.

  34. My definition of feminism, perhaps as I'd like it to be (slightly expanded after reading some of the replies here):

    The equal treatment of either gender in those cases where everything else is equal.

    I think that last qualifier is important.

    Sadly enough, for many feminists, feminism seems to be more about switching the balance of power into their favor, and perhaps even to strive for the end result of one day oppressing the men. At least, for the vocal (batshit crazy?) feminists anyway.

    I don't think any sensible person could object to two people of the same age and with the same experience and level of education being paid the same amount for doing the exact same job. It's clear that something is wrong when in that case, the woman is paid significantly less than the man. But at the same time, I also believe this holds true if one is black and the other is white, or one is popular and the other's an asshole.

    But apparently, many sensible people DO object to equal treatment of people who are in all respects equal.

    I'd like to think of myself as a feminist. But at the same time I fear I'm also rather sexist in some ways. Because the simple fact is that I'll never look at a woman in exactly the same way as a man. This is not because I'm a chauvinist pig, but because I'm a straight guy. If I were gay, it'd be the other way around.

    As for feminism and "skepchickism", I'd say they have very little incommon, apart from the fact they both are primarily women's initiatives. By and for women. There's hardly more common ground as there is between feminism and the church-ladies group.

  35. Replying to kellebelle1020:

    Also, I know I said I wouldn’t give any more links, but this one is really interesting, gives passages from the book in question and everything: <a href="http://radgeek.com/gt/2005/01/10/andrea_dworkin/” target=”_blank”>http://radgeek.com/gt/2005/01/10/andrea_dworkin/

    That is an interesting link, and I think exemplifies the problems with the intricacies of academic/philosophic (in my humble opinion) wanking. It doesn't mean anything, and what is that saying, if you have to qualify what you say with another 400 pages of texts… it's just not useful. But I totally agree that people seize on those radical interpretations and twist them to say that they represent all feminist thought, which they don't.

    Anyway, on a completely non-Dworkin related note, I find it interesting, flygrrl, that you’re a feminist because you think you have to be. Why do you think you have to be? Would you not be one if you didn’t feel whatever pressure that is?

    I think that I have to be a feminist in the same way that I have to breathe. I am what I am, and just by virtue of the way I think and act and live my life I feel that feminism is an inextricable part of who I am. So it's not in response to any external pressure, and by the same token I accept a very fluid definition of the term feminism; I realize that my feminism may be very different than someone else's feminism.

    And I also misspoke somewhat about my era in college; skimming that link made me realize that I graduated from college a full decade after it was first published, but Dworkin and McKinnon were definitely part of our discourse in class (and I think their media appearances on legislation regarding pornography were going on at the time). And I do think that whatever Dworkin may have believed personally (regarding the het intercourse/rape issue) is pretty much irrelevant. Maybe it's a simplistic interpretation of the text, but even if she's setting up Patriarchal culture for being responsible for the condition that she criticizes, she is assigning that meaning to it. Within the wonky framework that is postmodernist feminist literature, yeah, you can make it make sense, but it's all just semantic/linguistic acrobatics and it makes me tired.

    Feminism can't NOT be a loaded topic. I think that's why a lot of women refuse the label– even if you say you're a feminist you're still stuck explaining yourself endlessly. There is no universally accepted definition.

  36. flygrrl, Ha. Don't start on porn (yet)! :-)

    kellbelle1020, I totally agree with you about what's said by one or a few vocal people — who may or may not claim to represent an entire group — being latched onto by critics and used to demonize the entire group. Does the question then become, "Do we stop using a name because critics have pissed on it, or do we wear it even more blatantly as a badge of honor?" I tend to favor the latter.

  37. I do not call myself a feminist. The problem is that feminism is not a well-defined philosophy. It's a label that gets pasted onto a great variety of disparate ideas. And too many ideas wearing the feminist label are things that I oppose. Writerdd mentioned the notion that all male-female intercourse is rape. I'll point out "feminist epistemology", which basically pushes the idea that science and reason are "masculine ways of knowing" which society has illegitimately privileged over "intuitive" and "spiritual" feminine ways of knowing.

