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Feminism: what’s so wrong about equal rights?

Uploaded: Jan 1, 2021
Feminism. Its primary definition, according to Merriam-Webster, is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. So, in theory, even if a person perceived no social inequalities on the basis of sex, they would still be feminists—believing in the equality of the sexes, and possibly even advocating for those beliefs.

However, the widespread, perceived public understanding of feminism strays far from its original vision for equal rights. Today, many people see the feminism movement as overly female-focused; after all, it’s called feminism, not “men-ism”. They cite feminism as being hypocritical, that feminists want women over men rather than equality. Like many other movements, feminism has become defined by its most extreme voices. Just like the Black Lives Matter movement in June of last year was characterized by its riots and not by its peaceful protests, feminism has suffered the same demonization more gradually throughout the years. It is the same case the other way around: many left-leaning people judge all Republicans by their party’s crazy president. The media so easily divides us beyond repair, feeding us with information that will only confirm our pre-existing biases; even the simple concept of equal rights cannot escape its most radical, most controversial proponents from tainting its reputation.

I believe, though, that we should not let a group’s most extreme members define its mission. We must try our best to view each movement objectively, evaluating a group as a whole. It may be hard—news outlets have learned to only report on stories people will actually read, and a large majority of these are negative and/or shocking. At the end of the day, who wants to read about a 100 dollar deal when you could be reading about a billion dollar transaction? A middle school election over a presidential one? But by being a conscious consumer of media, we can reduce the influence media outlets have on our opinions.

As such, feminism has become an often-hated movement in society. When people hear the word “feminist,” they may imagine the angry so-called “feminazi,” a person who uses feminist ideals to mask the fact that they dislike men. While people like this exist, the majority of feminists fight for both men’s and women’s rights. Many feminist pages are all-inclusive and intersectional; while they primarily bring women’s issues to the forefront of their activism, they also recognize the issues men deal with, attempting to create online spaces where everyone can feel welcome. To me, this is the true goal of feminism—fighting for equal rights requires tackling everyone’s problems.

Too often I see feminism mischaracterized, leading many of my peers to ignore its values or refuse to identify with it. I definitely don’t blame them; while many may agree with its inherent ideals—it’s equal rights, how could they not?—they fear being ostracized or accidentally mislabelling themselves as overly radical. However, I think it’s important that people try to see past these misconceptions, peeling back the curtain to reveal people trying to enact meaningful change. Some people may still view feminism as a threat, believing it as a danger to conservative values, traditional gender norms, or men’s rights. But true feminism—and progress—is not necessarily transition; it is expansion. People can hold onto their time-honored beliefs while respecting new ones. Women can have long hair without feeling uncomfortable with those who have short hair. Men can wear skirts or pants depending on how they want to dress that particular day. Men can still be the money-makers in the family, but women can also fill that role without shame. Unless harmful or severely outdated, these pre-existing norms do not have to be changed, as there is room for expansion. We only need to expand what we see as normal, becoming not only tolerant but celebratory of our differences.
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Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Jan 2, 2021 at 8:30 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

I believe in equal rights between the sexes, but I don't consider myself a "feminist." Most feminists take equality to the extreme, and some of them do come across as man haters.

Posted by Feminist, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jan 2, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Feminist is a registered user.

First of all, Jessica, I want to say that I am very impressed by how thoughtful your blog entries are. It is wonderful to see a teenager who is thinking about large concepts, and does so methodically. Keep it up!
I think everyone who doesn't consider or describe themselves a feminist is actually just perpetuating the patriarchy. Equality between the sexes is essential; but right now only one sex is being pushed down, not the other one. So, if we talk about women's issues more than we do about men's as far as equality is concerned, its because men don't really suffer from discrimination, and have not been oppressed for centuries. I am a very fierce feminist; I am not a man hater. I am married to a man, and I am a mother to a young boy. I want to make sure a thought that one sex is in any way inferior doesn't even cross my son's mind, ever. My husband and I worked really hard to re-frame put down phrases such as "run like a girl" in a very positive way - because women do run differently than men, and some men would really benefit from learning to run like a girl, really. And, sadly, sexism is still very much alive and kicking. I still remember participating in a large financial merger right here in Palo Alto, being there with my boss and mentor, and hearing legal counsel telling my boss to "have your girl make herself useful and fetch us some lunch". And this was not the 60s or even the 80s, this was 2009.
There is a very good parody song about feeling bad for the boys because too many feminists are man haters.
If you haven't heard it, I highly recommend:

Web Link

Posted by Alvin, a resident of Professorville,
on Jan 2, 2021 at 7:58 pm

Alvin is a registered user.

Feminists, where? I don't see any. They are all meekly obeying orders to "cover your face", "stay at home", "don't travel", etc. Don't you realize how oppressive those words should sound to a real feminist? I was hoping they could be allies in this fight against tyranny going on the past 10 months, like some of the natural food and health people have been. The feminists, on the other hand, have sat this one out and failed, big time!

