Friday, May 24, 2013

Marriage Rights

This isn't related to feminism but it is technically about gender issues. Make sure you watch until the end or you'll get the wrong idea.

All Those Years of Oppression

Once upon a time, the human race was not nearly as technologically advanced as it is today. Life was about survival, not only individual survival but also survival as a species. This meant a lot of hard, physical work to provide shelter and food, and making sure that human babies had the best possible chance of survival. Without the medical advancements or clean living conditions we have today, childbirth had many risks.

The human race was divided into two sexes, as it is today: the female sex and the male sex. The female sex was most important for reproducing the species, as one man could impregnate many women in a short period of time, but one woman could only produce (usually) one baby every nine months. As medical technology was so underdeveloped, a woman who was carrying a baby had to be extremely careful about how much activity she did while pregnant.

Because if this, it only made sense for the male sex to be responsible for all of the strenuous labour involved in providing shelter and food. Men became strong so that they could handle this labour, and women became nurturing so that they would protect their children until the children were old enough to protect themselves. No one got to choose whether they would labour or nurture, but they accepted the way it was and this balance was incredible successful: humans would become the most dominant species on earth.

Time passed, and humans learned the art of trade. Not every man had to build and hunt; he was able to choose which he liked best and trade the fruits of his labour with men who laboured in other ways. This worked so well for society, that eventually even things that weren't necessary to survival could be traded for those that were; a man could be an actor and provide entertainment in exchange for survival necessities. Men still didn't have a whole lot of choice in what they did as it was largely defined by their family's status in society, but there was a wider variety of ways to make a living. Still, only women could give birth so the men knew they needed to continue to protect them. They continued to provide necessities for women, keep them safe from war, and make sure they were saved first in life-threatening situations.

More years passed, and technology advanced in leaps and bounds. There were suddenly thousands of different ways that men could provide for their families - men really had choice, something they really hadn't had through most of history. Even more amazingly, medical advancements meant that childbirth was much safer. Women started to think that maybe they could go out and do some of things that men did.

At first, men were confused. They worked because they had to; it wasn't something they'd chosen. Women had always been taken care of, and they were the ones who gave birth so it only seemed logical that they were more hardwired for taking care of children. It was just the way society had always been, and it had worked well for everyone.

It took a lot to get men to understand the women's perspective because society had been the same way for a very long time, but eventually men started to understand. Women became equal under the law, but everyone still needed some time to figure out how this new type of society would work.

At first, women were excited to be given the same opportunities as men, but for some of them it was taking too long for society to adjust. They were mad that men still earned more money on average and that men still held most political positions. This imbalance was mostly because less women than men wanted to be in power, and many women still only wanted to take jobs that would give them the flexibility to spend time with their children. The angry women couldn't understand that not all women wanted the same things they did, so they directed their anger at men (or as they liked to call it, 'the patriarchy').

These angry women raved about how they had been oppressed for years, and how they had been slaves because they weren't paid for caring for their own children. Again, men were confused at first because throughout history they had worked hard to make sure that women were provided for and protected, risking their own lives in the process. After years of being told that they were evil oppressors, even the men themselves started to believe it.

Today, the angry women laugh when men are hurt, and cry misogyny when women are insulted. They justify this because of all the years that men oppressed women by labouring and risking their lives to protect them. They call this act of protecting women 'misogyny', yet they fight for laws that protect only women, and they do it in the name of 'equality'.

I am aware that this is a very simplistic view of history that only deals with Western culture, but I stand by the main idea.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why I No Longer Call Myself a Feminist: Part Four

All the Little Things

It wasn't some major issue that all the feminists of the world collectively agree upon that made me  finally declare to my husband: "That's it; I'm not a feminist anymore",  but rather
a few small posts by individual feminists that irritated me just a little too much. Yes, these  probably all seem pretty petty, but my frustrations with feminists had been brewing for a while.

After the Oscar's, there was much talk about Seth MacFarlane's turn at hosting, and from the feminist community it was unanimously negative. The biggest source of ire was his 'We Saw Your Boobs' song, which, parody or not, was deemed objectifying to women. That's fine, but there were two articles that showed complete hypocrisy by feminists.

