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A thread to ask basic questions about feminism

(87 Posts)
EatsBrainsAndLeaves Sun 16-Sep-12 23:39:30

We havent had one of these threads for a while. This is a thread to ask basic questions about feminism. It doesnt matter how silly or trivial you think your question is. This is the place to ask it.

nailak Sun 16-Sep-12 23:50:14

are men and women the same?

EatsBrainsAndLeaves Sun 16-Sep-12 23:59:35

Obviously there are some basic differences. Men and women have different reproductive systems - so women give birth and have the ability to breastfeed. This means women and men need to be treated differently around some issues. So women need some maternity leave to physically recover from the birth.

There are also hormonal differences between men and woman. How much these matter is debated by feminists. Some think tetosterone in men makes them more aggressive than women for example, while others disagree.

Men are also in general taller and have greater upper body strength. Obviously this is an average. There are some women with large upper body strength and some men with poor upper body strength. But on average, men are taller with greater upper body strength.

HairExtensions Mon 17-Sep-12 00:43:11

Is Feminism essentially about attaining equality, or is there more that defines it?

nailak Mon 17-Sep-12 00:58:36

what is the stance on equal but different?

EatsBrainsAndLeaves Mon 17-Sep-12 00:59:42

Feminism says that we live in a male dominated society. Feminism is about ending that male domination - which is why it used to be called womens liberation i.e. womens liberation from a male dominated society. Different branches of feminism have different ideas about how we achieve that.

EatsBrainsAndLeaves Mon 17-Sep-12 01:00:50

nailak, sorry not sure what you mean - can you expand?

messyisthenewtidy Mon 17-Sep-12 11:19:02

Nailak, I often think about that too. But I think that "equal but different" is often used as an excuse to keep women and men in separate spheres.

I reckon that in the olden days there was definitely a need to keep a sexual division of labour and as long as women's sphere was as highly valued as men's I don't see a problem. If you look at some Native American cultures, they had strict divisions (men hunting & warfare, women crops, childcare, building huts) but women's sphere was valued as evidenced in the women's councils that had a say in political affairs.

There does seem to be a lot of evidence however the ideal of separate spheres was heightened during the Victorian times (in the west at least) as a response to feminists' demands for education, which is of course a bit crappy pat on the head ("you do the washing love, you're so much better at it than me!")

So I think that it's safe to say that in Western history, women's roles have been diminished by patriarchy and that "equal but different" has been a sop thrown to women to keep them out of power. I also think the nuclear family set up we have had in the West doesn't help. Men ruled the public domain, women the private, but as the private domain has been increasingly fragmented due to the decline of the extended family, women's lives became isolated and therefore less powerful.

messyisthenewtidy Mon 17-Sep-12 11:22:43

Also, it's worth asking the question that if we are to have "equal but different" what are we to do with the substantial number of men and women who don't fit into the categories that their gender has marked out for them?

Do they bow to the greater collective good or do we encourage people to follow their individual goals?

messyisthenewtidy Mon 17-Sep-12 11:30:10

Hairextensions "Is Feminism essentially about attaining equality?"

I remember being inspired by Greer's words (in "The whole woman" I think!). She said that Feminism isn't about attaining equality but liberation. For me, that is a huge part of feminism - liberating both men and women from the gender straitjacket society has put on them. That's why Fm is good for men also, if only they would realise it!!

When I was preggers and got refused for part-time work at my job they were quick to say that they weren't being sexist because if I were a man requesting part-time work I would also have been refused!

It was "equalist" logic with a very unequal outcome, because of course men don't have babies in the same way that women do! So sometimes equal treatment doesn't lead to equal opportunity for women, and a certain amount of differentiation is needed. The goal however should always be equality of opportunity because that is just plain old fair. HTH smile

messyisthenewtidy Mon 17-Sep-12 11:31:37

Sorry for so much posting!! The questions are just really interesting!! grin

EatsBrainsAndLeaves Mon 17-Sep-12 11:45:28

messy - Dont apologise for posting a lot! Its absolutely fine. I want this to be a safe and supportive thread for women to ask and answer questions about all brands of feminism

SuperB0F Mon 17-Sep-12 14:31:00

There's a nice thread here where people are already doing this, which might be a bit busier.

HairExtensions Mon 17-Sep-12 14:34:33

Thank you Eats and messy.

I like the idea of equality, but in terms of equality of opportunity, because I don't feel that as a women I am coming from the same standpoint as a man. There are things that put me at a disadvantage, and things that maybe give me an advantage?

I consider myself (in private) to be a feminist, however I would probably NEVER say it, not because I'm ashamed but because I don't have the academic learning/knowledge to back myself up.

Uppercut Mon 17-Sep-12 23:05:00

messyisthenewtidy
"That's why Fm is good for men also, if only they would realise it!!"

Telling someone that relinquishing their inherent social privilege will be good for them sounds contradictory, so the statement is ignored.

FastidiaBlueberry Mon 17-Sep-12 23:28:13

My take on it is that we live in a male supremacist culture which doesn't actually recognise that it is male supremacist because it is so normalised and internalised and it genuinely believes that although we all used to be terribly sexist, everyone's equal now. Women have made enormous gains in the last century or so but every single gain has been followed by a backlash and we still haven't achieved liberation. The only way we can, is if our society stops being male supremacist.