So unless you're willing to "burn" your mask and show some real courage, don't call yourself a feminist.

Posted by Chris, a resident of University South,
on Jan 4, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Chris is a registered user.

Feminists have a lot more sense than males who are causing the pandemic to explode.

Alvin, please present your credentials as an epidemiologist.

Posted by Alvin, a resident of Professorville,
on Jan 4, 2021 at 10:10 pm

Alvin is a registered user.

Chris, let's stick to the feminism topic and not turn this into a Covid discussion. Let me pose a hypothetical situation and see how you respond.

Harvey the Ripper, a knife-wielding monstrous maniac, is terrorizing women in the Bay Area and only women. He targets several a month and hasn't been caught. Police are tired and issue statement to women: stay home, don't go out at night, save the police, save lives. Curfew for women.

Question, how should women respond? My response would be: no, we're not locking ourselves home, you (police) do your jobs by keeping the streets safe. Take back the night!

*Warning: misinformation below.

Now we have what's basically a bad flu and feminists are so g-d damn obedient it's sickening seeing them with their pathetic masks, telling each other to stay home, canceling travel and vacation plans. Instead, they should be demanding their freedoms, don't tell me what I have to put on my face or where I can go, you (healthcare workers) do your jobs.

Posted by Feminist , a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jan 5, 2021 at 7:16 am

Feminist is a registered user.

You are posting dangerous misinformation on a blog that is written by a teenager. Please do not deny scientific facts: COVID-19 is not like a flu, it's a highly contagious and dangerous illness; wearing masks and socially distancing saves lives; and instigating violations of health orders that we have in place is illegal. Staying at home and wearing masks has nothing to do with feminism and everything to do with being a responsible human being. Enough with the lies already, fbis is the reason why we are in a mess we are.

Posted by yikes, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jan 5, 2021 at 12:26 pm

yikes is a registered user.

Wow, Jessica. Thanks for your column.
So sorry for the crazy turn taken in the comments. Sadly, an immediate demonstration of the after-effects of what you present in your third paragraph.
Keep thinking deeply and sharing your thoughts.
Best wishes!

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jan 6, 2021 at 3:58 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

"You will be better advised to watch what we do instead of what we say." -- A. A. Milne (famous for being the author of the Winnie the Pooh stories). Subsequently used by President Richard Nixon's campaign director and Attorney General to reassure Republican activists who were upset by the Administration's public pronouncements.

When describing a political or social movement, a dictionary definition is typically a bad starting point: inadequate, if not misleading, exacerbated by that political/social movement evolving or getting usurped by those with contrary agendas. Think about the huge differences between First-, Second-, Third-, Fourth-Way Feminism, and TERFs: Any definition that covers them all would be so vague as to be useless or be self-contradictory.

You can see similar problems in the definition of (Mussolini's) "Fascism" -- there are still raging arguments about which of its many aspects were the defining characteristics.

As to your point that feminism is treated as being defined by its "most extreme voices", consider the analogy of a church: Are its religious doctrine represented by the preacher or the largely silent congregation?? Recognize that only some "extreme voices" become prominent in the media, and to do so, they need to demonstrate a significant following: book sales, attendance at lectures and conferences, and appearances on other media outlets.

Aside: I think you may underestimate some of the reasons behind opposition to "feminism" because you have been underexposed to that history. For example, you mention "issues men deal with". From what I have seen written about "men's rights" movements, the biggest issues seem to be equal treatment in divorce -- child custody and alimony -- and domestic violence. Much of the unequal treatment is the result of decisions by male judges, but there is little feminist opposition to this inequality and much support for continuing that inequality. Research has found that perpetrators of domestic violence are roughly equally split between males and females, with a significant fraction being mutual. Yet, 30 years after Biden's "Violence against Women Act", its discriminatory aspects have been whittled away by the courts, not feminists seeking equality.

For a sense of how movements evolve, you might want to look at how "abortion rights" became part of feminism -- the Republicans later identified an anti-abortion position as bringing politically inactive Evangelical Christians into the fold. There are also accounts floating around that Cosmo magazine supposedly used feminism to push greatly increased consumerism among its target audience (single women in their 20s and early 30s) to increase the magazine's advertising revenue.


BTW, Merriam-Webster is no longer a reliable source for definitions: M-W added "offensive" to its definition of "sexual preference" the day after Sen Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) claimed that it was (during the confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett).
M-W currently does not provide version numbers for definitions (common software development practice is to assign at least a Major and Minor version number at significant waypoints).

Posted by hmmm3, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jan 6, 2021 at 1:14 pm

hmmm3 is a registered user.

Thank you for engaging positively in dialog around this critical issue.

