I am a feminist because feminism is simply the belief that women should be treated as fairly as men, and there is no factual or rational reason to want the world to work any other way. I would be a feminist even if women all the world over were treated as fairly as men and there was nothing more to be done. Because feminism is the view that that is the way things should be, and thus the way we should endeavor to keep things going.
But in fact the world is not there yet. Certainly not in the so-called third world. But even here in the first world, we are still a long way from a just and reasonable society, not only in this issue but in many–from the way gays and lesbians and atheists and all other minorities must still fight bigotry at both the social and institutional level (yes, appallingly, even here in the U.S.), to the way we allow stupidity and dogma and emotion to block us from doing the right thing in every national domain, from prison reform to tax reform to the elimination of antiquated (and ultimately religious) “vice” crimes. If you see how wrong we as a society are in every other domain, you should not be surprised that we are still as wrong in the matter of embodying the ideals of feminism.
If you believe women deserve equal treatment under the law (as the 14th amendment requires) and if you believe women ought to be treated in business and culture and personal relations as individuals the same way men are, then you are a feminist. If you don’t believe those things, you are a sexist. That people must be treated equally under the law stems from the same fact that they must be treated as individuals in every other domain: each person has their own assets and liabilities that often defy gender averages–for example, women may on average have lower upper body strength than men, but many individual women will be stronger than the average man just as many individual men will be weaker than the average woman, so the right standard to judge a person is by the abilities of the individual and not the averages of their sex, perceived or real. Even when differences are pervasive (e.g. many women can get pregnant, most men cannot), these have no bearing on most matters of evaluating a person’s merit (such as strength, intelligence, emotional resilience) or legal status (in most cases whether a given tax or law applies to you should not be determined by whether you have a womb or a penis, or indeed even your intelligence or strength), and even when they do they are still reducible to matters of individual difference (many women cannot get pregnant, for a variety of different reasons, while many transsexual men can, thus no law can simply assume all women can get pregnant and no men can), or even individual differences don’t matter (e.g. women should simply have the same right to divorce, vote, or own property as men, regardless of any differences, individual or otherwise, provided they are all legally competent adults).
None of the above should even have to be explained. Yet routinely I find it does. That measures how far we are from being a fully humanist society.
Besides the reasons to want this fairness (of treating people as the individuals they are rather than irrationally mapping on to them the perceptions and averages assigned to their gender) there is the fact of the harm that is done by defying or denying any effort to realize this fairness–in society, in our communities, in ourselves. Denying that this defiance or denial happens is the first pillar that ensures it frequently does. Especially since cognitive biases can be pernicious in being undetected even in oneself, if you don’t even know to look for them and then compensate or correct for them; or worse, if you deny you even have to. It is easy to assimilate stereotypes and act and think in accordance with them without being aware that you are, or without being aware that it’s irrational (but instead trying to rationalize it, by finding clever ways to convince yourself those stereotypes are more pervasively true than they really are).
A rational person is someone who cares about living a self-examined life in which they look for these kinds of biases not only in their society and community but in themselves, and then doing something to fix it. And a feminist is someone who does this in regard to not just overt, but latent sexism. Thus, since a rational person is someone who does this generally, all rational people will be feminists. Conversely, if you aren’t a feminist, you aren’t a fully rational person. This does not mean all solutions to any discovered problem are the right solutions or even good ideas at all, but one cannot find the right solutions, the good ideas, if you aren’t even looking for them in the first place. And you won’t really be looking very hard if you aren’t passionate about the result. In other words, if you don’t deeply care that your society and community be as wise and as just as it can be. Which entails deeply caring about sexism and its purge and defeat.
Religious prejudice comes in many levels, from religious supremacism (e.g. Christians are the master race deserving of full support from the government and atheists are barely human scum who deserve to have their rights taken away or even kicked out of the country) to unconscious religious bias (e.g. treating Christians with more favoritism than atheists, as when deciding to listen to them or befriend them or employ them or how much to pay them or whether to promote them or when blaming anything they do wrong on their “being an atheist” rather than finding the same reasons as when a Christian does something wrong, all without even realizing you’re doing that). Prejudice against women comes in the same spectrum, and I have seen all points on that spectrum realized in the United States, the supposedly enlightened culture–and not just in the United States, but within the atheist movement as well. All the way from male supremacism (e.g. women are just inferior to men in nearly every way and government and business should simply recognize that and distribute rights, benefits, and privileges accordingly) to unconscious sexism (e.g. treating men with more favoritism than women, as when deciding to listen to them or befriend them or employ them or how much to pay them or whether to promote them or when blaming anything they do wrong on their “being a woman” rather than finding the same reasons as when a men does something wrong, all without even realizing you’re doing that). I have seen it all, the whole spectrum, in my country and in the atheist community.
We should be doing something about it. We should be debating what’s to be done. Not whether anything is to be done. Because rational and enlightened people identify problems in themselves and their communities and do what they can to fix them. Sexism is a problem. It would be a problem to prevent even if it didn’t exist. But it certainly does exist, even in our supposedly advanced culture, even in our supposedly rational community. And I care about that.
That is why I am a feminist.