14 July 2009

On feminists pushing their ideas on "everyone"

A lot of the time when I try to engage with people about feminism or share a feminist opinion, I get told that feminists always push our ideas on other people, that we should shut-up and stop trying to force the people around us to do things our way.

Aside from the obvious mistakes of treating feminism as a monolith and having a poorly informed knee-jerk reaction to what they've picked up about feminism the people who have said this to me are clearly buying into attitudes that women who are not submissive, intellectually lightweights are pushy and fail at femininity (and therefore humanity), this is a. But that's not why I'm so ssick of this silencing tactic.

I'm sick of it because feminists/ womanists are not reserving the right to force people to think the way we do when we point out inequalities, we're reserving the right to critique the assumptions about gender and sexuality that underlie societal attitudes, cultural products, institutions and anything else we think might have faulty reasoning. This isn't overreacting, taking things to seriously, or wasting our efforts of trivial matters, it's a critique of an argument. A basic fact of debating.

And if there exists nothing meaningful outside of discourse, if the personal is political, then feminists have the right to critically analyse these assumptions.

Yes it's tiring to hear that something we thought was fine actually isn't. But not becasue the person whose saying it is tiresome to be around or listen to. It's tiring becasue that means there are a lot of people have be hurt and are still being hurt by those assumptions.

For those dedicated to social change, equality and respect it's tiring becasue we recognise the person talking is right, and that there is a lot of work to be done to change things. Actual work, on how we interact with people, not petty manipulation for the sake of seeing others do things our way.


  1. It is bizarre how some people seem to treat feminism (or even just a general critique of a situation that needs improving) as some form of aggressive religious intolerance. As if you're going door to door, waking people up and impressing on them the importance of hearing the Word from Vagina, our Lord and Saviour!

    One thing that irritates me (which only marginally fits in with your discussion but bear with me) is the defensive overuse of the term "politically correct." I agree that the term has a place in our language, since it has a definition that fits well. Such as a politician, speaking about the strength and wonder of our female citizens when, in his head, he's totally thinking, "When did women gain the right to drive cars? I never approved that!"

    Anyway, my point ... "politically correct" is thrown about too easily by people who wish to deflect criticism. "Political correctedness has gone too far!" Saying that you shouldn't call that guy a fag? Correcting your moronic use of the word 'gay' as meaning 'bad' when you say, "this fuckin' phone won't work. Fuck, it's so gay!"? Me thinking you're an idiot for your claims that Muslims are just hateful people? Sorry, buddy but I'm not being politically correct; I'm just being correct in general.

    But, yes, as you say, there does seem to be a collection of people that believe that the women's lib movement has finished its work and isn't needed anymore. And, strangely enough, there's a belief that, while women can (say) work in occupations now or wear clothes that they never use to be able to, etc, and that because there are discrimination laws in place to help cover people, that criticism is no longer relevant and discrimination must not occur - since it's illegal.

    Honestly, I can begin to understand the thoughts of these strange people but I can't fully get into their head and see what they're on about. Just keep arguing with them.

  2. Yep, the "p.c police" line is another annoying silencing tactic. Unsurprisingly neitherfeminism-as-political-correctness and feminism-as -pushy-bitches is that neither adress the original critique (of language or an action etc) they shift the discussion into a competition of personalities. Instead of discussing ideas and politics, we're suddenly knee-deep in a PR exercise and trying to argue *against* radical individualism. Obviously not the strongest position to start from, but having these discussions in a patriarchal context isn't that strong a position anyway.

    I'm not really sure if that shifting technique is so common becasue feminism is identity politics, so we're always already have one foot in the personality arena, despite the theory, or if the old tropes of ugly hairy feminazies is just *that* pervasive.

  3. Some days I get the feeling that the women's lib movement changed the official wording on things but that the proles have steadily been slipping back into a pre-liberation opinion. It also doesn't help that general conservatism is up these days, with people whining about Islam taking over and gay people chipping away at morality. When people are batshit crazy in one avenue of thought, they possibly go crazy with everything.

    What this kind of thing reminds me of is that, however frustrating and ridiculous it is to see this kind of chauvinism against females, I dread to think how terrible it is for the transgender community. At least there's an official and (in many groups) public sentiment that saying, "feminists are just lesbian bitches" will make you look like the idiot you are. There is no real widespread support or non-discriminating opinion about transgenders though. They're barely even recognised as human beings by some people!

    I'm white and heterosexual. I might have problems throughout my life (medical, academic, interpersonal) but I've never had my safety or livelihood threatened purely because I'm white and heterosexual. Now, it's wrong to believe that there are really differing "teams" between men and women/white heterosexual men and everyone else but, still, sometimes I hate my team.


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