I would recommend you take to hear Mr Moran's posting, as the definition of Feminism is much debated and not adequately covered by Mirram-Webster. In particular, there is a vast gulf between the theory and practice of "second wave" and "third wave" feminism. Second-wave feminists lean more heavily on essentialism - that women are different and thus laws which privlege women are essential to equality - where third wave feminism focuses on what you have - equality through a "gender blind" lens. Second wave feminism was the predominant form through the 60's to early 90's, where third wave came forward in the 90's based on some of the deeply troubling statements by feminists at the time (now called second-wavers). I have also heard of a "fourth wave" but honestly can't tell if it's going to take hold in public consciousness.

However, your complaint that "people say feminism is X which isn't true", comes partially from the fact that a broad range of second-wave feminists did make a variety of strong claims. While many of those claims were amplified and distorted (Dworkin makes a case that her argument was distorted), a great somewhat recent example was in the Clinton presidential campaign of 2016, where Albright said in a rally that - essentially - all women need to vote for Clinton because she's a woman. That's not a statement of equality, and Albright is of the second-wave generation. This statement disappointed third-wavers, who were more of the mentality that equality means judging the capabilities and policies of the candidates equality would be "feminist". Whether Albright's statement was Feminist or not can, even today, be debated.

I recommend two areas of investigation for you.

First is to look carefully at Wikipedia. A number of years ago, the main page on Feminism described both second wave and third wave perspectives, but then the second wave component was removed and only third wave was stated as the "official" definition. There is a page about Second Wave feminism, but it's harder to find and - last time I looked - presented more as a minority viewpoint. Looking at the history of redefinition and the debate within the Wikipedia moderating community should be instructive (although I admit I haven't read it myself).

Second is to look at TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists), as the primary difference between trans-exclusion and trans-inclusion is who gets to call themselves a woman. While "TERF" is now considered a slur, I use the term because it is common. The "TERF" perspective aligns with second-wave feminism, as it highlights the biological and early-year differences - TERFs say "you can't gain access to the benefits and protections of Feminism by just changing your name", essentially. However, the third-wave perspective is welcoming to trans perspectives, because equality is for everyone. These are two valid definitions of Feminism. This difference of definition leads to very specific and pointed public policy differences. As I read, the "TERF" perspective is more prevalent in the UK, perhaps pointing out that second-wave Feminism is stronger there, as well.

I am glad you consider this a relevant topic, even though these discussions of Feminist history and definition go back several generations. Only today I read a public discussion that I think comes right the definition of Feminism, regarding who should get required paid leave on having a child. One politician stated it should be women only (aligning with second-wavers - it's not about equality, it's about women getting the support they need), one stating it should be equal for men and women, with both getting the same amount of leave. A legally required baseline of maternity leave imposes both cost and benefit on society, thus debate seems reasonable.

I close only by suggesting that it's important to have some tenderness and sympathy for those of us who experienced the culture war of the sixties and seventies - specifically in the gender area. I can almost be glad that a younger generation might not understand what the fight was about and how the world changed. But the fight was bruising, and many of us bear the scars.

Posted by Squidsie, a resident of another community,
on Jan 10, 2021 at 12:10 pm

Squidsie is a registered user.

To answer the headline "What's so wrong about equal rights?". Nothing. It is a matter of simple fairness, and merely a matter of applying the Golden Rule. We all expect to be treated fairly.

The rub, of course, is defining what are "equal rights". To many, any variation in outcome is considered proof of inequality. Thus, we have many people citing the difference in the average earnings of women relative to men, as proof women are somehow arbitrarily being denied comparable earnings.

This, however, neglects to consider the two biggest drivers of the difference in earnings: Child bearing, and career choices. Neither one of these factors are arbitrary, and both have a reasonably justifiable impact on earnings. An employee who takes long absences from the work force, or who is prevented from working longer hours because of domestic responsibilities, will be less productive and will provide less benefit to their employer. Employers usually tend to offer the highest compensation to their most valuable and productive employees. A woman having a child will necessarily be away from work for a significant time, and most often, women take the most active role in child rearing, which consumes a lot of their time. Studies have shown that the earnings of childless women are comparable to those of men.

Career choice is just that, a matter of choice. For a number of decades, just about all career paths have been open to women, and discrimination has been illegal. Women are free to pursue careers in traditionally male professions, and many do so with great success. If a woman chooses a traditionally female career, that is a matter of individual preference. It may reflect traditional values, or it may reflect that the work involved in a certain male profession is more demanding or less desirable. The idea that there is an "equivalency" between, say, a traditionally male profession such as being a garbage collector, and a traditionally female one, like being a librarian, is silly. The work and work environment required by each is utterly different, and the idea that they should be compensated equally because some contrived metric fashioned by people who have performed neither profession has somehow determined that they are comparable, is preposterous. Any person who believes that a particular calling is unfairly compensated relative to the calling that they prefer to pursue, always has option to pursue the more highly paid calling.

As an aside, I always enjoy the typically intelligent discussions in a Palo Alto publication. How else could I have learned of first, second, and third wave feminism, or of trans-inclusion and trans-exclusion? Just when I think I have a pretty good handle on the political jargon of the day, I get proven wrong and humbled.

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