Last week, two articles were written for Pipe Dream detailing two different columnists’ opinions on feminism. I felt that between these two articles, the ideology was misconstrued. The ideas presented in them weren’t fully developed, and as a service to the validity of feminism, I wanted to express my thoughts.
The first article, “Feminist? You better believe it,” published last Tuesday and written by Anita Raychawdhuri, was most obviously pro-feminism. Raychawdhuri detailed her woes against the anti-feminist agenda, explaining how those who believe that feminism is “[not] even necessary” in this day and age make her blood boil, as there are many reasons why feminism is still relevant and needed.
The second article, “I am not a feminist,” featured in Thursday’s issue, was a response to Raychawdhuri’s article, written by Julianne Cuba, who disagreed with Raychawdhuri on multiple accounts. Cuba offered her own antitheses to examples given by Raychawdhuri of both male and female societal roles, as well as problems she has with feminism itself. She quoted Barbara Kay, a journalist from Canada, as her ideologic muse.
I agreed with a lot that Raychawdhuri had to say about the realities of gender inequality worldwide, as well as how we can counteract typical male and female archetypes. However, I thought her overall argument was a tad misguided — her pathos was strong, but her lack of reasoning on what the issues are, why they are relevant and why feminism supports them wasn’t clear.
My biggest problem, though, was with the way Cuba rebutted her arguments.
Let’s start with the basics. Encyclopaedia Britannica generally defines feminism as “the belief in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes.” Feminism has been around since the 19th century, and it has evolved and grown from its original aims and ideas, as women and men have grown culturally since its dawning. It has accomplished much in the name of equal opportunity for the sexes in a number of different ways, the coolest of which include things like suffrage, abortion rights, increased awareness of domestic abuse and access to contraception.
Feminism has diverged from solely activism into many different paths of discourse and philosophy, which ought to be examined through a well-developed thesis if endeavored to be examined accurately.
However, this definition is still the prevailing hallmark of modern feminism, which some have called the “third wave.” It moves beyond the “Western” woman, seeking to help women in countries struggling with basic human rights, such as those in which certain types of sexual abuse aren’t even considered criminal offenses. It still directly affects us, however, as it now includes commentary on cultural theories, such as the idea of rape culture, gender roles, media representation of the sexes and body image, among others. These issues were touched on in these articles, but somehow feminism came out as not supporting the ways we can counteract the negative effects of them.
Although she did not state it, I understand that Cuba is probably aware of feminism’s early work, and that she agrees in its virtue. I can’t imagine that she would protest her own right to vote. However, I see that she thinks, as Kay does, that feminism is no longer represented by this strive for equality, but rather a radicalized idea that feminism has become exclusively defined by the desire “to scapegoat [men]” for the persisting issues and pitfalls of womankind. And in this belief, they demolish the integrity of the entire ideology.
Having read the Kay article, I can’t agree with her claims.
Perhaps there are a select few academics who go too far in criticizing the role of men in the battle on domestic abuse and social and economic equality, among other disputes, and have lost sight of the idea that feminist ideologies are for the betterment of human equality, not one sex over the other. There also may be some people who proclaim themselves to be “bra-burners.”
However, Kay, and by association, Cuba, go too far in assuming that the idea of feminism is entirely represented by these radical associations. This shortchanges the ideology and undermines everything it has worked for. Not only this, though, but her argument is completely unsupported. The overarching theme of her article was that radical feminism has thrown the coup over the developed world — she supported this with reasons that were backed by flimsy or nonsensical reasoning, such as abortion rates are high (as this article was written the better part of a decade ago, this is no longer valid — U.S. abortion rates are now at their lowest rate since 1973, and developed countries see less abortion than developing countries … arguably because of feminism), women aren’t having as many babies due to sexual experimentation and a focus on their careers (not sure how she skewed this as a bad thing), the claim that men don’t receive support for sexual abuse and that mothers are stealing children from their fathers in custody battles.
Women do receive custody of children in divorce proceedings the majority of the time, but this could easily be reflective of the woman’s previous role as the “primary caregiver” that has developed for hundreds of years across a variety of cultures, rather than some preposterous idea that the feminist agenda includes plans to steal all of the children and remove husbands from familial structures. As for the idea that any victim of sexual abuse would be turned away, this isn’t supported by fact, and it’s certainly not true that feminism would be in agreement with any such fact.
I digress, though; my disagreement with Kay isn’t the issue here. Nor is it the issue of people refusing to accept the title of “feminist” — that’s fine. If you don’t want to put a label on your beliefs, I’m not going to try and push you to do so. Some discussions of modern feminism even seek to move away from this word, as the ideology has so much riding on it that it’s hard to see it clearly sometimes. Others seek to accept all of feminism’s preconceived notions, pitfalls and successes and move forward.
The issue here is a complete misunderstanding of modern feminism and what it promotes. Many of the issues discussed in these two articles revolve around gender roles, for both men and women, and the desire to transcend those roles. Both writers undeniably agree that defying what women and men are stereotyped as by archaic ideals and media representation is a good thing. However, Cuba doesn’t realize that this desire for freedom from stereotypes is something that feminism accepts.
I don’t know where this conception of needing or not needing an ideology came in — it’s an ideology, it exists on argument regardless of whether or not you need it and you can either agree or disagree with it. Judging on what Cuba wants for women and men, it seems that she agrees with it, unbeknownst to her. Sexual empowerment (or sexual passiveness), freedom from societal pressures to conform to an aesthetic ideal (or being that ideal), ability to rise up in a chosen field (or being a stay-at-home parent), pride in being who you are and the confidence to speak freely (or stay quiet) — these are all things that third-wave feminism endorses and agrees with.
Another misconception is the belief that the activism that seeks to support political and economic equality worldwide is no longer needed just because domestic abuse and other issues are getting attention in developed countries. This is false. As Raychawdhuri said, gender inequality is still a reality in other countries. If you don’t think that the women of your culture require any further encouragement to “own it,” you can at the very least acknowledge that other people may still need the extra chorus of people telling them that they can do so. Cuba doesn’t realize that the support of women worldwide (like that specific case in India) is rooted in feminist activism.
These aren’t ideas that portray one sex as being better than the other sex. These are ideas that endorse freedom from the pressure of gender and sex as well as the freedom to be whoever you want to be.
This underdeveloped view of assuming the entirety of feminism and those who associate themselves as such are misguided as well as represented and fueled by hatred. It hurts the integrity of the word, and it must be stopped.
Melanie Sharif, copy staff, is an undeclared freshman.