Feminist Rhetoric

I was converted to feminism my junior year of high school. Before that I believed it was an unnecessary movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. My mother gave me a copy of Betty Friedan’s, The Feminine Mystique. I remember being surprised when I looked up the publication date and realized that a feminist book written in 1963 seemed applicable to my life in 2006. Issues I had never seen as a problem suddenly became blaring social dysfunctions.

But like any movement, Feminism becomes repulsive to the average person when it becomes exclusive. I’ve read many blogs, articles, and books, and sat in many discussions with my friends where the underlying rhetoric assumes that the world has only two types of people: The Feminist and the non-Feminist. We often accidently take the “holier than thou” approach implying, “I have the truth about gender relations, and the ignorant are unethical.”

As feminists, we need to be careful that this doesn’t become the driving force behind our words—because who does this serve? What change can happen with exclusion? If feminism is an ideology developed to change women’s lot in society, and create equality and equity for all people, then what change can really happen if we spend more time pointing fingers than persuading?

Feminism is a delicate balance between intellectualism and solving women’s issues. I will always take the advice a professor of mine gave. In her office she told me that if you always wear a lens of controversy against the “other,” you would only see the world as a place of men oppressing women. When this is what the world becomes to you, there will never be a solution and the perpetrators of sexism will always be the demonized “other.”

But the perpetrators of sexism are not usually evil. They generally just don’t understand the current need of gender equality in the world today. I have a friend, who never was sexist, but just did not believe that that rape culture in the United States existed. He had always thought it was an outlandish claim by radical feminist groups, but by discussion and conversations with me about women’s issues he had gradually come to an understanding of the magnitude of such problems. Whereas harsh rhetoric in the past turned him off to the discussion of gender relations, one-on-one discussions with a friend has helped him to take the feminist cause upon himself.

It is interesting how much ideologies and theory really do affect actual implementation of policy—and sometimes prove to create projects that are half-useful and half-harmful because they are not encompassing enough. Robert Moses was the master builder for New York City in the mid 20th century. His approach has greatly influenced the way urban planners operate even today. He worked from an extremely Modernist ideology (with the assumption that the ends justify the means and that everything could be solved rationally or scientifically). He created the concept of urban renewal—fixing slum and blighted areas of cities with urban infrastructure. Moses built bridges, parks, roads, and affordable housing projects, but his projects became perverted as he destroyed neighborhoods, and destroyed communities in the name of social progress. He never visited the slums to understand what the problem actually was. He operated too much on intellectual theory and now his name will always be attached to the egregious problems of intercity segregation, poverty and violence across the U.S. His ideals got in the way of ultimately helping the people he thought he was serving. We cannot let Feminist Theory get in the way of people. Like the aims of urban renewal, Feminism is for everyone and has potential for improving society, but in order for any good to actually happen, we must listen to the reality which people face and stop slapping labels to issues and naysayers. We must talk to the people who oppose us and tell them the practical issues we stand for, not just the ideological. If problems become a human issue not a feminist issues, usual groups closed to the “feminist agenda” have been more inclined to listen.

People can and do become “converts” to the cause of women’s issues. No matter what brand of feminism you adhere to, at the end of the day, feminist ideology is meant to serve women and create a better equitable and equal system for all people. So be patient, and understand that thought processes and paradigms rarely shift after hearing one argument. I had to be converted to Feminism and so does everyone else. We are not born with ideas we are taught them.  Feminism goes against the mainstream. It teaches ideas which people have never encountered and so it should be persuasive, practical, and kind not theoretical, harsh, and exclusive.

by CB


4 thoughts on “Feminist Rhetoric

  1. kc says:

    The term “feminist” is inherently theoretical & exclusive: “-ist denoting an adherent of a system of beliefs, principles, etc..

    I personally do not believe the pendulum in this country is still swinging against women…far from it. My daughters and I have opportunities my sons do not. My daughters receive deference and education my sons can never have in this climate. The educational & corporate systems have all swung in favor or women (even if we don’t take advantage of the business opportunities to the degree feminists would wish).

    Socially, the denigration of women is a sign of the times as well as a reaction to women who did/do “let Feminist Theory get in the way of people”. The harsh and exclusive theory as it has been implemented in my lifetime demeaned, accused, and attacked an entire generation of men who had nothing to do with the problems.

