Yes, I’m getting sucked back in to the perpetual feminism debate.
Gods help us all.
Actually, my own repeated exasperation itself is starting to grate on my nerves. I should clarify that it’s my own inarticulacy and confusion that most frustrates me about this. I don’t want my attitude of irritation to be read as “rah why can’t you idiots all just agree with me”.
(A part of me thinks that would be nice. Not an especially sophisticated part.)
But a few other people have been keeping the ongoing feminism discussion topical, and I want to weigh in again at least briefly.
Holly is a feminist, and defends the label against some of its criticism. A few months ago, she had specifically (if somewhat satirically) renounced feminism, due to the baggage associated with the term – people assuming things about her which weren’t true, based on what the label means to other people.
Elly is not a feminist. She has objections, which she lists and explains clearly, which she claims encompass “ALL and EVERY FEMINIST THEORY” (emphasis hers). I still maintain that she makes unfair assumptions about how everyone uses the word – there’s nothing to stop an activist group getting together for whom “feminist theory” means “cake” – but the concerns she’s raising are important ones, and are far from being alien to the history of feminism.
Mel is also not a feminist. She’s not as wholly opposed to the movement as Elly. Sometimes people do things of which Elly and Mel would both approve, and sometimes those people call themselves feminists and claim to do what they do in the name of feminism. But if she identifies as a feminist, then other feminists’ baggage kinda becomes her problem, and Mel doesn’t want to have to deal with that. If what she’s doing is “feminism”, then when other people do things she doesn’t agree with which are also called “feminism”, it sort of becomes part of her duty to try and fix feminism. And she’s got her own shit to fix.
Nadine Dorries is… well, I don’t know. Perhaps she calls herself a feminist. I’ve also been told that she’s certainly not a feminist, and I know other feminists have been criticising her. Some of her recent rhetoric on the subject of sex education, as Heresy Corner points out, is markedly in keeping with a good deal of feminist tradition.
Eliezer Yudkowsky is a smart guy. I don’t know if he calls himself a feminist or not. I’d guess that he doesn’t, but you might do if he described some of his relevant opinions.
In his list of “37 Ways That Words Can Be Wrong”, he brings up one case in particular that’s useful here, of when arguments get derailed by words being wrong (or being used unwisely, or whatever). The example he cites was addressing the ancient question of: “If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
22. You get into arguments that you could avoid if you just didn’t use the word. If Albert and Barry aren’t allowed to use the word “sound”, then Albert will have to say “A tree falling in a deserted forest generates acoustic vibrations”, and Barry will say “A tree falling in a deserted forest generates no auditory experiences”. When a word poses a problem, the simplest solution is to eliminate the word and its synonyms.
This made me wonder how differently some of my previous cogitations and discussions (particularly with Elly) might have gone, if we’d been playing Taboo and had an embargo on the words “feminism” and “feminist” the whole time. I’m not saying that all our differences are superficial, but I think we’d have found less to disagree about.
Not all of those criticising Dorries seek to demonise men, or to victimise women, or to ignore other divisions between people, or to reinforce a binary view of gender. Some of this might be implicit in what they do and say, even if it’s not what they’d explicitly proclaim, but that’s a complex thing to unravel which varies from person to person, and isn’t going to be solved by slapping a label on them saying “FEMINIST” or “NOT A FEMINIST”.
In my post yesterday on Dorries’s sex education proposal, I didn’t use the words “feminist” or “feminism” anywhere. It wasn’t deliberate, but I was trying to focus on the impacts of actual behaviours, and that particular label just didn’t come up. Maybe this is what I should be doing all the time anyway, and then the question of feminism will just be blissfully irrelevant.
I predict that this will in no way end my ongoing headache.