Feminism and gender equality

(130 Posts)

Whem I was first persuaded to unhide the FWR boards and take a look around, I was of the opinion that I wasn't a feminist because I believe that everyone should be equal. I was told that actually that is a basic tenet of feminism.

Now I see on the male circumcision thread numerous posters saying that feminism is nothing to do with gender equality, that they are different things.

Which is it please?

My understanding of feminism is that it's about the ending of the oppression of women as a class by men as a class. Certain schools of thought that have adopted the label 'feminist' in recent decades are not, as far as I can see, helpful in this regard. Some I see as a positive hindrance. Promoting 'choices' which actually just pander to mens 'needs' and are bad for women as a whole will get us nowhere.

I am quite capable of worrying intensely about my appearance and at the same time wanting to analyse why this should be so and how we can move beyond it to a world where women can wholeheartedly participate in all the important stuff without constantly having to check ourselves or police each other.

Feminism requires a willingness to critique the choices you make, IMO, whatever you actually do to get by.

KirstyoffEastenders Sun 17-Feb-13 19:53:37

Seeker "A feminist considers how everything she does impacts on women in general, and does not make choices that perpetuate oppression/inequality. So a woman could choose, for example, to be a lap dancer, or to be a submissive wife, but those choices would be profoundly anti feminist."

So, are you saying that any woman who, say, shaves her legs or wears high heels, can't identify as a feminist?

KirstyoffEastenders Sun 17-Feb-13 19:59:14

I would say I'm a feminist because I challenge sexist attitudes (whenever I can muster the courage) and try to encourage girls and young women that I know to think differently and not fall into stereotypes.

seeker Sun 17-Feb-13 19:59:31

Well, if shaving your legs or wearing high heels perpetuates oppression then not. But they don't do they?

I think you need to at least be willing to critique or analyse why you shave your legs or wear heels - to question what the impact of these practices is, why men don't do it etc.

seeker - they do - in lots of workplaces, hair-free legs and heels (not to mention make up) are expected of female employees but not male employees. That's a lot of grooming time and foot pain that men aren't going through.

NotDavid that's really helpful, thanks.

ashes when I first joined MN I posted a few times in FWR (I had a different name then). I got flamed a couple of times and felt very intimidated by the aggressive nature of some of the threads. So I hid the whole section. I was persuaded to try again by LRD a few months ago, and I'm now older and more confident in my opinions.

FloraFox Sun 17-Feb-13 20:16:51

Flora I may be joining Puddle on the dense bench here, but I'd like to think the definition of what it means for me to identify as a feminist was not only not up to those who didn't identify as feminist but those who do.

I'm not sure if I picked this up wrong Cortana but I think I was saying the same thing - it's up to those who are feminists to determine what that means, not for it to be imposed by those who do not say they are feminists. I certainly don't believe that therefore everything you do is a feminist act, I'm not sure anyone said that?

Sorry, I know the thread has moved on a bit but I just wanted to pick that up.

I think you can critique others' actions from a feminist perspective.

ashesgirl Sun 17-Feb-13 20:18:35

Oh right. Goodness, you are such a feminist too! smile I was surprised to hear you had hidden it.

Cortana Sun 17-Feb-13 20:35:20

Sorry Flora, I obviously just read you wrong. I asked as I was unsure what you meant.

The everything you do is a feminist act came from Chi asking

"as long as you say you are a feminist, anything you do is feminist?"

I hadn't put myself across very well, what I meant was it's not quite that simple, more that you cannot say"This is what a feminist thinks/does/is" We may all have similar ideals and want for the same things, but as with any group of people we are individual and have our own ideas.

I know Puddle from seeing her around and was surprised she ever thought she wasn't feminist because she held a view that not every feminist shares. Hence my comments upthread.

