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Help! What is the answer to this?

(19 Posts)
MistletoeBUTNOwine Wed 24-Dec-14 19:17:09

Dd (9) asked at dinner table, what is feminism.
I told her its that men and women are equal, different, but neither is better than the other. (I hope that's right??)
I then said I am a feminist.
Then my mum and my DP go on about feminists are crazy hmm and think they're the same as men, and that because I like to be wined and dined and have the door held open I'm not a feminist "you can't have it all".
What would you say to that?!

dwarfrabbit Wed 24-Dec-14 19:23:29

I think your definition was spot on for your kid. I think the definition of a feminist is one who likes to be differentiated from a doormat. If your mum and dp feel threatened by strong and capable women, then that's their issue, not yours.

grimbletart Wed 24-Dec-14 19:52:35

Your parents make the usual mistake about door opening. Everyone likes a door held open for them rather than having it left to shut in their face whether it's men or women. It's simply manners whatever the sex of the opener. As for being wined and dined. Who doesn't? As long as a woman is prepared to wine and dine her OH as well there is nothing anti-feminist about that.

Women who aren't feminists often don't have a very high opinion of themselves or may just like being infantilised.

kim147 Wed 24-Dec-14 21:16:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Philana Sat 27-Dec-14 11:07:57

Feminism is a complex historical movement. Defining feminism is like defining love or justice, feminism means different things to different people. Initially though, feminism was a way of assuring that women are equal to men and are seen and treated as equals. It also implied that women could do "manly" things. Feminism was never about men or people in between. Sure, men and people in between do have issues, but that's not the business of feminism. It's like saying that water in Africa is important but because we chose to look at that problem we ignore deforestation.

AskBasil4StuffingRecipe Sat 27-Dec-14 11:37:43

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

Seriously. For centuries, women were not defined as people, but as chattels. It took centuries for our personhood to be recognised in law.

People don't know their history so they forget how necessary the movement was and is.

I would explain it to a child along the lines that the human institutions and activities of the world were designed by men, for men with the assumption that women would either be defined as lower status in them (such as in the home, where men were in charge of the family) or excluded from them, by custom and law (such as business places, education institutions, etc.). When women tried to circumvent that exclusion and get in, sometimes they got away with it by disguising themselves as men, sometimes the men in power changed the law to make it explicit that women weren't allowed in and sometimes they used violence to ensure that women didn't try to circumvent the custom or the law. They always made sure that even if women did get in, they never got to hold powerful positions in their institutions unless they were so well disguised that everyone thought they were men.

Feminism was the movement to try and abolish the inferior status or exclusion of women from the activities and institutions of the world and every single step women took towards achieving that, was and is opposed by the majority of men. Even more strongly opposed is when women don't just want to function better in the world, but they want to change it so that the template which built the custom or practice or way of doing things, enables women as well as men to function properly in doing it. So for example, many men think maternity rights are a special perk for women, when all they are, is ensuring that women can function in the workplace without being disadvantaged because they are women - because the workplace ought to be designed for both men and women, not just men or women who are disguised as men.

grimbletart Sat 27-Dec-14 13:55:09

Great explanation Basil. I've never found it difficult to explain what feminism is. The one I've found difficult is the sometimes-voiced follow up question along the lines of…"well, if women are as 'good' as men, why did they let men get away with it?" In truth I've often wondered that myself as I find myself thinking a very unfeminist FFS about non-feminists…..hmm

AskBasil4StuffingRecipe Sat 27-Dec-14 16:08:40

I think the answer to that may be, that men are prepared to use a horrific level of violence in order to promote their agenda and women simply aren't. Men have been extremely creative in the forms of violence they dreamt up to keep women in line and also, they are prepared to murder their own children in furtherance of dominance. They conducted a terrorist campaign against women in the sense that women were in constant fear of violence from them and much of our energy was used up in trying to manage and avoid that violence (by placating and complimenting and keeping a wary eye on when it might flare up and diverting it away from you and your kids). When all your brain-space is being used up in trying to protect yourself and your children from the violence of the men you live with who have absolute power over you, it's pretty difficult to participate in building a society which those people have told you in no uncertain times, you have no place in.

