Monday, June 2, 2008

My Continued Evolution as a Feminist

Feminism is a concept that for many holds a very negative connotation. There is for example the stereotype that comes to the minds of many whenever they hear the term of angry, hairy, man-hating lesbians. The man-hating part I think is predominantly a myth constructed in order to foster a negative view of feminism and to promote the idea that feminism is actually nothing more than reverse sexism. It's also partly the fault of women who go around saying things like, "All men are bastards," which frankly is usually because they only go out with bastards. In general the myth has little if anything to do with feminism. I’m sure that there are women who hate men and probably for good reason but being a feminist does not per se imply a hatred or rejection of men.

In general feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms. As with any political movement, there are extremes and some women who identify with the feminist movement have some pretty radical and extremist views. Like many groups who have historically suffered discrimination, exploitation and victimization, I think it only natural that some women might feel that after thousands of years of oppression it is high time that they were on top of the food chain and held the position of supreme gender. Yet female supremacy is not really mainstream feminism which seeks not supremacy but simply equality and freedom from gender based discrimination.

I believe women and men must share a common understanding and a basic knowledge of what feminism is and what it is about if it is ever to be a powerful mass-based political movement. By defining feminism broadly as a movement to end sexism and sexist oppression both women and men could work toward a common and what I believe to be a desirable goal.

There are two basic underlying tenants of feminism; 1) men and women are entitled to equal rights and respect, and 2) women are currently disadvantaged with respect to rights and respect, compared with men. While it is true that in recent years progress has been made and women are in a somewhat more advantageous position than in times past, to say that in all cases women are treated with equal rights and respect and enjoy all of the same advantages as men would be na├»ve. There are still many jobs in the workplace where women and men perform essentially the same tasks or very comparable ones and yet men receive higher salaries. There remain in certain occupations “glass ceilings” which preclude women from the same promotional opportunities enjoyed by men. While especially in the last decade, certain careers that traditionally excluded women altogether or at least severely curtailed equal opportunities have been opened to women, yet it is relatively easy to find examples within those same career fields where qualification standards still exist with the unmistakable design of discouraging or preventing women from applying for or advancing in them. Any fair minded person would not be able to deny that discrimination against a person based simply on gender is just wrong.

In addition to discrimination, women are also subjected to other forms of oppression simply because they are women. For example, Iris Young, author and former Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, affiliated with the Center for Gender Studies describes five “faces” of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and systematic violence. Oppression exists where women, and those who appear to be women, are subjected to wrongs and/or injustices at least in part because they are or appear to be women.

One of the most insidious forms of exploitation in my opinion is the sexual objectification of women. Sexual objectification occurs when a person is seen as a sexual object and their sexual attributes and physical attractiveness are separated from the rest of their personality and existence as an individual. They are reduced to instruments of pleasure for another person. The concept of female sexual objectification plays an important role in the inequality of the sexes. When a woman is subjected to sexual objectification she is often figuratively dismembered by men and instead of being viewed as a person, with feelings, needs, hopes, dreams, fears and valid opinions, she is instead viewed as a pair of shapely legs, a pair of breasts, an ass or a vagina; and all of those parts viewed solely in terms of their usefulness for the sexual gratification of men. In its most extreme form, sexual objectification results in victimization – rape and physical assault. Objectification of people makes violence against them seem acceptable and legitimate. To understand objectification, simply contemplate how American soldiers viewed adversaries throughout the history of our armed conflicts; in the Civil War Confederates were seen as “Rebs” and Unionists were seen as “Yankees” – in World War II Germans were “Nazis” and Japanense were “Japs” – in Vietnam, Vietnamese were “Gooks” and in the Middle East wars, Arabs were often referred to as “Rag Heads”. It is always easier to commit violence against another once that person has been de-personalized and reduced to an object. Sexual objectification has also resulted in a myriad of debilitating issues for women. Many women suffer from extreme body image dissatisfaction because they are constantly bombarded with images of thin, busty, beautiful and flawless, air-brushed and unrealistic images of females portrayed by the media and in film. This has resulted in eating disorders on almost an epidemic scale as well as unhealthy diet regimens, unprecedented demand for cosmetic plastic surgeries and depressive disorders. Clearly, sexual objectification is one form of oppression that women are subjected to.

While I’m not a woman, I still think it very possible for me to consider myself a feminist because I support the ideals of equal rights and respect for women and the eradication of all forms of sexism. As I’ve said before, I feel submissive men and feminists are natural allies in the sense we do share a common views and beliefs about equal rights and gender roles that are diametrically opposed to those held by patriarchal society. I think submissive men should not be silent, but should stand up and be counted as supporters of women and champions of feminist ideals.

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