There was this one by Meghan O'Keefe at HelloGiggles (and I do love hellogiggles - Zooey!) who almost acknowledges her hypocrisy by pointing out that she does make entire posts about "Jeremy Renner's butt or Channing Tatum's abs or Aaron Tveit's everything", but then proceeds to claim that it's okay to objectify men because "we live in a culture that has historically sexualized women as objects and denied women the right to sexualize men in return" So we're doing the eye for an eye thing now? This ignores individuality: Channing Tatum did not personally objectify O'Keefe (or any woman as far as we are aware), so why does he personally deserve to be objectified because of the historical sexualisation of women? 

At least O'Keefe is somewhat aware of her hypocrisy, unlike Samantha Escobar at The Gloss. She criticises MacFarlane's sexism, which I had no problem with until I got to the last paragraph:"Can't Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Jon Stewart just host everything? Or Ian Somerhalder's jawline. That would be okay with me, as well."

So after an entire post complaining about the objectification of women, she thinks it's acceptable to reduce a male actor to a jawline. How is that not objectification?

It's either okay to sexually objectify people or it isn't. To suggest that it's only unacceptable to objectify women is to create one of those double standards that feminists usually have a problem with. I also highly doubt that O'Keefe originally started writing about men's body parts with the conscious intention of "leveling the playing field". It is far more likely that she realised she needed to justify it when she decided to write a post about the objectification of women. A better response to the realisation of hypocrisy would have been to reconsider whether it is really acceptable for her to continue to objectify men (which is a good test in general: there are several situations where you can swap the genders to realise how many double standards there really are in feminism - you can see some examples here, starting at the 9th paragraph).

Upworthy is a website that reposts videos, pictures and stories from around the web that are encouraging or share some sort of positive message. There are several different issues that these touch on, such as bullying, LGBT rights and feminism. I usually really like the things that they post, but the people who post them add their own titles in order to be attention grabbing, and it is these titles that often frustrate me.

In particular, there was this post by Rebecca Eisenberg. The woman in the picture is Rebecca Lolosoli, who founded a women's village in Kenya for victims of abuse. Eisenberg's title is "8 Things Women Want that Most Men Take For Granted". These '8 things' in Lolosoli's quote are:

1. To choose our husband
2. To own the land
3. To go to school
4. Not to be cut
5. To make decisions
6. Respect in politics
7. To be leaders
8. To be equal

Ummmmmmm. Yeah.

Yes, I'm sure there are plenty of people who would argue that women in America don't have respect in politics and are not equal, but what really bothers me about the headline is that Rebecca Lolosoli lives in a place where women are nowhere near equal, where they have to worry about female circumcision and being married off to someone they don't even know. Rebecca Lolosoli needs feminism. Rebecca Eisenberg; not so much. To act like women in America are even in remotely the same situation as the women in Lolosoli's village, to make a point about men taking certain rights for granted that every woman in America can also take for granted is to make light of the terrible situations that many women in other parts of the world are in.

Also on Upworthy was this post from Femi Oke. The Everday Sexism Project is a website where women post stories about sexism they've experienced. Oke posts a selection with the title "Why Do Men Think THIS Is OK?" First of all, it's not 'men' who think it's okay, it's the men in the stories (gender swap test! How do feminists react when something negative is applied to the all inclusive 'women'?) Second of all, one of the stories is from a woman who kissed a 'middle-aged, lone Saudi man' on the cheek at a New Year party, and then he groped her butt. He shouldn't have done that; her peck on the cheek was not an invitation for anything further. But there was no invitation for a peck on the cheek, and I could just as easily see someone writing a post for that website about a man giving her a peck on the cheek at a New Year's party. She initiated uninvited physical contact, but when he touched her in a way that she didn't like it was sexist rather than just being a case of miscommunication.

Finally, Feminist Frequency is a video series where Anita Sarkeesian discusses the portrayal of women in media. While I do have some issues with the series (which will require their own post), it was a comment posted on her video "Tropes vs. Women: #6 The Straw Feminist" that made me mad. At the end of the video there is a short list of straw feminists who hadn't been discussed,  among them Mrs. Banks from Mary Poppins. ArcaneSky commented that "Mary Poppins is a horrible movie for women in general though; the only adult female characters in it are the absentee mother, the homeless birdlady, and a collection of domestics (nannies and maids)." 

