I took an intro to philosophy course back in high school. It was roughly the equivalent of a first-year philosophy survey course (only better, because the class size was smaller and everyone in the class actually wanted to be there), taught by a really cool guy named Mr. Peglar. It is to him, and his class, that I can attribute credit for not only a lot of the content on this blog, but the way in which much of it is presented – he’s the one who taught me the strength of the ‘argument-counterargument-refutation’ approach to persuasive writing.
One of the central dichotomies we focussed on at the beginning of the class was realism vs. antirealism – the question of whether or not reality exists independently of an observer. We agonized over this for a week before he introduced us to an absolutely magical solution – pragmatism. Whether or not reality exists objectively, since the question is unanswerable (the scientific method – the best way to determine truth – is dependent on the assumption of reality existing), we are best served by assuming things exist. It is the only way to get by in the world.
There are a lot of assumptions about what motivates feminism. If you’re a woman, you may be accused of hating men and wishing to castrate them, or of being bitter and not having the strength to assert yourself, so you have to tear men down. If you’re a man, these assumptions are harder to make stick – there’s no reason to suspect that I hate men, being a man myself and having mostly male friends, and anyone who thinks I’m not strong enough to assert myself is invited to come say that to my face. Other insulting suggestions, that I am whipped or I’m just sucking up to chicks to get laid, are similarly poorly applied to me particularly – I’ve been single for many years and it’s theoretically much easier to score with randoms that don’t respect themselves than it is with feminists (which is a sad fact), who are, in my experience, the only kind of women that think a guy who calls himself a ‘feminist’ is sexy.
No, my reasons for being a feminist are largely impure and pragmatic. Sure, equality of women is the right thing to do, but many people are not particularly swayed by moral arguments. After all, feminism appears, to many eyes, to be more than simple equality – it is active change as opposed to passive assurances to ourselves that we aren’t sexist because we don’t use the word “broads” anymore. However, everyone can appreciate a nice, clean, pragmatic argument:
Though it is stunning to see these two worlds in such stark and detailed relief, their existence is not news: Development specialists and human rights groups have been calling attention to these inequities for years. But the systemic oppression of women tends to be cast in terms of claims for empathy: We shouldn’t follow these policies because they are not nice, not enlightened. Some development researchers have started to make a compelling case, too, that oppression of women impedes countries’ efforts to escape poverty.
But the data in the Newsweek list show that we need to frame this issue in stronger, more sweeping terms: When poor countries choose to oppress their own women, they are to some extent choosing their own continued poverty. Female oppression is a moral issue; but it also must be seen as a choice that countries make for short-term “cultural” comfort, at the expense of long-term economic and social progress.
If you are not innumerate, you can start a business. If you are not living in mortal fear of rape and beatings at home, you can organise your community to dig a new well. If you are not subjecting your daughter to traumatic genital injury at three and marrying her off at ten, she can go to school. And, when she does marry and has children of her own, they will benefit from two educated, employed parents, which means twice as much literate conversation in the home, twice the contacts, and twice the encouragement to succeed. Educated, pushy mothers make all the difference.
Many people are uncomfortable with pragmatic arguments. They are incredibly cavalier – these are real people who suffer real pain we’re talking about here. Rape, beatings, mutilation – these are not things to be placed on a scale and weighed against money. Forgetting these facts marginalizes that suffering; making the moral argument is the only decent thing to do.
Here’s the problem with that line of reasoning. I’ve always called myself a feminist. Even when I was younger, I accepted the moral argument that all people should have equal rights and live free of discrimination. However, like with so many things, my understanding of feminism was juvenile and ill-informed. It wasn’t until I began to delve seriously into the antiracist discussion that I learned more about what feminism fought for and against.
The thing that had the greatest impact on my thinking – what turned me around to active feminism rather than milquetoast hand-waving and effete posturing about the need for equality – was the fact that the system that we currently have is hurting us. We are all victims of the patriarchy (to be sure – some of us are victimized more than others). What our society is doing, essentially, is trying to run uphill in roller skates with a weight around our ankles. Adopting a feminist approach not only removes that weight (by giving the human race twice as many well-informed and powerful members), but it removes the skates (by ceasing to engage in self-defeating behaviours).
I am a feminist for the same reason I am a liberal, or an anti-racist, or pro-LGBT, or any other political stance I may hold – because it makes the world a better place. It improves our whole society without violating any major ethical strictures, and has a ripple effect that sees increasing returns the better we get at it. It also has the added bonus of being the right thing to do.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!