I Woke Up

Posted: August 4, 2010 in Feminism, Uncategorized

Bidisha has done it again.

Her account of last weekend’s UK Feminista Feminist Summer School is pretty-self explanatory.

This ‘mass-awakening’ of feminists makes no reference to trans women, men, or anyone who rejects fixed gender identities. It does, of course, refer to ‘oppressors’, ‘perpetrators’ and ‘violence against women’.

I used to be a feminist. But then I woke up.  In Silence.

Comments
  1. I don’t get it.

    Can you explain in further details why you came away frustrated by reading her article?

  2. It all hangs on how you see gender inequality.

    Bidisha and mainstream feminism (as it is in UK ) frames gender as ‘men’ v ‘women’. Or at least ‘bad men’ v ‘women’.

    I see gender as complex intersections between different forms of inequality along the lines of masculinity, femininity, class, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, age etc.

    I do not think there is a ‘perpetrator’ of gender inequality. I think we all are suffering from the oppression of this fixed notion of gender as ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

    These feminists are part of the problem, not the solution, in my view.

  3. I know I have pimped this blog to you before:

    http://www.marksimpson.com/

    But Mark Simpson writes very accessibly about looking at some of the gender inequalities within masculinity. If you read his work in any detail it becomes plain that the argument used by feminists that ‘women suffer the brunt of gender inequality’ or ‘men are the oppressor’ with the occasional ‘but patriarchy hurts men too’ as a proviso, just doesn’t hold water. We are all suffering from gender. He is a nice bloke too so if you left comments or asked him questions he would most likely respond!

  4. JenniferRuth says:

    I agree. I too believe we are all are suffering from oppression due to a fixed notion of gender. This is the very basis of radical feminism. In fact, I’m not even sure gender is even real – at least not for all of us.

    However, it can’t be denied that women suffer more under this oppression than men do. To deny this is to deny that privilege is granted in this world for certain characteristics. I’m afraid that being male or white or straight or cis or rich or one of many other things does indeed grant you privilege. Of course, people are many things and suffer different oppressions and are granted different privileges. This is where intersectionality comes in, like you said.

    Intersectionality needs to be taken more seriously by feminism in my opinion.

    Also, I am a bit muscially dense. You said “But then I woke up. In Silence” Is that just a reference to the song or do you mean something by it? Sorry if that is a stupid question!

  5. Hi Jennifer.
    I agree and disagree at the same time with you. I think there are areas in which some men have a lot of advantages over some women and these can be generalised to an extent. But overall the women v men binary is over for me!

    You can read whatever you want into my words. The last sentence was a bit of a throwaway line…

  6. JenniferRuth says:

    I didn’t read it into it – I was just wondering if I was meant too!

  7. Alex says:

    I disagree in parts with what you’re saying. Trans issues are very important to me and a lot of what drew me to feminism was that at its roots it is a battle against gender inequality, which I see as naturally including fighting for the rights of women, LGB identified people and trans people. Not only that, feminism also holds race and disability issues at its heart as well; all of those who are othered by society as it stands.

    Now as I’m sure you’re aware, feminism is so broad it almost does it more justice to call it feminisms to encompass all the dimensions it reaches.

    What I’m getting to is that I think every feminist has their own focus, their own drive which drew them to do something they believe in which pulls them under this very heavy identity which means a different thing for different people. It could be issues surrounding rape, domestic abuse, objectification, porn, LGB stuff, trans issues, queer theory, radical lesbianism, activism, work, child raising etc etc.

    Don’t get me wrong, it bothers me a lot that trans issues are often silenced, ignored or not even considered. One of the worst examples of this recently was the Malawi couple who were described by the media as gay when really Twionge is a trans woman. Another example is the way Julie Bindel got nominated for the Stonewall award and was included on the pink list in spite of transphobia which rivals Germaine Greer’s. So I know where you’re coming from.