Now, I'm a nanny, so of course I'm going to take offence, but it seriously bothers me that Mary Poppins is somehow anti-feminist because she's a domestic worker. She's a working woman (who may or may not have a little something going on with Bert but she clearly has the upper hand in that relationship) and she makes a genuine difference in people's lives. How is that not feminist? And if being a nanny isn't worthy, and being a stay-at-home mum isn't worthy, does that mean it's only acceptable for men to look after children? What does that say about women and choices?

I know; It's just one person's opinion, but that was it for me. It wasn't 'straw feminists' who put me off, it was the vast majority of feminists who refuse to think critically about what they say, who refuse to consider possible non-sexist explanations for supposed gender inequality, and who think that you can't be a decent person without being a feminist. 

If you genuinely believe in the causes of feminism, then don't be afraid to look at the world objectively and consider putting aside that gendered label. 

Equality isn't just for women.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Why I No Longer Consider Myself a Feminist: Part Three

Men Are Victims, Too

There are three issues that seem to be the primary concerns of current feminism: Reproductive Rights, The Fair Pay Act and The Violence Against Women Act (which goes hand in hand with all the recent talk of rape culture). I plan to write more in depth posts on each of these, but the one that really contributed to my decision to abandon feminism is the Violence Against Women Act.

Who could oppose that, right? Surely you'd have to be some kind of monster to oppose a bill that protects someone from violence.

I really hope that it's already obvious that part of my issue with it is the simple fact that it doesn't include men. If it isn't obvious, then I am genuinely concerned that people are actually being brainwashed by feminism.

How would people (read: feminists) react if there was a Violence Against Men Act? It's not a crazy idea; men are far more likely to be victims of violence. Yes it's true that this is often because men get in fights with each other; men are more likely to be aggressive and thus open themselves up to retaliation, and they are more likely to be associated with gangs. A Violence Against Men Act would probably be something to help men escape gangs, or possibly something that would give them support when they know there is a target on them.

Can you imagine what the feminist consensus would be on such a bill? It wouldn't matter that men are more likely to be gang victims; women still need to be included. So why does it matter that women are more likely to be victims of rape or domestic violence? Isn't it in fact contradictory to feminism to say that women need extra protection? 

I believe that people matter on an individual level. If only one man in the history of the entire world was raped, he should receive just as much support as a woman. I believe that things like this bill are indicative of an underlying misandry (wow, even spell check doesn't think that exists): men are perpetrators. Do individual men lose the right not to be victimised because of other men who victimise others?

If anything, the fact that it is less common for men to be victims of rape and domestic abuse means that they are the ones who should have their own bill. There are so many support options for female victims, and even with that there are so many women who are too ashamed to reach out for help. Isn't the shame multiplied for a man because it is so uncommon?

Men are victims of domestic violence. Men are victims of rape (and it's not always men who are the perpetrators). There is not one single reason that the Violence Against Women Act should be the Violence against Women Act, and I certainly hope that, despite the name, male victims aren't excluded from the protection that it offers. It may just be a name, but calling it that only reinforces the taboos that make male victims so hesitant to reach out for help.

I can't support a movement that claims to be about equality when it has not problem with a bill that only supports the interests of one gender. It's a movement that says "Women and men are inherently the same, but women need more protection", and "Women and men need equal rights, but men don't need these particular rights".

I think it's time you stopped telling me to look up the definition of 'feminism' and looked up 'equality' yourself.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why I No Longer Call Myself a Feminst: Part Two

The War on Peter-Pan-Collar Feminists

I was still calling myself a feminist earlier this year when February's issue of Glamour, featuring Zooey Deschanel, came out. I don't typically buy beauty magazines, but I had read quite a few internet commentaries on Deschanel's interview so I decided I had to read the whole thing for myself. Plus, I'm not gonna lie, I love Zooey. I love her style, I love her quirks, I love her dorkiness and I don't see why the fact that she's pretty should somehow invalidate her dork factor. 

