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?

But the Harvard gym thing isn't actually about biology. It's about the way one group of people treat another group of people. There is nothing inherent in female biology that says 'please treat me like shit'.

Eqaully, with abortion, the issue isn't that female biology has all sorts of special differences from male biology (though it does). The issue is that men have right over their own bodies and women do not. That is a skewed and stupid situation. There is no need to start thinking about changing biology and imagining pregnant men - all we need to do (all! It's huge, I know) is to get women the same rights over their own bodies that men have.

If you think about it in terms of biology it is true that the inequlities become more obviously ludicruous - for example, that (conveniently) people decide that the moment something becomes not a part of someone's body but a 'baby' is the moment when it's the woman's body in question. But IMO it isn't biology that is at 'fault' here, it's the stupid interpretations of women's bodies that are at fault.

I'm sorry if 'hung up' was a term that got your back up. I do take your point it wasn't a good term, though I didn't intend it to be belittling anything you said. I'm sorry.

I do feel angry, though, that we're so blinded by the patriarchy that we start blaming biology instead of actual misognyny, and I think that is the risk here, to be honest.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 13:56:20

LRD "But the Harvard gym thing isn't actually about biology. It's about the way one group of people treat another group of people. There is nothing inherent in female biology that says 'please treat me like shit'."

I don't really understand this. Isn't it about the fear of rape? Isn't rape rooted in biology? - Afterall penises and testes are biological, vulva/vagina/wombs/ovaries are biological. There's nothing that says 'please treat me like shit' about female biology, but there is something about male biology which means that, irrespective of whatever signals a woman gives off about how she would like to be treated, a man can choose force himself upon her and perhaps impregnate her against her will. Even the vague threat of such an action is enough to control and assert dominance.

"Equally, with abortion, the issue isn't that female biology has all sorts of special differences from male biology (though it does). The issue is that men have right over their own bodies and women do not. That is a skewed and stupid situation. There is no need to start thinking about changing biology and imagining pregnant men - all we need to do (all! It's huge, I know) is to get women the same rights over their own bodies that men have."

But then surely if you are that 'hung up' wink on equality you should give men equal reproductive rights to women? Abortion isn't just about men and women's bodies, its about reproduction and reproductive rights.

"If you think about it in terms of biology it is true that the inequalities become more obviously ludicrous - for example, that (conveniently) people decide that the moment something becomes not a part of someone's body but a 'baby' is the moment when it's the woman's body in question. But IMO it isn't biology that is at 'fault' here, it's the stupid interpretations of women's bodies that are at fault."

I don't really understand what you mean here.

"I'm sorry if 'hung up' was a term that got your back up. I do take your point it wasn't a good term, though I didn't intend it to be belittling anything you said. I'm sorry. "

Thanks, I'm not really offended, but I suppose a bit concerned that you were making a kind of sweeping statement about something that requires close examination.

"I do feel angry, though, that we're so blinded by the patriarchy that we start blaming biology instead of actual misogyny, and I think that is the risk here, to be honest."

I see- but you know what I'm going to say here - misogyny is rooted in biology smile It is a hatred of everything female, our bodies, our reproductive ability and role, and our resistance to being subordinated or reduced to only that body and reproductive role in order to suit the male will to control us.

Wow. Sorry, I'm not going to answer very coherently as that's such a long post, so excuse me - yell at me if I'm missing something obvious.

It's certainly quite possible I am making sweeping statements. I don't know. Certainly I'm not trying to say don't do the close examination. I started in on this saying what my (shifting) perspective was, not trying to lay down the law.

But ... is misogyny rooted in biology because biology matters, or does biology matter because it is a convenient way to develop class prejudice? I'm not sure but I don't think the second possibility should be dismissed.

We simply do not know at what point the patriarchy got set up, or how. It is very possible it is to do with the biology of sex. It'd be interesting to know more. But right now, we are speculating.

Meantime, in the modern world, where the patriarchy has been set up, what we're looking at isn't just 'biology', it is a composite of attitudes and prejudices and preconceptions. These interact with biology in ways we're not even seeing properly. That's why I made the point about physical 'strength' being defined in a way that is oriented towards validating a particular aspect of male biology as superior. Biology is rooted in physical reality, but that doesn't mean it's objective.

I do - or I would if it was my choice - give men and women equal reproductive rights. That's basic, to me. It doesn't mean giving them identical rights. It just means getting rid of this misogynistic idea that women, uniquely, deserve to forgo their bodily autonomy at a particular stage in the reproductive process, whereas men never do.

