Feminism! A movement by women, for women. Or is it something about… Equality…? For… People?
Depends on who you ask. According to a recent article at Bustle, it’s all pretty hard to pin down.
Suzannah Weiss writes, “A large part of feminism is obtaining equal treatment for women, so understandably, a lot of feminist efforts and rhetoric focus on women.”
Crazy, right! And, apparently, a really big problem. It seems the biggest problem with feminism today, according to third wave feminists, is women! Damn, ladies — haven’t we learned how to stay out of all this yet?
Weiss goes on to explain that the way women talk about women’s subordination under patriarchy (also known as the reason feminism exists) can “unintentionally erase trans and non-binary people.” It’s a funny way of framing things… Similar to saying, for example, that Black Lives Matter “unintentionally erases” white people. Or that the labour movement’s focus on the working class “unintentionally erases” the upper class. Does the animal rights movement “unintentionally erase” non-animals? Do Indigenous rights activists “unintentionally erase” other groups marginalized by white supremacy and colonialism?
See what I’m getting at? It’s ok for political movements to have particular aims. We do not need to talk about everything all at once. Indeed, all movements, in that sense, are “exclusionary.” But for some reason, it is only the women’s movement that is expected to accommodate everyone, and to ensure no one feels bad or left out. Odd!
In fact, this is not odd at all. It is sexist. As long as patriarchy has existed, women have been expected to put everyone else‘s needs before their own. They are meant to think about the feelings of others first — to speak up about their own needs and desires is framed as selfish.
None of this is to say that the feelings and rights of people who identify as trans or “non-binary” don’t matter, it is only to say that the purpose of the women’s movement is to liberate the class of women, who are oppressed, as females, under patriarchy. (In other words, if you are female and you also identify as trans or “non-binary,” yes, this is still about you.) This should not be a controversial statement for anyone who claims interest in the feminist project, but nonetheless countless do-gooders have taken it upon themselves to condescendingly explain to women that they need to sit down and shut up about their own material reality, within their own movement.
Your identity is your own choice, but that doesn’t change the fact that patriarchy exists as a means to legitimize male power over females (i.e. the class of people capable of giving birth). The notion that we should degender conversations about feminism suggests we pretend not to know who is oppressing whom, and why — a mindfuck if there ever was one. (Is it just folks vs. folks? Who are the folks? Why are some folks raping other folks?! It’s a mystery…)
One of the phrases Weiss takes issue with is the point often made in order to remind the world that indeed women exist, are human, and matter, that is, “Women are half the world’s population.” While she argues that this “neglect[s] the rights of so many people,” I struggle to see how. It is simply a statement of fact. Stating that the Blue Whale currently exists but is on the endangered species list does not erase the fact that other animals exist or even that other animals are endangered. In any case, whether or not a person identifies as “pangender” or “agender” does not erase their biology. One’s chosen identification, for example, cannot erase a penis or a uterus, nor can it erase the socialization and consequent inequality that comes from being born a boy or a girl, in this world.
Weiss says this “statistic is based on the fact that approximately half of people are assigned female at birth,” failing to understand that the vast majority of people are not “assigned” a sex at birth (with the exception of intersex people, who have historically had sex imposed on them against their will, though the intersex rights movement has made progress on this recently), but, rather, are simply born either male or female, a thing that is acknowledged and recorded at birth.
While Weiss complains earlier in the piece that those who name women’s liberation as the purpose of the feminist movement “conflate gender with biology,” it is, rather, the gender identity movement that does this by refusing to acknowledge that biological sex is a real, material thing, separate from gender roles (i.e. the things that are imposed on humans through socialization, based on sex).
“Everyone comes out of a woman” is yet another phrase we are informed must be barred from feminist speech…. As if a dick has ever birthed a baby. (Yikes, bros, amirite?!)
Efforts to deny that females are the only humans capable of giving birth not only feels like serious crazy-making (I mean, surely we all know how babies are made?) but, again, erases the struggles and dangers women face in patriarchal society. Pregnancy is a serious thing. It has very real implications on women everywhere. In many countries throughout the world, women are still criminalized for miscarrying or for trying to get abortions. Patriarchy exists in order to control reproduction — a thing that continues today even in glorious, “free,” America. It is reprehensible to deny this as a gendered phenomenon.
Weiss and I almost agree on one thing: the claim that “feminism is just the belief that women are equal to men.” Indeed, the purpose of feminism is not to say that women are just like men. We are not. There are differences between male and female bodies that impact our daily lives. Weiss quickly loses the plot, though, when she concludes, “Feminism is the belief that all genders are equal — and all races, sexualities, and more.” The purpose of feminism is to get rid of sexist gender roles, male supremacy, and male violence against women. While, yes, feminists are (or, at least, I would hope) opposed to oppression as a whole, we do have a specific mission in this movement.
In any case, “genders” cannot be “equal,” under patriarchy, because gender is the source of sexism. In order to end sexism, we must also end gender — that is, the idea that women and men are born with dominant or subordinate personalities (or, say, a desire to wear high heels, pants, or makeup) due to sex.
And now we come to the ever-controversial period. Weiss argues that to acknowledge women menstruate and men do not “erases trans people.” Really?? Is it possible to erase people by acknowledging why I get cramps once a month and my boyfriend doesn’t?? Yeesh. Who knew shedding uterine lining had so much power over other people!
Naturally, Weiss is most angered by those who say, “A woman’s body is amazing.” I mean, talk about cruel! Women’s bodies are disgusting, bad, and wrong! Something to hate and be ashamed of — not to celebrate. Have we not learned as much from advertisements, incest, rape, pornography, and beauty magazines??
If third wave feminism isn’t a straight up misogynist backlash, I don’t know what is. To quote America’s future misogynist in chief, “Sad!”
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Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her very beautiful dog.