    Men are people too, and despite what the professor said, feminists continue to assert men are the problem. Even the author is saying they are not evil just stupid “they just don’t understand”. “Equality and equity for all people” is warm & fuzzy but feminists’ focus on someone else’s side of whatever pie because they are dissatisfied with their own, it’s inherent in the definition and the movement.

    I get there are problems & inequities & violence against women to be fixed. I believe in Evil & that there is a war against women, but only in certain cultures (no matter how massive those cultures may be) is it ingrained, overt, and a tool to oppress women. Just because we cannot all be in those places right now to fight that good fight, is it right to fight against the innocent here (specifically boys & maleness) when we need to stop, now, to look in the mirror before proceeding.

    The communist cultures attempt to strip women of their femininity in order to create equality. American feminism does that too, but is a little bi-polar in that way.

    One of the most insidious battles is women’s violence against women–our own fault. Campaigning for the “sexual revolution”: porn (yes, feminists fought for it), birth control, abortion, drugs & the hook up culture. Did you notice the whole audience of women cheering/shooting the Miley Cyrus performance? How many justified their participation there w/feminist philosophies, including Ms.Cyrus herself?

    This article attempts to look in the mirror, to see the battle that needs waging is against the selfishness and lopsidedness and dysfunction of exclusively focusing on one gender. Problem is, “feminist” ideals & theory are inherently focused there, if they were not it wouldn’t be feminism.

  2. womanstats says:

    From the blogpost’s author @kc:

    The term “feminism” does not have to be inherently exclusive–although it is a system of beliefs and principles it can be persuasive and does not need to have an “us and them” or binary “other” mentality. This is what this blogpost is arguing for–more acceptance and dialogue concerning women’s issues, not to discount feminism.

    It is true that many issues have changed in the US, in favor of more fair conditions for women. Just because there are terrible human rights conditions for women in other countries, does not mean that everyday sexism in the U.S. does not exist. And very unfortunately the beliefs and activism behind the improvement of women’s rights has become forgotten, denigrated, and primary actors in the feminist movement have been cast off as “radicals”. In truth, feminism has done more for people in the U.S. and the world than few other movements.

    That being said, it is easy to place feminism under an umbrella set of principles, but in truth it is not an institution and so there is no regulation as to what is feminist ideology or not, or what feminist will say or not. Feminists often oppose one another. This article is written by a feminist arguing for feminists to not define feminism so rigidly as if it were an institution, and to allow a variation of beliefs and practices. It is asking for less separation of feminism from society, so people do not feel like they have to undermine all women’s issues in the U.S. in order to critique certain ideas by certain individual feminists they may disagree with.

  3. DQ says:

    Feminism in itself is an exclusivist’s label. It by itself excludes half the population most of who care for and nurture women. One of the failings of the feminist movement is that it centers on woman’s rights instead of human rights women being a major portion of human kind. By its nature vilifies and denigrates maleness and in the past has made men out to be the problem. And tried to bring shame to women who disagreed with the agenda of the day.

    Unless feminism comes to terms with its own sexism it will never be an honest socio-political movement truly concerned with equal rights. Unless the feminist can fight just as hard for the rights of men to be equal then it isn’t what it purports to be. As the commenter above said, women have not gained equality. they have gained superiority in the culture. It has become politically correct to advance the poor woman over the sexist and dominant man irrespective of the abilities and fitness of either. IF feminism ever does live up to this standard they will no longer be feminist but real human rights activists.

    But to think of ourselves as more than feminists is odious to most feminists because they would no longer be under that feeling of exclusivity. The group mentality that makes us feel safe and righteous without allowing our selves to see that we have degenerated into the very thing we claim to fight against. In short feminism has become an all girls club with its attendant need to belong. Just as they judged men’s clubs to be immoral so now they must face the fact that it’s own exclusivity is also immoral.

    We need to begin to fight for all people. Throw off this facade of fighting for women. It, by its nature is exclusive. broaden your fight for all people and you will throw off most of the rigid resistance and turmoil that such hypocrisy brings from both the inside of the movement and those on the outside.

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