Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On the Name and Nature of "Feminism"

Something rubs me the wrong way about "feminism". The quotes, by the way, denote the word and its definition, not necessarily the movements attached, because so many movements attach the word "feminism" to them that I cannot possibly make a statement about "all feminists" or "feminism on the whole," only about the word and the philosophical meaning behind it.

Isn't one of the problems with kyriarchy the assumption that men are "the norm" and women deviations? Isn't that the problem with most medical studies, which test medications on males (be they human, rodent or otherwise) and then extend the findings to women, treating the problems that invariably arise as "special cases"?

Then isn't it likewise a problem to fight for women to "have equal political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic rights to men"? Doesn't that assume that how men are treated is "the norm" and how women are treated is a deviation? I skim Feministing, Womanist Musings and likewise every now and again, and I see a lot of "women are treated in this way, which is a deviation." For example: Women scientists are treated differently from men scientists, being told that they ought to devote their time to raising a family. Thus, the treatment of women scientists is a deviation, and they should be treated like how men scientists are treated- ie, encouraged to throw their chances for a family life away in order to pursue their career goals. These are two extremes. One encourages a person to pursue their career at any cost, the other encourages a person to pursue family life at any cost. Which one is a deviation from the norm? What is the "norm"? Why is it how men are treated, and not how women are?

Wiktionary has a much better definition of "feminism": "A social theory or political movement supporting the equality of both sexes in all aspects of public and private life; specifically, a theory or movement that argues that legal and social restrictions on females must be removed in order to bring about such equality." Still, though, this assumes female life as a deviation from male life. Men have both restrictions and liberties bestowed upon them by kyriarchy, just as women do. (For example: Men cannot show emotions but are excused for violent behavior, while women are trusted less with authority positions but are excused for flippant or irrational behavior.) Shouldn't a movement supporting the equality of all sexes in all aspects of public and private life seek to remove the legal and social restrictions and liberties forced upon both genders? Who's to say that one is a deviation from the norm and the other isn't?

Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just me? And: does it matter?

1 comment:

  1. I think it's probably a fair attitude in most cases, in that more often than not, the treatment of men has been better than the treatment of women, and if one group has been oppressed, we would rather see the oppression stop than be expanded to cover everyone -- we would rather the 'better' situation be the 'norm' than the 'worse.' But you're right in that the lopsidedness in the discrepancy isn't universal, and the idea of 'feminism' tends to gloss over that important line of thought.