In the issue, Zooey responds to feminist critics of her 'adorkability' by saying, "I'm just being myself. there is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can't be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f--king feminist and wear a f--king Peter Pan collar. So f--king what?"

My style is very similar to Zooey's (yeah, I'm pretending we're on a first name basis), but I've never thought of it as 'girly' as in 'little girl'. 'Girly' as in 'feminine', sure, but for me it's really more about my love for vintage styles. Yes, there was a time when grown women wore colourful dresses with full skirts. And yes, those women mostly didn't work; they just idled away their time doing frivolous things like raising children. I get that feminists back then had to fight to be taken seriously, and a big part of it was in the way they dressed. Since women stopped dressing the way they did in the fifties, floral dresses have come to be associated with little girls but that doesn't mean they are inherently juvenile. Now, if I worked in an office of course I would dress differently for work (just as men are expected to), but I don't work in an office, so I'll wear whatever I want. 

According to Irin Carmon of Jezebel, however, I only dress like this because I'm "in it for the peen"; I'm afraid of reminding a guy of a teacher or his mother, so instead I'm "going for the pubeless, twee, Anime-eyed version of whatever dream girl [I] assume they want or need."

Only I thought it was common knowledge that women more commonly dress to impress other women than men. I know my husband doesn't really have a clue what dresses would be considered little girly or fifties housewifish, and while my primary reason for wearing them is that I love them, a secondary benefit is all of the women who tell me how cute they are. My favourite part of Carmon's post has to be where she assumes that women who like pretty things have never read a book written before they were born. Nice feminism there.

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon, while ultimately concluding that feminism "wears a tiara if it wants to", believes that "it's fair to say that we live in a culture in which adult women are encouraged to be sweet, safe and childlike", but from my perspective I would never have thought that at all. As someone who probably is sweet, safe and maybe occasionally childlike just by nature, I definitely feel that there is more pressure to be sexy, assertive, and possessive of more stereotypically masculine traits. Is it not possible that everyone, male and female alike, feels the pressures to be that which they are not? Critics are always louder than cheerleaders, even if only in our own heads. So if Williams thinks that people want her to be sweeter, and I think that people want me to be sexier, isn't the most logical conclusion that everyone is different and wants people to be different things? The best of us, of course, don't expect others to be a certain way at all, but those who do aren't all looking for the same thing.

The feminist critiques of Zooey came amid complaints of famous women denouncing feminism: Katy Perry, Marissa Mayer, Taylor Swift (but they don't really want her anyway), and with those complaints come the inevitable, "you really should look up the definition of feminist" remarks. (Hi Katy Perry! At its most simple definition, all feminism means is that you think that women should be equal to men, okay? Cool, thanks, byyyyye!)

So someone who doesn't want to be called a feminist is told that they really are whether they think so or not, while someone who proudly proclaims her feminism is critiqued for not doing feminism right. This would suggest that the definition of feminism is far more complicated than many feminists would have us believe, and it should be.

Historically, feminism has always been a movement. From the suffragettes to the bra-burners to the reproductive rights activists, at any time in history there are specific focuses of feminism. I didn't decide to abandon the feminist label because I thought I wasn't allowed to be a feminist and wear pretty dresses, but I was definitely starting to question what feminism really means at this point in history. 

For a while, at least, I was happy to be a feminist in a f--king peter-pan collar.

To be continued...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why I No Longer Call Myself a Feminist: Part One

I Was a Teenage Feminist

As a child, I was extremely proud to be a Kiwi: a citizen of the first country in the world to give all women the vote (other countries had previously allowed only certain women to vote). I suspect my youthful interest in feminism stemmed primarily from my 'ewwwww boys' phase, but whatever my reason I was a proud feminist from a very young age.

I never really thought much about what feminism meant to anyone else; to me it simply meant that girls were pretty awesome, and should be allowed to do whatever boys were allowed to do. That was basically the extent of it.

When I was fourteen, I won my high school speech competition with a speech about feminism. By then I'd added a few points to my brand of feminism: people shouldn't use 'like a girl' as an insult, girls shouldn't dress just to impress boys, boys should be more interested in girls' brains. After the speech, I had a few people ask me if I was a man-hater (despite having specifically stated that I wasn't) or a lesbian, but I didn't care what they thought; I was a feminist and proud of it.

