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?

Well, hopefully no bunfighting here. Especially since my considered position appears to have all the finesse of 'ah, dunno really'. blush grin

Sorry to hear about the sleep deprivation.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 16:03:34

LRD "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."

Ah I see. You use 'vulnerability' to 'weakness' interchangeably -I don't.

Weakness suggests a lack of strength, but vulnerability is more an assessment of the relations between different factors- which can change. For example when I am sitting at a bus stop I am more vulnerable to being mugged than if I am sitting at home watching the telly. I didn't become 'weaker' at the bus stop, just 'more vulnerable'. And women are relationally vulnerable to men when it comes to rape/forced pregnancy/etc.

Hmm.

No, I'm not sure I agree. At all.

What has biology to do with the different rates of mugging in different locations? I can't see it has any bearing on it. If you tell me most muggings occur at bus stops and few in people's homes, I am sure you are correct, but I don't understand why this relates at all to biology.

Likewise, women are vulnerable to rape because we live in a culture that doesn't crack down on rapists. Women are vulnerable to forced pregnancy because we live in a culture that doesn't accord women the same rights over their bodies that men have.

We could perfectly well imagine a culture in which men were vulnerable to being kneed in the balls, as I said upthread. It is a basic biological design feature that you can knee a man in the balls and cause him a lot of pain. It's not a biological design feature our society happens to exploit on a regular basis (thank god). So we don't really think about it in terms of vulnerability. On the other hand, the design feature that women can be impregnated, we do see as a vulnerability.

I would suggest, since both of these are biological, what we're left with is social conditioning, and that is what makes the difference. That's what makes one set of biological features 'weaker' or 'more vulnerable' (and I accept the terms are not synonymous but our society does like to make out that 'more vulnerable' women are also 'weaker' than men, which isn't true).

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 16:24:23

LRD What has biology to do with the different rates of mugging in different locations?

Huh? I didn't say biology has anything to do with the different rates of muggings. I said that vulnerability is different from weakness.

Vulnerability is a relational word. Weakness is a comment on the thing itself.

Something can be vulnerable to other things acting upon it. Additionally, vulnerability can change according to circumstance.

A 'weak' thing is de facto weak whatever - even if it is sitting on its own, relating to no other thing.

So, sorry, why did you bring up mugging at all?

I'm sure vulnerability is a relational word, and weakness can be a comment on a thing itself (though it's not, really, it exists in a socio-linguistic matrix just like every other word we use).

But I don't get how this relates to the biology argument.

You seem to think that it's possible to identify something that is 'de facto' weak.

Such as what?

Are you saying that women have de facto biological weaknesses, or just biological vulnerability?

If they only have biological vulnerability (accepting, for the moment, your definition of the two words), then surely, this is socially conditioned so it would be perfectly possible to imagine a society where women were not biologically vulnerable. And it would be possible to work towards getting there.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 16:28:35

women are vulnerable to rape because we live in a culture that doesn't crack down on rapists.

No, women are vulnerable to rape, because it is possible for men to rape them.

The prevalence of rape is because rapist men choose to rape women and we live in a culture that doesn't crack down on rapists.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 16:32:40

LRD I am saying that you use 'weakness' and 'vulnerability' interchangeably.

Which misconstrues the point about women's 'reproductive vulnerability' - into suggesting I am saying that women are 'inherently weak' because of their biology.

I'll say it clearly:

Women are not 'inherently weak' because of their biology, but they are 'inherently vulnerable to being impregnated against their will' because of their biology.

Does that make more sense?

No, I think that misses the point.

Women are 'vulnerable' to rape in exactly the same way men are vulnerable to being kneed in the balls. In fact, all human beings are vulnerable to a huge array of possible things. But it's only a tiny number of these things that become elevated to play a big role in oppression of one class of people or other. Rape is one of those things. Routinely kneeing men in the balls is not.

