Feminist Forum

OK, inspired by Molly and Pandagon, I am opening a forum for my readers to ask me questions about feminism! :D I know, I know, they have a jillion more readers than me, but hey, why not?
I’m filching Molly’s guidelines, which I like:

1) Please ask questions in a spirit of honest inquiry, rather than one of hostility. I understand that there is a lot of hostility against feminism, but try to remember that when you’re talking to a person who is a member of a group, it’s best not to implicate the entire group in a negative way (e.g. “why are all feminists so damn ugly?”)
2) Please ask each question in a different response. It will keep things less cluttered.
3) I’d prefer to keep the number of questions to 3 or fewer per questioner. If this goes well, I’ll do it again sometime and you can ask further questions then.
4) All questions should be pertinent to the subject of women’s rights, LGBT rights, workplace equality, beauty culture, fat politics, feminism, reproductive rights, or other topics relevant to and discussed on this blog.
Here are the things I promise to do:
1) I will answer every question asked according to the above guidelines to the best of my knowledge and abilities, and without any sarcasm or hostility (I promise). There is no such thing as a stupid question today.
2) I will post other responses from other feminists to questions, provided they meet the same “civility of tone” requirements I request of questioners.
3) I will try to make sure you come away with an honest impression of feminism and feminists, and a knowledge that feminism isn’t all things to all people, nor is it necessarily for everyone.
4) If a blog or book exists that focuses on the issue you’re asking about, I will both give you a complete answer and steer you toward that blog or book for further reading.
One thing, however, I will not do:
I will not claim to represent the views, opinions, or ideas of feminism as a whole, personally. I will attempt to give different feminist opinions, but as complete as I may try to make my responses, I may miss some differences of opinion. Do not take my personal views as the complete representation of feminism — use them as a jumping-off point!

Edited to add:
I am closing comments on this entry as it’s only getting spam comments now, and it gets more spam comments than just about any other entry.

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25 Responses to Feminist Forum

  1. agengrgal says:

    What do you think the role of the “feminine arts” and “home arts” is in feminism? Or, a different wording of the same question … Can a feminist still enjoy and appreciate her/his abilities in the feminine/home arts while also being a professional in a different vocation/profession? Home/feminine arts include beading, make-up, knitting, cooking, laundry arts, …

  2. Ealasaid says:

    Thanks for the question, Agengrgal! :)
    I think that a big part of feminism is that what gender you are shouldn’t impact what you are “allowed” to do – so I think it’s just fine for gals to be into beading, makeup, whatever (note that I knit and wear makeup from time to time myself). I also think boys should be encouraged to do those things – makeup, cooking, laundry, etc.
    I believe that when feminists decry traditionally feminist arts they are coming from a place I understand (“we used to HAVE to do those things, so let’s not do them now, ever!”) but are not being productive. There’s a fine line between breaking down old stereotypes (“all girls like cooking”) and creating new ones (“no feminist likes cooking”). Crossing that line is not a good thing.
    So: I think feminists who knit kick ass. I think guys who knit kick ass. Because knitting kicks ass. :)

  3. Rich says:

    Can you discribe the spectrum of feminist therory and where you fall in that spectrum?

  4. Leroy Bassman says:

    Hello All.
    Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been wondering if active feminism really exists, per say, in modern day politics. I came to the conclusion that the need for feminist activism, in North America at least, is non-existent because feminism in itself is so accepted these days. Women now outnumber men in post-secondary institutions link , and women currently maintain a strong foothold in the government. link
    Perhaps one could argue that feminist bioethicists have some reason to rally (link), but could the feminist movement be a thing of the past?
    Edited to make URLs into smaller links, for ease of reading. –E

