Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Inclusivity in feminism

For several years, we have been witnessing men and women in the public eye denounce feminism, proclaim themselves feminists, or attempt to define what feminism means. See this previous post. It gets confusing for those trying to learn about gender equality through the media. The misconception that feminism must either be completely inclusive or preemptively exclude certain groups is especially difficult to untangle.

I am not sure when feminists were first attacked for not being inclusive, but the attacks have increased. The insistence that every viewpoint be included is contrary to the goal of equality. Men who feel entitled to women's bodies and women who support misogyny are not victims of feminist hostility. Shaming the movement for not incorporating their views is a perpetuation of the wrong interpretation of feminism's objectives, and it signals a backlash. Furthermore, it can often serve as a tactic to make feminists sound defensive. The common opening statement that feminists do not hate men seems to be necessary because some people are led to believe that white male privilege can coexist with equality.

In addition to the fallacy of absolute inclusivity, the idea that certain groups are automatically excluded from feminism is misleading. The media continues to segregate important issues into narrow "women's interest" columns. As pleaded in this opinion piece, hastily putting sexual assault and equal pay in forums created for women is doing a disservice to the public. Feminism has become more inclusive, but it can require reshaping visions of the wider movement to overcome subtle repression.

An additional divisive controversy involves transgenderism. Transgender individuals are not accepted by a small minority of cisgender women who have been labelled TERFs. TERF stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist," and can be a derogatory term. However one stands on transgenderism, I think that differences in women's experiences and identities do not preclude a tolerant larger feminist movement. Not everyone is required to agree on what privileges are borne by whom; working toward dismantling hate and discrimination allows earnest supporters a seat at the table. The details of each person's past should not stop anyone from working to eliminate the caste system that metes out privileges and oppressions according to gender.

Currently, the tricky area when drawing feminism's boundaries is choice feminism. While supporting women's rights to make choices, must we necessarily protect all choices? Some actions are undoubtedly harmful to others' lives. In contrast, some choices (such as abandoning the gender binary in certain settings) seem benign or unduly subject to harsh criticism. The preceding article link laments: "So say it with me: Not everything a feminist does is a feminist act." As politically conservative women and individualists claim the feminist umbrella, should we clarify what feminism endorses? In a reach to gather support, proclaiming almost everyone a feminist makes articles like this sound prematurely hopeful. But when equal pay needs to be enforced, or we must discuss prostitution or pornography, I doubt it will be easy to announce agreement. So, what do you think? Are certain choices or groups inherently excluded from feminism? Is today's feminism too inclusive? Anita Sarkeesian's recorded speech at the All About Women 2015 conference is below for additional consideration of this topic.

1 comment:

Sara said...

Overall, I agree that it is better to have a larger, more tolerant, inclusive feminist movement. However, I also think there are dangers to over inclusivity. In the video, Anita Sarkeesian stated that “not every act by a woman is a feminist act, because some women’s actions can be harmful to other women.” One example that comes to mind is, as you mention, female conservative political figures that are self-proclaimed feminists. In 2010, Sarah Palin made a speech on feminism, claiming she was a part of the pro-woman sisterhood, in announcing the “emerging conservative feminist identity.” I think it is deeply damaging for someone with Palin’s level of power, who doesnt’t support women’s rights, to proclaim that they are feminist. At the same time, deciding where to draw the line on those who should be excluded from the feminist movement presents additional interpretive and definitional issues.