Monday, 9 December 2013

The Story of How I Embraced Feminism - and Why I Want to Reject it

When I was in my mid-teens I met a friend of mine called Jimmie. I believe that was the first encounter of feminism that I clearly remember. He was wearing one of those semi-political t-shirts saying something like 'Women's rights are Human Rights'. For some reason, that was highly provocative to me, and we probably we spent some hours arguing it. I likely said quite silly and stupid things, I fear, but that's beside the point.

Why I disliked feminism, or any notion of it so badly, I don't know. That simply was. A few months later I fell in love with a feminist - one of the kind that refuses to accept her gender role as given. I never saw her wearing dresses, she didn't shave her legs nor any other part of her body and she kept talking about 'the patriarchy'. Surprising turn of events, I daresay, and it led me to take a radically different view on feminism. I begun reading popular modern Swedish feminists such as Sandra Dahlén or Maria Sveland, I gave up my loathing of the word and for the first time I saw gender roles as something created. Something artificial. Suddenly I found social oppression in how my female friends struck silent as soon as a male started speaking. I was surprised and disgusted by how my male friends sometimes talked about girls - and they were probably quite sick of listening to teenage Joakim ranting about sexualisation of females or norms deciding our lives.

They were not the only ones. At the time my twin cousins were about 5 years old and I occasionally created chaos at family dinners when accusing and questioning my aunt for how she raised them (pink, overflow of the word 'cute' and strict rules on everything, mostly the 'sit down and be quite' kind of thing). I discovered Tiina Rosenberg, the academic that brought Queer Theory to Sweden, and was starstruck by every word. I read Judith Butler, and decided to take things further. I recognized the patriarchy in myself, and pondered on the best ways to abstain from it and question it for the rest of the world. My choice fell on nailpolish. Needless to say, my first attempts were heart-breakingly awful. My sister lend me the nailpolish and was cool about it. My mother thought I was crazy and my dad laughed at me - all of which just made me even angrier.

I made a lot of people uneasy about it, probably had about a million conversations of "Why do you paint your NAILS? THAT'S AWFUL AND DISGUSTING!" I struggled with the clothing, and occasionally wore dresses (always sparkling!).

People around me eventually got used to it. Or they didn't want to pick a fight - I don't know, maybe both.

My reading got extended: Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Valerie Solanas and I lovet it all - insofar that you can love the societies they depict. So, the other week, when some leftists accused me of not knowing anything about feminism, suggesting I should read up on 'patriarchy' and 'intersectionality', I wasn't sure whether to laugh, scream, cry or simply ignore it.

I'm quite sure that my knowledge of feminism would be regarded as fairly adequate for most people within the movement. Again beside the point.

I questioned sexuality, where did it come from? Was I only a pawn in a patriarchal game? I questioned my gender identity; I refrained from using male pronouns for myself, as little as possible did I ever use them for others. I adopted a queer theory-based "I am not a Gender" idea. Well, the list can go on, I suppose. You get the picture. Hardcore, semi-aggressive queerfeminist.

What Happened?
On to the big question. Why did I depart from this glorious, wonderful and strikingly aggressive path?

Well, a few things. At first I got tired of it. Always the same conversations, always on routine, never any progress to speak of. The aim was always in some far-off future where patriarchy would be destroyed and everything beautiful. After a while I realized that I didn't know of any good political tools for "improving the world, fem style". Where I come from, the most prominent political debates in the field have to do with how parents split their maternity/paternity leave or what to do about certain sexual violence. Clearly not the main issues. Frankly, nobody carried a very thought-out, good-working solution to the political arena. That's odd, I though, and asked every prominent feminist I knew. The best answer I got was 'abolishing legal gender definitions'. Hm, quite unsatisfactory. A few months ago I got a reply from Maria Sveland on this particular topic and - disappointingly, I might add - we got no further than "We need to work on this in thousand different ways; among workplaces, schools, friends - everywhere." I thought she knew something I didn't.