(I think I am edging towards quoting the Popular People's Front of Judea now ... 'everyone agrees he can't have babies - not having a womb, which is no-one's fault ... but he can have the right to have babies ...').

kim147 Mon 18-Feb-13 14:16:38

grin

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 14:31:44

LRD I find your perspective a bit confusing and indistinct.

" is misogyny rooted in biology because biology matters, or does biology matter because it is a convenient way to develop class prejudice? I'm not sure but I don't think the second possibility should be dismissed."

Is the above statement the crux of your (shifting) perspective?

Because I would argue that no class prejudice occurs for the sake of convenience though perhaps 'opportunism' would be right. It is a pattern of widening pre-existing power differentials by abusing and exploiting those differentials - to the point that the inequality becomes so established and ingrained you can consider them different classes.

The power differential between men and women is because of women's reproductive vulnerability (it is interesting that so much DV begins during pregnancy or just after birth when a woman is at her most vulnerable). A woman carrying a baby in her womb or in her arms is at a big disadvantage to the man who wants to control her (though of course matrilineal groups can eventually bring a lot of power to women, through creating her own clan of supporters and defenders).

"We simply do not know at what point the patriarchy got set up, or how. It is very possible it is to do with the biology of sex. It'd be interesting to know more. But right now, we are speculating."

Actually, living today are all sorts of societies - some egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies, and polygynous nomads - you can see the difference to women's status is inversely proportional to how much male wealth and status is defined by the number of their livestock and children a man 'breeds', 'owns' and 'controls'.

"Meantime, in the modern world, where the patriarchy has been set up, what we're looking at isn't just 'biology', it is a composite of attitudes and prejudices and preconceptions. These interact with biology in ways we're not even seeing properly. That's why I made the point about physical 'strength' being defined in a way that is oriented towards validating a particular aspect of male biology as superior. Biology is rooted in physical reality, but that doesn't mean it's objective."

Sorry I just think this is a very weak argument against the biological roots. Are you saying - something I would agree with - that gender is the conduit by which women and girls are culturally oppressed by boys and men?

"I do - or I would if it was my choice - give men and women equal reproductive rights. That's basic, to me. It doesn't mean giving them identical rights. It just means getting rid of this misogynistic idea that women, uniquely, deserve to forgo their bodily autonomy at a particular stage in the reproductive process, whereas men never do."

You've mish-mashed everything again here and I don't understand.

Fair enough, it likely is confusing and indistinct.

However, you're referring to statements when I'm asking questions, which could be part of the issue!

But to rephrase that question: how can we possibly tell whether the patriarchy exists because of biological differences (ie., it could only be this way, we could never imagine a society in which women were not oppressed because our biology dictates that they must be), or whether the patriarchy exploited irrelevant differences because it could?

My view is that the patriarchy exploited differences. Of course we now see those biological differences as hugely significant. But I don't believe they have to be.

I don't follow your point about different societies. I think what's important here is - we live in a patriarchy. Or, if you prefer, we live in several different patriarchies. But they're still patriarchies! So, we are still speculating about any non-patriarchial society. And we are certainly speculating about the precise non-patriarchial society which may (and I believe did) exist in pre-history.

We cannot know for certain how it was that patriarchy became established. It is certainly very likely that the biology of sex was hugely important, but precisely how - we don't know.

Gender is most certainly the conduit by which women and girls are oppressed by boys and men.

Sorry, I don't know what it is you don't understand about the last bit, so I can't help. blush

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 14:47:14

I don't follow your point about different societies. I think what's important here is - we live in a patriarchy. Or, if you prefer, we live in several different patriarchies. But they're still patriarchies! So, we are still speculating about any non-patriarchial society. And we are certainly speculating about the precise non-patriarchial society which may (and I believe did) exist in pre-history.

My point is that all phases of societies still exist now. From the hunter-gatherer, to the nomadic, to the primitive farming settlements and so on - we don't have to give up on establishing where patriarchy began in the past- we have living evidence of the evolution of patriarchy exisiting today.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 14:48:02

I don't follow your point about different societies. I think what's important here is - we live in a patriarchy. Or, if you prefer, we live in several different patriarchies. But they're still patriarchies! So, we are still speculating about any non-patriarchial society. And we are certainly speculating about the precise non-patriarchial society which may (and I believe did) exist in pre-history.

My point is that all phases of societies still exist now. From the hunter-gatherer, to the nomadic, to the primitive farming settlements and so on - we don't have to give up on establishing where patriarchy began in the past- we have living evidence of the evolution of patriarchy exisiting today.

How do you mean? confused

We really don't have pre-patriarchial societies. I'm sure about this. What we have today is most certainly not 'all phases of socities'. What we have today is a tiny, tiny, tiny restricted subset of all the possibile societies that could have developed, and a pretty tiny subset of all the socities that have existed.

We do not have historical records that tell us, unambiguously, about pre-patriarchial socities. Therefore, we do not know how the patriarchy came into being - in the way that, for example, we do pretty much know how the industrial revolution came into being.

Comparing a nomadic community in 2013, or a 'primitive' farming settlement in 2013, to something that may have happened in the Bronze Age, just makes no sense to me.

We know so, so little about socities in the past. Assuming they must have been like 'primitive' socities in the world today, and therefore must have been patriarchial, and therefore biology is the root cause of the patriarchy, sounds to me like a huge series of leaps of faith.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 15:03:39

Sorry about double posting - dodgy connection blush

I want to unpick this next statement, and I think I can get a bit closer to understanding what you mean:

"My view is that the patriarchy exploited differences. Of course we now see those biological differences as hugely significant. But I don't believe they have to be."

Here goes:

"My view is that the patriarchy exploited differences"
I am a bit uncomfortable about 'the' in front of patriarchy because it suggests a conspiracy - I don't believe you are implying a conspiracy. But I think you agree that patriarchy did indeed occur as a result of men as a group exploiting and abusing the power differential between them and women which is as a result of women's reproductive vulnerability.

" Of course we now see those biological differences as hugely significant."
This I don't get - who is the 'we' who sees?

"But I don't believe they have to be"
By saying this are you saying that we can put measures in place to reduce female reproductive vulnerabilities which lead to women being abused and exploited by men? ie- we need to prioritise addressing female reproductive vulnerability to make the 'playing field level' (which I agree with)

or are you saying that if we don't think/talk about biology, it isn't important or central and doesn't need to be? ie- if you don't talk about something it goes away (which I don't)

Or do you mean something entirely different?

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 15:07:04

"Comparing a nomadic community in 2013, or a 'primitive' farming settlement in 2013, to something that may have happened in the Bronze Age, just makes no sense to me."

Hang on - Australian Aboriginals have lived in a similar way for thousands of years. Same way with hunter gatherers, nomads, etc.

"We know so, so little about socities in the past."

We know loads about the ones that haven't changed much.

"Assuming they must have been like 'primitive' socities in the world today, and therefore must have been patriarchial, and therefore biology is the root cause of the patriarchy, sounds to me like a huge series of leaps of faith."

This is a mish-mash - it is not consistent with my claims.

No, you're fine, don't worry.

You're right, I'm not implying a conspiracy, just using shorthand. 'The patriarchy' is not some pseudo-mafia group, and indeed, it's not sentient. It is just a helpful term for thinking about pressures on society that shape themselves after a very long period of time.

I don't know how the patriarchy came to be, and that is the point I am making.

The 'we' who see biological differences as hugely significant is simply all of us. It's how we are conditioned to see things. People are 'male' or 'female' - these are the binary distinctions we organize our lives by. And, of course, for loads of feminists it's also hugely important to look at how women's bodies are targeted by misogyny.

But I don't believe that this has to be the case. I see there are biological differences between men and women (and between men and men, and between older women and younger women, and so on ...), but I don't see why these have to be the primary, organizing binary.

I am not convinced that women inherently have this 'vulnerability' you mention. Of course it is possible they do. But it is - I think - equally possible that it is simply the product of the way our society has shaped itself over thousands of years.

Of course, now we've got to this state - where women are oppressed both because of their gender and because of their biological sex - you could say all of this is a moot point. I know. But I'm getting into it because I do not believe that men and women can't one day be equal. Not biologically identical, but equal. I don't believe there is anything in our biology that is a necessary and unavoidable weakness. Or anything in male biology that is an immutable strength. What there is, is a shed load of conditioning to make us feel that this is so.

So, what we need to do is keep pushing at that conditioning. Abortion is a good example - it is simply a matter of giving women the same rights over their bodies that men have. To say it's about biology isn't totally untrue, but it's not relevant. If we (society) treated women with the same respect as we treat men, we would never question that women get to have rights over their own bodies. We would also, I think, never have decided that the moment when a baby becomes 'a baby' and something with rights to conflict with a woman's rights, is precisely the moment when only the woman's body (and not the man's) is concerned.

Surely, here, you can see that we're not really talking about 'biology', but about the social conditioning that's the lens through which we see that biology?

bubbles - thousands of years is nothing, though, not if we're looking back to prehistory. It's tiny.

If I look at really old texts, like Gilgamesh (apologies for Western-centric but it's my background), they are still deeply embedded in what looks to me exactly like a patriarchial culture.

We would have to go back much, much, much further into socities we don't know about, in order to have a hope in hell of arriving at 'pre patriarchy'. I think.

<waits for anthropologists to come and correct me>

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 15:21:01

I'm afraid I still don't agree.

"I don't believe there is anything in our biology that is a necessary and unavoidable weakness."
The fact that only women can get pregnant as a result of rape, and only men can rape women and make them pregnant is pretty inherent to the differences in biology.

What do you mean a 'necessary' weakness?
What do you mean by an 'unavoidable' weakness? in this context?

I don't think those are biological weaknesses, though. That's someone exploiting biology - yes. But it doesn't make me 'weak' that I can be raped. The reason that can happen is because we live in a misogynistic society.

You might as well say that because blokes can be kneed in the balls, they're inherently weak. Well, they're not, because we don't live in a society where women habitually go around kneeing men in the balls, and where - moreover - the whole of that society has developed in such a way that this is treated as largely acceptable. There is no culture of saying 'hmm, well, maybe he was asking for it, we all know how men tempt women to knee them in the balls because they secretly enjoy it'.

I know this is a fairly daft example - but that's the point. It is extremely difficult to look outside of our conditioning. So we end up believing the misogynist propaganda.

I am not saying that, in our current society, it doesn't matter that female biology makes us vulnerable to rape. Obviously it does matter. But that is not a necessary result of female biology, IMO. That is to say, I don't think that any humanoid species where females are like us and males are like human males, would automatically develop into a rape culture.

confused

<settles down with brew and a notepad>

Sorry! blush

I was just trying to get my ideas straight.

I do honestly think an awful lot of this is just speculating about things. 99% of the time it doesn't matter whether we focus on 'gender equality' or getting rid of gender as a concept, or on whether the patriarchy has biological roots or not. I do think the practical stuff is pretty much the same no matter what you believe.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 15:37:36

I've been allowing my mind to wander a bit.

LRD is your view that patriarchy was established at specific point in the distant unknowable past - (and was probably associated with sex difference and female reproductive vulnerability), but then this evolved into gender roles and at some point/gradually - also in the past- the sex-based oppression fell away, leaving only gender-based oppression of women by men- which is where we are today?

Because I see patriarchy as something that is continuously being established and maintained, and where gender is the visible face of the sex-based oppression underneath (which is alive now just as much as it ever was).

Why is it that it is all so 'biological' for MRAs? Why are they always complaining about women having abortions without consulting them, women fleeing with their children to refuges to escape them, women getting custody of the children these fathers abuse, women wanting rape to be taken seriously... It is all about male entitlement to sex and reproduction, because that is still underpinning the desire of abusive men to control women- it still underpins male domination to this day.

Don't apologise LRD, it's really interesting!

I think part of the reason I never really identified with feminism until recently it the idea of 'The Patriarchy'. Too often it seems that the term indicates a male conspiracy to rape, belittle and oppress women.

Now I understand it to (mostly) be shorthand for 'this male-dominated society in which we live' and that makes sense to me.

No, my view is that we don't know when or how patriarchy was established.

I do certainly agree that patriarchy is continuously being established and maintained. I don't think that would be incompatible with believing it might have been established at some specific point in the past, though. A thing can be established, and then continue to reinforce itself. In fact I think most social structures do just that.

What I am wary of is this idea of a single, specific point. Obviously we don't know, but it's staggeringly unlikely it was that. It's much more likely it was a very, very, very slow series of changes over time.

I think the reason it's so 'biological' for MRAs is the same reason it's so biological for us. I am not in the least denying that biology has a crucial role in our current society. I am just saying I don't think female biology inevitably leads to patriarchial oppression of women.

An awful lot of the time, MRA (and non-MRAs) tell us that things happen because they're biological. And we are meant to understand that 'biological' means 'natural'. But our understanding of biology is pretty heavily socially conditioned. We're not really in a position to be certain what might be biological 'weaknesses' in a non-patriarchial society, because we've never seen such a thing.

Given that, I think it's dubious to assume that biological weaknesses have an existance independent of social conditioning.

I could be wrong - but no-one is currently in a position to prove the opposite position right. So far as I understand.

joyful - that's really gracious of you, thanks, I was worried I was derailing your thread.

I did the same with 'patriarchy' - I have to remind myself to use a longer-winded term if I'm talking to someone I don't know well, as I know they'll be picturing the mafia version. Which is highly amusing, but probably not terribly helpful.

grin Not derailed at all! I'm still finding my way with all this and everything is interesting. (I'm also learning which topics to avoid - I inadvertently started a thread recently which had turned into a bunfight by the second page and I had to abandon it... confused).

Unfortunately chronic sleep deprivation means that my brain isn't functioning particularly well, but I'll work it out eventually. smile

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