Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails it IMO
Because of when I grew up, and in large part because of who my mom is/became, I have been thinking about feminism, women’s rights )reproductive and otherwise), feminism’s relation to sex, how men can (or can’t) be feminists, and so on a good chunk of my life. Lately, as seems to happen on a regular basis, I’ve seen another round of posts, articles, and thought pieces on whether women can or can’t have it all, and which one is a more feminist approach.
Now, my opinions on the answer to this are inherently bogus cuz I’m not only a guy, I’m a straight, cis-gendered, white guy. I’m well aware of my privileges and advantages, and how they benefit me basically every single friggin’ day. Heck, I’ve even written about how much it pisses me off. If you don’t believe me, or want to tune me out because of that, that’s totally fine. I’m not trying to mansplain’ here; I’m just musing about what I think.
Now that I’ve qualified my place in the feminist movement, my answer to the “can/can’t she have it all” question is simple: It’s the wrong damn question. And this is kind of what I’ve decided feminism boils down to for me: Equality for all, regardless of gender. (With gender having the modern, more elastic definition, i.e. including trans folks & etc.) That’s it. Pretty simple, and something I have hard time anyone would not want to support. Which means the question about “having it all” should really be asked this way:
“Don’t you believe everyone, regardless of gender, should have the opportunity and freedom to pursue their dreams in life?”
If you want to try to “have it all”, you should have that freedom (whether you’re a man or a woman!); if you want to just pursue your career, you should have the freedom to do that, without having to face the stuff I’ve seen in high tech; if you want to stay at home and raise your kids (like I did for more than a year!), you should have the freedom to do that. That’s feminism to me: The ability to have an equal chance to pursue your dreams, your desires, whether you “want it all” or not, dammit!
Freedom and opportunity; that’s all.
Now, the right wing has done an exemplary job in throwing enough mud at the word “feminism” to make us lefties disown it to a lesser or greater degree. I’ve given this considerable thought, and on the one hand I think the word “feminism” really sucks–right away, it makes me feel as a man that my help in pushing this really reasonable goal of equal opportunity and freedom is not wanted. Or worse, actively discouraged, as indeed it is by the radical feminism side of the world. You know: The folks who believe all penis-in-vagina (PiV) sex is rape; the wymyn who believe any male/female sex is assault. And the second wave feminists, by saying things like “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” haven’t helped. You hear that, and it’s pretty reasonable to respond, “Oh yeah? Okay; fuck you, then!”
And of course, you get a vocal minority of these types of feminists who object to anything that is remotely sex-positive. Porn is evil; PiV sex is evil; male/female sex is evil; BDSM is evil; kink is evil; opening doors for people perpetuates the patriarchal paradigm; getting married is demeaning (and evil); etc. You get enough of this and you think, “Yeah, I don’t want to be part of that. Combine that with the right making you feel bad about it anyway, and the pressure to disown feminism is pretty strong and widely held.
But you know what? Screw those people! “Feminism” means equal opportunity and freedom no matter your gender, dammit! That’s it! We’re all equal partners in the workplace, the home, raising the kids, forming relationships, sexual play, governing the country, state, and locales, and everything else! Opposing that is not only sexist and bigoted, it’s anti-American, durn it! We hold these truths to be self-evident, and all that.
So yeah, I think it’s not a good term for the principle (and “humanist” is worse), and wish we could come up with a better one like when “gay marriage” morphed into “marriage equality”. (“Genderism”? “Gender freedom”? “Gender equality”? I’m open to suggestions.) But it’s what we have right now, and the first thing is we need to reclaim the word from the right-wing dipsticks like Rush “Feminazi” Limbaugh and his fellow idiot travelers and make it our own again, just like “liberal”, and to heck with them. And the second thing is, we gotta get more men on board.
Anyway, that’s what this one guy here thinks.
I like what you’re saying about having a “gender equality” movement, since that would more obviously encompass all gender issues, but do you see a place for a mostly female oriented movement, since women have more/greater issues than men? (Or would you argue that the problems are equivalent?) Because as I see it, feminism is called that because the feminine is degraded, leading to the unequal balance in genders. So feminism is raising up the feminine so that the genders become equal. (Although I’m not sure how non binary genders would fit into that, so I can see that being an issue.)
I struggle with that, honestly. On the one hand, only an idiot (or a rabid right-winger) would believe that we have gender equality now, so it’s clearly unequal. On the other hand, we’ve worked very hard to eliminate men’s-only clubs, men’s-only sports, etc.; is it good, even temporarily, to have some kind of division until we reach parity, similar to affirmative action? And as the dad of a daughter just starting college, I’m thrilled at how strong and independent and self-assertive she is, and we have been very careful to cultivate that and not squash it–the world squashes it soon enough. And she wants to go to Mills College, which is almost entirely female, and part of me is relieved and pleased, because being away from guys during that period is a good protection and allows her to grow even further. On the other hand, not being exposed to guys means she won’t learn how to deal with them in quite the same way that, say, my female college friends did who lived in co-ed dorms.
I don’t have answers there, I’m afraid; only questions. But that’s where we have to start, nu? The main thing, I think, is that everyone deserves the same *opportunities*, and right now that is definitely *not* the case.
So, the biggest problem I have with calling Feminism something else (and the reason the question occurred to me) was because the great majority of people I have seen who want something that’s gender equality but not Feminism, want it because they think that men and women are equally disadvantaged by the current society. But I’ve seen that lead to ignoring most of the problems that women face that are invisible to most men. It’s apparent to me that you don’t believe that, but the idea of changing Feminism to something not female oriented still makes me cringe. I can see it as a future goal, though.
I do also think that there is a place — at least currently — for gendered spaces. Not that all spaces should be gendered, or even most, but I understand having “sisterhood” and “brotherhood” social spaces because that can be a safe space for those who need it — boys and girls alike — although it can also get stereotypical fast depending on who’s in charge and I see that as a bad thing. Other places, though, such as women-only gyms, I see as being more like affirmative action as well as a safe space for women who are likely to be harassed in a co-ed gym.
I just graduated from a master’s program where I lived in an all-girls grad-student house but had co-ed courses, and my house acted as a place where I felt slightly safer. This is because I am more used to interacting with girls as my friends growing up were all girls, and I wasn’t concerned about creepy guys in my house. If your daughter goes to an all-girls school, they might still have social events with guys from a neighboring college she could go to. Or she could join a social group in the nearby city/town if there is one she’s interested in (this was generally discouraged by adults when I was an undergrad but I ended going to social events/classes in the city outside my university anyway and I’m very glad I did. It makes college less of a bubble and more like slowly entering the real world).
(As an aside, do you speak Hebrew? Because you put “nu” at the end of a sentence before the question mark…)
I think you raise some great points, and I don’t disagree. I simultaneously think that women and men should have someplace where they can go, while at the same time worry that’s an inherently discriminatory thing, not just to the other sex, but also in the sense that sexual binariness does not apply to all, so what would (say) a trans woman do in that situation? And similarly, that my daughter wants to go to Mills both pleases me and worries me.
Like I said, I haven’t got answers; just questions.
And I only speak a tiny bit of Hebrew and some Yiddish. But I’m Jewish, if that’s what you were wondering. 🙂
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