Ok, hard to see progress and not a very inspiring fight. I get that, it exhausts people. But I still carried the ideas and values, didn't I?

I did. For a while. I'll briefly cover 3 topics that bothered me, and eventually made me drop the notions of feminism - if not completely, then at least partially.

Feminists always speak in terms of equality and justice. Equal wages, equal rights, equal everything. Maybe I should mention, at the same time as my feminist ideas gradually declined, my political persuasion turned towards libertarianism. Thus the importance of state interventions for a good society was less appealing, and my inclinations of accepting collectivised analysis lessened dramatically.

Naturally, as a libertarian, I questioned the concept of equality. What is it, what does it actually refer to? I can off the top of my head account for at least 4 different methods of splitting a cake among a number of friends - all of which could arguably be just and equal, though their outcomes would differ extraordinarily. Equality of outcome? Equality of opportunity? Proportionally to some indicator?

Once you start asking deeper, equality turns ambiguous and fluffy. What does it really mean? If our brains and DNA are unequal, our aims and desires different, our talents and knowledge vastly distinct, our effort for any given action rather diverse, how could we argue on basis on equality? We're all different. Not necessarily along gender lines or sex, but along every line. Especially regarding wages in a market place, where we exchange different services for money. The argument "Equal Pay for Equal Work" tumbles if I regard every person as unique and hence the services they provide for an employer different. "Women Wage Gap"? Allegedly, women  as a group earn less than men as a group for the same job. But when you start accounting for everything (education, working tasks, working hours, experience etc) the gap rapidly diminishes. And even if there were a wage gap specifically due to sex, that's for individual employers to decide upon. Maybe your employer values your work higher than someone else's strictly due to your sex, even though you essentially are doing the same thing. So?

I failed to see the initial problem, and once I realized the marxian approach to it, the feminist argument lost appeal and, frankly, coherence.

Media & Sexualisation
A bunch of my feminist friends has the habit of accusing the media for the gender roles we carry. For sexualisation of women, for exploiting women's bodies, for this and that. I see what you mean, since I also used to make just that analysis.

But I want you to hang on a minute. The media didn't create these things. They've been around way longer than TV, pornography, magazines, hip hop texts or any other 'abominable', 'anti-feministic' channel of information. The female body was depicted throughout the history of art way before anyone thought they'd dress up all-skinny girls in sexy underwear and show posters of them to people. So, media didn't create it, merely continuing something we've been doing all along (and still do) in interpersonal relations.

Does that make it any more justifiable? Perhaps not, and perhaps the alleged roles are stopping us from achieving our ends. But again wait up. We choose these things. If the origin is relations between people, then so are the solutions. Even in sociological theory, gender roles are dynamic and differ greatly over time, geography and age. These 'patterns' of acting that we use are down to each and every one of us - and they're quite different, thus undermining the 'pattern' part of it. We're not stuck beneath some grand patriarchy in this sense; we act in ways appealing to us. If you sincerely believe they're bad - go on, stop doing them. It doesn't mean anything else than just that.

Again the marxist, sociological approach of creating oppressive 'structures' and 'patterns' failed to me. It simply is not a very accurate way of describing how people act.

Most interesting point, and perhaps most academic. How do feminists know the things they claim? That is, how does feminism obtain its knowledge? To be brief, by applying theories about submission and oppression derived from some individuals' perception (or political conviction?), and alleviate them to ubiquitous truths. To use the example I had initially about men interrupting women, we can't assert that it is gender-based oppression going on. Why not? We have way more things going on: politeness, individual traits, experience, aims, ends and self-esteem are just some examples. Can we actually draw the conclusion that because a man interrupts a woman, the woman is oppressed by the man? Hardly.

More interesting. Anyone arguing that blacks (or immigrants etc) are more prone to commit crimes because of features in their culture or biology would instantly be labelled racist, their conclusions refuted. But feminists, using the same line of reasoning, that men are more prominent to rape/sexual violence is an effect of their biology/patriarchy or cultural expectations, can base state intervention or laws for the protection of women on such reasoning. Funny how that works, ye?


