Where to begin on the subject of feminism.
I guess firstly, to acknowledge that there is actually no definitive description or agreed consensus of what feminism is.
The original suffragettes of the first wave feminism had an easy task in describing their version of feminism. The social and political battles were obvious, concrete and highly persuasive. No need to go over what those extraordinary women achieved - except to remark in passing that I wonder if those women had been shown, say, Miley Cyrus's wrecking ball, as some kind of end result of their movement, whether they would feel disappointed or delighted.
Then you've got second wave, third wave and post-feminisms... there are so many variations and heated debates within each movement, that it is impossible to know where one fits exactly. I have always considered myself a radical feminist, like many of my friends. Yet our opinions on the subject are as diverse as our personalities - which I think is probably extremely healthy. From innumerable interesting and long conversations with feminist friends of both sexes, I have nutted out three main areas of controversy. People tend to fall very clearly on one side of the argument over these and are likely to defend their positions with rabid vehemence.
(Disclaimer: I've given each side of the argument a generalised type of feminist name - of course it is not accurate and not based on a learned understanding of feminist theory so don't expect a nuanced discussion of the differences between the various schools of feminism here... this is just me categorising my conversations with my friends and finding the closest match I am aware of).
1. The first is gender identity polemics and the range of differences between the sexes:
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2. The second is differences in the object of blame/ or the enemy, and the goals to be achieved.
- For anti-gender feminists, the enemy is society imposed gender-norms, which are inextricably linked to patterns of oppression, suppression and indoctrination. The goal is to eliminate the imbalanced power structures inherent in notions of gender roles and identity and to be free to experience, and express, all kinds of sexuality.
- For pro-equality feminists, the enemy is the patriarchal power structure which has always oppressed women throughout history by keeping them subservient and confined to the realm of the home. The goal is to oppose the inequality inherent in standard gender roles and overthrow patriarchy through a radical reordering of society - especially by enabling women to equally participate in the professional, political and financial worlds. For example, in order to free women from the conditions of work as a mother and housekeeper, socialist feminists such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman see the professionalization of housework as key.
- Similar, yet also different, are the socialist feminists, marxist femiists and anarcha-feminist who all tend to place more emphasis on the struggle against patriarchy being inseparable from class struggle, and blame the role of capitalism in the oppression of women. Their solution is purely a political and economic one involving revolution to abolish class inequalities.
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- The object of blame for pro-difference feminists is interesting and more complicated. Of course, not all pro-difference feminists think the same by any stretch of the imagination. There are french feminists and cultural feminists who fit into this group and who have very different views on all kinds of things. But generally speaking, their thrust is that neither the elimination of gender differences nor the achievement of women in positions of power in the workforce or in politics will fix the problem. Because the problem is that these forms of resistance and insurgency are all played out on an already patriarchal stage. The male dominated world is presented as the only method of both expressing and recognising struggle against power structures. But this is problematic because all forms of insurrection get immediately appropriated and become in themselves another form of oppression of the true feminine essence which has no way of expressing itself effectively through these mediums. So from this perspective even feminist discourse itself can become its own enemy. The goal is to find a way to resist without using existent patriarchal oppressive mediums. To find a way to express actual female discourse, as inherently different from male discourse, and to change society so that it can start valuing what it is not used to valuing.
- Both cultural feminism and post-colonial feminism have a lot to say about and contribute to achieving this. Cultural feminism is often maligned, but is probably where I happen to most fit in. This is based on an essentialist view which commends the differences between the sexes and explores the heirarchy of differences (rather than the eradication of differences). This is often where post-colonial feminists find space to articulate their own versions of feminism. (See for example, Mary Daly). As an anthropologist, buddhist and post-colonial theorist, myself, I kind of gravitate towards this space too. However, cultural feminism has its ample share of zealous critiques who denounce it as the death of the feminist movement and blame it for the depoliticization and demobilization of feminism. I beg to disagree... but I'm not going to try to convince you of my reasons in this post. We can get into that another time.
- OK, well, basically anti-gender feminists are totally into pornography of all kinds with no exception. They think all pornography should be legal and that censorship is the real crime. They believe women are into porn as much as men and they don't really have a problem at all with mainstream porn. They are into BDSM, gang bangs, ... you name it. Anything goes because we are all grown ups capable of knowing what we want to watch. The more porn the merrier. Here is a great article by a anti-gender feminist right on point.
- Anti-inequality feminists are divided on the subject. Some are absolutely anti mainstream porn and say that it is by nature exploitative of women and part of the misogynistic patriarchal world that needs to be overthrown. Others are into porn but only if it isn't exploitative or tasteless. They usually see it as an unavoidable part of life that is fine, as long as it is legal and doesn't oppress the poor or helpless. But if a guy is watching too much in a relationship and neglecting his woman, then there will also be a lot of talk about how too much porn is bad for a relationship because it is inherently geared towards the male viewer and there is not enough porn out there for women.
- Pro-difference feminists on the other hand, are often anti-pornography, but only on the basis that it caters to and perpetuates the exploitation and misunderstanding of women's sexuality and thereby distorts the natural sexual appetite and appreciation between the sexes. This is because the artificial bodies of the women in most mainstream porn and the very fake representations of what sex is, contributes to the gaping chasm between the sexes and magnifies the differences in the way they experience life... and sex. This results in a decreasing ability to obtain pleasure from real sex, or intimacy from a real woman. (read this article for an insight into this). However, if there was more porn out there genuinely made by women for women, which portrayed women in an empowering way and helped women (and men) to get back in touch with their own sexuality, then the amount of porn wouldn't be a problem and could be very positive.
Click on the books below as essential reading for anybody trying to understand feminist attitudes to porn:
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So anyway. This is my introduction to feminism 101 for you, stemming from all the wisdom I have gained from conversations over dinner with friends and thoughts on the subject I have had ever since I was a young, horny, rebellious (and fervent female chauvinist) adolescent.