By that I mean the normal assumption that "man is the measure of all things". That man is the default human and woman is "other". Men's stuff is seen as stuff, whereas women's stuff is seen as women's stuff. For example if you are in a serious car accident, you are 50% more likely to die than a man in a similar accident in a similar car because the average car is designed for an average man - not an average person, an average man. Because men are people, but women are women.

In the police force, there used to be a height restriction which was set at a level that most men could reach and most women couldn't and many people genuinely thought that was fair and equal, because if women couldn't achieve the average height men could, it meant that they didn't have the right to be in the force - because the force was designed for people who were men, not people who were men and women and it took them ages to realise the structural unfairness, of demanding that women be like men, instead of being like women. No institution has ever demanded that men adapt to women's norms but most institutions demand that women adapt to men's norms and if they can't, it doesn't prove that the norm is wrong, it proves that women can't hack it.

Until very recently, the British Heart Foundation has been giving our population advice about how to spot a heart attack which is totally inaccurate for women. Everyone knows what a heart attack looks like - except they don't, they know what a heart attack looks like for a man. When women have heart attack symptoms, they present very differently from men - not usually chest and arm pains. As a result of this, women having heart attacks are far less likely to survive them than men, purely and simply because they're less likely to be diagnosed in time to save their lives. Because they aren't men and their bodies aren't showing the same symptoms most men's bodies do.

That's what I mean about men being considered the default human. The world and pretty much all its institutions (except female-only ones) are designed for men and women are expected to slot into them on the same basis as men do. So when women do things men don't do - like having babies and taking maternity leave - that behaviour is seen as aberrant as it doesn't fit into the norm. The norm being, what men do.

My version of feminism is about changing the world and its institutions so that they are designed to fit the whole of humanity, not just half the species. I don't want to be equal in an unequal set up, because that means that I will always be playing on an uneven playing field. There won't be real equality until we equalise the playing field.

FastidiaBlueberry Mon 17-Sep-12 23:28:44

oops, sorry for the essay

kim147 Mon 17-Sep-12 23:33:59

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EatsBrainsAndLeaves Mon 17-Sep-12 23:51:01

Fastidia - Thank you, that was a great post!

Uppercut Tue 18-Sep-12 00:30:47

"For example if you are in a serious car accident, you are 50% more likely to die than a man in a similar accident in a similar car because the average car is designed for an average man - not an average person, an average man. Because men are people, but women are women."

If you're a man you're far more likely to be in an accident in the first place.

"As a result of this, women having heart attacks are far less likely to survive them than men, purely and simply because they're less likely to be diagnosed in time to save their lives. Because they aren't men and their bodies aren't showing the same symptoms most men's bodies do."

Despite that men are still far more likely to die from heart disease than women.

I'm not saying more attention shouldn't be given to women re: heart disease, but as with car accidents, claiming that the differences are due to the 'patriarchy' is to embrace ideology over statistical fact.

As for the police, I wonder how many operational 'accomodations' have been made so that a 5' 1" and a 5' 3" munchkin wouldn't be left to chase down a 6' 2" suspect on their own.

GranToAirMissiles Tue 18-Sep-12 00:38:24

Is Shulamith Firestone's book The Dialectic of Sex readable? I have not tried it, but imagined it to be turgid, fierce, or both. So surprised to find her short stories in Airless Spaces very plainly written, lucid, humane and empathic (toward both sexes).

flatpackhamster Tue 18-Sep-12 10:26:27

FastidiaBlueberry

By that I mean the normal assumption that "man is the measure of all things". That man is the default human and woman is "other". Men's stuff is seen as stuff, whereas women's stuff is seen as women's stuff. For example if you are in a serious car accident, you are 50% more likely to die than a man in a similar accident in a similar car because the average car is designed for an average man - not an average person, an average man. Because men are people, but women are women.

This claim is incorrect on several levels. I assume you're referring to the 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health?

That study indicated that men are three times more likely to be in a car crash that leads to serious or fatal injuries. As a consequence vehicles are designed to offer greater protection to men, because men are at greater risk.

The figure you refer to was a 47% greater chance of injury, not a 50% greater chance of death.

The study also dealt with older vehicles with more simplistic airbag systems. Modern dual-deploy airbags take in to account both men and women.

The case you cite is not an example of 'patriarchy'.

AliceHurled Tue 18-Sep-12 10:46:11

Fastidia there's stacks of those examples. Clara Greed wrote a book about the built environment and how it's designed for men. Like the stuff about suburbs vs cities, the former being for the private realm the latter being for the public realm, the way bus routes favour moving from one to the other rather than travelling patterns that often fall to women eg taking the kids to school, shopping etc. The one that stuck in my head was the height of seats at bus stops, designed to be at the right height for a man's legs to hit the floor and prop him up, not a woman's. Of course of you're a man these things are all invisible to you.

EatsBrainsAndLeaves Tue 18-Sep-12 10:54:52

Agree Alice. I was in womens public toilets yesterday and all the mirrors had been installed at a height that was too high for the average woman. But looked the perfect height for the average man.

Uppercut Tue 18-Sep-12 12:12:43

"But looked the perfect height for the average man."

Then that must have been the case.

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