“Don’t Denounce Feminism…” Follow-Up

Earlier this month, I wrote a post entitled “Don’t Denounce Feminism if You Don’t Understand It.” In it, I argued that feminism doesn’t require women to leave their families, go to war, or dress provocatively. Rather, it promotes a society in which women are allowed to make these decisions for themselves without being perceived as less of a woman, or less of a person. I claimed that no woman should “forsake her individuality for the sake of a being accepted by a system.”

In the comments to this post, Judithann of Why I’m Not A Feminist disagreed with my conclusion about feminism, claiming that “Feminism is about achieving total equality at any cost; it isn’t about supporting individuality.” She cited writers like Simone de Beauvoir and the potential passing of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would potentially mandate females to be enlisted in the draft, as evidence that feminism is actually just another system of oppression. You can read that particular conversation here.

JudithAnn justifies her disavowal of feminism by returning again and again to one particularly glaring straw man. On her blog, she writes:

…We must judge feminists on the basis of the laws that they are trying to pass. There may be all kinds of different kinds of feminists, but they all have one thing in common: they all want to see the ERA become the law of the land. The ERA has nothing whatsoever to do with letting women be whoever they want to be.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which would explicitly ban discrimination based on gender, was reintroduced in 2011. It applies to everything from health care to employment opportunities, not simply the draft. And yet, she repeatedly equates the entirety of the feminist movement with the support of this amendment, claiming that if feminists disagree with the ERA, “then they aren’t really feminists; if they don’t, then they could care less what other women want.”

Unfortunately, this is a terribly narrow way of framing the issue. There are feminists who support the ERA but disagree with the way it applies to the draft, just as one votes for a political candidate despite never meeting eye-to-eye on every issue. There are also feminists who do disagree with the ERA on the basis of that clause. To narrow down an entire movement to one issue, and make the massive generalization that all the members of that movement think the same way and promote the same legislation, is mindbogglingly foolish.

This is a really good example, I think, of why I don’t think anyone should be “against” feminism. The movement itself is an idea- the idea that we currently live in a society in which women are the constitutive Other, and are commodified, stripped of individual power, held to unjust standards, and subject to absurd scrutiny in areas of appearance, lifestyle, sexuality, etc. It’s the interpretation and application of these ideas that vary widely between individuals. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy so eloquently puts it:

Feminists differ on what would count as justice or injustice for women (what counts as “equality,” “oppression,” “disadvantage”, what rights should everyone be accorded?), and what sorts of injustice women in fact suffer (what aspects of women’s current situation are harmful or unjust?). Disagreements may also lie in the explanations of the injustice: two feminists may agree that women are unjustly being denied proper rights and respect and yet substantively differ in their accounts of how or why the injustice occurs and what is required to end it (Jaggar 1994).

These types of disputes are common to any movement. You’d be hard pressed to find two vegetarians, or anarchists, or agnostics whose beliefs are completely symmetrical, and in each of those groups there are radicals who rock the boat. It doesn’t negate the validity of their message, nor the importance of their concerns. And while you may disagree with vegetarianism, anarchism, or agnosticism, you hopefully don’t do so because of the views or practices of an individual. In that spirit, no particular feminist is the authority on what feminism entails; as my boyfriend observed, the process of making society equal, positive, and safe for both genders is an ongoing conversation.

In all of her comments and blog posts, JudithAnn makes one thing very clear: she’s not a feminist. She “cares deeply” about women, believes “men who perpetrate violence against women must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” and doesn’t “believe women were put on this earth to serve men,” but she’s not a feminist. She vehemently disagrees with systems that impose government force or outside agendas on women, their bodies, and their choices, but she’s not a feminist. She just believes that women should be treated with respect and allowed to make their own deci… wait a second…

A year ago, I wouldn’t have called myself a feminist. But then I discovered a beautiful truth: more often than not, it’s not what you do that makes you a feminist, but why you do it. There is no contract to sign, no explicit terms to which to agree, no laundry list by which you must abide. There is no Feminist Constitution or Pope of Feminism (and it’s certainly not the ERA and Simone de Beauvoir). You don’t have to wear fishnets, or be pro-pornography, or believe chivalry is dead, or stop being a stay-at-home mom. And if anybody tells you any differently, they don’t understand feminism either.


7 thoughts on ““Don’t Denounce Feminism…” Follow-Up

  1. Hello again, Erin Marie 🙂 In your comment on Don’t Denounce, Part 1, you stated that equality does not necessarily mean sameness: I totally, totally, totally agree with you about that. I am sure that there are feminists who don’t want to draft women, but the fact that the ERA would draft women seems to suggest that most feminists support drafting women. This isn’t a minor issue, or a side issue for me: it is a deal breaker.

