I’ve never really looked into feminism until recently. I’m aware of the fundamental principles feminists adhere to – the liberation of women from an oppressive patriarchal society and the somewhat problematic expression “equality for women” (which seems something of an oxymoron to me, since surely equality should apply to everyone) – but, having never come across feminism beyond an awareness of its existence as an ideology, and personally knowing no women who call themselves feminists, it’s been something of an “unknown” to me.
That changed the other day when a friend sent me a link to the above video by girlwriteswhat, which makes a number of intriguing points which I wanted to raise with feminists. Thanks to an activist friend of mine I was able to pose a number of questions to a broad range of people who define themselves as feminists – or sympathetic to feminism – who shed some light on what feminism means to them in the modern day.
Most feminists seem to agree that the fundamental tenet is the pursuit of genuine gender equality; that men and women should have the same rights and privileges and feminism is about rectifying these imbalances. One self-labeled “radical feminist” defined feminists as anyone who fights inequalities between genders, sexualities, and orientations, which struck me as somewhat contradictory in the sense that the definition seems more indicative of humanism or egalitarianism than the gender-specific term “feminism”.
Some radical feminists seem to view women as exclusively oppressed over men, who, having created “patriarchy” to benefit themselves – and themselves alone – consequently impart all the privileges of society exclusively upon themselves while leaving women with nothing. This inevitably leads to a one-sided understanding of “equality” where only the suffering of women needs addressing since “men don’t suffer” but rather are driving agents of oppression.
Of course, there is no reason why a movement concerned with the inequalities faced by a specific gender should feel the need to address the suffering of the other, particularly if they perceive that suffering as being unique to their gender – it’s only natural that any ideology will focus on the issues defined by the parameters it establishes. Problems arise, however, when the group begins to perceive achieving its own goals as synonymous with wider, humanistic objectives. This statement, with its implication that, if only we can end the suffering of women then everything will be alright for the rest of us, seems to highlight this aptly: “When women stop being raped, beaten up, treated as objects – that’s when egalitarianism can begin.” It demonstrates a gender-bias towards women as the only people who’s suffering is valid or meaningful.
The question that should be asked is: how much of the suffering and oppression feminists believe women face is exclusively a female concern? Are they – as some feminists advocate – universal “victims” of a system which singles them out for oppression while the men escape from suffering and confer all the advantages upon themselves? An examination of some of the key concerns of feminism is necessary.
“Women are very often objectified, turned into sex objects, felt humiliated because of things that naturally happen to their body, are deemed the less intelligent sex, called sluts in situations where men are not called that, made to feel we have to live a certain way to serve our gender roles, made to feel ugly because of some men’s views on ‘beauty’. How dare other humans make us feel this way?”
No one can deny that women are often sexually objectified by society and culture – you only have to turn on the TV or flick through magazines in the newsagents to see this occurring on a wide scale. But a fundamental flaw in the above statement is that this boils down to the male view of female beauty, as if women aren’t objectifying themselves when they wear low-cut tops and spend two hours in front of the mirror applying make-up. The idea that feminists propagate – that the women who do this are victims of male-dominated ideas of what women should be – only serves to perpetuate the notion of the woman as an object, not an agent acting in the world responsible for her own actions. And of course, a great number of the women’s magazines which portray women as a sexual stereotype are written and edited by women, something which some feminists seem unwilling to acknowledge.
I posted another video from girlwriteswhat on the subject of objectification and asked for the opinion of feminists:
The video raises some very significant points about objectification which I hoped feminists would be prepared to engage with. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be the case – one radical feminists dismissed it immediately as a “piece of shit” and described girlwriteswhat’s opinions as “twisted” – for some, any attempt to broaden the parameters towards a wider relevance is simply an attack on feminism and doesn’t warrant discussion (in this feminist’s view, girlwriteswhat is little more than a “handmaiden”. You can decide for yourself whether or not you agree with the idea that what she says is completely worthless).
The focus on female objectification tends to overlook the wider-ranging context of gender roles throughout society, something which should be essential if we are to have a full understanding of the issues. Just as little girls are encouraged to play with baby dolls and see themselves as princesses, so too are boys encouraged to play with toys which bolster masculine stereotypes – the negative impact this gender reinforcement has upon society cannot be fully grasped from the one-sided perspective of either gender, since we live in a complex world of interrelations.
Perhaps more fruitful would be the promotion of an awareness of the feminine and masculine qualities both genders possess. Carl Jung identified this as the anima and animus – the anthropomorphic archetypes which exist in the subconscious – the anima representing feminine principles in the male, the animus masculine principles in the female. It seems clear to me that gender stereotypes which exist on both sides can only be resolved by a thorough integration of masculine and feminine principles inherent in both the sexes, and in this sense, focusing exclusively on the objectification of women can only ever address part of the problem.