AmandaPayne Sun 17-Feb-13 20:36:12

NDT's analogy is good. I agree with you.

vesuvia Sun 17-Feb-13 20:47:18

It is often said that there is no need for feminism now because there is equality of the sexes (allegedly). I think the idea that gender equality and feminism are completely interchangeable can break down when people start from the mistaken belief that there is already equality of the sexes.

Most dictionary definitions of feminism are usually along the lines of "equal rights for men and women". Such definitions of feminism usually ignore the fact that the sexes do not currently have equality. They ignore the importance of the existing starting point, that women as a group are disadvantaged compared to men as a group, and for equality to exist, women need to gain or keep rights that men already have.

If a person thinks equality of the sexes already exists, then if a change occurs to help women, that person will probably think that women are getting ahead in some kind of rights race.

I've been searching for an analogy to help me explain this. I'm still looking, but so far I've thought of a numerical count or score of rights of men as a group and women as a group, comparing their relative status in society:

A belief that equality already exists would give equal scores: men:5 rights, women:5 rights.
Then if women win the fight for a new right, it will appear to many male-centric people that the apparent score of rights has become: men:5 rights, women:6 rights.
Women will appear to be advantaged or privileged over men.

However the real starting point is actually more like: men 5, women 3.
Then if women win the fight for a new right, the real score of rights becomes: men 5, women 4.
Women are actually still disadvantaged, and less privileged than men.
As so many fights for women's rights are still not yet won, women will continue to be disadvantaged for some time to come, not advantaged as patriarchy and it's supporters would have us believe. Even more has to be done to improve women's rights.

Some definitions of feminism along the lines of "liberation of women and girls from patriarchal oppression" take the current unequal state of affairs into account much more than a more vague "equality of the sexes".

ecclesvet Sun 17-Feb-13 21:58:56

Women are actually still disadvantaged, and less privileged than men.

But in what way? Certainly gender roles exist for women, but they exist for men as well, and aren't any more onerous in my opinion.

I think gender equality is a basic tenet of feminism.

But, personally, I would rather see gender become irrelevant, than see 'gender equality'. I just think gender equality is the way to go, first.

Women are obviously much more disadvantaged than men, as can be seen from poverty levels, violence against women, etc. etc.

This means - to me - that sometimes we need to look a lot harder at what's happening to women, because these issues affect women disproportionately. I see that as part of the way to make a level playing field. It's necessary to do it so that we can, eventually, be treated as equals.

Women need to be liberated in order to get to that point.

yourname1111 Mon 18-Feb-13 07:37:35

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

yourname that thread is over 5 years old and a lot of posters pointed out that laughing at domestic violence is always unacceptable. Please could you start your own thread if you want to moan about ancient threads? Thanks. Unless you have something helpful to add here...?

LRD you make a good point that gender should be irrelevant. To me this is kind of what I mean by gender equality but I appreciate that not everyone does and I'm still a little hazy on these ideas and constructs.

Oh, I get hazy too. I think my perspective shifts depending what we're talking about. I've got someone on my facebook at the moment who is busily lecturing me about how gender should be irrelevant so I really shouldn't be objecting to the fact that Steenkamp's murder is discussed in terms of her famous boyfriend - because he reasons we'd discuss it the same way if a very famous woman's boyfriend had been murdered.

And at that point all my 'gender should be irrelevant' goes out the window, because while it should, what I'm concentrating on is the fact that there's a concrete reality, a woman has been murdered, and women like her should proper respect from the media. Which they never do.

OTOH if someone is telling me that men and women are very, very different so my SIL should be dressing my DN in pink or she'll get an identity crisis, I will be laughing and saying I don't think gender should be relevant to what a messy toddler wears.

It just varies.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 11:07:26

joyful I think 'gender equality' is a false premise. It prejudices the mind towards a 'false equivalence' - there was a good explanation on this term recently - I can't remember the thread.

An example of when, instead of fighting for the removal of oppression, 'equality' is fought for (since 'equality' will always be defined by the dominant/oppressive group) is the case in America at Harvard: The women-only gym sessions - which were obviously held because of prevalent male sexual violence making some women uncomfortable to attend mixed sessions- were successfully legally challenged on grounds of 'gender equality'.