TheWanderingUterus Sat 27-Dec-14 16:17:54


Because women were restricted from education

Because societal rules meant it was incredibly hard to survive without a man, shame, stigma etc. Women were told they were lesser, stupider, weaker, more emotional and less controlled than men by their families, by the church, by doctors and by their peers. Women were lesser beings, hysterical and under the control of their urges and reproductive system. They were also seen as more physiologically vulnerable, girls who studied were putting their future reproductive health at risk for example. Their 'supreme duty' was motherhood and child bearing.

Because women were excluded from the decision making - politicians, lawyers, doctors, philosophers, scientists etc.

Because women got pregnant and a)often died earlier than men, b)spent a significant portion of their lives raising children without the labour saving devices we have now. There are some heartbreaking studies done into female health in the early twentieth century.

Because women could be committed at the whim of their husbands. They could also be cut off without support and with limited means to earn their own money. Their children would stay with the father.

Because women who behaved like men were pathological and wrong. The 'masculine' woman was associated with lesbianism and feminism and was seen as the antithesis of the perfect feminine woman. Feminism was seen by many as the first signs of society breaking down, of people moving out of the places assigned by God and nature. Women who stood up were mocked, taunted, abused and dismissed as hysterical.

Because women could not own, buy or administer property for a long time, all that they owned belonged to their fathers and then their husbands. Then their sons/sons in law.

Because they found it harder to be published and for their voices to be heard.

TheWanderingUterus Sat 27-Dec-14 16:19:01

Essentially what AskBasil said grin

grimbletart Sat 27-Dec-14 17:27:07

Yes Wandering - I understand all that and agree that you are absolutely correct. I am looking for a much deeper explanation of why i.e. when men started to make these rules - e.g. long before any concept of education - women didn't say "No, that's irrational, that's illogical, that doesn't make any sense to any intelligent being. I am simply not going to accept it."

Probably not explaining myself very well here, but I think Basil has the simplest, yet deepest answer "Because men are willing to use a horrific level of violence in order to promote their agenda and women simply aren't." On a population level anyway as obviously individual or groups of women can be violent.

I can understand brainwashing once an idea has become established and it gathers weight and becomes accepted, but at the very outset someone, somewhere way back at the dawn of history had to start the meme that women were "other"and lesser. And no woman seems to have challenged it, which is what leads me to the only explanation being Basil's idea of violence i.e. might is right.

Having said that, with all our education, our advances, our proof that women are not weak or second class there are still women buying into the lie and there is no excuse for that. You see them on these (particularly American) anti-feminist sites. You see them automatically assuming their husband has some inalienable right to be the head of the family because of an accident of birth. What's that all about? Even as a child that didn't make sense to me and there is nothing special or different about me.

If you and I and probably most FWR posters could see from childhood or early womanhood that the emperor has no clothes, why cannot every woman see it? And that, I suppose is what I don't understand (cognitive dissonance apart) and where I struggle to be as sympathetic and non-victim blaming about these women as the majority on here. Guess I am more of a tough love person the older I get and whatever men, society or anyone says, fuck off comes more easily to me that "whatever you say dear" smile

God, this is like an itch you can't scratch. You know, despite all the reasons given by anyone anywhere, there is not a sufficient explanation that will stop me thinking - if you accept inferior status then what the fuck is wrong with you? confused

UptheChimney Sat 27-Dec-14 17:56:09

"well, if women are as 'good' as men, why did they let men get away with it?"

I've recently been re-reading the wonderful essay by John Stuart Mill & Harriet Taylor, "The Subjection of Women" (1869), where they compare women's position with that of slavery. And make the killing point that:

"Men do not want solely the obedience of women; they want their sentiments" (p. 26 of my 1869 facsimile edition).

TheWanderingUterus Sat 27-Dec-14 18:31:20

I wonder if it is as simple as biology and property.

Pregnant/newly delivered women are the most vulnerable. They slow groups of people down, require more resources and contribute the least. They look to others for protection at this time, and men can offer continuous protection without being hampered. The average woman in the past had an average life span of 20-40, much of which would presumably have been spent pregnant/breast feeding.

As humans settled into an agricultural lifestyle, less need to move etc, more wealth, then women came to be seen more as property to be protected. The desire to pass on ones wealth to ones offspring means if men are in charge, then women need more controls to ensure there are no cuckoos in the nest.

