Politics & Media
Mar 23, 2017, 05:55AM

The Complexities of Modern Feminism

Despite its flaws, we still need feminism.

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Earlier this week, Chris Beck wrote an article for Splice Today praising “equity feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers as the antidote to modern “agenda-driven” feminism. He says that today’s “gender feminists” are obsessed with patriarchy, and they viciously attack anyone who disagrees with them. Sommers’ brand of feminism, on the other hand, is a better option because, according to Beck, it acknowledges “women don’t all share a common vision and should be free to express themselves as they wish.” While both Sommers and Beck bring up valid points, the truth is feminism is a lot more complicated than both describe it. In fact, as a feminist myself, I believe the “gender feminists” vs. “equity feminists” dichotomy is a false one because neither side tells the whole story.

For example, a few weeks ago on International Women’s Day, conservative website Prager University released a video where Sommers explains why the “women make 77 cents to the dollar men make” is wrong. She explains that the average earnings women make don’t always add up to 77 cents, and that this earnings gap is caused by job choices, not bosses deliberately paying women less money. While this is true, Sommers overlooks an important factor: societal hurtles. In 2013, Hanna Rosin briefly mentioned a “deeper, more systemic discrimination of inadequate family-leave policies and childcare options, of women defaulting to being the caretakers” that plays a part in the gap, and more recently Stephanie Zvan went into deeper details about social pressures women face in the workplace, including being told they shouldn’t pursue their dream jobs, not finding mentors, not receiving credit for their ideas, and not receiving enough money for research in STEM fields. In sum, it’s a complex issue that both sides get wrong.

Another common criticism I hear is that third-wave feminism is all about misandry, trigger warnings, and safe spaces. Contrary to popular belief, third-wave feminism is not a list of stagnant beliefs, but more like “several diverse strains of feminist activity and study” and “an ‘individual movement’ in the sense that its purpose includes redefining what it is to be a feminist.” Kelsey Lueptow of Everyday Feminism summarizes third-wave feminism in five points: spreading knowledge, deconstructing language (i.e. how language perpetuates tired old sexist stereotypes), listening to marginalized voices, taking an intersectional approach (e.g. being a black woman in America is a very different experience than being a white woman), and creating equal opportunities. These five points are the guiding principles to my feminism and secular humanism. As the Humanist Manifesto III says, humanists “are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.” And to me, that involves listening to marginalized people’s stories, affirming them, and working towards their liberation using facts, reason, and compassion.

Modern feminism has its problems. As I mentioned in a previous article, there are some on the Left who try to silence ex-Muslims like Maryam Namazie and Sarah Haider in order not to be “Islamophobic” (a problematic term because it equates criticizing Islamic doctrine with discriminating against Muslims). While I support Muslim women choosing to wear the hijab, I’m also against forcing them to do so, and we need to remind people this is still going on. (Yes, Christianity is also misogynistic, but I don’t see a lot of ex-Christians being silenced.) Also, there’s a lot of controversy over “call out culture,” where there’s a thin line between telling someone they’re wrong and bullying someone for being wrong. If feminism wants to progress, it needs to address these issues.

Despite its flaws, we still need feminism, especially in the Trump era. We need to debunk sexist ideas that paint woman as inferior to men, and give women full agency over their lives. If anyone has more questions about feminism, I’d be happy to address them. Just don’t strawman me and say, “So you’re fine with killing men?”

  • You make some points, but in the end you don't address the issue at hand: why only 25% of women identify as feminists. You say "we" need feminism, but 75% of women don't want the association, which has become a stigma. What a disaster feminist leaders have produced with those numbers. So I can't see this as a response to what I wrote.You mention Everyday Feminism, which to people on the outside reads almost as pure parody. There's a huge disconnect between the handful of people who take that publication seriously and those to whom it offers little more than laughs. That gap is widened even more when Linda Sarsour is allowed to come in an co-opt feminism to serve her own religious agenda. If she's considered a feminist then women are even less inclined towards the movement. What you're left with is a bunch of hardcore intersectionalist activists who most people can't relate to in any way. It's a movement aimed at serving itself at this point. The issues identified as pressing aren't seen as such by the vast majority.

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  • Well then, Chris, let me ask you this: What's the alternative? With the future of Planned Parenthood up in the air, cops killing unarmed black people, politicians decided where trans people should take a piss...what can we do since addressing these issues means we're just "playing identity politics?"

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  • I was only addressing the feminist movement.

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  • Sorry I strawmanned you. Given the stuff I write about, I frequently get frustrated when I try to explain complex social issues with 50 shades of nuance, only to have Angry White Boys (not necessarily you, of course) respond with, "Fag!"

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  • Not that I'm saying you called me that. You didn't. But others do, so I get a knee-jerk reaction sometimes.

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  • Maybe feminist leaders are content that only 25% of women call themselves feminists. It's hard to admit your approach has been flawed. Much easier to maintain the status quo and retain your personal power.

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