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Date Posted: 15:40:35 01/31/03 Fri
WHY I’M NOT A FEMINIST
Creating real gender egalitarianism
By Abe Haim
In an article for a local zine entitled “Male Feminism,” the author Nick Taylor rhetorically asks “why isn’t everybody a feminist?” I have a number of reasons for not classifying myself under that “ism.” I believe in equality, so I consider myself an egalitarianist. When it comes to gender issues, I call my philosophy “gender-egalitarianism.” “But what’s the point,” you might ask, “of quibbling over semantics? Feminism is all about equality, so if you really believe in equality then why aren’t you a feminist?”
My first critique of feminism is of the word itself, and its implications. I’m a firm believer in social linguistics - That is looking at our choice in words and seeing what is embodied in our language.
Feminists have a long tradition of doing just this. For example, they examined the word “woman” and its etymology, and found that it came from a combination of “womb” and “man.” Thus there was a bias embodied in our very language that viewed women as mere reproductive units. Now many feminists use words like “wumon” in its place.
But I have yet to see a feminist take a critical look at the word “feminism” itself. S/he may well be surprised by what we find…
“Feminism” consists of two essential word parts. The first part, “femin,” is a shortening of feminine, which of course means female. The second part, “ism,” which is almost exclusively used as a suffix, means an ideology or belief system. The meaning of a given “ism” is determined by what precedes it in the word. For example, “capitalism” is an ideology based on money, or capital, while a “racist” follows an ideology based on race.
So what does it mean when you put “feminine” together with “ism?” In short, it’s a form of sexism. Feminists often use the word “sexism,” which is generally used to describe an ideology of male superiority over women. But the word really means any ideology based on sex. It can be made more specific. To describe a male based sexism, we could use the term “masculism,” while a female based sexism would be called “feminism.” So certainly “feminism” is a very poor choice of word to describe a desire for equality of the sexes.
While few people have analyzed the word quite as scientifically as I just did, many are still very disturbed by the idea of an ideology, or ism, based on one of the sexes. They simply don’t want to be a part of anything like that. Many of these same people, on the other hand, would be quite pleased with “egalitarianism,” and gladly identify with a movement that is obviously based on equality. Over the last two decades, I believe, the continued use of the word “feminism” has hurt the movement much more than any help it may have given in familiarity and continuity.
“Well, ok” you’re probably saying now, “sure, maybe ‘feminism’ isn’t the best word, but what’s really wrong with the feminist movement? It’s certainly not sexist, even if that’s what its etymology might imply.” If (hypothetically speaking) feminism was sexist, we’d expect it to at best be an ideology based entirely on the female sex, that only discusses males as victimizers, and at worst to be irrationally anti-male. And in practice, feminism has generally been the former, and all too often the latter.
Feminism began as a women’s liberation movement, so it’s female-centric ideology is certainly understandable. But for there to be a vital movement of men and women that will transform society and bring equality, we need a broader vision. Men are gonna be part of any new society we create, so its vision cannot be centered around just half of the population. This has been one of feminism’s most damaging weaknesses – its inability to come up with a positive male vision.
Feminism has also been guilty of stereotyping men and failing to appreciate the true diversity of the male population. It’s basically assumed that if you’re a heterosexual male then you must be privileged, so therefore you owe a certain debt to women. For men who actually grew up feeling accepted and privileged in their society (to later become enlightened), this makes sense to them and they gladly hop on the feminist bandwagon. But for many of us that wasn’t the case at all.
One case of this is what I call secondary sexual orientation. For example, a large minority of heterosexual males (including myself) are what’s been described as “male-lesbians.” We’re only attracted to women, and we’re not at all transsexual or transvestite. But romantically, we emotionally identify a lot more with what’s traditionally been considered feminine. We’ve long been persecuted and discriminated against, but unlike other groups, such as gays, we generally don’t have a recognized identity or support network. One might think that, given our natural inclination to egalitarian relationships and our common oppressor of sexism, that we’d be celebrated by feminists. But I have yet to hear a feminist make mention of us. We just get lumped in with the rest of “those damn hetero-males.”
Irrational anti-male sentiment, though generally far more subtle than your stereotypical rabid man-hating rant, a la SCUM Manifesto, is still quite prevalent in the feminist movement and the larger “progressive” culture. While it’s understandable that many women would have anti-male sentiments, due to the horrible things many men have done, it’s not ok to put-down men as a whole. Only those men who have actually done the horrible things. Derogatory statements about men, and/or male sexuality as a whole, are common place in feminist lectures and presentations, the lyrics of feminist music, and comments by individuals in social settings. Though these statements are often theoretically made in jest, they are none the less damaging and counterproductive. They can be especially traumatic for sensitive young men. And ironically, it’s the very men who have the most respect for women, and the strongest belief in equality, who are likely to hear feminist lectures and music. So as a thank you for our solidarity, we are unjustly insulted.
I’ve also found that irrational anti-male sentiment is often fueled more by personal romantic angst than real political grievances. Lesbians, in my experience, are far less likely to be irrationally anti-male. This is not to deny the validity of actual damaged caused by some sexist men in relationships. The angst I’m referring to is the universal kind that everyone has felt, from rejection and neglect. If hetero males were to channel this sort of rage into a political agenda, it would give “misogyny” a whole new meaning. I’ve been present on all too many occasions when a group of women who had recently been dumped was sitting around talking about how “men suck!” My reaction has always been that “it’s not men that ‘suck,’ but rather your choice in men.”
Which brings me to my last critique – empowerment vs. victimhood. While feminism is supposed to be about empowering women, it so often disempowers them by reinforcing their victim role. At one feminist lecture I attended, the speaker had the brilliant idea that women could go on strike – that is refuse do certain things for their boyfriends, husbands, bosses, etc. until they got the respect they deserved. It’s just this sort of thinking that’s needed to get beyond victimhood and take real responsibility. For example, feminists are always griping about guys who are sexist macho jerks, but last time I checked, these guys weren’t having any trouble finding dates. And just in my experience, I have personally witnessed over a dozen “feminists” go out with such men. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in behavioral science to know that it’s not too difficult to modify a group’s behavior if you control the supply of what they want. So feminists can complain into the next century about how men aren’t respecting them, but women could change all that over night if they simply decided to never date such men.
All this said, I’m not really “anti-feminist” per se, I’m just very aware of feminism’s faults and shortcomings. The women’s empowerment movement, often under the name “feminist,” has done a lot of great things for women in recent decades. It has made women as a whole much more aware and proud of their bodies, intellect, creativity, spirituality, and sexuality.
But the same still needs to be done for men. To achieve real gender egalitarianism, new male identities need to be explored and studied. Many feminists scoff at the idea of having men’s studies departments at universities, yet this sort of thing is exactly what we need. The full range of male identities deserves serious scholarly study. And not just under the umbrella of women’s studies. Likewise, male identity needs to be freely explored in our social and activist communities, outside the confines of the movement that’s been known as feminism.
So my recommendation is that we abandon the word “feminism,” because it’s a poor word choice with embodied biases and counterproductive implications. A term like “gender-egalitarianism” is a far more accurate description of what we need in society and how it can be attained. What has been known to this point as the “feminist movement” should be replaced with women’s empowerment and men’s empowerment movements – working in solidarity as part of a larger movement for equality.
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