The Feminisms

I’ve never described myself as a feminist. There are a few reasons for this. Some a bit daft and others slightly less so. The main daft reason I would always give is “I’m not a feminist because I haven’t read enough of the theory”(yeah, I know!). I do think that’s the less daft one as there is a wealth of feminist theory out there and there are many distinct currents within the broad river labelled feminism and I only have an, at best, half baked understanding of most of them.

Second is the problems I have with some of those currents. Particularly the dogmatic separatist brand of feminism that emerged in the, correct me if I’m wrong, 1970s and that generally has the label Radical Feminism attached to it. I have problems with this current of feminism as I find it to be anti-woman in that it strips women of a lot of their agency and it also contains a lot of the most divisive rhetoric and theory that I’ve come across on matters of gender. The transphobia that is common in that current is also highly disturbing.

Thirdly, I considered the term feminist to be far too troublesome to use. I would rather put forward the ideas than have them instantly misunderstood due to most people’s association of the term with the reactionary form of feminism we see in Radical Feminism. I always figured that a lot of people get tripped up by words so easily it was better to just forward the ideas, which the majority of people have little problem with, than to give a person a mental barrier to their engagement with the nitty-gritty of the feminist perspective.

Recent events have changed my perspective on this somewhat.

Recent events being the obvious, the dick in California shooting a bunch of people to show he was an alpha male(tip, dude, if you’re an alpha male you probably shouldn’t end up giving a gun a blow job), the amount of attention the misogynists of the Men’s Rights Movement have received as they have come out of the woodwork to defend, or even praise, the actions of this reprehensible, entitled, rich twat, and, finally, some conversations of Facebook recently.

Now there have been some cracking posts discussing the tools in the MRM, here are two from a dude because I figure other guys telling these guys where to get off will likely have a better effect than a woman. (1, 2). SO I don’t really feel the need to go into that dark, turgid, cesspool of human existence.

Now, the Facebook discussions.

Last weekend a really good friend shared a video exposing the difference in public reaction between a man attacking a woman and a woman attacking a man in public.  The video was made by a charity that aims to try and get men talking about domestic abuse. From what I can see the charity doesn’t try and minimise the experience of women who suffer domestic violence it just honestly wants to get men talking about suffering it too. An admirable goal in my opinion.

Unfortunately the timing of my friend sharing it couldn’t have been worse as it was the day after the douchebag rampage in California. Obviously there was a rather heated discussion in the comments thread on my friends post. During this thread a number of people were talking about ‘feminism’ from the perspective that it was concerned with unbalancing equality between genders in favour of women. A view that is, no doubt, supported by a handful of the more reactionary sorts of the current I discussed earlier. This was rather frustrating as every time one of us pointed out that feminism is as much concerned with the rights of men as it is with women the standard response would be “But a feminist I know said X, Y and Z”. It was like banging your head off a brick wall trying to get people to appreciate the difference between the reactionary bigots who claim the name feminism and, well, everyone else who does.

Later there was another discussion over a post that was shared which highlights the male experience of being raped by a woman. During this discussion my pal said:

 I’ve been in situations many women would consider “rape” and many others would consider the other person being pushy. I’ve been told by a Feminist that it is technically impossible for a woman to rape a man. I have checked and in several dictionaries, rape is not confined to man on woman forced sex at all.

Thankfully my partner, C, jumped in with this rather elongated and eloquent reply. Elongated and eloquent for Facebook that is. 😉

This is potentially a really interesting discussion point. Also, it’s a big tangle of issues, so I apologise if people feel that I go on a bit, but I think it’s worth working through. Also, terminology is potentially problematic in discussions like this, because so much of it has been developed by feminist discussion, that the words can feel alienating to some people, and that’s something which needs to be addressed. So I’ll be doing an Andy(that’s me 😀 ) and trying to define stuff.

Firstly, my own position is that rape is (ideologically speaking) sexual contact in which one person does not consent. Consent to sex should be defined as *enthusiastic*: not coerced or manufactured by other means. So yes, women can *certainly* rape men and other women.

