Monday, October 11, 2010

Feminism defined

In this Slate DoubleX entry, Amanda Marcotte explains the concept of feminism:
I thought Lisa Jervis, co-founder of Bitch, overstated the case in a piece she wrote five years ago when she denounced the feminist obsession with women. She suggested that feminists should stop wasting their time celebrating women and get back to dismantling the construct of gender. But now that we have Sarah Palin running around claiming to be a feminist just because she happens to be an ambitious woman, I'm beginning to see that Jervis was exactly right. So, if I was given the power to say who is and isn't a feminist—and I'm just going to lay claim to that power right now—I'd go with Jervis' definition: Real feminists support a society in which biological gender 'doesn't determine social roles or expected behavior.' Sarah Palin is only onboard with that project when it suits her ambitions. She opposes the old-fashioned rule that women can't be political leaders. But as she rejects the rest of the feminist project, since at the end of the day feminism is about bringing an end to patriarchy. Considering that few things are more critical to the maintenance of the patriarchy than controlling women's reproduction, yes, I'm happy to say that opponents of legal abortion can't be feminists. Suggesting otherwise is like saying that owners of factory farms can be animal rights activists. 
Follow the link and you can also read the thoughts of Amy Bloom, Nora Ephron, Katha Pollitt, and Anna Holmes on the subject. Pollitt's definition is closest to my own:
Feminism is a social justice movement dedicated to the social, political, economic, and cultural equality of women and men, and to the right of every woman to set her own course in life. 
I quote Marcotte's at length, however, because it seems to me that she is getting at something fundamental: as long as the patriarchy lasts, then we can't really say that women who have set their own courses in life have achieved equality, since the menu of available life-courses is liable to have been determined by men in advance. At least, I think that's what Marcotte is getting at. The idea is more concisely expressed by one of the definitions of "feminism" provided by Holmes:
A convenient, seemingly benign, stand-in descriptor for submissiveness to the patriarchy, i.e., the foundation of former SNL comedian Victoria Jackson's definition of Sarah Palin's feminist credentials: "… a feminine woman achieving goals with the blessing of her man, while she simultaneously supports his career endeavors and celebrates his masculinity." 

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson