Feminist frustration

There’s an article in this week’s Student, Edinburgh Uni’s weekly newspaper, entitled “Musings of a Closet Feminist”, by Claire Stancliffe. It’ll probably be on their website in a couple of days, but at time of going to web, it’s not yet.

I’ve got to say I agree with her on the vast majority of what she says. As a former A Level English Language student, I’m all too aware that feminist issues DO still exist, contrary to popular belief, not least in language (although it’s certainly not the most important manifestation of sexism). I’m always confused when I hear words like ‘actress’, ‘waitress’, ‘manageress’ etc. Why do we need a female alternative to the word ‘actor’ (ie. someone who acts), ‘waiter’ (someone who waits on people) or ‘manager’ (someone who manages things). And there’s still the issue arising of how we should avoid the ‘generic he’ in situations like “a police officer should not wear his uniform while off duty”. The majority of readers would not realise that the police officer in this sentence is not necessarily male, because in the English language, when the sex of the subject is not specified, the generic ‘he’ can be used to refer to either a male or a female, since we have no neuter pronoun to refer to people. In any case such a usage of the word contributes to what is commonly known as the ‘invisible female’. What people prefer instead is to use what is being called ‘the singular they’, ie. “a police officer should not wear their uniform while off duty”, which avoids the awkward “his/her”. But it’s grammatically incorrect to refer to a singular subject with a plural noun. Recently I’ve noticed that a small number of my lecturers are using a ‘generic she’, which could be an alternative, just use both terms equally. Just one of the many boring controversies in contemporary English Language studies.

In any case there were a couple of parts that I had very minor objections to. Firstly she appears to imply that men encourage women to objectify themselves as proof that they’re sexually liberated, when in my experience that’s not exactly true. Frequently when women are going out they themselves choose to wear an inch of makeup and less than an inch of clothing, as well as a pair of heels that would cripple even the most balanced of mountain goats. When you ask them why wear such impractical and over-revealing clothing, the usual response is that ‘they have to’. I’m not telling them to, and I’d prefer if they didn’t, so where’s this pressure coming from? I suspect it’s from other women, that if you’re not showing off loads of skin then you’re not dressed up enough.

Secondly, when she describes her discussion with her friends about her musings, she says “unsurprisingly the boys responded with the usual witticisms involving bra-burning lesbians”. I wonder whether this conversation actually took place, because I can’t think of many men who would actually do this. Maybe Claire should get some better friends. I know that if one of my female friends came to me and wanted to talk about a feminist issue, I’d be 100% behind her, particularly if she felt I’d done something to offend her.

But going along with all this is the misconception that feminism is all about women. It affects men almost as much. Sexual prejudice and discrimination tells me that I should be being macho all the time, wearing blue instead of pink, and changing car tyres in my spare time, just as much as it tells women to stay at home and do the housework. Maybe it’s not such a big deal for men as for women, but feminism isn’t just the fight for women’s liberation, it is a more general fight against sexual discrimination and prejudice, which affects men too. I feel this fact has been neglected in writers of feminist literature.

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11 Responses to Feminist frustration

  1. zombie z says:

    What’s wrong with saying that things happen to men, too?

    Specifically (emphasis mine):

    But what bothers me about the idea of [Patriarchy Hurts Men Too] — and the way in which it is being relentlessly promoted — is that it trivializes the fact that patriarchy hurts women. Women are the victims of patriarchy, and the suffering of men occurs as a secondary consequence of their role as oppressor. The fact that patriarchy hurts women should be sufficient justification for fighting it.

    It’s like going around wondering why no one ever talks about how white plantation owners were hurt by slavery. If you’re so concerned about it, QUIT OWNING SLAVES.

    Feminism IS about women, the same way the racial Civil Rights Movement was about non-whites (well, specifically blacks in that time period, but I think it is more and more concerning Hispanics, at least in the US). Insisting to feminists that they should worry about men more is distinctly anti-feminist. Women have been told to worry about men our entire fucking lives.

    Perhaps you’re a better guy than most, but I’m very sure that the general public reacts with a sneer to the word “feminist.” Bra-burning may be a little old-school for my generation of feminist-haters, but ugly dyke that just can’t get a dude to fuck her? I’ve heard that one plenty.

  2. grammarking says:

    Thanks for the comment, and the link. I’ll read it in more depth tomorrow when I’m not completely knackered.

    The main issue I have with what you and the author of the linked article have said is that it still draws these lines between men and women. I don’t think you’d make those points quite so fervently if you were talking to an effeminate male who’s victimised every day just because he doesn’t conform to the male social norm.

    I also don’t think what I posted trivialises the fact that women suffer. Of course certain feminist issues like rape and reproductive rights do largely only affect women. I’m not denying that, but that’s not everything. It was an additional point, not negative, and in fact I was trying to get male readers to realise that it affects them too, in an attempt to open their horizons a little, and get them more on board with the feminist agenda. This supplements the original article, which I’m sure you’ll be able to read in the next couple of days, rather than antagonizing it. I was certainly not encouraging women to “worry about men”.

    As for the anti-feminist comments, maybe we hang around with different people. I’m fairly sure people in my generation do not think about feminists like that. If they do, I don’t think they’d show it. My dad would, but… well that’s not surprising, and others might consider the feminist movement to be finished and superfluous, but I don’t think they’re widely considered dykes who can’t get a shag.

  3. zombie z says:

    I completely agree that the Patriarchy Hurts Men. But I’m not even sure what you mean by “victimized.” Those guys you describe? They are an exception in the land of men. Hating women, however, is the rule.

    I can’t speak for the writers of Feminism 101, but yes, I would say the same thing to an effeminate man. Because, frankly, an effeminate man has it a helluva lot better than most women.