There is a reason for this, and it makes no sense to say that it is biological - ie., that it's because women have bodies that can be raped - because it is also the case that men have bodies that are vulnerable in sex-specific ways.

I do not believe rape is an inevitable part of a human society, and your argument (as far as I can see) is that it must be, because of female biology (or rather, I hope, you'd at least concede, because of human biology).

Sorry, we're cross posting.

I understand the distinction you are making between 'weakness' and 'vulnerability'. I just don't agree with it. You think that 'weakness' is an inherent state, that something can be 'de facto' weak. I'm sure some inanimate objects can be, but to say that a woman is 'weak' is exactly the same as to say she is vulnerable, because of the way in which society shaped our use of language.

We define human strength in a way that props up our ideas about masculinity. We also interpret women's bodies as 'vulnerable' to prop up our ideas about masculinity.

Until we stop doing this, there is not (IMO) much point in trying too hard to work out whether we mean 'weak' or 'vulnerable' since both states are to do with being a woman living in a patriarchial society which skews our ideas about what women's bodies are capable of doing and what men's bodies are capable of doing.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 16:49:03

LRD "Women are 'vulnerable' to rape in exactly the same way men are vulnerable to being kneed in the balls."
What do you mean by 'exactly the same way'?

"only a tiny number of these things that become elevated to play a big role in oppression of one class of people or other. Rape is one of those things. Routinely kneeing men in the balls is not."

Routinely kneeing a man in the balls does not mean he'll end up with an unwanted pregnancy/child that will change the course of his life from that point forward. Rape is far more complex than a knee to the balls. Vulnerability to pregnancy is only shared by women- there is no like-for-like comparison you can draw with male vulnerabilities.

"I do not believe rape is an inevitable part of a human society, and your argument (as far as I can see) is that it must be, because of female biology (or rather, I hope, you'd at least concede, because of human biology)."

Jeez - can you keep within the parameters of what 'vulnerability' means please? ie - vulnerable is not a synonym of 'inevitable' or 'weak'.

Women are only vulnerable to being raped for as long as men choose to rape women and are not restrained from raping women. If no men choose to rape or if all men who would choose to rape are restrained from doing so, then women would no longer be vulnerable to being raped - herein lies the 'relational' part of vulnerability.

Women are vulnerable to rape because they have bodies that can be raped. Men are vulnerable to being kneed in the balls because they have bodies that can be kneed in the balls.

I am not at all trying to suggest that the outcomes are the same, as I said upthread. But they're also irrelevant.

We don't have a society where women regularly knee men in the balls, and where that society sends out the message 'oh, it's ok, men secretly like it, and besides, they're probably lying about it happening'.

As I am trying to explain - we can't really imagine what a society full of systematic oppression of men would be like. Because we live in this society.

I disagree with you about the value of distinguishing 'vulnerability' from 'weakness' in the specific context of talking about women's bodies in a patriarchial society. There is a reason why I say this, you know. I'm not just blurring the distinction between the two terms for kicks - honest. It's as I said above: the way our society has shaped the way we see male and female bodies means that these two terms become conflated. It is part of what is wrong with our view of women's bodies.

I do believe that women are only vulnerable to rape because we live in a society that doesn't crack down on it - and I stand by that. Is that what you're trying to say in the last paragraph (just checking)? I'm confused though, because if you believe that, why do you bring biology into it?

Btw - I don't quite follow why you quoted the bit where I don't use the terms 'vulnerable' or 'weak' ... did you misquote or am I misunderstanding?

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 17:06:26

"I disagree with you about the value of distinguishing 'vulnerability' from 'weakness' in the specific context of talking about women's bodies in a patriarchial society. There is a reason why I say this, you know. "

Yes I see that you do disagree - but by conflating the two, you disallow discussion of reproductive vulnerability, by suggesting any discussion of it encourages stereotyping of women as 'weak and vulnerable'. I believe that this discussion needs to be had, but you think keeping up appearances of being just as burly as men takes priority over it.

