Wednesday, January 30, 2013

feminist or equalist? or What kind of feminist am I?

Only 24% of women and 14% of men in the USA consider themselves feminist in the absence of a definition, according to a 2009 CBS poll. But when you give them a definition like the Oxford English Dictionary's "the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes", the percentage of people who accept the name shoots up to 65% of women and 58% of men.

And if you don't use the name "feminism", the percentage of people with traditional feminist goals skyrockets. In 2010, support for "a new law that would provide women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace" was at 84% in the US.

I've always believed in equal rights for women. My father may have made me a feminist. He grew up on a farm where the boys and girls did whatever needed doing, so he raised my brother, my sister, and me the same way. My sister reinforced my feminism: she never saw why being a girl should keep her from having as much fun as a boy, and she was ready to fight—literally—if I ever said being male meant I should get more. Mom's example ensured my egalitarianism would never waver: she often worked outside our home, for others and in family businesses. My first heroes included Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis because they were doing what Wonder Woman did, battling for their place in Man's World.

Early in life, I simply got the notion everyone should have the same opportunities. Maybe I picked it up in Sunday School from St. Paul's, "There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female." Maybe I got it in public school from the Declaration of Independence's "All men are created equal"—I read "men" in the generic sense of "humans". The fact that the US's founders didn't mean to include women, slaves, free black folks, or white men without property was a subtlety I missed until after my beliefs about equality had formed. For most of my life, if you asked me if I was a feminist, my "yes" would've come without hesitation or qualification.

But feminism split in the 1980s—see "The Man Who Changed Middle-Class Feminism". While feminist goals were being achieved, identitarian feminists narrowed the definition of who was feminist. Feminists on the right and left like Camille Paglia, Katie Roiphe, Dita Von Teese, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Naomi Wolf were denounced as anti-feminist, even though none of them want a world of unequal opportunity. Men cannot be feminists in the eyes of identitarians; their term is "male ally". What identitarians make of the fact that "feminism" was coined in 1837 by a man, the socialist Charles Fourier, I haven't found.

Ask me if I'm a feminist, and my answer is, "What kind?" You could call me a traditional feminist, a second-wave feminist, or an equity feminist. I'm not an identitarian feminist, a third-wave feminist, a bourgeois feminist, or a gender feminist. I prefer to say simply say I'm a socialist in the tradition of Frederick Engels, who wrote in The Origin of the Family:
The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male.
I'm not a Leninist, but I love his observation that "No nation can be free when half the population is enslaved in the kitchen."

It may be time to let "feminist" join its place in history with "suffragist" and "abolitionist". I prefer "equalist", a rare English word that dates back to 1661. There's no suggestion in equalist that one side might be better than the other, and it applies to all social inequalities rather than one.

Recommended reading:

If you accept the CDC reports on rape and abuse, remember that it finds no saints. Many women and men are the victims of physical and sexual violence, the CDC reports: "Men have been victimized as well: About one in seven reports an intimate partner has been physically violent and one in 19 has been the victim of stalking."

When discussing the CDC reports, remember there are good reasons to question its approach and conclusions. From How the CDC is overstating sexual violence in the U.S.:
The agency’s figures are wildly at odds with official crime statistics. The FBI found that 84,767 rapes were reported to law enforcement authorities in 2010. The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, the gold standard in crime research, reports 188,380 rapes and sexual assaults on females and males in 2010. Granted, not all assaults are reported to authorities. But where did the CDC find 13.7 million victims of sexual crimes that the professional criminologists had overlooked?
If you believe the presumption of innocence should not be granted to men accused of rape, see Do Women Lie About Rape?: "Research has shown that only roughly 2 to 8 percent of rape reports are untrue, (for car thefts, another felony offense, that number is about 10 percent [pdf].)" That article acknowledges the problem while downplaying it. For a harsher take on the same fact: Sometimes, women lie about rape.

The 2% figure is often claimed, but it's never been substantiated. There's another take on the issue at 'Truth test' to uncover false rape allegations - The Independent: "Between 10 and 41 per cent of allegations of rape are made up by the "victim", according to previous research."

False Rape Accusations May Be More Common Than Thought focuses on DNA evidence: "the rate of false reports is roughly between 20 (if DNA excludes an accused) to 40 percent (if inconclusive DNA is added). The relatively low estimate of 25 to 26 percent is probably accurate, especially since it is supported by other sources." The writer makes two important points: "the category of 'false accusations' does not distinguish between accusers who lie and those who are honestly mistaken. Nor does it indicate that a rape did not occur, merely that the specific accused is innocent."