    Also, I am pro-life, and as someone who had a working mother, I tend to think that kids are better off when their mothers are home with them. Obviously, that isn’t always possible, but when and where it is possible, I think women should stay home with their kids. So I’m pretty sure that I am really not a feminist. That said, I recognize that the culture of the 1950’s was oppressive: to expect all women to be married by age 22, or to be married at all, is ridiculous.To expect all women to have children is ridiculous. I don’t have children; I don’t believe in trying to force everyone into the same mold, which is what the 1950’s did, and what some conservatives are still trying to do. I am going on for too long; thank you for bringing these issues up, you are helping me to clarify my ideas.

    • Hi again, JudithAnn! You weren’t going on for too long- I appreciate your honesty and willingness to converse openly about these things- it’s probably good for both of us!

      I understand that for you (and I’m sure many others), the drafting of women is a dealbreaker. Personally, I’m not yet exactly sure how to weigh that issue. I’m against all implementations of the draft, and want to keep women safe, but is it worth sacrificing the other portions of the amendment that guarantee the protection of women’s rights? My gut says no. This legislation has very real and widespread applications, preventing discrimination against women in myriad forms. The draft, on the other hand, is currently not in effect despite our being engaged in some of the longest wars in our nation’s history, which means the likelihood of that being a practical concern in our future is slim to none. Why disavow an amendment because of one hypothetical ethical issue, when a hundred real ethical issues are at stake?

      As for the role of women in the home, do you believe that the responsibility of raising children falls specifically to mothers because of some inherent quality present in all women (and if so, what quality?), or do you think this may just be incidental to a society in which men were, until recently, almost always the breadwinners? Do you think that perhaps kids are better off when a parent in general is home with them, or that men inherently lack something necessary for effective child-raising? Why is this question of who stays home with the kids not specific to each individual marriage and family?

      Thanks again for your thoughts- I’ll get to your other comment soon!

      • My beliefs about stay home mothers are based on my own experiences and observations. From the time I was about a year old, my mother worked part time at night; my father worked during the day, and he stayed with us st night. I have always adored my father, but even so, I found it difficult to be separated from my mother. I loved being around my Dad, but when he was at work, I was ok with it. When my Mom was at work, I was not ok with it. I do think that children are viscerally attached to their mothers in a way that they aren’t attached to their fathers, and the idea of quality time is wishful thinking. Even when my mother was there-and she was there most of the time-I lived in dread of the moment when she would be gone again. It didn’t just affect me for the 15 hours a week she was gone: it affected every minute of my life, and it put my whole childhood on a weird kind of edge. There are people who had working mothers who have a different perspective, but it is unfortunate that so far, no one seems to have any interest in how the children of working mothers feel about the working mother thing. I am hesitant to talk about it, because some people will think that I am whining, but so many of the working mothers I know had stay home mothers themselves, and they have no idea what they are doing.

  2. Also, sorry to go on like this, but I fundamentally disagree with the assertion that women in western societies are treated as “The Other”. As far as I can tell, most people, including most men, care deeply about women and want women to be treated well. Could you give of an example in which the majority of people are trying to oppress women? Because I don’t see it.

  3. She can’t give you a truthful answer if thats what you are after. The whole feminist ideolegy of female victimhood is built on lies. The moment feminism looses their strangle hold on this perspective theh they loose power in society. As long as the charade of women oppressed men oppressor is maintained then they can demand stupid laws, bucket loads of money and maintain power!

    • While I give answers as best as I can, this blog is simply for a class I’m taking, so I don’t devote hours and hours of time to it, and it’s not dedicated to one particular issue. I won’t attack the glaringly tenuous grasp of spelling, grammar, and syntax going on in your comments, but I will say that I’m not some crazy man-hater trying to swindle people out of money and manipulate others- and I’m pretty sure that most women who identify as feminists aren’t either. Which “stupid laws” do you feel to be so oppressive? What lies am I spreading?

      • I don’t care what bullshit definition of feminism you have. I didn’t even accuse you of being a man hater.
        I could address my response so:
        I won’t attack you for your glaringly obvious “holier than thou” attitude because your spelling is so perfect but I will say this – Go investigate the stupid domestic violence laws in UK and Australia. I am uncertain of the laws in the US but if they aren’t similar then they won’t be far behind. Go look raw data on Domestic Violence that haven’t been interpretated and misrepresented by feminists.
        Then come back with your oh so great spelling and get on your righteous high horse.
        Being able to string a sentence together elequantly makes you neither intelligent or correct on any subject.

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