Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On Feminism, #1

I was recently debating with someone on the internet about whether feminism is still needed in society, and about the meaning of "overthrowing the patriarchy." You know the usual arguments that people have regarding feminism.

It all started with this article about frivolous lawsuit king Roy Den Hollander. I'm sure you've heard it about by now. But if you haven't, Hollander is suing Columbia University because they offer a women's studies program.

I believe Fannie, and others, have already sufficiently addressed most of the reasons why this lawsuit is unnecessary and ridiculous.

But I will give my take on it.

This man I was arguing with, Babo, insisted that women now have equal rights. In fact, he ventured beyond equal, and stated that women basically now have more rights than men. And that the alleged goal of "women's studies" programs is to "overthrow the patriarchy" by giving women "everything" and leaving men completely out of things.

I know.

Like most MRAs, his need to oversimplify, overgeneralize, create straw men, and fight windmills that to him represent The Entire Feminist Movement leads to quite a slippery slope. Namely, that femininsts are all out to destroy all men. And now he is just sick and tired of being told "10,000 times" that because he is a man, he is a rapist and violent. You can read the entire exchange here.

Frankly, I don't want to bore you with the entire thing and I've had a long, hard day saving lives to get into it again.

I am too frustrated to explain the simple premises of feminism that men (and some women) like this fail to take the time to learn about. But they are listed conveniently at one place. I don't sincerely expect an anti-feminist to venture to this site, because anti-feminists usually aren't looking for explanations that oppose their prejudices and sexism. All they want is validation from other like-minded men and subserviant women. As men, I suppose they already have the entire world figured out. Men are objective, and correct. Always. And women are whiny, subjective, emotional babies.

Babo is smart enough to not go that far with it. He is smart enough to realize that, "of course," women deserve equal rights, "everyone" knows that by now. But then he immediately goes on to say that women are way past equal rights, to the detriment of men, and dammit our boys are sufferin!

But let's take a look at some things that should make everyone question, as Fannie calls it, The Invisible Ideology.

For example, a man might explain the fact that 138 out of 138 books and authors listed in Wikipedia's "Great Books" entry are written by men, by saying "women just aren't as naturally driven or ambitious" as men. Or "men just write better books." After all, that's just the way it's always been. Men are just the authors of every "important book" out there.

Or would they even notice that all the authors are men?

Would most women even notice?

I mean, is the patriarchy so incredibly invisible that people really believe that the only great books throughout our millenia of existence writing books were written by men? And by mostly white men, at that?

Is it really a "feminist" thought to question this belief, a belief that is held by most "educatated" people in the Western world? Or is it just plain beneficial for all of humankind to question this inherent by-product of patriarchy?

Another internet search of "Great Books" led me to this website: "From the ancient classics to the masterpieces of the 20th century, the Great Books are all the introduction you’ll ever need to the ideas, stories, and discoveries that have shaped modern civilization."

That's right folks, these books have shaped modern civilization as we all know it! And guess what? The list starts in the year 1790 BCE with Hammurabi, and the first female author isn't present until nearly 4 thousand years later when the famous, mostly self-educated, recluse Emily Bronte was born in 1818. Yet, even after she wrote her books, many claimed that her brother Branwell wrote her books instead.

From then on, women make up a few more, mere pinpoint specks in the "shaping our entire civilization" mural that consists of mostly white male authors.

I strongly suspect that the only way, in fact, to get a list of great, influential books written by women--and there are plenty--would be to visit a feminist website, or to take (as was my one "feminist" class in undergrad) a Women & Literature class in school.

For anyone to claim that the effects of learning about male-only authors continuously throughout school have no resounding effects on what females accomplish is naive, at best. Deliberately ignorant at worst.

Further, to sue a school for its curriculum that includes women, as well as men, in its anthropological history is just plain selfish.

And like so many other feminists have decried, "isn't every other course in school a course in men's studies?" It certainly appears to be the case. These are courses that every student is required to take in order to graduate.

Students are never forced to become women's studies minors (as a major isn't offered at the school, check their website) in order to get a degree or graduate.

Yes, in spite of women's suffrage in the past century, and Babo's (and more accurately Christina Hoff Sommers') so-called "equity feminists" of the 1st wave of feminism, women's studies is still a very necessary vocation. Especially considering that despite women gaining the right to vote, more reproductive rights, the rights to themselves (meaning rape laws are no longer property crimes against the man who owns the woman), most students get through their schooling without ever being taught about influential women, why women were excluded from political offices until the 20th century in most countries, or women's literature. They are still learning that the single most important people in western civilization are white men. And after that, and in other cultures, the most important people are just men. Of any color.

As someone on the Feminism 101 blog states, throughout every story, fable, cartoon, movie, novel, poem, epic, etc. men are written as the active protagonist. The hero. Women only ever serve as their decorations, prizes, or damsels in distress that need rescued. (random shoutout to the Buffy series and creator Joss Whedon for being an exception).

Basically, to think all of those social, political, moral wrongs have been rectified by so-called equity feminists in a couple decades; so much so that men are now being harmed is the biggest lie that anti-feminists like Hollander are trying to tell themselves. And worse, now one is clogging the court system and wasting other people's time.