I have also read arguments that the monthly bleeding of women resulted in their 'othering', being treating with fear and as a source of contamination. The mystery of fertility and conception also.These events are seen as sacred/holy/disgusting, have different rituals and give women power which men envy/fear.

Interesting thoughts on this thread. Bloody family keep interrupting my thinking processes.

ChunkyPickle Sat 27-Dec-14 20:28:12

I think like Wandering, that so much of it boils down to pregnancy. A man can force a woman into getting pregnant. Once a woman is pregnant, that's it, you have her - first because she's more vulnerable when pregnant, and then because she's doubly vulnerable once there is a child.

AskBasil4StuffingRecipe Sun 28-Dec-14 11:07:11

"Having said that, with all our education, our advances, our proof that women are not weak or second class there are still women buying into the lie and there is no excuse for that"

Ah but there is - the excuse is that the psychology has now been set.

I think it's quite important that those mad sites with the handmaidens on, are American. They're not French, or German or British are they (though there may be a few small ones of those). The big ones are American and I suspect that they're not populated by sophisticated New Yorkers, but by women from very, very right wing, sexist, racist societies in the mid West or the South or wherever (sorry, my geography and cultural knowledge of USA is very hazy to say the least), where child abuse appears to be the norm if you take their parenting sites as representative and everything is justified by their white male abusive God. USA's a big place and those women haven't stood a bloody chance in terms of fitting into their society and functioning in it and if you're not prepared to reject your family, the people you love who love you and maybe move hundreds of miles away to feel comfortable, then you embrace the idiocy of their ideology. I can understand it, even sympathise with it. But I pity them. grin And their children. sad

AskBasil4StuffingRecipe Sun 28-Dec-14 11:13:57

I also think that it's likely that the ideology that women were inferior, came after their enslavement. In that sense I'm a materialist (in the Marxist sense) I don't think men looked at women and thought "blimey, she spends half her life pregnant and doesn't hunt as much, I'm so much better than her." Archeological finds show that women had much higher status compared to men in the past, giving birth was honoured and valued, so the idea that pregnancy and childbirth made you weaker and less valuable rather than stronger and more valuable to the tribe, came later, when men were looking for an excuse for their horrific abuse of women.

Just as racism didn't really exist as an ideology before the transatlantic slave trade - not in the way that it later became a really thought out, systematic idea. The ideology follows the practice IMO, not the other way round. People don't look at each other and think they look inferior to me, I must think about why and set up a system of abuse of them, they abuse them and then think about a justification why it's OK.

UptheChimney Sun 28-Dec-14 11:59:48

There's been a lot of research, academic work, and more general thinking through when/when/why gender hierarchies emerged/evolved/were enforced.

You could start with Mary Daly, for example, or Mary Wollstonecraft, or John Stuart Mill, or Codelia Fine, or ...

TBH, I'm not sure where it gets us. Personally, having researched and taught aspects of this stuff for about 25 years, I'm less exercised about why & when patriarchy started/evolved/emerged/was forcibly imposed. I'm the kind of historian who tends to think that there is no one originary point -- to me that's quite a patriarchal, masculinist way of thinking, actually.

What's important is to see how the particular version of patriarchy we live within now works, how it's structured, where it exists & what effects it has: making visible the invisible (it was either Marx or Brecht who said that, I think). And then pulling it apart, showing my students how it works for them now, or for the historical period we're looking at -- and so then for them to see how it works now.

AskBasil4StuffingRecipe Sun 28-Dec-14 12:11:21

Yes I agree, in a sense, who cares why or when it started?

What pisses me off in RL conversations with people is the sense that "well if it's always been like this, then maybe that's just how women and men were supposed to structure society, maybe there's no way of having equality because... yanno... we're not equal... men are actually better than women Basil and the fact that we've got a 6,000 year history of patriarchy is actually proof of that, rather than an outrage. So STFU and make me a sandwich".

Those same men (and it is always men) who argue that, ignore the fact that slavery has been a feature of all developed societies forever. They know slavery is wrong.

UptheChimney Sun 28-Dec-14 12:16:42

Ask them to replace "women" with "blacks" or "Chinese" or whatever. It makes the point ... But racism is currently far more groovy to protest about than sexism/misogyny.

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