September 17, 2003


Posted by shonk at 12:17 AM in Feminism | TrackBack

Actually, though, what I want to discuss is not so much the justification for feminism, but rather the endgame. Is there a point at which feminism becomes irrelevant? Or is it an important part of culture for all time? If we view feminism as a social movement struggling to achieve equal rights for women, then it would seem like, once women have equal rights, feminism becomes irrelevent. On the other hand, if we view feminism more broadly, as a "belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes" ( definition one) or, in Brooke's conception, as "freedom of choice", then we tend to the second option.

However, this second definition seems to me troublesome. Why use the gender-specific term "feminism" if we're talking about a belief in gender equity or freedom of choice? Lexically it makes little sense. Historically, of course, this is because the term was first coined to describe a social movement. That is why, I think, most people, when they hear "feminism" or "feminist", think of a social movement rather than a belief system. Words, after all, have no objective meaning; they mean exactly what people think they mean. Which is why it's silly, outside of formal arguments wherein precise definitions are imperative, to argue over what a word "really means"; when it comes right down to it, that's a rather mindnumbing and ultimately pointless exercise in demographics. Thus, despite the fact that I think all individuals ought have freedom of choice and ought be treated equally under the law, I wouldn't call myself a feminist (and not because I'm afraid of emasculating myself were I to do so, incidentally).

However, I've strayed from my original point, which is to ask what the endgame is for feminism (or if there is one). Thad asks an excellent question in Petya's guestbook (check out leo's interesting comments there as well). Ultimately, I think, his question is pointing to the question of whether feminists would be better served trying to end some truly horrible situations in places like Afghanistan or China rather than trying to make American women a bit wealthier. As usual, I see merits to both sides of the discussion. On the one hand, practices that all but the most Neanderthalic of Americans would find downright barbaric still exist in other parts of the world (widow-burning, anyone?); isn't preventing death and assault more important than improving the wage gap for people that are tremendously wealthy, relative to the rest of the world? On the other hand, I think that perspective neglects certain realities, like the fact that things like "rights" and "equality" are pretty irrelevant when one is malnourished. Also, there's a case to be made that one ought practice what one preaches (a.k.a. "Clean up your own mess before you start sticking your head in others' "). I find that less persuasive, since Utopia is impossible, but it's not unreasonable to think that emulating success is easier than creating it anew.

There are a number of things I'd like to go into, such as "economic equality" (which is, at best, a very poorly defined term), but I think I'll leave those for another time. One thing I do want to talk about, though, is domestic violence laws. Petya, Brooke and leo all mention them and I must say that I, personally, am not entirely certain what the best answer is. It makes me uneasy, though, for a special class of crimes to be created when the actions they govern are already illegal under the existing laws ("hate crimes" legislation falls into this category, too). Assault and battery are already illegal, so why is it necessary to single out a certain class of assault for special attention under the rubric of domestic violence? Is beating your wife worse (under some moral metric) than beating random strangers on the street? An argument could be made that it is, since it represents a breech of trust, but the same could be said for beating one's friends or co-workers, yet friends and co-workers can't claim domestic violence. Another argument could be made that domestic violence impacts not just the husband and wife (or boyfriend and girlfriend, or boyfriend and boyfriend, or girlfriend and girlfriend), but their children (if any). But, again, this seems a somewhat hollow critique, as many criminal cases (and virtually all civil cases) take into account a crime's impact on uninvolved parties. So, again, I have to ask what the point of domestic violence laws is. Just for the record, I am totally opposed to domestic violence, but I simply don't understand why special laws are needed to prevent it when it was already illegal under existing laws (incidentally, I've just remembered that in many societies it was not illegal for men to beat their wives, as the wife was considered property, to be disposed of as the man pleased, but rectifying that situation requires, it seems to me, changing attitudes (to recognize women as equals) and then applying pre-existing laws more consistently). I'm honestly puzzled by this issue. Care to help me out?

Anyway, I've rambled long enough for one night.