October 7, 2015

“Feminism” Today

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”  – Cheris Kramarae

Change is inevitable, and not surprisingly, the idea of feminism has changed so much over the years. But somewhere along the way it seems to have morphed into something unrecognisable. For some people, to be a feminist you have to hate men and treat them all as “male chauvinist pigs”. And God forbid, you have “feminine” qualities!! Sell out!! The irony that Gloria Steinem, one of the founders of the modern feminism movement (and of Ms Magazine) was about as “feminine” as you can get! And still beautiful at 80.
This thought flashed through my mind recently when I listened to one female speaker, interpreting (from an Eastern perspective) the right of a female to be treated equally, who still felt compelled to deny that she was a “feminist”. Although she was! Or at least the points she was making were. There can be many ways to make one’s point.
Feminism isn’t against femininity. That girl who wants to paint her nails, take time to do her make-up and throw on a dress, isn’t less of a feminist than a girl who wears pantsuits and hates wearing makeup. Feminists aren’t deluded that only women are sexualised by the media. Feminists don’t believe that society only pressures women. Feminists definitely don’t believe that all men are budding sexual predators.
It’s these faux-feminists that spout their man-hating diatribe that give actual feminists a bad name. That’s why there are blogs like “Women against Feminism” sprouting up. A cursory scroll through some of the posts there shows that they don’t seem to be against actual feminism, they’re against the pseudo-feminism that’s being accepted as what feminism has become. Feminism is just saying that females should play a greater role in defining what “femininity” is all about.
Why should a woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mom be treated as being less of a feminist than a woman who chooses to be a career woman? The whole point is CHOICE. That’s what feminism means to me – wanting EQUALITY of CHOICE, not wanting some utopian “equality”, especially when to be “equal” is being equated with being “identical”. Females can be equal to males without being identical to males or their roles.
All I want is to be free to choose to go to college and get a job or to be free to choose to get married early and start a family. To me, if I’m told that girls can’t be doctors – that’s when I have a problem. And the awesome thing is, at least in Guyanese society, I’ve never experienced that sort of discrimination. Not in my family… not in my village or in my school.
So I’m not about to fight for “equality” as “identity”. Because I’ve done biology, men and women aren’t built the same – men are better at some things and women are better at some things. Men and women are different and we have to begin to stress how to better deal with the differences – rather than making everyone into one melange.
I could spend my whole life wishing for “equality”, and it’ll never happen.  I’ll never be as strong as a man who’s my height, because I don’t have high levels of testosterone. I wouldn’t even know who/what to pick a fight with to sort that one out. Evolution?
But equality of choice – that’s doable and that’s what I want. And that’s not settling – that’s just being realistic. All I want is to be able to make my own choices and be able to follow them – whether I want to be a bodybuilder or an astronaut.
That’s what feminism is to me – not this spiel about how men are “pigs” and an empowered women equates to just a career woman.
I hate that in some circles the word feminism has become a sort of bad word with women jumping to point out, “Not that I’m a feminist or anything”.
It’ll be interesting to see where feminism is headed in the coming years.

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Brutal Honesty

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom” – Thomas Jefferson

I’ve noticed that there are some people who seem to think that the only way to be honest to someone is to be brutal about it. And that’s quite confusing for me. But I’ve realised that those people just use ‘brutal honesty’ as an excuse to say something mean and take someone down a few pegs.

And those people seem to really pride themselves on their brutal honesty. They think it’s a virtue! They’re like, “Oh that’s who I am, I tell it straight. I’m brutally honest. If people don’t like it then that’s their problem.” But there’s a difference between speaking honestly to someone and being a jerk about it.

There’s nothing dishonest about delivering a truth in a kind manner, taking the person’s feelings into consideration. Even when you’re being firm – you should respect the person you’re being honest to. I’ve written before of the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s exhortation that we must not treat people as means but rather as ends. Each person is an autonomous being… not there for you to spew your frustrations or insecurities on.

That old nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones will break my bones; But words will never harm me” is waaaaay off base, in my opinion. Words are capable of quite a lot of damage. The most damaging since they can harm the psyche and corrode the soul. Why do we teach kids that rhyme? Especially at that age when they have no filter, kids can say some of the cruelest things to each other. So why’re we telling them it’s okay to say whatever they like to each other but just don’t have a go at each other with sticks?

People also quite like to begin their sentences with “No offense, but…” and then continue on to utter some incredibly offensive language. Sure, ordinarily I would’ve gotten offended by that, but since you said that you didn’t mean to offend, I guess it’s a-okay!

I think there’s a difference between being blunt and being brutal that some people seem to miss. It’s the difference in treating the “other” as an object or a subject.  You can be blunt or straightforward without it having that sort or sharp-edged meanness of being brutal.

There is the quality of empathy that each one of us should cultivate: just put yourself in that person’s shoes and ask whether you would want to be spoken to like that. And if you do, then you are a certified masochist…and you need help!!

The truth can be a difficult thing to hear and even more difficult to accept, so why make it even harder for that person by being mean about it? Man is a social being – we have to live with each other. There’s no need to be like porcupines with their needles always raised when someone gets close.

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