That said, the law doesn’t see it that way:

The offence is created by section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003:

“ 1-(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a) he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,
(b) B does not consent to the penetration, and
(c) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

So, for the law in England and Wales, rape is an act defined by penetration *with a penis*. It’s worth noting that oral and anal penetration has only recently been added to the definition (2003), so for centuries, rape (in law) was only committed by men against women by penetration of the vagina with a penis and is still an offence (in law) which only men can commit, although it is recognised that they can commit it against men.

Is this wrong and unjust? Yes, of course it is. Should it be changed? Without a doubt. However, in order to understand how this has come about, we need to look to historical conceptions of rape. 

So, until well into the 20th century (I can’t remember the date, but I will look) rape is always a crime against a man. It is a property crime against the woman’s closest male relative and not the woman herself. This is because of a woman’s value on the marriage market being connected to her virginity and because of a wife’s value as sole property of the husband and her value for producing heirs which are indisputably the offspring of her husband. Hangovers persisted from this conception of rape as a property crime until *very* recently: this is why rape inside marriage isn’t recognised in law until the mid nineties, and there are UKIP members (and others) who have openly stated that they would like to abolish it.

Buggery between men, of course, is illegal for all this time–and maybe longer, I’m unsure–whether consenting or not, so there is *some* recourse in law for male victims, though I doubt men often felt able to take it due to the associated stigma, a stigma which is caused by the notion that it is *only* acceptable to have sex inside a marriage, and consent isn’t an issue, because marriage itself is consent to all future sex inside that marriage.

So, for centuries, the prosecution of rape has *nothing* to do with the harm caused to the victim of the rape. Indeed, the victim of the rape isn’t even the victim in law and ‘legitimate’ sex and female consent aren’t even connected ideas. The idea of women wanting or enjoying sex is utterly preposterous (a reason why there were never any laws against lesbianism) and the idea of them having any power to coerce or assault a man is just as preposterous.

Now, this is where language becomes an issue, so bear with me.

‘Feminism’ is now a largely insufficient word for defining an ideology: It doesn’t define an ideology, it defines an analytical perspective, the perspective of analysing society from a position which takes gender as its critical lens. Lots of academics that would traditionally be defined as feminist theorists are now described as ‘gender theorists’, because academic feminism is not necessarily gynocentric, it increasingly looks at the issues affecting men, which is, of course, good. So when I say ‘feminism’, this is what I mean. A perspective with gender as a critical lens which teaches us about women *and* men and the way power operates on both.

There are also people who use the word to try and define an ideology and not only does this not work, it it used to try to describe ideologies which are fucked up, reactionary and bigoted. Some of these people say things like A—-(my pal) has encountered, that it is impossible for a woman to commit rape. There is a famous reactionary bigot called Cathy Brennan who claims this, just as she claims that rape can only be committed with a penis: so assaults by men against women with objects other than penises are out and women on women assaults are out. Also, she likes the idea that all penis in vagina penetration is rape, so for her, rape is at once *all* heterosexual sex, but cannot really exist outside that. Yes, she calls herself a feminist, this is a real problem for feminists, since the ideology is actually anti-woman by implying women cannot actually consent to heterosexual sex and also minimising and outright denying that the very serious crime of rape cannot happen against a massive number of people. Feminism as a perspective–gender theory–obviously rejects this as bollocks, because it is. It is a serious problem for feminists–like me–that these ideas, the ideas of a TINY but very vocal minority, are seen as feminism and conflated with it in the public imagination, because they are very, very far from feminism. 

Phew! But hopefully now, when I use the word ‘feminism’, people will know that I mean feminism-the-critical-perspective and that I’m not trying to describe an ideology. Also, I would encourage anybody who might read this who feels alienated by the word ‘feminism’ to be critical of anybody claiming feminism as an ideology. For the vast majority of feminists, this is simply *not what it means*.

