Before I begin, I want to remind everybody that when I speak of feminism, I refer to a system of beliefs and a form of political activism arising from the idea that one’s physiological characteristics need not be invested with meaning. Simply put, feminism is about making sure that the shape of our genitals does not translate into the roles we are assigned in our personal, professional, intellectual, political, etc. endeavors.
One of the main dangers to feminism nowadays is, in my opinion, the frequency with which people label as feminist aspects of existence that have nothing to do with gender roles or gender expectations. Many people seem to think that feminism exists to make their lives better in every possible aspect and when it fails to do so, condemn it as a failed ideological project. It makes as much sense, however, to expect feminism to achieve anything other than what falls under its purview, as it is to expect a Kindle to do your dishes for you.
In this post, I want to provide a list of issues that often receive the label of feminist concerns but that have nothing to do with feminism. Then, I will offer a list of what I consider to be genuine feminist concerns. This is a work in progress, so feel free to add to both lists.
False feminist issues:
- “The impossible standard of beauty.” Beauty is supposed to be quite impossible, otherwise it wouldn’t be beauty. My appearance, which is as common as pickled cucumbers in my country, has been referred as “exotic” in many places I have visited. Beauty is supposed to be hard to achieve, difficult to find, special, rare. It’s frustrating as hell that we can’t all consider ourselves and each other beautiful. But it’s not a gender issue. It’s as hard to look as Brad Pitt as it is as Angelina Jolie. Female and male models in magazines all have the kinds of bodies that cannot be encountered in nature. It can be extremely frustrating to see those impossibly skinny, ripped, flawless bodies on the screen and on billboards. To suggest, however, that it is more frustrating to all women than it is to all men makes absolutely no sense. (Research shows that I’m right and that body image issues have no gender.)
- “There is a system in place in our society that uniformly oppresses all women (men) and benefits all men (women).” There is a very large group of people who confuse gender wars with feminism or men’s rights activism. In reality, however, their engagement with gender is neither political nor philosophical. It’s always strictly personal. Such people have been hurt by a man (many men) or a woman (many women) and are now analyzing societal issues through the lens of their personal hurt. (See a very vivid example discussed here). I believe that no patriarchal ogre is quite as damaging to the cause of feminism as these gender war champions.
- “We need to promote women’s right to choose any lifestyle they wish.” As we all know, I detest “choice feminism” and see it as profoundly anti-feminist in nature. “Choice feminism” promotes the idea that women are such saintly creatures who exist outside of societies, ideologies, family structures, etc. that every single choice these infallible individuals make should be celebrated. If you question any kind of a choice made by any woman, you are an anti-feminist. This kind of respect for any choice they might make is, of course, not extended to men, which makes “choice feminism” a movement that reinforces gender boundaries.
- “Women are told to be skinny and are fat-shamed!” Once again, as annoying as this phenomenon is, it has nothing to do with gender. The fascination with thinness is very recent historically and very culture-specific. A society values what is scarce. This means that a society that routinely overeats will value thinness for the same reasons that, until very recently, my society (I’m from Ukraine, in case you don’t know) valued plumpness after surviving horrible famines. I don’t think that anybody can reasonably argue that all fat men have things easier than all fat women. Not only is this not a feminist concern, it is also not an issue that anybody can do anything about until the majority of our population becomes thin.
(To be continued. . .)