Thursday, May 26, 2011

How to Tell You Are Not a Feminist

I've seen 1,000 word explanations of feminism, but as the Princess of Pithy, I can boil that down for you into one sentence: Feminism is the belief that men and women are equal.

That's simple, right? Men and women, we are equal. Anything else associated with feminism- control over fertility, criticism of media treatment, concerns about representation in power structures- flows from that simple, defining belief.

Determining whether or not you are a feminist or whether an organization is inherently feminist, is equally simple. Do you promote actions or ideas that treat women and men equally? Does the organization act in a way that results in women and men being treated equally?

If not, neither you nor the organization are feminist. You may wish to be a feminist, but if you don't hold to that belief, you are not. Go find another word. This is not to say that feminism is a monolith and that all feminists believe all the same things. I've heard equally good arguments for and against pornography and sex work from feminists I admire equally. I've heard some fairly silly arguments regarding subjects like wearing colours and skirts* from feminists I otherwise admire. However, even those arguments are within the framework of equality for all sexes**.

For example, is the Catholic Church feminist? The short answer is "no, what the hell is wrong with you?", but you probably didn't stop by for the short answer, and I'm stumped on what happens next in my book, so I'll ramble on a bit.

If you're not familiar with the Catholic Church (hereinafter "RCC"), even a cursory examination of the structure and teachings of the RCC is enough to show it is inherently misogynistic. Men rule the RCC. From priest to cardinal to bishop to pope, the entire power structure is exclusively male. Only men can lead worship services, only men can make policy decisions, only men speak for God. Women have two roles, and both those roles are in service to men: wife/mother and nun.

This is not feminism.

The policies of the RCC flow directly from this misogyny. Women are not allowed control over their bodies, and are fully expected to die in difficult pregnancies and to bear the child of their rapist, even if that rapist is their father, even if they are 9 years old. Women are fully expected to give up any possibility of a career and to bear one child after another until they no longer can. That is the role of women in the RCC and it will never change, because the policy makers will never be women.

This is not feminism.

Having established that, is it possible for a Catholic to be feminist, or for a feminist to be Catholic in good standing holding to the accepted teachings of the RCC? No. Logically, one could not embrace the above and be a feminist, simply because the beliefs of the RCC and feminism are mutually exclusive.

Now here's the thing about feminism: feminism does not promise you a rose garden. Even if feminism overcame all misogyny tomorrow, that doesn't mean every individual woman's life would automatically be perfect. Feminism seeks to remove artificial societal barriers keeping women lesser than men. Feminism does not require that each woman become a doctor or limit herself to two children or abort her rapist's baby. Feminism merely seeks to make those choices available to you. You are more than welcome to choose to be a stay at home mother, to have eleven children and to continue any pregnancy you wish, even if that means risking your own life in the process. I would not make those choices, personally, but I'm not you and I will support your right to make choices, even if I might personally find them bizarre or ill advised.

Basically, in the linked article above (and here, why make you scroll?) Simcha Fisher argues that because she takes advantage of certain advances earned by feminists, she is a feminist. Just soak that in for a minute.

What if I had to argue with the auto parts clerk to buy a headlight bulb, even though I was the one replacing it? What if the bank required me to get my husband’s permission for this and that? And what if I wore skirts because I’d be shunned if I didn’t, and not because I felt like wearing them?

Yeah, that would totally suck, right? That's the world many feminists lived in and worked so hard to improve. When my mother was in college, that was the world. Married women couldn't get credit in their own name, so she didn't. Female college students couldn't attend classes in pants. If you showed up to class in pants, you would be escorted out of the building. My mother is not 1,000 years old. This is very recent history.

So here's Simcha, aware of that history, grateful it is history and is simultaneously patting herself on the back for supporting an organization that is deeply misogynistic.

So what makes me a feminist? Some would say that all faithful Catholics are feminists, because the Church is the most pro-woman organization around: The Church honors and values the particular gifts of women, and demands that men treat women with dignity and even a little bit of fear. John Paul II famously called himself a “feminist pope”; and in practical terms, the Church has probably done more for the physical well-being of women around the world than any other charitable organization.

Catholics who are feminists recognize that, while so many true wrongs have been righted in the last 50 years, the poor treatment of women in America has just been displaced, not eradicated. So now, instead of corsets and disenfranchisement, we have widespread pornography, abortion, and abandonment of every kind. We have gained some necessary ground, but lost so much else that is valuable in the process. Most of my Catholic friends see the world this way.

Yes, pornography and abortion didn't exist until 1964, Simcha. JPII could have called himself a pink unicorn if he had wanted to, that wouldn't make it true. And you know what? I don't care what the RCC has done for women worldwide (health care missionaries? I'm not sure), as long as women are not allowed in the halls of power simply because they are women, the RCC is not feminist, and neither are you.

Find another word. "Feminist" is already taken.