So the next word to work through is ‘patriarchy’. *Takes deep breath*

Feminism-the-critical-perspective uses the word ‘patriarchy’ to describe the societal, cultural and institutional operation of power in relation to gender. To men and women alike. Reactionaries–the feminism as an ideology types–have been responsible for this word becoming associated with the idea that all men oppress women and that men are privileged by patriarchy in all circumstances. This, again, is not true.

What is true is that the people who have all the power are *usually* men and have been throughout history. Therefore, laws have developed to the end of them maintaining that power and as a consequence, historically speaking, laws have generally developed in men’s favour. That is not to say that laws have developed in the favour of all men in all circumstances, but they have developed as a consequence of powerful men maintaining power and, as a consequence, they have privileged themselves with exclusion. Therefore, when laws have arisen which have gender implications, they have been written to place women *in general* at a disadvantage. Not because there is some ‘all men in it together’ conspiracy, but because the people preserving their own power were generally men and if you exclude people on the basis of gender, you only have to work out exclusionary laws for men of less power. Discriminating against women is just a way to exclude half the population of the world from becoming a threat to the dominant elite.

This does not mean that all men have equal power and that all men have greater power than all women. The queen of England, for example, has a great deal more power and privilege than most men in the world, because she is a woman ‘in the club’, so to speak. The club is, however, still overwhelmingly male and patriarchal laws and culture reflect that. It is reflected in the fact that women are still paid less, on average, than men for the same jobs, that women in professional jobs generally tend to have higher qualifications than their male counterparts, because they need to prove themselves as ‘exceptional’ in order to be considered, that women still do the vast majority of the world’s unpaid labour, and that historically, when they are raped, it is a crime against their male relative.

There are many consequences of patriarchal culture, and they by no means always work out in the favour of men in every circumstance. Take for example the idea that women are naturally better suited to caring for children and the elderly, for example. Culturally, for women, this can have many negative implications. Working mothers are often still frowned upon. Women are seen as a risk to employers, since they may need time off for maternity, ill children, sick relatives, etc. These are some if the reasons they are paid less, on average, and need to prove themselves as ‘exceptional’ to get good jobs.

This facet of patriarchy has consequences for men, too. In a divorce situation, for example, men can often struggle to get decent access to their children. Then, since the woman usually ends up with custody and the children need (and deserve) the parental home, it is usually the man who has to move. Since the woman is usually the custodian, and less likely to earn highly, (obviously, plenty of women do earn good money, I’m talking statistical likelihood) maintenance payments for the children are usually made by the man, who is culturally expected to be a provider. So, as much as feminism allows us to see patriarchy, it shows us that patriarchy does not always works in a man’s favour in every circumstance.

And this is where I was going. Nearly there 

Because of the *historical* patriarchal notion of women as property and as powerless without male custody, there are no laws protecting men from rape by women. Because of the cultural development of the idea of women as weak, there is massive stigma for male victims of domestic violence at the hands of women perpetrators and that’s where the notion of a woman as physically unable to rape a man also comes from. Because it is not culturally desirable for a woman to be promiscuous, or sexually aggressive, the law has been slow in recognising that they may be sexually aggressive and abusive. Because of the cultural conception of heterosexual masculinity, it has become a normalised idea that all men want sex all the time and therefore it’s impossible for them to be raped by women.

Patriarchy is corrosive to people. Not just women, but people. It hurts men, but it is patriarchy just the same. This is why female on male rape is definitely a feminist issue and why recognising patriarchal structures and working to abolish them is not just about liberating women, but men also.

Which sums it all up pretty well I think.

So yeah. I’m a feminist and fuck you if, after reading all that, you aren’t a feminist too. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “The Feminisms

  1. Too many times people look at complex issues and see them only through a view of today’s perspective. It is refreshing to see someone trying to truly understand the issue, rather than make quick judgements.
    Most things, good, bad, or otherwise come from somewhere. You can’t fix such problems till you understand the roots of where it came from.

    Like

    1. Yep, I’m really glad that C took the time to write that piece putting everything into perspective. Now if I could just convince her to start blogging… 😀

      Like

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