    We are similar ages, so I don’t think the difference in opinions about feminists can be dismissed as generational. Could be regional, though — we still don’t say “shag” or “uni” all that often in the States.

    Feminism is the answer to the oppression of women and the injustices done to (some) men to uphold that, and yes, more men need to realize it. Though I generally believe that the ones who need it most are the ones who are holding tightest to their patriarichal priviledges and it would probably fall on deaf ears.

    Since I can’t read the article, I could be unsure of where exactly you’re coming from. To me, it read like you were questioning why she didn’t talk about men’s suffering (which is not the same as trivializing women’s), and that’s what I was answering to.

    I think it makes you a Pretty Cool Dude to even be able to admit that feminism is relevant, so don’t take my original (or this) post as attacking. Just trying to explain a bit of feminist viewpoint (though obviously individual feminists may feel very differently).

    The link I gave you is a really excellent one if you’re interested in feminist theory. The blog is a big ol’ feminist theory FAQ, from the simple stuff like why we need feminism & the male gaze all the way to the stickier issues like sexual liberation vs. objectification, victim-blaming, etc.

  4. grammarking says:

    Hmm… I do see your point.

    Maybe I should make it a bit more clear where I’m coming from. Looking back I probably should have told this anecdote in the original post, but I dunno, I like being subtle I suppose, and it was already quite long. This’ll be interesting because I’ve got a lecture in half an hour.

    Anyway just a few months ago I didn’t particularly care about feminism at all. Didn’t affect me in the slightest so I mostly steered clear. Then one of my friends dragged me along to a People and Planet meeting (http://peopleandplanet.org/), where to my surprise they were holding workshops on how better to run your own society. It was useful but I’m not going to another meeting. You know those people whose tone of voice goes up at the end, like everything they say is a question? It was full of those. So irritating.

    The first workshop I went to was the feminist issues one, and they began by playing what’s called a ‘spectrum game’, where someone asks a question and you stand in a line according to how strongly you agree or disagree. The question was “how much does feminism affect me?” So I stood sort of middle to bottom, explaining that although I know it affects some people around me, as a man it didn’t really affect me personally.

    So then the workshop organisers explained to me how feminism also affects men, just as I did in the OP. It was something of an epiphany. I’d never realised before, and it was suddenly like “of course! Why haven’t I been more interested in this before now?” This was the kind of response I was trying to provoke in apathetic male readers, but of course it’s not usually productive if you tell them you’re talking to them specifically, so maybe that wasn’t clear.

    However, if you think I’m being counter-productive, then in future I’ll keep my mouth shut and my fingers off the keyboard.

  5. clare says:

    Yay, feminist post! I’m all for men embracing feminism as to me the basic premise is not to prejudge people on account of their biological sex and that goes for men and women both. Also, blog about whatever you want because we definitely want to hear your thoughts.

  6. grammarking says:

    A post about language studies and feminism; I knew you wouldn’t stay away long :P.

  7. grammarking says:

    I should mention that this post was featured in the ‘Tontine’ section of the Student (semester 2 week 3 edition), translated into Russian and back again using Babelfish.

    I feel so honoured 😛

  8. Ed says:

    I suspect that the term “feminism” is quite a damaging one, because in the public imagination a feminist is a cartoonish man-hater who no doubt discovered feminism shortly after being jilted by a lover – in short, a female chauvinist who sees no value in men. Among those who don’t really understand the term, the word “feminist” is a weapon which can be used to conjure up this image and thus trivially dismiss all that they have to say as a variation on the man-hating theme. Even the very word is damaging – we often use labels ending in “ism” and “ist” to do exactly this kind of pidgeonholing – defeatist, racist, ageist, marxist, classist, chauvinist.

    There’s two obvious ways to fix this. One is to widen public understanding of what feminism means, and the other is to promote the ideas without calling them feminist. Surely what we want here is gender equality – namely, that gender shouldn’t make a difference where it doesn’t have make a difference. With so many straw men (heh) to hand, it’s easy to misunderstand and argue about feminism, but it’s hard to argue with the ideas of equality at its core.

  9. Tezza says:

    I feel very strongly that there is no such thing as a ‘boring’ controversy. Controversies mean that life and society are in continual flux, which is exciting and the way it should be! If you follow the ‘boring’ controversy line too far, you end up afraid to bring important things up, putting yourself in the hands of the ‘political correctness gone made’ brigade.

  10. grammarking says:

    Tezza, thanks for your comment.

    It’s strange that you refer to the ‘PC gone mad’ brigade for someone who’s implying they’re not interested in this particular language phenomenon. I don’t hold this view myself, but I could understand how someone brainwashed by crappy Tory propaganda might think feminism in language studies is the epitomy of ‘PC gone mad’, along the lines of the infamous ‘baa baa black sheep’, the exact opposite of what you’re saying. Anyway I’ll always say what I want when I want so don’t worry yourself.

    In any case, I don’t personally think it’s boring, I’m very much interested in language and linguistics. But I can see how it would be quite boring for the Average Joe on the street who doesn’t give a monkey’s.

  11. grammarking says:

    Weirdly, I was thinking about this post yesterday, and then when I hit my dashboard today I noticed someone had read it despite its age, so screw it, this deserves another comment.

    Zombie Z, I’ve changed my mind and I reject your criticism, or at least the first part of it. By telling me to stop owning slaves, you’re assuming that I oppress women or contribute to the oppression of women, which I don’t. In this way, you’re making an assumption about me based on my sex, and that makes you not much better than those you’re criticising. It would be like telling Wilberforce that he can’t comment that slavery is degenerative for the whole human race, because he has to stop owning slaves first, just because he’s white and therefore must be owning slaves.

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