So on the grounds of 'equality' women now have a choice either go to that gym and feel afraid that a creepy man is going to perv, hit on them, etc, or stay away. Men do not have that choiceless choice. Men do not 'equally' fear sexual violence from women. Therefore men have greater freedom to go where they please than women - and use 'gender equality' to smoke women out of their safe spaces in order to force them to become the easy targets of men.

Feminism says 'gender equality' cannot exist where all the parameters are male-defined and women's reality is denied. Feminism is concerned with real change rather than abstract concepts to toss around which have very adverse effects when applied in the real world.

I don't think it's a false premise. I just think it's often wrongly applied.

'Gender equality' to me is an ideal, it's what we'd hope to get to one day. But we won't get there without doing some levelling of the playing field, because we're not currently in a world where gender equality is even easy to imagine.

AbigailAdams Mon 18-Feb-13 11:26:17

I agree Bubbles.

I also agree LRD that gender equality is an ideal. But Feminism is more about working towards that goal and redefining equality to include women's needs.

Oh, yes.

There are loads of things that we theoretically could be doing, but we can't do all of them. It's like when people ask why haven't you feminists sorted out an event for men to go to ... well, we could, but we could also concentrate on other things and maybe someone else could do it!

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 11:45:09

LRD But we won't get there without doing some levelling of the playing field, because we're not currently in a world where gender equality is even easy to imagine.

But how do you 'level the playing field'?

By implanting wombs in men? Giving girls growth hormones so women are equally able to physically overpower men? Giving girls penises and encouraging them to bond over raping men?

Because unless you acknowledge the sex-based oppression at the root of 'gender inequality' then I don't see what the ideal would actually look like, without some freaky eugenics-style solution.

I think it is an 'ideal' in the sense that 'absolute freedom' is an ideal - something that exists only as an abstract concept. It is sometimes a useful term though, since misogynist people with power are more likely to respond well to it than to promoting women's rights.

I do acknowledge sex-based oppression at the root of gender inequality.

I don't see what biology has to do with it.

The reason we think men being physically stronger matters is not because we have a huge need for one very specific form of physical strength. Men are not 'physically stronger'. We just happen to measure physical strength in a very masculine-oriented way. You see if a man can exert the pressure of tube doors closing using only the muscles of his genitals. He can't. We can. It's actually kind of useful in labour.

We don't need to make women stronger. We just need to kick down the idea that one particular form of strength is terribly, terribly important.

Being 'equal' isn't the same as being 'identical'. I don't see the slightest point in men and women trying to be identical. We all differ from other men and other women anyway. But I do want us all to be equal.

Sorry, that's a lie. I do see what biology has to do with it (obviously, because I have the brain power to walk and chew gum). I should say, I don't see why the argument has to reduce to biology and get hung up on that. We're not going to change our biology, but we could perfectly well make it a non-issue. Like having brown hair or being left handed.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 13:21:11

LRD "I should say, I don't see why the argument has to reduce to biology and get hung up on that."

Well my point about the Harvard gym is the reason I think the biology must be a central component to understanding the machinations of sexual inequality, otherwise it is not possible to make the playing field 'level'.

Without examining the biology you'll always be left with abstract like-for-like arguments such as 'potential fathers should have an equal say in whether a woman has an abortion' - and so on, which could (especially with rape convictions being what they are) mean forced pregnancy, etc - in which case a misguided sense of 'reproductive equality' would hamper a woman's autonomy in all other areas, and be used as a legal tool for maintaining male dominance.

These things are very important- and I think 'hung up' is an inaccurate way to view 'acknowledging the centrality' of something. I would say that focusing on 'equality' at the expense of biology is like putting your fingers in your ears, squeezing shut your eyes and repeating 'reality only exists in my mind' in order to ignore the bellowing elephant in the room.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now