What exactly is feminism?

feminismIF YOU’RE in any way familiar with the online world, chances are you’ve come across discussions on feminism.

What discussions all too often lack is a relevant, and nuanced definition of what seems to be a very subjective, and complex issue. I’m going to try to give a clear, practical definition and slant to feminism and related ideologies. I’m not saying my words are the last word on the subject, I’m just hoping to clear a few things up and try to light the way for a more collaborative spirit in regards to such matters. To be clear, these suggestions and clarification will come from my own personal view – namely: How can we define feminism usefully?

As far as I see it, feminism is an ideology; a socially constructed view of the world founded on a number of beliefs. These particular beliefs cater to a set of aspirations and needs perceived in society, forming a general aim. It determines how we see and thus react to things in the world. As such, it is wise to examine how many ideologies we subscribe to and what they entail. We may also alter our own, given that they never began as concrete blocks of finished idea, rather they were learned and constructed by us over time.
We need to be aware of the fact that feminism has changed over time and carries on changing today. At any given point in this long history, people in different cultures or merely of different opinions, will hold a different set of value judgements and beliefs: a different set of ideologies. Thus the flesh, teeth, and nails of this particular belief system is a series of different, changing sub-ideologies, connected to the same core.

At the core is gender egalitarianism, the belief that genders are of equal worth, and deserving of equal rights. At either extreme is supremacism. Anyone saying either sex deserve a superior or inferior role to the other in society or the world is not a feminist (They are a female or male supremacist).

I propose that feminism becomes relevant where the equality of women comes into question, that masculism is the male equivalent, and that both fall under the umbrella of gender egalitarianism. We are all humans after all and while the term feminism carries with it all the spirit of revolution; to always use it both as a stand in for the fight for equality for both sexes and genders, and to refer to matters purely female strikes me as counterproductive and confusing. Where there is systematic, and clear discrimination against one sex, feminism or masculism become relevant, and when we refer to the distinguished treatment of one sex, as in debates and academia for example, they become relevant.

Egalitarianism aims for equality. For the sake of concision I will say there are two kinds of equality, one which is fair: meritocratic, or an equality of reward, and one which is just: founded on equity, or an equality of opportunity.

To illustrate this, consider the arguments of those for and against the lowering of standards in physical fitness tests for women hoping to serve in combat for the US military. Fairness argues that if we are to achieve equality, all must sit the same test, otherwise we discriminate between test takers. Justice argues that women are physically inferior, and to make both sexes take the same test with this in mind is to discriminate. These values should be considered with relevant risks and needs of the situation in mind. Do the dangers of war justify keeping one strict level of fitness as the benchmark for those applying to fight, ideals aside? On the other hand, can we apply a set of ideal physical requirements to all the chaos of war and expect a clear outcome?

With all this in mind, in a society as relatively democratic and liberal as that of Britain, how is feminism relevant? On one hand we might say that it is in fact no longer relevant, and when talking of local social justice, gender egalitarianism is the aim we should refer to. On the other, this view potentially neglects a final essential part of feminist theory – the need to abolish patriarchy. Feminists fights against a mechanism, not a sex.

Significantly, examples made by men’s rights activists of ‘reverse sexism’, for instance the need for fathers for justice, the plight against low reporting of sexual assault of males and inaction concerning abuse of men by their partners, and the humorous attitude to violence against men in the media can all be traced back to patriarchal values. Whether or not you are a gender essentialist, here, surely you must notice just how senseless conflict between the differing egalitarian movements is.

To be simple, I hope you’re a feminist. Feminism means thinking women are humans too, that they deserve a right to vote, and health care, and education just as men do. Feminism means thinking being a human entitles you to a generally good quality of life.

The way I see it: being anti-feminism is like being racist, or homophobic.

To conclude, I think there is much to be said for keeping or discarding the term, depending on your view of discrimination, for this is what it falls down to: taking up the plight of those further afield; humans, of whatever kind.