    Sure, most sane feminists think that "feminist epistemology" a ridiculous idea which regressively paints science as a not-lady-like-thing-to-do. But the fact that Writerdd felt it necessary to ask readers how they define "feminism" only emphasizes what a mess that word has become. Anyone who wants to try to retake the word from radicals and crank academics has my blessing; in the meantime, I trust you'll understand why I avoid the label.

  38. This discussion is reminding me in some ways of the debate that goes on about the best label for the atheist/skeptic/humanist/secular community! And I am coming to the conclusion that labels are of only limited helpfulness. They are a starting point but to have any kind of meaningful communication you have to spend some time defining your terms.

    So is there any real difference between "I'm not a feminist but …" and "I consider myself a feminist but …" when we all seem to be agreeing that all people should be treated equally when facing an equal set of circumstances?

    Interesting to discuss though.

  39. Regarding the issue of the male leads in comedy shows, I'd just like to point out that "being able to take a joke" *is* a mark of dominance (strength). It's the insecure wankers (of any gender) who compulsively defend themselves against any slight, real or perceived.

  40. flygrrl – "That is an interesting link, and I think exemplifies the problems with the intricacies of academic/philosophic (in my humble opinion) wanking."

    I completely agree.

    "I think that I have to be a feminist in the same way that I have to breathe."

    I like that! Thanks for expanding.

  41. 1) How do you define “feminism”?

    I consider feminism to be a movement to increase equality between the genders, mostly to improve the lives of females, although males also benefit, to a lesser degree.

    2) Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

    Mostly. I support the general goals of feminism, and I can't see any reason not to be a feminist. My only reservation is that some people will say you can't be a feminist if you're not a woman.

    4) Are you a man or a woman?

    I'm an adult male – please don't call me a "man". I want no part of that reputation.

    5) Is feminism in any way related to skepchickism (or vice versa)?

    In the same way that a literacy program on an Indian reservation is anti-racist, skepchickism is feminist: both are seeking to improve the lot of their respective groups.

    – Ashley Zinyk

  42. kellbelle,

    I quite understand that there may be some sexists who latch onto some of the dafter statements and say "If these women were in charge, life would suck, so let's keep them in their place", but in regard to some of the more outspoken and possibly overreported extreme feminists, life probably would suck for everyone if *they* were in charge.

    I'm not sure that it's a case of people not being exposed to more rational feminist thought as much as the presence of dumb extreme views making it much easier for someone to ignore the rational thought that is out there even if they know perfectly well that the extreme viewpoints aren't representative.

    That generalises pretty well to all kinds of intergroup situations. 'Us and them' is a fairly natural (if unfortunate) human response to all kinds of identifiable difference, whether or not the 'us' is in a better or worse position than the 'them'. If it's not in the obvious immediate personal interest of someone who thinks negatively of some other group to think better of them, having a few nutcases or extremists gives them an easy way to not bother thinking about things. One asshole bloke could permit multiple women to feel superior to men even if rationally they know he isn't representative.

    However, it's not exactly easy for any group to silence the assholes, or even to distance themselves from them, and may be particularly hard in the case of a disadvantaged group where there may be more of a feeling of a need for solidarity.

    Fundamentally, with a term that's not exactly well-defined, and which (for whatever reason) can easily bring to mind the wackier elements, though I can see that someone might well define themselves as feminist by their own definition, I'm not sure that at the moment saying "I'm a feminist and I think X,Y,Z!" would get a better reception than just "I think X,Y,Z!" among the people who might most need to be enlightened or convinced. It might well get a worse reception.

    It's rather sad, since that does tend to play into the hands of the more extreme 'with us or against us' elements in the movement, but I suppose that's the case for many extremists. If one fringe nutter from the denser regions of religion X can get other people to confuse their views with the mainstream, they're probably rather pleased.

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