I was nineteen when I saw Mona Lisa Smile. I remember being so angered by the ending, where (spoilers!) Julia Stiles' character decides to forego Yale Law to be a homemaker. Julia Roberts was all, "But you can have both!" and Julia Stiles was all, "But I don't want both!" and Julia Roberts was all, "Bullcrap! I saw how much you wanted this!" and Julia Stiles was all, "But this is what I want!"

I've always wanted to get married and have kids, but I wasn't going to do anything crazy like change my name or just be a housewife. I was right there with Julia Roberts, thinking that Julia Stiles had given into social expectations and would live to regret giving up on her dream. A friend I'd seen the movie with tried to convince me that it was what she really wanted, but I just couldn't understand it.

Why choose when you can have it all?

A couple of years later, I was at university, jumping around degrees and programs and pretty clueless about what I wanted to do. Looking at my options, I realised that my problem was that I didn't want a career. A job was fine, but I couldn't imagine doing the same thing for the rest of my life, working my way up the ladder, defining myself by what I did for a living. I discovered something at odds with my feminism:

I just wanted to be a mum.

I've always loved kids, and I always thought I would be a mum and have a career and life would be perfect. But as I looked at career options, I realised that career meant having someone else spend more time with my children than I would. At that point I'd spent a year as an au pair, and I couldn't imagine having an au pair, or nanny, or team of daycare workers for my own children. Even though it was all hypothetical with no kids or potential father in sight, I didn't want to embark on a career only to realise I'd given up on what was really important to me.

I knew that a lot of feminists had a problem with stay-at-home mums, but I also knew that feminism was supposed to be about choices, and if my choice was to not have a career, then I was just as good a feminist as any other. After all, if feminists cheer for stay-at-home dads then it would be hypocritical of them to have a problem with my (purely hypothetical) decision.

So I reconciled my dreams with my feminism and became a nanny. I never actively searched for a husband (as much as I wanted it I wasn't going to let it be the be all and end all) but I didn't give up hope that one day  I would start my own family and raise my own children, something for which I seemed to have a natural gift.

Feminism to me came to be more about acknowledging that there are some traits that women are more likely to have, and some traits that men are more likely to have, and while no man or woman should be expected or assumed to have or not have any of them, the 'feminine' traits are just as valuable as the 'masculine' ones. Women should be allowed to be like men, but they shouldn't have to be like men in order to be considered equal.

I didn't realise at the time that believing in such a thing as 'feminine traits' and 'masculine traits' was controversial.

To be continued...

Questioning Feminism

It's an easy default to say that you're a feminist.

We're told that if we believe women should have equal rights to those of men, then we're feminists whether we think so or not. Is that really all it is, though? I also believe that men should have equal rights to those of women; does that make me a men's rights activist? Or does it sound completely ridiculous to suggest such a thing in the first place, because, duh, men have all the rights already?

If it does, then it should sound just as ridiculous to talk about women having equal rights. If you disagree, then please, tell me one right that men have that women don't. And no, the 'right to walk home alone at night and be safe' does not count: we all have that right, and we are all at risk of having that right infringed upon. Under the law (in America), men and women are equal.

I believe that feminism has played a hugely important role in history  and it still has a hugely important role to play in many countries. However, in America, in my home country New Zealand, and in other first world countries, feminists of the past have given us an amazing gift. They have given us the gift of legal equality, and the gift of a voice. I believe it is time for us to thank them for this, to celebrate their achievements  and to look towards our future as the equals of men.

Are we completely equal in society? No, not yet. But I don't believe that feminism is what we need right now. In fact I believe that feminism is becoming detrimental to the very values it stands for, creating a gender divide on issues that should simply be about human decency, and giving men a reason to fight back against what they feel is an attack.

The purpose of this blog is not to attack feminism or feminists, as I strongly support the majority of feminist issues. I do intend to question whether or not those issues should be considered feminist issues, or even gender issues, and to explore the validity of claims that we hear so often that it doesn't even occur to us to question them. It might just be me, writing for myself, but if you have stumbled upon this then I welcome intelligent discussion and am always prepared to change my views when presented with strong evidence.