Monday, July 19, 2010

Remembering why you are a feminist

Feminism benefits from a clear definition of its aims, so I like to use the idea of "independence for women."

Independence for women is difficult to argue against. Anyone who argues against independence for women in explicit terms is going to look like an ass. That is one thing it has going for it: it gives us an advantage from the start.

Additionally, "independence for women" lets us introduce just as much "men vs. women" hilarity into the mix as we want, without evading the issue in principle. In reality, men are one of the groups we don't want women to be dependent on. But anybody who has tried to discuss this topic in polite company knows that the whole subject can go nuclear in short order. So confronting men on this issue, particularly when many aren't aware that it is an issue, isn't something that we are always in the mood to do. Promoting independence for women allows us to make the case for feminism without too many headaches from people who may not understand the historical case for it in the here and now.

Postulating feminism in relational terms of dependence vs. independence also lets us embrace a broader range of concerns than when we restrict feminism to the relations between men and women -- when we confine it to gender. Of course, when we are speaking about women, gender is always in play, but it is not always happening along a pure male/female binary.

For instance, although many American women succeeded in gaining independence from their husbands, they have subsequently fallen into a relation of dependency vis-a-vis employers, which is fundamentally a class relation, in addition to being informed by gender.

The challenges confronting women in the workplace cannot be resolved by advocating "equality with men" when that very rule is used by employers to penalize women -- as when they "choose" to put their careers on hold while laboring with children, while men do not. Independence for women avoids this pitfall by meeting women's needs on their own terms, not in comparison with men's.

Let us also bear in mind that it is equally feminist to support independence for women who suffer the effects of illegitimate authority in the hands of other women -- whether such authority finds expression in the role of a mother, lover, a boss, or as peers. In this respect, feminism-as-independence means unequivocal support for women as they confront all obstacles to women, not particular obstacles, as in the specific case of men.

I hope that having a clear definition of feminism that works for our own circumstances will encourage us all to embrace the idea and promote its aims.


what the Tee Vee taught said...

I have a tee-shirt that reads "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" that I picked up from a class I took in college. (That's right, to any ladies reading my comment: I am a college man.)

I would wear it to bars and suggest to any eligible women, "I'll bet my t-shirt and your underwear would look good in a heap at the foot of your bed."

It never worked. They must have thought I was asking them to do my laundry, or something.

I apologize if my posture downgrades the desired level of discussion, Mr. Boyd. Humor — irrespective of quality — is the mode of the day.

Ethan said...

JR, this is so immensely useful to me that you can't possibly have any idea how much. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

been reading a lot on this lately.. academic so more soemtimes turgid and longwinded than your wonderfully pithy posts, but useful nonetheless:

JRB said...

Thanks, buddies.