KAMPALA – Last time, I crushed down on anti-feminists, and “men’s rights activists”. I claimed they were naive at best, but most likely just judgmental and ignorant. This does not mean, however, that modern feminism is fault-free or that these features are just present on that one side of the table.
In my last series, I wrote about how true idealism is comatose. I argued that in a consumerist, post-modern society, we are being ruled by consumerist trends that help us construct our identities. The issue I have with trending is that it is inherently temporal of nature, the good intentions only last as long as the trend does, and that it does not actually require any sacrifice or even effort: we only have to submit to the cause symbolically through superficial gesture. We will like the Facebook page, or retweet, or share that video “that will change your life” by merely watching it.
Like any other social movement, modern feminism has suffered under individuals merely consuming the ideology as opposed to actually participating in the movement itself. This has lead to a villification of individuals rather than an attempt to bring about systemic change. We are so outraged we will sign a petition denying Julien Blanc access to our country. We will zoom in onto Greek life on U.S. campuses and think that its abolishment will bring about gender equality. We will bring the Rosetta scientist wearing that offensive shirt to tears. These so-called militant feminists or feminazi’s will harshly judge anyone who does not live up to their golden standards. Women who want to be a stay-home mum are against the Cause, men can “rape stare” you, and anyone who dares to question your actions is a bigot. Simplistic thinking has never gotten us anywhere meaningful, and as the actual informed feminist will tell you, it’s not that simple. It is actually really complicated.
Yes, the statement that the feminist cause is equality between the genders is most certainly true. That is not where feminism stopped. Politically, that is what everyone since the early 20th century has been demonstrating for, but academically, it has long been established that getting equal rights was just an easy beginning.
Sexism has gone “underground” in Western societies. Although there are still strong socio-economic indicators (women still earn less for doing the same job as men), the superficial meritocratic culture of the labour market and education system makes it easier to dismiss these indicators as originating from another source than bigotry or sexism (most often individual merit or individual choices).
*Somewhere* in our culture are sets of norms and values that are advantageous for men and handicap women. The few concrete examples we have identified so far (e.g. different toys for boys and girls, objectification of women, from ass-grabbing in clubs to sexual violence like rape or sexual assault) are vehemently being attacked, – rightfully so. It is, however, worth wondering whether we’re merely cutting down the tree without removing the roots. These practices are easy to protest against. They are mere symbols for a greater, more structural bigotry in a patriarchical system. That previous sentence with all its abstraction is in itself hard to get upset about. Mass mobilisation revolves around something concrete you can point at.
Which is the second reason why the petition to keep Julien Blanc, the “pick-up artist”, out of the U.K. has had 156,000 signatures. In her article on toxic feminism, Julie Bindel laments the fact that, say, a petition to force David Cameron to fund rape crisis centres would not get nearly that many signatures. Julien Blanc is an easy target for villification, and although he undoubtedly acts immorally and sexist, feminism should not be about popular crucifixation, or about merely signing the petition as a symbolic gesture so you get to call yourself a feminist.
Frustrating for me is the fact that the intellectual infrastructure for an actual meaningful debate about gender roles, sexism, and feminism is still there. Most people on both sides of the table just do not know about it, or do not want to know. Talking about systemic culture change is hard. It makes people uncomfortable. Rather, we’d like to stick to organising big U.N. campaigns with Emma Watson as the new face of feminism. The U.N. is ironically a patriarchical institution mostly run by white, elitist men representing patriarchical Western countries. As usual, we leave those most comfortable in their position of privilege in charge of the change everyone else so desperately needs. We will rather listen to what celebrities think about feminism than actually acknowledge that nothing new is being said and meanwhile, nothing new is being done. Anti-feminists will pretend that equally ignorant militant feminists discredit the entire movement, and we will end up doing nothing. Again.
I am, however, still optimistic. The simple fact that patriarchy is the root of inequality affecting approximately 50% of the world’s population makes realising the feminist agenda seem inevitable to me. Even with several bumps in the road, we will get there, eventually. I must also note that “eventually” and me being optimistic are a combination of words uttered by a priviliged, white, highly educated, heterosexual male.
On a different note, next post will be about how we are inevitably and eventually going to get there, and where *there* might be.