  5. Ealasaid says:

    Wow, Rich, that’s a huge question.
    I’m not entirely sure there’s a single spectrum of feminism. The groups I can think of off the top of my head overlap in different ways and I think I’d be hard pressed to find a single spectrum they all fit along. They are:
    Sex-positive Feminists – sometimes called pro-sex or pro-pornstitution or “not real feminists”, these folks feel that sex and sexuality are important and awesome. Quoth Wikipedia: Sex-positive feminism centers on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom. As such, sex-positive feminists oppose legal or social efforts to control sexual activities between consenting adults, whether these efforts are initiated by the government, other feminists, opponents of feminism, or any other institution. They embrace sexual minority groups, endorsing the value of coalition-building with members of groups targeted by sex-negativity. Sex-positive feminism is connected with the sex-positive movement.
    There’re also anti-pornography feminists. These folks believe that porn, prostitution, stripping, and other commercializations of sexuality are inherently degrading to women, and often refer to any form of these as “pornstitution.” Wikipedia has a huge article on the topic.
    Separatist Feminists believe that heterosexual relationships are inherently unequal and unfair to women, but I think this school has largely died out.
    There’s Difference Feminism, which holds that men and women are inherently different biologically, but are equals. This is in opposition to schools of feminism which hold that men and women are essentially the same.
    There’s Postmodern Feminism, which turns the deconstructive tools of postmodern academia on the ideas of gender and sex.
    There are also schools of feminism that surround particular racial/ethnic subcultures – Latina Feminism, Black Feminism, etc. I find that most bloggers are white, middle/upper-class feminists, and that bugs me.
    Wikipedia has a nice rundown of some subtypes.
    Personally, I’m sex-positive, quasi-libertarian in my feminist ideals. I believe that women and men are equals – sure, we have some plumbing differences but unless you’re making a baby, those should be ignored. I think jobs like firefighting should have minimum standards for height/weight/strength/speed/whatever and that anyone – male OR female – who meets ’em should be able to do the job.
    I think that modern society is really hard on both men AND women in different ways, and that we need to stop blaming each other in great big groups (“Men are such pigs!” “Women are all grasping bitches!”) and move forward together. Not all men are rapists, and I’ve gotten more shit about my appearance from women than I ever have from men.
    Not sure if that totally answers your question, Rich – feel free to ask for elaboration if necessary! :)

  6. keith says:

    Just wanted to say well done cous. I especially aggree with your comment on all of us moving together as a whole. I have always believed that men and women are equal except the obvious plumbing diffrences.
    On hight/weight/speed/strength requirements are always standards that usually seem to hurt females more then help. Take the female Physical Fitness Test in the Army, the expectations are so low for females that it basically says, we don’t think you can be up to our level anyway.
    On the other hand I applaud the Navy’s step toward equal rights in placement for Flight School. Everyone must meet the same requirments, male/female, purple or yellow in skin tone. It simply doesn’t matter any more who you are. These test scores are based on the human body’s reaction to highspeed combat, not politcal correctness.

  7. Alex Summers says:

    What does it mean to you to identify yourself as a “feminist”? In a society where many of the traditional and radical feminist ideas (e.g., women should have the right to vote, women should be able to pursue careers outside the home) are now taken for granted, what differentiates a “feminist” from a “non-feminist”?
    Looked at another way, I guess the question is, do you believe that there is a, if not valid then coherent, or at least widely-held, current world view in this society that is not “feminist”? And if not, then doesn’t the label “feminist” cease to have a real meaning, except in a historical context?

  8. Ealasaid says:

    Leroy and Alex appear to have the same basic question: is feminism necessary in modern American society?
    I would argue yes, for a multitude of reasons (see The Male Privilege Checklist for some). However, I will focus on one specific area to keep things simple.
    If you pick up a magazine like Cosmopilitan or Seventeen – or Teen Cosmo – you will see a very slanted version of what it means to be female. Those magazines tell women:

    – How to look pretty (ie, be thin, wear the right clothes, wear the right makeup)
    – How to please a man visually/sexually
    They rarely, if ever, tell women:

    – How to take care of your skin without makeup
    – How to find clothes that are comfy
    – How to take care of themselves
    – How to do anything generally the provenance of men (buy/fix a car, grill, solve computer issues, etc)
    There are very, very few womens magazines that don’t focus on some aspect of the same mainstream look good / be sexy slant. The ones that do exist (Bitch, Bust, Mode, etc) are either not widely read or actually out of business (Oh, Mode, how I miss you!). There are shopping magazines aimed at women, but they fit the “look good” slant – look good by buying the right things! How to look like you can afford more than you really can! Blech.
    Men’s magazines, meanwhile, cover everything from golf to cigars to health to … whatever, really. But mags aimed at women … not so much.
    That’s one small reason why feminism is still relevant, in my opinion.