"I do believe that women are only vulnerable to rape because we live in a society that doesn't crack down on it - and I stand by that. Is that what you're trying to say in the last paragraph (just checking)?"

Not quite. I believe that women are vulnerable to rape because it is possible for men to rape women. Therefore if all men chose not to rape OR if as a society we were able to prevent every rape in such a way it was impossible for men to rape women, then women would no longer be vulnerable to being raped/impregnated against their will.

"I'm confused though, because if you believe that, why do you bring biology into it?"

This comment confuses me. I have no idea what you mean by 'bring biology into it'.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 17:10:09

Btw - I don't quite follow why you quoted the bit where I don't use the terms 'vulnerable' or 'weak' ... did you misquote or am I misunderstanding?

I don't know what bit you mean.

No, I don't think I am disallowing that discussion - just explaining why, personally, it seems to me that this terminology is part of the same wider issue of social conditioning. We see women's bodies in a particular way because our social conditioning, and even our language, is skewed. It's not objective.

By 'bring biology into it' - now, I thought the issue you had with what I was saying way upthread, was that you think it's a fundamentally biological issue that women at the Harvard gym wanted a women-only space (if I'm following). And I think that it's fundamentally an issue to do with the patriarchy existing. It happens to be exploiting biology, but biology isn't the root cause.

The reason I'm trying to put together thoughts here is that it bothers me when we end up discussing women's bodies and biological characteristics as if they told us something really important about the way in which society has developed. I don't think they necessarily do. I think they tell us a heck of a lot about how society has conditioned us to think about physicality and biological sex. And that's not the same thing.

I'm trying to find a parallel to this discussion. So, back in the day, people thought women were - biologically - not really capable of academic study. They'd seen that women's brains were smaller (which they are, but we now know this isn't relevant). They'd said, look, women's bodies have to support a womb and a brain at the same time (which they do, but again ... not the issue it was thought to be!). So people said, women can't be academic like men, because biologically, they have small brains and their wombs would dry up and they'd be infertile.

Whether you say women were vulnerable to the rigors of academia in a way men weren't, or whether you say men believed women were weaker than they were isn't, to me, a big difference. The important point is that men at the time thought that women were biologically so different from men that they couldn't ever be equals in academia.

We now know women can be equals. This is partly because we found out some of this biological difference was cobblers. And other bits (the smaller brain) we know is true, but doesn't have the effect that was once thought. So, effectively, we've levelled the playing field. The way that happened wasn't by saying 'OMG, we must make women's bodies exactly like men's, and pump up their brains and whip out their wombs'. It was by sorting out women's colleges, and getting into positive discrimination, and so on. And gradually we get to the point we're at now, where at least in theory (!), everyone can accept that a clever woman will be as good at university as a clever man.

This is why I say that 'gender equality' can be an important ideal to aim at. You came into that bit of the debate saying it's not so, because women at the Harvard gym had a biological basis for their need for a woman-only space. And I am saying, well, yes, sort of, but all of these 'biological' aspects are pretty much socially conditioned. And it would be rash to assume we can be certain that it's biology is the root cause of any form of discrimination. And even more rash to assume that what we think today are biological 'facts' are the same things we'll recognize tomorrow.

I have now written War and Peace, so will try to take a breather.

It's not that I'm dismissing biology. Biology is hugely, hugely important in our current society. It is enormously important that women should get the recognition that our bodies are vulnerable in a way that men's bodies are not.

It's when we get to talking about ideals and biology is still being described as if it were an objective measure of differences between men and women, that I start to disagree. And it feels to me as if this is what is happening.

The blame isn't on women's bodies. It's on the patriarchy.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 17:46:08

So it is really the 'slippery slope argument LRD - you feel that any discussion of the different reproductive roles that are determined by human biology will inevitably lead to biological determinist sexism.

"It happens to be exploiting biology, but biology isn't the root cause."

