Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deep Thought Of The Day

Feminism really turns into something very different depending on what your basic definition might be, even if you are unaware of that basic definition. If you start from the ideal of equal treatment for men and women you get one set of conclusions. If you start from the ideal of supporting women you get a different set of conclusions. Sometimes. Not always.

It sounds very stupid when I write it down like that, but it's actually very important to understand. To understand that this is what is going on in many of the debates among feminists, with some other goals thrown in. Those goals can lead to further complications, including the case where some women's interests are opposite to other women's interests and so you have to take sides and no longer can support 'women' in some abstract sense. The sides are usually taken based on various additional aims and goals.

Neither basic starting point is enough on its own, but I usually start from the equality one and tend to favor it. It has led me into some dead-ends and paradoxes, true, but it's the clearest guideline for my thinking and often leads me to look at the system (economy, religion, culture) as a whole. On the other hand, the world necessary for equality doesn't exist in many places on this earth and then this particular starting point is pretty abstract, cold and unhelpful. On the third hand, this approach ignores the other ways in which people are given unequal opportunities in most societies.

But the other starting point has its problems, too. It's easy to go around in circles trying to figure out what supporting women means, and it's easy to end up in very odd places (such as asking whether I should support Ann Coulter's outrageous statements about women or whether it's a feminist act for women to 'choose' to subjugate themselves to their husbands).

Then there's the view of feminism as a general social justice movement, the idea that because almost all groups have women in themselves almost all issues are women's issues. War, for instance, or immigration. That these are also men's issues or everyone's issues is not important.

Of course almost all issues are women's issues, and it's important and correct to ensure that women participate in the discussions and decision-making about such issues and that nobody forgets that women are affected by these issues. But is feminism the same as just generally working for justice? That would be a very odd definition in my view, because we don't redefine other social change movements that way. The LGBT movement is not expected to work for general social justice but for a very specific subgroup of that.

You can probably see that I've been pulling my scales off thinking about this. It's a topic which I don't like to think about, because writing feminism is tough enough for me. Then to wonder if I'm writing the wrong kind of feminism! That's when I want to just stop, at least for a while.