  9. Ealasaid says:

    Keith – thanks! I agree 100%. When physical standards for women are drastically below those for men, it’s insulting! Plus, imho, it lets women in who can’t hack it, just because they’re women. Not good. From what you describe, the Navy is doing it right. Here’s hoping that they inspire the other armed service branches!

  10. Alex Summers says:

    I guess I wasn’t clear in my question. I’m not denying that there still exists in our society inappropriate gender-based bias against women. I’m really asking what it is that makes you label yourself a feminist.
    For example, I like to think that I hold many of the same ideas that you’ve expressed, and in fact think of them as being fairly self-evident. And yet I don’t feel the need to identify myself as a feminist, in much the same way that while I find the idea of slavery abhorent, I don’t feel the need to identify myself as an abolitionist. Both strike me as being just common-sensical.
    Perhaps you answered that question: You consider yourself a feminist because (amongst other things) you disagree with the prevalent idea that women should be judged primarily (or at least much, much more than men) by their looks?
    [I’m tempted to quibble regarding the factual underpinnings of your magazine argument, but I suspect that the reason that it doesn’t ring true to me is largely because I live in an atypical bubble (possibly no larger than my own head) where the notion of having any serious desire to look like the people in magazines or on TV is laughable.]

  11. Ealasaid says:

    Alex, sorry about that! Thanks for posting again to clarify.
    I do indeed label myself a feminist in part because (as you said) I disagree with the prevalent idea that women should be judged by how closely they adhere to a particular, narrow beauty standard. Mostly I call myself a feminist because I believe that men and women are equal, and that society is actively harmful to women in many ways. I also think it’s harmful to men in a lot of ways as well, and there’s a low-level argument going on in my head about whether that’s a feminist issue or not, and if it is, maybe “feminist” isn’t the right terminology.
    You are lucky to live in that little bubble. Consciously I have no desire to look like the people in magazines, but I know that they have a subconscious effect on me. For one thing, my personal self-esteem has risen a great deal since I forced myself to stop looking through mags like Cosmo, even briefly, even to laugh at them. It’s been hard, but it’s been worth it. :)
    Edited to Add: as an aside, there’s no reason to call yourself an abolitionist because slavery doesn’t exist on a vast scale here in the US anymore. Sexism, though, still does, so isn’t there reason to think of yourself as a feminist? Check out Yes, You Are by Sars for more on that topic. :)

  12. Alex Summers says:

    Thanks for the response. Interesting that you should say that you wonder whether “feminist” is the right terminology, since I almost went off on that tangent, myself.
    And I didn’t mean to place me and my bubble on a pedastal in any way. I can’t say for certain–and actively doubt–that I’ve exorcised every last bit of subconscious influence of the media and societal ideals. But I’ve found that, over the years, laughter has helped me to get rid of a whole lot of it.
    That having been said, I think my use of the word “prevalent” was inaccurate. I should have said “pervasive,” for while many, many people are subconsciously influenced by the female beauty ideals, are there significant numbers of people who go around declaring “All women ought to look like fashion models”?
    I hope not, anyway.

  13. Alex Summers says:

    Re: the edit:
    The parallel between feminism and abolitionism is what made me think that the terminology is wrong. I was going to say that, in the same way that racism still exists and its antithesis requires a different name than “abolitionism,” perhaps the current forms of sexism require an antithesis with a different name than “feminism.” Of course, the analogy is still imperfect, since the abolition of slavery was a more-or-less bright line event (at the very least, we can draw a line after the passage of the 13th Amendment), whereas the change from 19th Century anti-feminist attitudes to current sexism was more of a gradual, evolutionary process.
    I was going to say that, but then I decided that it would be stretching the analogy too far. :-)

  14. Alex Summers says:

    P.S. Your links (The Male Privilege Checklist; Yes, You Are) aren’t doing anything when I click on them.

  15. Rich says:

    I believe that women and men are equals – sure, we have some plumbing differences but unless you’re making a baby, those should be ignored.
    Where do these minor plumbing differences end? I know this might sound like a oblivious question, but for example, the Navy had to redesign eject chairs for the fighters because women, the same size and weight as men, were getting broken backs from ejecting.
    Another example is drug therapy for some conditions are different for men and women.
    What I am really asking is how do we see these differences without being sexist?