So, Joakim, what do you believe ?

"I think feminism is the most important thing. It recognises that all people should be equally valued." - Sarah McDonald

One line into her 'Manifesto for Isabella Alder Feminist Society', Sarah McDonald nails, perhaps involuntarily, the core to why I am reluctant to call myself a feminist; I don't agree on the equality part, for reasons I will let Wendy McElroy describe by her attack of EU article on women's rights:

"I want to address specifically the right to discriminate on the basis of sex -- the right to discriminate against women. Article 23--entitled "Equality between men and women"--reads, in part, "Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay." In other words, men -- as employers, teachers, and landlords, as human beings - are not allowed to exercise the right to not associate with me because of my sex. 
I am what is called (in North America) an "individualist feminist". One of the basic principles of individualist feminism is that women should be treated as equals with men under laws that protect their persons and property. Women should be neither oppressed nor privileged by the law. This means that it is my right, as a women, to peacefully refuse association with every man in this room. I should be legally entitled to turn down a job, to refuse to rent an apartment, or to contract with you in any manner. 
Equally, you should be legally entitled to refuse to hire me, or to lease an apartment to me or to contract with me on any matter for any reason. My gender. My ethnic background. My personal hygiene. Freedom of association - the freedom not to associate - means that you have a right to peacefully discriminate against me. I hope you don't, I hope instead that you judge me on my personal merits as a human being. But - if you choose not to - it is your right to walk away from me. And I defend that right."

Most interesting, the last part about personal merits, also comes down to a discrimination; we sort out people whose merits, actions or characteristics are less appealing to us, thus discriminating against them. Further, to a large extend, all of what she says above is included in "equality before the law". But, if we push that argument as well, we would find that not even that holds up satisfyingly. We have legal standards and frameworks producing 'discriminatory' outcomes according to certain indicators (ok, sure we have politically-biased laws and courts, but even if that were not the case, the statement would be correct). For instance, a person charged with abuse for the third, fourth, hundredth time is punished more severely - for reasons I don't need to stress. Moreover, young children and sometimes teenagers might legally be treated by different standards than organised crime leaders. The difference here to an employer refusing to pay the same amount of wages for all its employees, a property owner refusing to let the apartment to women or me restricting a family dinner to members of my family, is down to indicators; according to what features is discrimination allowable? Permissible? Acceptable? And because any such a line will be arbitrary, subjective, a state law of anti-discrimination is inconceivable. It will be arbitrarily drawn and thus necessarily oppressive and misguided.

To make a more good-natured assessment of what's referred to in the quote, this would be useful in regards to property and person only, in 'equality before the law'; a violation of my property right is as horrific as a violation of your property rights, regardless of xyz. Here, I believe most feminists actually agree with me. Sexual abuse, for instance, can differ in bruteness and experience, but the essential violation is the same, regardless of who the victim or oppressor is (man, female, rich, poor etc). So far so good. When they advance their positions, however, calling for state regulations/laws to correct perceived injustice in other parts of society, they lose me completely. A social establishment, created and upheld by each and everyone of us, allegedly limiting and "oppressing" us, cannot be corrected by introducing an additional oppression; state-violence in the form of anti-discrimination or other 'female-improving' measures.

On the definitions given above by Wendy McElroy, I'd happily embrace the concept of feminism once again. With equal enthusiasm, however, I'll oppose any and every such measure that falls outside of it; anti-discrimination laws, laws governing wage levels, censoring media, prohibiting pornography, compulsory/state-infused maternity leave (or paternity leave for that matter), tax reallocations, restricting choice, limiting men, victimizing or other collectivised marxist measures that rely on statist violence for their success.

If I take anything with me from my journeys into feminism, it would be that my sex or gender does not determine my life. I do. I'd like to remember that.


Jessica Flanigan at Bleeding Heart Libertarians does a very good job outlining some of the issues and outlines the incompatibility of feminism with libertarianism.

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