The most horrendous outcome of this perception of women as sex objects is undoubtedly rape – sexual violence is an abhorrent physical and emotional violation and no one would deny that those who experience it should receive all the support they can get in order to come to terms with such an ordeal. Statistically speaking, women make up the majority of rape victims and men the majority of the rapists, so it’s understandable why some feminists view women as perennial victims and men as some kind of monolithic perpetrator class and have consequently viewed rape solely through the prism of female suffering (which, of course, fits the definition of feminism’s aims).
There are, however, some problems with this position which contradict the notion of equality feminists claim to seek. The first problem arises from the fact that, until very recently, most rape studies focused exclusively on male-female forms of rape, which inevitably leads to the false conclusion that it is a problem faced only by women. This in turn leads to another two-fold problem – the denial of the validity of men suffering from sexual violence (or the refusal to acknowledge that it even occurs – it wasn’t until January of 2012 that the FBI updated their definition of rape victims to include men) and the subsequent exclusivity of systems to assist all victims of sexual violence in preference for women only.
The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war outlines the negative impact that feminism’s focus solely on women has on the broader problem. Here we find – as we do in many warzones – a huge number of male rape victims, as outlined in this article from the Guardian. At the Refugee Law Project (RLP) in Uganda, Dr Angella Ntinda was interviewed about rape and had the following exchange:
“Eight out of 10 patients from RLP will be talking about some sort of sexual abuse.”
“Eight out of 10 men?” I clarify.
“No. Men and women,” she says.
“What about men?”
“I think all the men.”
I am aghast.
“All of them?” I say.
“Yes,” she says. “All the men.”
Further studies reveal that, not only is male sexual violence in warzones barely acknowledged, these victims are being roundly failed by international aid agencies. Lara Stempl, who conducted research at the University of California, observed, “The organisations working on sexual and gender-based violence don’t talk about it. It’s systematically silenced. If you’re very, very lucky they’ll give it a tangential mention at the end of a report. You might get five seconds of: ‘Oh and men can also be the victims of sexual violence.’ But there’s no data, no discussion.”
This problem stems largely from feminist groups, many of whom have sought to define rape exclusively as something which only women are victims of. A report on sexual violence in East Africa by the UN in 2004, for example, was compiled by people who insisted the definition of rape was restricted to women only. The outcome is a massive disparity in funding for victims of sexual violence, where women are the primary – often only – benefactors of the systems put in place while men are left to suffer in silence. Far from symbolising equality of the sexes and the validity of all suffering, this represents entitlement for women and the wholesale rejection of men’s potential victimhood.
Rape is ultimately motivated by a thirst for power and control – sexual domination acts as a means towards this empowerment. Just as the victims are not exclusively women, neither are all rapists men – feminist movements are often unwilling to discuss the idea that women can also be perpetrators. For instance, research conducted in the US studying abuse in juvenile detention centers revealed that 95% of male victims are abused by women.
Just as it should be acknowledged that rape is a horrendous experience for any human being to endure and post-traumatic support should be provided for anyone who suffers it, so to should we recognize that the use of sexual violence and the desire to dominate another aren’t gender-specific traits. Making it solely about the suffering of women denies the humanity of all and denies realities. As director of RLP Chris Dolan says, “Part of the activism around women’s rights is: ‘Let’s prove that women are as good as men.’ But the other side is you should look at the fact that men can be weak and vulnerable.”
Another oft-cited example of oppression which feminists believe women suffer from to a far greater extent than men is domestic violence. As with rape, many feminists tend to express the view that this is a problem almost exclusively faced by women as an extension of men’s patriarchal power over them; their advocacy and activism made the term “domestic violence” synonymous with violence against women.
But again, an examination of the facts paints a considerably more nuanced picture. Data from Home Office statistical bulletins and the British Crime Survey show that men made up about 40% of domestic violence victims each year between 2004-05 and 2008-09, matched by a marked increase in the number of women prosecuted for domestic violence over the same period. Given that men are also far less likely to report abuse of this kind – partly on account of the misconception held that victim status is “feminine and weak” – the real numbers may never be known.
The view that women are just as capable of abusing men in the home as vice versa is nothing new: somewhat ironically, it was Erin Prizzey – one of the luminaries of the women’s rights movement – who first pointed this out. After establishing one of the first women’s refuges, Chiswick Women’s Aid, in 1971, extensive interviews revealed that, far from being one-sided, domestic violence was reciprocal in nature. She immediately found herself subjected to death threats and boycotts from more radical feminists and, after the killing of her dog, was forced to flee to America.