  16. keith says:

    The government of the UK recommends different drinking limits for men and women, surely this is sexist

  17. Ealasaid says:

    Rich – I know there are more biological differences than plumbing; where they end is a matter for biologists to determine. As to your real question: the way to see difference without being sexist is to stick to observable facts. For example: saying “there are more female than male astronauts-in-training because women tend to be smaller and are therefore cheaper to send into space” is not, imho, sexist. But saying “women are better astronauts than men because they’re smaller” is sexist. “Better” is a matter of opinion; “more” is quantifiable. Matters of opinion are very easily interpreted as sexist, while facts are facts.
    At least, that’s my take on it.

  18. Rich says:

    Why do you think some women do not want to been seen or grouped as a Feminist?

  19. Ealasaid says:

    Rich – That’s an interesting question. I think it’s because there are so many negative stereotypes around feminism. Many men seem to think that the words “I’m a feminist” are synonymous with the words “I hate you, you raping bastard.” And a lot of people seem to think that to be a feminist you have to be a butch, hairy, humorless ball of rage.
    Sadly, some feminists seem bent on making both those statements have a basis in reality. I find this frustrating and counterproductive.

  20. Rich says:

    Where do you stand on body commodification issues?

  21. Because I am a male I didn’t believe that I could be called a feminist just because of my sympathy for women’s causes, but a reader of the following weblog and the URL above differed with me. It isnt a big issue for me. Read these weblogs and judge for yourself.

  22. a-d says:

    Do you know of any stories that feature “Role Reversal.”
    Where the traditional roles of wo/man have be completely reversed?
    I’ve been reading for a LOOOOONG time and when I look back, stories where your in an oppressive matriarchal society are irritatingly rare.
    I bet I’ve only come across five of them.
    And usually its only a portion of the story where it happens.
    I thought I was fine with that, but recently I came across one Titled, “Operation Liberate Men.”
    Where the roles of men and women had been completely reversed in an medieval oriental setting.
    In that world, not only were the roles reversed, but the men were heavily oppressed.
    Men were considered only useful for labor or looking attractive.
    All men were slaves who could be taken from their families by the government for labor.
    Hell, male children were punished if they called the women who’d borne them mother or mom.
    They weren’t allowed to acknowledge the fact that they had mothers, they were just a male.
    As I said before, this type of setting for a story is so rare that I haven’t been able find any since then.
    And I’ve become increasing frustrated as I watch television series, movies, and read others stories where its the standard patriarchal, Knight on a white horse saving the damsel in distress situation.
    Yes switching everything around won’t change things much, but it would change the perspective in enough areas to make it very interesting to me.
    So I ask again.
    Do you know of ANY stories where the roles have been reversed and everyone is in a world that is at the least a Matriarchal society, and at the most a Matriarchal society that oppresses it men?

  23. Brad Goins says:

    I have two questions: If one wanted to know about feminist theory at it exists at present, where would be a good place to start. Second, are there people who find the notions of third wave feminism repulsive? To put it another way, are there those who think the theory of second wave was perfectly adequate?

  24. Ealasaid says:

    a-d, that’s not really an appropriate question.
    Brad – Wow, I am so not up on feminist theory, I can’t even begin to tell you the answer to either of your questions. I’m an in-the-trenches, learn-as-you-go kind of feminist rather than a Womens’ Studies Major kind of feminist. I’d try looking up a Womens’ Studies program syllabus to find the current state of feminism, and hunt up a blog on feminist theory for your other question.

  25. Emma Black says:

    I am a student of the Doctorate of Clinical Psychology at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. I am conducting research into a couple of issues largely experienced by women (eating disorders and self-harm), and how these may or may not relate to specific personality traits. To explore this research topic, I am seeking females aged over 18 years to fill out an online questionnaire. This questionnaire will take about half an hour of people’s time to fill out.
    I humbly ask that you please assist me in my research, by placing a link to my questionnaire on your website. The link to my questionnaire
    is http://www.deakin.edu.au/psychology/research/questionnaire. This research project has Deakin University Human Research Ethics Committee
    approval (Project number EC-247-2007). The results will be confidential, and can be anonymous (if people opt not to receive the
    results of the research or to participate in the follow-up study).
    Thank you for your assistance, I await your reply with interest.
    Emma Black.