*Admittedly, I wear skirts almost exclusively because I find them to be significantly more comfortable than pants, so maybe I just don't want to hear a feminist argument against skirts. Then again, I'm in favor of men having the option of wearing skirts (you'd think, given the, um, dangly nature of male genitals, that skirts would be the automatic male preference) as well, so I think I'm still falling within the equality test.

**We need to have a discussion about how limiting and exclusionary it is to discuss sex as if it is only male and female. There are those who fall outside the XX/XY paradigm, and it's hurtful to them to be constantly excluded from, quite literally, everything.


  1. As a man, I must say I am also for a skirt wearing option for men.

    Its 1,000 degrees in the summer where I live and I resent having to wear long pants, shoes, and socks to work, while my female coworkers can wear a skirt and sandals or flip flops.

    Skirts look like the most comfortable thing you could wear in hot weather.

  2. The air flow alone is worth the price!

  3. formerconservative: I have had that thought many times. Especially since I moved to Dallas.

    All I can do down here is shave my head.

  4. I've worn a skirt on various occasions. I strongly agree with you on that point. Of course, I've always envied the variety of choices women have when it comes to clothing.

    I can only look at claims that the RCC is feminist and nature and go "BWAAAAAAAH??????" while my brain crashes. I might comment more on the utter stupidity of the claim when my poor brain (hopefully) reboots.

  5. I just saw this video on Godless Girl. I still have a bit of puke in my mouth.

  6. Also cake is pie. *epic eye roll*

    In re: non binary sex-- YES, THIS! I've written about it, because there are probably at minimum five and perhaps as many as eight chromosomal/physiological sexes on the spectrum. This is normal, this is not aberrant. It's so common in fact, that it's highly likely that quite a few people in the RCC hierarchical nozzlefuck aren't XY male. Oopsy, life is complex!

    This is why I reject the first premise of evo psych also.

  7. The Church honors and values the particular gifts of women, and demands that men treat women with dignity and even a little bit of fear.

    You know, unless those women get "uppity" and start demanding the right to get involved in church leadership and have power when it comes to guiding church policy.

    Stop treating fertility like a disease;

    Seriously? Who does this?

    but stop pretending that women can be full-time mothers and full-time careerists.

    I don't need to pretend this. Countless women in my life have proved that this is a reality.

    Stop assuming that all women are meant to bear child after child no matter what;

    Here's the thing: That's official Catholic doctrine. It's the effect of saying all birth control is immoral. You've (obviously Simcha, not PF) already endorsed that doctrine, so criticizing the results of that doctrine is pointless and even disingenuous.

  8. RCC : Raping Children Church

  9. Remember the SouthPark where it was revealed that the RCC was an organization that worshipped an alien spider and was rewarded by having small boys to rape? That was actually better than the truth, because at least with the alien spider, you could say, "Well, you know, weird things happen when you worship alien spiders."

    As it is, all you can conclude is that the hierarchy of the RCC honestly believes that retaining priests is far more important than keeping children safe from molestation and that's just . . . not even Stone & Parker could really satirize that.

  10. Skirts or Kilts always felt too breezy to me, but to each his own. I've always been jealous of the colors ladies get away with. Thats why I favor Hawaiian shirts

  11. i am so sick of people who are actively anti-feminist claiming to be feminist.

    SO. SICK.

    i'm sorry, but what's next - claiming that beating one's wife is "feminist" because it "teaches women respect and the gain strength by living thru it"??? the Catholic Church has actively attempted to mandate, to Catholic hospitals, letting pregnant women die even if there is zero chance of a live, viable baby. it had tacticly condoned the rape of lesbians in Africa ["re-education rapes" or whatever the fuck they're calling it]. it has ACTIVELY fought against the spread of anti-HIV/AIDS measures, because those measures are also "birth control".

    the RCC isn't even a HUMANE organization, let alone a feminist one.

  12. It is not just the RCC but all religions. I’m in England and the Church of England has allowed women priests in these latter years but only after a huge struggle. Now they are going through the same battle to gain women Bishops. Provided anybody has the ability, experience etc then anyone is able to do anything, be it promoting religion to running multi-national companies.

    I too am a campaigner for men in skirts and have a site for such

    Feminism starts to lose support when it becomes a one sided opinion. I agree with the writer of this blog, it is for equality between men and women.

  13. The Church honors and values the particular gifts of women,

    Like having babies and wearing dresses and being motherly and nurturing! Yay!

    And the thing is...every "womanly gift" you could think of could just as easily apply to men, too, aside from the giving birth thing. Men can be nurturing. Men can be pretty. Men can be intuitive. Etc.

    That's what a lot of antifeminists (and some whackadoo feminists) don't get: I don't want to be valued as a woman. I want to be valued as a person.

    An allegory: I honour and value the special gifts that dogs patting the dog's head and giving him or her a cookie (and acting like that little biscuit is a huge fuckin' deal: "Who wants a treat?! Who's a good doggie who wants a treat? Oh boy, here it comes...!"). But I'll stick kick the dog off the couch when I want to sit down. Enjoying what someone contributes to your life =/= treating them as equal.

  14. *still, not stick. Gawd.


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