The radical feminist myth of woman’s exclusive status as the victim appears to have persisted amongst some feminists to this day, but what is perhaps more revealing about the radical feminists who attacked Prizzey and furthered the demonization of all men as oppressors is their relation to the Labour Party. As she lamented, the movement she started had moved from “the personal to the political”.
Politicized feminism and social engineering
The blinkered ideology of the politicized radical feminists associated with the Labour Party are as present today as they were when they were threatening to murder Erin Prizzey’s children. Harriet Harman, who claims to champion women’s rights and “equality”, displayed a truly absurd streak when asked about her chances of becoming the next prime minister. “It will not be possible, because there aren’t enough airports in the country for all the men who would want to flee.” Of course, much more disturbing was her desire to water down child pornography laws, lower the age of consent to 14 and decriminalize incest through her association with the Paedophile Information Exchange (a far more chilling topic of conversation for another occasion).
Harriet Harman isn’t alone when it comes to powerful women in politics pushing a divisive feminist agenda – Hillary Clinton is also a staunch supporter of “women’s rights” and had this to say about the deaths of males through warfare, speaking at the First Ladies’ Conference on Domestic Violence in San Salvador, El Salvador on Nov. 17, 1998: “Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat.” The idea that men losing their lives in horrifically violent ways (often tortured beforehand, a prevalent fact of war) makes them less of a victim than the female relatives they leave behind is patently absurd. That it comes from a politician with a track record of warmongering who has undoubtedly sent men to their deaths and killed thousands of women and children shouldn’t be overlooked.
In addition to the large number of feminist groups who receive funding from the government (both in the US and UK), a great many have been established and supported by the large foundations. The Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations have pumped millions of dollars into such groups over the years, while the rank and file feminists remain oblivious to the fact that their funding derives from male-dominated institutions. But it would be a mistake to view this in the ironic sense of patriarchy shooting itself in the foot by supporting movements which seek to undermine it – the real dynamics at work are plutocracy and social engineering.
Getting women into the workplace was a key goal of the early feminist movement and offers a prime example of how feminist organizations served the interests of the power elite. The first benefit to the wealthy industrialists and bankers who ran the foundations is obvious: extra tax revenue.
The second benefit is perhaps less obvious and more insidious – with women in the workplace as well as men, their children would have to go into state-run schools, where the education system indoctrinates them with state propaganda (nowhere is this more obvious than in the history curriculum) and trains them for a role within the corporate-capitalism consumer-driven world. As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, political leaders called for popular education because they feared that “This country is filling up with thousands and millions of voters, and you must educate them to keep them from our throats.” Or, as Noam Chomsky observed more recently, the fundamental maxim of state education is to “Limit their perspectives and understanding, discourage free and independent thought, and train them for obedience.”
The feminist movement, with its apparent antipathy towards the role of women in the home as nurturing mothers, played directly into this dynamic. Some feminists openly advocated for denying women the right to stay at home and raise their families. Simone de Beauvoir stated in an interview with Saturday Review in 1975, “No woman should be authorized to stay at home and raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” Further attacks on the family unit came from Alison Jaggar, author of Feminist Politics and Human Nature, who said, “[The nuclear family is] a cornerstone of woman’s oppression: it enforces women’s dependence on men, it enforces heterosexuality and it imposes the prevailing masculine and feminine character structures on the next generation.”
Stefan Molyneux highlights here how radical feminism became a crucial tool in the break-up of the mother-child bond and how this was “great for the state”:
Of course, a distinction should be made between the radical politicized feminists who characterize much of the “feminist movement” and individual women who address some of the issues raised by feminism today (who may or may not consider themselves to be “feminists”), but are able to do so in a broader context of the interplay between the genders. While there may be radical feminists who call men who mention their suffering “mansplainers” (beware derogatory catchphrases and thinly veiled ad hominem) there are women who identify with feminism who “do not conform with a feminism that holds women higher than men, or one that negates to look at male issues or excludes them from society all together … I think we are basically the same, same emotions, capable of the same range of thoughts etc…, there is no reason for women and men to be segregated in this way other than for monetary gain. While we’re fighting amongst ourselves they’re getting away with it. We’re all just people. The sooner we see that the better. But with all this dressing up and division who knows how soon, if ever.”
The sense of “otherness” built upon the masculine-feminine binary inherent in feminist ideology seems to me to be a fundamental flaw in that it reinforces a separateness even as it seeks equality. Perhaps only a sense of “oneness” built upon the compassion and respect for the uniqueness of all human beings will truly bring about an equal world.