    However, I don’t think that highlighting the problem of misogyny which is still rife in society is a matter of creating what you’re preceiving to be a false dichotomy. I am inclined to agree; I think that the problems we have with gender go far further that simply men oppress women and are to do with our falsely constructed views of what it means to be male and female, masculine and feminine. But, just because something is constructed doesn’t make its problems any less real. There is a problem with misogyny and there are a lot of men (and women) at fault. Even if you believe that those categories are exclusive and wrong.

    You’re not going to eradicate gender inequality, in my opinion, by beliving the only legitimate way of doing so is by striking the heart of the metaphysics of gender. I think that there are many ways to engage with feminism, even if that means its focus isn’t the same as what you believe is actually the heart of the problem.

    I find it frustrating sometimes that a lot of what people see in feminism is simply the oppression of women, when I also agree that at the heart of the matter IS what you’ve mentioned above. But I don’t think it’s pragmatic to tell someone who has experienced misogyny (or other forms of prejudices) from people theories of constructivism. I think it’s healthier to encourage people to talk about their experiences, and attack the problems prima facie AND the deeper currents of what has caused that on a foundational level.

    I apologise if that’s a bit of a rambling mess, but I think I got my point across.

  8. You’re not going to eradicate gender inequality, in my opinion, by beliving the only legitimate way of doing so is by striking the heart of the metaphysics of gender.

    Hi Alex-ooh I love that line! I might have to steal it for my own ends! Because I am wondering if maybe that is the only way to eradicate gender inequality!

  9. Alex says:

    Well, ultimately I do too! So it’s probably worded badly. But I don’t think it’s the only way to get there and I don’t think it’s best way to get there with how society understands gender inequality as it stands now. Basically, I think it’s too big a jump to do all at once and we need to work on different levels with a view to, eventually, deconstructing ideas of gender (and social identity in general) to eradicate inequality.

    Metaphysical feminist philosophy is where much of my interest lies and on an academic level I think it’s vitally important; I do, however, think there are other important approaches that address problems head on, as well as the deeper philosophical problems that ripple underneath them.

    If that makes sense?

  10. I’m not going to add much to the conversation, but I just wanted to say that I read all the comments and that Alex has pretty much expressed exactly what I feel and wasn’t able to find the words to say.

  11. you are a very conscientious reader and thinker, Olga. Feminism is lucky to have you!

  12. arctic_jay says:

    Alex,

    the “there are many faces of feminism!” argument doesn’t fly. A label that doesn’t reference fundamentals is meaningless and cannot be used to describe a movement, which feminism is. That’s why Sarah Palin, Camille Paglia, and Christina Hoff-Sommers cant’ call themselves feminists without endless controversy. Name one feminist that doesn’t believe in the existence of Western Patriarchy or male privilege that is also considered a feminist by 51% of self-identified feminists?

    People are not turning away from feminism because they are unaware of the diversity of feminist thought. They’re turning away from it because they’ve realized that patriarchy and male privilege are myths in their societies.

  13. Gulp. I think I agree with you again arctic-jay. But don’t let that make you too complacent. These are strange times, ok?

  14. Alex says:

    @arctic_jay

    If you want to make this an argument about the problems of denotation, so be it. You said that a word is meaningless if it can’t reference fundamentals. If that is true, then all words are meaningless because they only reference other words: everything is metaphor. And what fundamentals would these be anyway? What are the fundamentals behind the word ‘leaf’ when I say it? Are they the necessary and sufficient conditions by which we can name something a leaf or is a particular leaf that I’ve found on the floor walking my dog?

    It sounds to me like you’re claiming that in order for a word to have ‘real’ meaning, by your standards, then it must follow a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. Set by… whom?

    So we’ve got another problem. Not only do we need precise conditions for the word, we need someone, or some institution of authority to outline precise boundaries in order to make this an exclusive category.

    Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think that we’re in an age where the problems of exclusive categorisation are always being highlighted and what it means to separate things, movements or people into binary states is problematic, misleading and incomprehensible.