The AAUW (American Association of University Women) responds appropriately to Hoff Sommers' claims that "gender equity" feminists are "stealing feminism" and "harming young boys:"

Unfortunately, Who Stole Feminism? is not about making positive societal change or changing behavior to create a more equitable society for women and girls. Rather, AAUW perceives the book to be an attack on scholars, women's organizations, and higher education. Contrary to what Sommers contends, there is nothing in any of our research about terms she uses--domination, subjugation, victimization, or oppression. Anyone who has read The AAUW Report will know that none of this is in our research. Ours is not a radical agenda despite Sommers' characterization of AAUW. We are about positive societal change. What does Sommers have to offer women and girls of America? Our research looks for solutions and is based on facts, not anecdotes or soundbites. The important thing to remember is that this debate is not about AAUW; it's about the children in this country. What is important is that our daughters and sons reach their full potential.

In that sense, and given the history of the treatment of women, is wanting the best for both sexes, not just males, really a bad thing?

The Washington Post agreed:

"In the end, Sommers fails to prove either claim in the title of her book. She does not show that there is a "war against boys." All she can show is that feminists are attacking her "boys-will-be-boys" concept of boyhood, just as she attacks their more flexible notion. The difference between attacking a concept and attacking millions of real children is both enormous and patently obvious. Sommers's title, then, is not just wrong but inexcusably misleading. For the claim in her subtitle that 'misguided feminism is harming our young men,' she does not present a shred of credible supporting evidence but rather advances her position by assertion and abstract argumentation. ...Sommers's book is a work of neither dispassionate social science nor reflective scholarship; it is a conservative polemic. Sommers focuses less on boys than on the feminists and cultural liberals against whom she has a long-standing animus. As a society, we sorely need a discussion of boyhood that is thoughtful and searching. This intemperate book is a hindrance to such conversation."

(both of these extended quotes are in wikipedia article on Sommers Hoff)

I am assuming that Babo probably cut and pasted his arguments from Sommers' book. In that case, it is clear to me why he can't back up any of his arguments with any solid facts. Instead, blindly believing, as many do, in an ideology that suits his male privileged needs the best.

It is my sincere belief that patriarchy, not feminism, is responsible for most male grievances these days. If they spent more time advocating for men in that respect, they would probably get a lot further than Hollander ever will. But, that is an entirely different topic, and one that perhaps would be best addressed by men.

On a sidenote, check out Hollander's myspace page.


Fannie said...

Good article. Wow, I didn't realize that all of the Great Books really were written by men.


Books written by women are about womanly stuff. Books written by men are about great, important, universal concerns.

Babo said...

The quotes were from Wendy McElroy at You can read the whole piece here:

Jane Know said...

Thanks for providing the reference.

Among the several things I take issue with is McElroy's statement: "their health concerns are virtually ignored compared to women's concerns. For example, spending on breast cancer has long outstripped prostate research by a 3:1 ratio at the National Institutes of Health even tho' prostate cancer is deadlier."

From the CDC: "Statistics
Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. Breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in Hispanic women. It is the second most common cause of cancer death in white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.

In 2004 (the most recent year numbers are available),

186,772 women and 1,815 men were diagnosed with breast cancer*†
40,954 women and 362 men died from breast cancer*† " (

Prostate cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. In 2004 (the most recent year for which statistics are currently available):

189,075 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer*
29,002 men died from prostate cancer*" (

I'm just saying... to me, it looks like breast cancer is deadlier.

Further, it's hard to substiantate a claim of "men's health issues are virtually ignored..." Does she really expect something like that to stand on its own without providing any evidence? I mean, I agree that men probably need more health-care in general. EVERYONE does in this country. But it's not the fault of people "ignoring" men's health because of feminism. That's just become the scapegoat of some people who are too lazy to seek real answers.

Babo said...

What in the following (from McElroy) is inaccurate?

You see the difference between liberal and gender feminism here... Liberals objected to particular discriminations within society, like hiring practices, and they didn't reject men so much as they wanted men to change. Gender feminists rejected men -- all men as a class -- because they were oppressor, the enemy of women. They didn't object to any particular aspect of society; they objected to it all. The institutions of society...such as the family, religion, the law...had to be deconstructed and then reconstructed to liberate women.

Through a series of events liberal feminism declined in prominence and gender feminism advanced. In 1973, feminism had won a tremendous victory in Roe v. Wade and an optimistic movement began to focus very tightly on a fresh effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. In March 1978, one hundred thousand demonstrators marched on Washington, D.C. in support of the ERA. Yet, after frustrating extensions and delays, the measure was finally defeated in Congress in 1984.

The defeat of the ERA was a stunning blow to the liberals within feminism whose voices had dominated. Not so with radical feminists who had always viewed the ERA as a "Band-Aid" solution. It served as a confirmation of their position. And, so, gender feminists offered a new solution to a discouraged movement -- a new political theory based on gender oppression that viewed men as class enemies. And about 1983 to 1984, you saw the rise of gender feminism ad it started to dominate the feminist movement in general.

