“FEMINISM IS NOT SIMPLY A STRUGGLE TO END MALE CHAUVANISM, OR A MOVEMENT TO ENSURE WOMEN HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS WITH MEN; IT IS A COMMITMENT TO ERADICATING THE IDEOLOGY OF DOMINATION THAT PERMEATES WESTERN CULTURE ON VARIOUS LEVELS”
If I am a woman, I am seen as irrelevant and aggravating. I am peddling an agenda out of touch with life and the needs of the modern woman, compromising the current position of women everywhere by maintaining a radical stance that damages the relationship they and I have with men. I am undermining all the successes of women who do not agree with me by suggesting that they still suffer from oppression. Because of this, I exist outside of the reasonable discourse between the genders and occupy a space of segregation that is simultaneously forced upon me and self-created. I am a man-hater and men-and- women-hated.
If I am a man, I am seen as paralysed by a shallow liberal guilt from acting as a member of my gender. I am trying to atone for the mistakes made by men in the past to make myself feel better. I am selfish and insincere. I am the kind of man that feminists love to enter their discussions because I legitimise their debate. Other women are uncomfortable with my views and feel patronised that I am telling them that they are oppressed when, really, this oppression doesn’t actually exist. But I can’t really be a (pro)feminist because those women hate men. If I disagree, I’m trying to sleep with somebody.
If I acknowledge that I am one gender or the other, I know that some people will see me in a particular way. Cliché affects understanding. So I refuse to be seen. I am without sex. My gender isn’t important to you, but it is to me, as both genders’ interpretations of feminism are valid, but differ. This discussion is informed by my position within the wider discourse, and as a consequence there will be gaps. My denial of gender isn’t an admission of failure or disavowal of my position; it is an exploration of my relationship and understanding of feminism without necessarily revealing it to you. However, what I write won’t necessarily be true for other people, man or woman; this is a personal understanding of feminism, as all are. Question everything I say.
Perhaps increasingly, if a woman is a feminist, she absents herself from a patriarchal society by refusing to take her place within it. In such a society, feminism is a kind of non-identity, a disavowal of cultural enforced views on womanhood and femininity. By refusing your femininity, you are essentially giving up your voice within a society that will only accept you if you accept its view of you. This is why so many women are reticent to talk about feminism, let alone adopt it as a cause. Rather than allow a discussion to exist that may be damaging to the male-driven society that women have to engage with to retain their identity, many women are complicit with their male counterparts in rejecting and undermining feminism and its advocates, and push them into a hinterland where they lose legitimacy and relevance. Feminism isn’t inherently irrelevant or flawed, but has been made to be so by members of a society that still values “wearing the trousers” as a symbol of power, that still pays women, on average, 10% less than men in full time jobs paid by the hour, and still uses confused, but ultimately subservient language in women’s magazines (“How To Make Him Want You!”). As a woman, it has been accepted that one must sacrifice some power and independence in their lives and accept a place within an unfair society in order to have any say over what happens in their lives at all due to a dismissal of feminism from both sides of the gender divide.
The idea of power within society can affect those supposedly in control as well as the oppressed. Men can feel trapped and powerless by the position that the gender/power binary dictates for them. Men are under pressure to be men, and exist in just as much a predetermined way as women, sans the surrendering of power. This can be deeply affecting for men, whose identities, much like women, are created through an engagement with the society that they occupy. A disconnection from this society results in a rupture from identity, from history, from other men. This is what the power binary based on gender does; perpetuates a powerful man and a subservient woman.
This supposition, in my opinion, is the key to the emancipatory qualities of feminism. The man/woman divide is based on an understanding of a symbiotic relationship between power and weakness. One needs the other to exist. If man no longer has subservience, you no longer have power. This frees members of both genders from the shackles of their enforced positions and allows a more flexible discourse between the two. The idea of feminism being in opposition to a white, male patriarchy also implicates issues of class and race within the male/female divide which are part of an iceberg of societal conflicts that this position alludes to. Women’s rights alludes to men’s rights (but does not equivocate the two very different beasts) and allows a meaningful and relevant discussion of many different ideas pertaining to freedom and oppression.
It is vital and necessary that women understand their position within a patriarchal society and inspire other women to do the same. Men, without claiming feminism as your own cause (the word pro-feminist is helpful here, suggesting that you support the cause without presuming yourself a member), should help create a climate of openness and acceptance of such ideas, perhaps allowing the existence of feminism within the confines of society. Women’s rights will not and should not come from men, but should be acknowledged as possible and welcome. We’d all be freer for it.