    Which is precisely how movements like post-structuralism, post-modernism and queer theory have come about. And a lot of what is important in those movements is the resistance to ‘reference fundamentals’. Denying the fact that the very idea of ‘fundmentals’ even exists.

    The liberating thing about that is that when it comes to identity politics, the power is returned to the individual and not conferred by some extrinsic authority. Yes, of course there are problems with that. And theoretically yes, anyone can define as anything. But where is there more of a problem… in the fact that a word resists precise definition, or in the fact that a movement cannot -exist- if it resists definition? ‘Feminism’ is not meaningless; if anything it is meaningful.

    As for the ‘myth’ of patriarchy and male privilege, all I can say is that I believe you are really very wrong. But I get the feeling whatever I say isn’t going to change your mind about that.

    If Sarah Palin wants to define as a feminist, she can go right ahead by all means. I’m a different kind of feminist. Sort of similar to how Bill O’Reilly is man, like I am, but I’m a different kind of man to him.

  15. redpesto says:

    “If Sarah Palin wants to define as a feminist, she can go right ahead by all means. ” Judging by the arguments in the States over this very issue, the ‘who gets to be a “proper” feminist’ debate will run and run, especially as there doesn’t seem to be enough thinking of what a ‘conservative feminism’ might look like (other than an assumption that it’s a contradiction in terms) in contrast to other kinds of feminism. Heaven knows what will happen if (shudders) Palin wins in 2012.

  16. Alex says:

    @redpesto

    People appropriate identities in a way which most would deem inappropriate all the time. I resent the way Germaine Greer calls herself a feminist in spite of her transphobic bullshit in a similar way to how Palin calls herself a feminist in spite of her anit-liberatory aims for women (like anti-abortion).

    You can’t stop people from appropriating identities and you have no right to. I believe that there is a horrible contradiction in her beliefs and label as a feminist but I don’t see that as a threat to my own beliefs. I think that many of my values come under what I see as a feminist umbrella term; I don’t appropriate a feminist identity and then adapt my values to come under that term.

    There are those who feel like they have to reject the label ‘feminist’ because of what it connotes to them in contradiction to their beliefs. And there are those who feel like labelling themselves a ‘feminist’ because of what they believe. And that’s fine. But you are or you are not because, inevitably, of your beliefs and thoughts on certain subjects and as long as those specific battles are important to you it doesn’t matter what you see fit to appropriate or not. If your politics merely come down to merely a label then you’re not really doing much.

  17. arctic_jay says:

    Alex, the moment you engage in conversation in a public forum you are simultaneously accepting at least two things: that the meanings of terms should have, at some level, consensus, and that there is a reasoning for accepting certain meanings over others. You claim that meanings should be left to the individual; however, that proscription is self-defeating if one is attempting an argument, and you don’t follow it in any case.

    “You said that a word is meaningless if it can’t reference fundamentals.”

    I said a label is meaningless without fundamentals. I was referring to idealogical labels, like feminism. By fundamentals, I meant principal beliefs.

    “If that is true, then all words are meaningless because they only reference other words: everything is metaphor.”

    Semantics is not limited to definitions. A term has an intention, roughly the other words it signifies, and an extension, the objects it refers to. Saying “everything is metaphor” makes no sense, since that would mean nothing is literal. For a phrase to be figurative, you have to assume that literal meaning is possible, as a metaphor is the relating of a word to another word beyond its literal meaning.

    “It sounds to me like you’re claiming that in order for a word to have ‘real’ meaning, by your standards, then it must follow a set of necessary and sufficient conditions.”

    This may be beyond the scope of this conversation, but this is my theory of semantics in a nutshell: when we begin learning language, we only understand terms by their denotation, or extension; objects are recognized as bundles of properties, and they are categorized, not by meeting necessary or sufficient conditions, but by weighing the properties of a bundle though a sort of statistical analysis to determine which category is more suggested by those properties in aggregate. For instance, we recognize that the process of reproduction is carried out by two types of agents, those who induce pregnancy and those who become pregnant. We also notice that the concordance of certain properties occurs at different frequencies between the two types of agents. We determine someone is male or female by weighing whether their properties are more frequently associated with those who induce pregnancy and those who become pregnant.