This statement makes me realise that there is the ol' causation chestnut. You think I am saying that our biology causes patriarchy when I say that the exploitation and abuse of biological differences are at the root of patriarchy.

I don't use 'root' and 'cause' interchangeably.

I am not a biological determinist.

However, I do believe that women continue to be oppressed and discriminated against on the basis of their biological sex (eg- I don't want to employ her because she might have a baby or she's a slut for having her rapist uncle's baby at the age of 14, etc), and that male control of sex and reproduction is at the heart of misogyny, patriarchy/male-dominace (eg- rape and fear of rape, denied abortion/birth control).

That's good to hear. smile

Thanks for clarifying. I think I would have used 'root' and 'cause' interchangeably, myself, you see.

The reason I initially asked you that question - which came first - was to get a straight answer on this. But I think perhaps I phrased it a bit glibly as I'm using shorthand (like 'the patriarchy') too much. I'm sorry about that.

Anyway ... no, I most certainly don't feel that any discussion will lead to determinism. In fact, I'm not quite sure why you're so worried that I want to shut down discussion. blush I really, really don't. I'm totally with joyful on this one, I am just interested and want to work out where I stand.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 17:55:24

"The blame isn't on women's bodies. It's on the patriarchy."

Of course!

The blame is on patriarchy abusing and exploiting women's bodies in order to establish and perpetuate male dominance.

Yes. Absolutely.

So why is gender equality necessarily a bad thing to aim for, then? Is it just because we can go much further (we can), or what? Do you reckon?

I think that may have been the bit where I got lost.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 17:57:45

I don't think you want to shut down discussion - otherwise you wouldn't have taken the time to discuss smile

grin

This is true.

BubblesOfBliss Mon 18-Feb-13 18:14:05

"So why is gender equality necessarily a bad thing to aim for, then? Is it just because we can go much further (we can), or what? Do you reckon?"

Because 'gender equality' is a sex-neutral word that invisiblises the prevalent power dynamic of male class dominance that oppresses the female class.

It suggests false equivalence that in very practical ways leads down lots of dead ends to the point can actually be used to hinder women's progress (such as the Harvard example) and hinder progress towards the actual truth of the matter by circular, inaccurate like-for-like discussions. It allows men to nurture misguided notions that they are just as oppressed as women simply because they have a gender role that they sometimes resent too.

Basically - 'gender equality' prevents a clear view of the roots of women's oppression.

I think we can go much further and bravely look at the truth, the blood, guts, piss and shit of it. No sitting around with a mind tipping to-and-fro like a pair of abstract weighing scales trying to make things 'fair'. The truth is ugly and ragged. But there is a structure upholding it and by examining the structure you can see the mechanisms of oppression, and once seeing those, you can find ways to dismantle them.

So I think 'liberation' from this structure is preferable to 'equality' within it as a goal.

Yes, that I'd agree with - that it obscures the current power dynamic. That's why I said, in the first example I gave of Steenkamp's death, I wouldn't be interested in discussing 'gender equality' because it is not useful.

I certainly don't think it's always a useful term.

But it doesn't always prevent a clear view of the roots (or causes?) of women's oppression, IMO. Sometimes, it is necessary to make the simple, radical point that men and women should be equal.

Equality within this current structure is simply impossible and pointless to discuss, so I would have said that's a red herring.

I am not sure which will happen first - gender equality, or simply the disappearance of gender as a construct. But I think one or other of those, would coincide with the patriarchy crumbling.

Btw, it occurs to me I should say - and I've got to admit I was monumentally confused by where you were going with your argument, because I was being slow and because I still don't really follow why you disagreed with me when our perspectives seem to be pretty close - I'm definitely not an 'equalist'. I am a feminist.

Someone who says they're aiming to be 'an equalist' is (IME) someone who thinks that feminism isn't the most effective and powerful way to get to women being treated equally, and I totally disagree with that.

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