Or, more accurately, liberal feminism began to absorb the theory of gender feminism, to more closer and closer to the gender feminist worldview. And it is at this point that you see men, like Warren Farrell, becoming disillusioned with feminism -- and NOW in particular -- because of its growing bias against men and all things male. Farrell quit NOW and the organization turned against him with a vicious passion.

Let me dwell a bit more on theory. Gender feminism can be defined as the school of feminism that views men and women as separate and politically antagonistic classes. Men as a class oppress women as a class. Men oppress women by establishing patriarchy -- or male rule -- and capitalism. The combination of these two is called "white male culture." Everywhere and at every moment, white male culture acts to subjugate women. Through domestic violence, advertising, pornography, rape, hiring practices, the use of male-dominated language, sexual harassment, through textbooks in public schools, prostitution...the alleged oppression permeates every aspect of society. And it amounts to nothing less than a full-fledged gender war.

It is no wonder that the goal of NOW-style feminists who have largely bought into gender theory is NOT equality with men but advantage over them. They don't want to be equal to their oppressor; they want to stop the oppression.

One of the key terms in gender theory is "class" -- men as a class...that means every man...oppresses women as a class. And I want to use the term to illustrate how deeply gender feminism and individualist feminism differ in their approaches to men.

So...class. There is nothing inherently wrong with separating the sexes into classes. Men and women have differences. Medicine, for example, often separates the sexes. Women are examined for cervical cancer and men for prostate problems. But when doctors separate the sexes they don't claim that the fundamental medical interests of men and women conflict. The doctors realize both sexes share the same basic biology that requires the same basic approach of nutrition, exercise, oxygen and common sense in terms of lifestyle. In other words, although medicine separates men and women into separate classes for certain purposes, it doesn't deny their shared humanity. It acknowledges the fundamental truth: men and women are both human beings with common needs to which there are some exceptions due to biology...again cervical cancer.

By contrast, gender feminism doesn't say that men and women share a common humanity and, so, have common political interests, like respect for private property. It says men and women do not share the same basic human needs -- politically speaking. This is like a doctor saying the two sexes do not have the same fundamental needs in nutrition and so on.

By contrast, individualist feminism looks at men and women and sees -- first and foremost -- individual human beings with a common, shared humanity. And, just as men and women share the same basic biological needs, we share the political needs: the same rights and responsibilities. The most basic human right is to the peaceful enjoyment of our own bodies and of our own property. The most basic human responsibility is to respect the peaceful decision other people make with their bodies and their property. To legally tolerate -- if not respect -- the choices of others.

In other words....the highest political good for both men and women doesn't come from their sexuality. It derives from their being human beings. Although men and women can be validly sorted into separate classes for all sorts of reasons -- from medicine to marketing strategy -- their basic rights and responsibilities cannot be sorted in that manner. Because those rights and responsibilities preceded any consideration of sexuality just as they precede any consideration of skin color. Those are secondary characteristics: sex, skin color, height, ethnicity... The primary characteristic is our membership as individuals in the human species. And THIS, the primary characteristic is where our rights arise.

And laws protecting those rights -- or enforcing those responsibilities -- should make no distinction between men and women. The law should treat them equally both in terms of its content and of its application...that is, how the content is interpreted by courts, in police policy, and so forth. By contrast with gender feminism, you can see how individualist feminism not only embraces the possibility equality with men, the demand for equality is an essential aspect of the ideology. Privilege for either sex is anathema.

Jane Know said...

I think we agree that men and women should be treated equally under the law. And that laws favoring either gender are unfair and discriminatory. Where I believe we disagree is where women, like any historically oppressed "class" of people, are now playing catch-up to men, men suddenly think that the privilege they are giving up was ever theirs to begin with. The mechanisms that feminism put in place to fight millenia of patriarchy (aka-male privilege) are an imperfect system that will harm *some* men. But is it fair to allow *most* women to continue to suffer under patriarchal rules and laws? I think you are viewing ANY gains that women make, or any effort (like women's studies) to put women into our anthropological history instead of ONLY men, as a threat to men everywhere. Why is that? If you are "all for" equality of the sexes, then why is including women into our history so painful?

If you are against so-called "gender feminism" that is fine. Your definition of feminism is not one that I agree with, nor belong to. I don't think most feminists belong to your definition. We are not all man-haters. Nor do we seek laws that favor women over men. By saying that all feminists now fall into the above category creates a straw man that sure makes it easy for you and other men to rebuke. Unfortunately for you, feminism is not that easy to put into a little "man-hatin', womyn-lovin'" box that you want to place it into.

Most of us just want equality.

As for your question regarding McElroy's statements that were false, I already answered that in my comment above. She says that prostate cancer is "deadlier" than breast cancer, and that men's health issues are "ignored." without providing any references for such bold claims about the entire medical establishment. And without linking that to feminism at all. If you are putting a lot of your eggs in that one basket against feminism, you best have some solid research to back it up. Her article is a rambling of inaccuracies, stereotypes, and lies. And not once does she provide any evidence for any of it.

Just because it's on the internets doesn't make it true.