    “Set by… whom?”

    Set by the consensus of those who are “in” the conversation.

    “Now, forgive me if I’m wrong…”

    Okay, I forgive you.

    “Denying the fact that the very idea of ‘fundamentals’ even exists.”

    You’re falling into the skeptic’s conundrum. In this very sentence, you’ve asserted the necessity of “fundamentals” ten times with ten different terms. By your logic, you would be perfectly happy if every other person in the world thought you were a babbling loon.

    “‘Feminism’ is not meaningless; if anything it is meaningful.”

    Lovely, would you enlighten me as to its meaning, please?

    “As for the ‘myth’ of patriarchy and male privilege, all I can say is that I believe you are really very wrong. But I get the feeling whatever I say isn’t going to change your mind about that.”

    By claiming I am wrong, you’re asserting that terms have specific meanings and that there are justifiable reasons for accepting certain meanings which contradicts the whole point of your post.

  18. Alex says:

    @arctic_jay

    I suppose, then, that we both have different philosophies when it comes to language. I don’t think that because a term resists definition that it becomes meaningless; I called it meaningful because it allows many different meanings to come under it. And that doesn’t mean that I think all words resist definition like that.

    I don’t disagree with your theory of semantics, but I believe that it’s possible for some words to be more complex than that. I’m not denying that there are objects which can be defined by acknowledging a cluster of properties, that’s fairly obvious, but there are many exceptions to that theory which bring about questions of pluralism, the authority and ultimately metaphysics of language which disrupts previously ‘stable’ concepts like you’ve outlined above. I find ‘art’ is always a good example of an exception.

    I’m not committing myself to any particular standpoint by the way, I’m just highlighting problems which I see in your theory of language. I guess my argument looks a bit nominalist, but that’s because I see problems with the realist aspects of your argument and not necessarily because I have absolute conviction in some other view. I’m probably closest to some form of pluralism but it doesn’t bother me that much.

    Anyway I don’t know if that made my criticism any clearer or not, but I think the jist of what I’m trying to say is ‘I don’t think it’s a simple as that.’

  19. Thankfully I am not a feminist anymore so I don’t have to try and understand what y’all are talking about!😉 I appreciate that you are talking though!

  20. arctic_jay says:

    “I don’t think that because a term resists definition that it becomes meaningless;”

    It doesn’t matter if a term resists a particular meaning within a socio-historical context, what matters is its meaning in a particular conversation. If you cannot use a term without a definite meaning than it’s useless at that moment.

    “I called it meaningful because it allows many different meanings to come under it.”

    Any term can allow many different meanings due to the fact that language, on an individual level, is arbitrary. Communication, on the other hand, requires a consensus of definitions. Saying, “feminism has many faces,” is simply using ambiguity to avoid argument.

    “…that’s fairly obvious, but there are many exceptions to that theory which bring about questions of pluralism…”

    I’m guessing you’re referring to epistemological pluralism; if that’s the case, are you claiming that your method of conceptualizing reality is mutually exclusive to those with whom you disagree? Do you not use the logic explained in university textbooks? Do you not accept the scientific method?

    “I find ‘art’ is always a good example of an exception.”

    Art has an entirely different goal than debate. It would follow that you would not use language in the same way for both.

    “I’m just highlighting problems which I see in your theory of language.”

    You haven’t highlighted any problems; I showed that by even engaging in conversation with me your contradicting the claims you’ve made about language.

    “Anyway I don’t know if that made my criticism any clearer or not, but I think the jist of what I’m trying to say is ‘I don’t think it’s a simple as that.’”

    I don’t know how to make any clearer that by even attempting to criticize my claims you’re accepting that terms need to be defined in a concrete and unambiguous way in the context of this conversation. Otherwise, your critique becomes pointless.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s