Feminism in Three Parts: Part 3–The Labeling

*Disclaimer: These are my personal views not a philosophical argument or theory. This is where it gets interesting.*

As I established in Part 2, I’m mostly a nihilist (insofar as one can be a nihilist), so calling myself a “feminist” doesn’t actually mean that much to me.

Feminism–it’s a word.

But I do understand the weight of that word.

I understand that while the word doesn’t really matter in practice, it does matters to people symbolically. It helps point out a group of people with a shared goal. Depending on your point of view, it either picks out the people you find to be subversive or the people who might be the ones you should turn to if you need help or support.

But I also understand that people hide behind labeling words like “feminist” while others use the label to discriminate, criticize, and berate. Because using a label means you don’t have to think about what the word means. How many people call themselves “Republican” or “Democrat” or “Libertarian” without really grasping what identifying as such commits them to believing and supporting?

Credit: MTV

Credit: MTV

Labels and demographics are two things that rule our episteme[1]–the way we think about things and our practices and discourses. We take completely ridiculous personality quizzes to determine what stereotype we were in high school. (As if we didn’t go to high school, live through it, and selectively block it out of our memory.)

We deny the complexity of motivations that drive us, instead narrowing them down to our gender or our sex–which often get conflated. Labels are a mental shortcut, a technique we use to establish group identity (and all the biases that go along with it).

But a lot of times what could be fruitful discussions turn into name-calling and finger-pointing because of these labels, these words, and these demographics.

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Feminism in Three Parts: Part 2–The Idealism

*Disclaimer: These are my personal views not a philosophical argument or theory. This part is mostly snark.*

Let’s just get this out the way right now. Am I a feminist? You’re damn fucking right I’m a feminist.

Source: mtv.com

Probably the only thing Beyonce and I have in common. Source: mtv.com

I absolutely without a doubt in my mind believe that within our particular social-historical-political-economic context that persons should not be denied social, legal, political, and economic rights because they happen to have two x chromosomes (or an extra y, or an extra x and a y, etc.) instead of an x and a y (and all the other factors that determine biological sex).

But why?

Sure there are biological differences between male-bodied people and female-bodied people and intersex-bodied people. But this is a spectrum, and none of these differences give one a “natural” advantage over another even in, say, a survival situation. We somehow have been convinced that the narrative “brute strength = better survival = designed to protect = better leader = superior person” (and that pregnancy is somehow a weakness), when survival actually depends entirely on what you are up against.

The advantages men have socially speaking are also just narratives that have been arbitrarily determined. We could live in a world where we value the stereotypical feminine traits more than we value the stereotypical masculine ones. We could revere kind, generous people instead of aggressive, greedy people.[1] But, well, we don’t. And my point in Part 1 is that we can’t flip a switch and make it so.

So why be a feminist?

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Feminism in Three Parts: Part 1–The Problem

*Disclaimer: These are my personal views not a philosophical argument or theory. Some things can’t be grounded.*

I’ve been meaning to write something about feminism ever since the (strange to me) controversy started happening in the media about women calling themselves “feminist” or not. (Then the second wave controversy of men calling themselves feminists followed by accusations of them trying to take ownership over feminism like they do everything else.)

The Dylan O'Brien Heartthrob Factor. Source: hitfix.com

The Dylan O’Brien Heartthrob Factor. Source: hitfix.com

But then I read the following in a recap of The Maze Runner’s impressive box office figures that made me sit down and write this.

The Maze Runner, which drew a 51% female audience despite an almost all-male cast…” The fact that this was considered unusual enough to print made me pause. It’s an innocent statement on the surface, but it is also an ignorant one. It simultaneously separates women’s interests from men’s on strict binary lines (I love post-apocalyptic dystopian stories. They provide a hideous metaphor of my life.), makes a normative claim about what should entertain women (If women are supposed to be interested in only stories that have female characters, that would give women approximately zero options.), and in a backhanded way denies girls and women an innocuous expression of their sexuality (given the Dylan O’Brien heartthrob factor).

I’m female-bodied, and I largely cannot identify with the things marketed toward women, because products, films, books, etc., marketed toward women generally fall into three categories: domesticity, romance, and bodily appearance. In order to achieve this in the entertainment industry, they sometimes bank on attractive (another socially-determined category) young men (the same way attractive young women are cast in token roles in films “for men”). I have probably spent $100 over the course of my life to see Zac Efron take his shirt off on screen, and I’m not going to bother pretending otherwise.[1]

This is just smart marketing by the capitalist machine. The problem, of course, is that socially we chastise young women for having the very sexuality we exploit to make money off them. Until, of course, we want them to sleep with us–and only us. Of course.

And this is the problem. There are institutions operating around us and over us and through us and in the very way we see the world, and we don’t realize how much we internalize practices that we might not actually believe in or accept if we had any control over our social construction.[2]

But there’s the rub.

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