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Jurisprudence

Feminism – Unitary?

We cannot expect poor women feeding their families on food stamps to have the same priorities as female lawyers hoping to become partners in law firms. We cannot expect working-class women concerned with getting paid sick leave to have the same priorities as college professors. We cannot expect women who face both sex discrimination and race discrimination to develop the same priorities as women who face only sex discrimination. … There has never been a single, unified feminist agenda. We see feminism as an outlook that is ever being reinvented by new groups of women. Feminism necessarily changes as the world women inhabit changes.

– Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry in Feminism Unfinished
So part of my module is formed around the idea that feminism is not unitary. It is labelled as difference feminism and I think that it makes a lot of sense. No one agenda is going to fit anyone and I think it is time we acknowledge this fact instead of crying that it merely weakens the power of the feminist movement.
What good is the power if what it achieves is merely for the advantage for the dominant group? Instead of oppression by men, females of the minority groups would be oppressed and silenced by the dominant group. Critical race theorists points out part of the problem, but from the book I have been reading (Jurisprudence, Penner et al), most (if not all) of the theorists comes from either America or the Western hemisphere. Their concerns are real, but relevant only to part of the female society. The women of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa had been ignored through no fault of theirs. Out of sight, out of mind. They are concerned with the problems they see happening right in front of their mind.
Part of the problems they have identified are is race. Inequality exists between races and such inequality often manifests itself in economic power. Long before the white upper-middle class women went out to work, black women have been working as domestic help and were invisible.
American theorists are concerned with black women, with their history of being perceived as sexually dominant and thus a ‘free-for-all’. They are concerned with how legislation had, on purpose or by accident, created a lacuna between sex discrimination laws and race discrimination laws through which black women fell, unable to receive protection from the state. Kimberle Crenshaw described two cases where it is obvious that black women are being discriminated against and yet the state do nothing. Emily Jackson and Nicola Lacey (authors of the topic in Jurisprudence) described this scenario as ‘All blacks are men and all women are white”.
But are these the only axes of differentiation between women? As the above quote from Cobble, Gordon and Henry shows, clearly not. Economic power, social classes, cultural difference, sexual orientation, mothers, non-mothers, healthy women and sick women, those who want abortions and those against abortions, married and unmarried, employed and unemployed, all these show that the axes of differentiation in society is much more than just men and women.
What these makes clear is that we can never look at feminism in just one angle. It is unrealistic and impossible. A sweeping agenda might looks grand and impressive, but often ignores the minorities without intending to do so. It is time to focus on the details, on the different concerns of different groups.
I am Asian, my priorities are different from Westerners. I am Malaysian Chinese, my priorities are different from other ethnicity. I am a student with student debt, my priorities are different from those who have no worries about money. I am 22, my priorities are different from those about to retire. How can we therefore see a unified feminist agenda?
Of course it is impossible to tailor the feminist agenda to every single person. But it is possible to acknowledge that a sweeping unified feminist agenda can sometimes turn on minorities, changing their oppressors from men to fellow women from the dominant group. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that different groups have different priorities and these acknowledgments will not only weaken the feminist movement, but instead strengthen it.  This is because women from the minority groups would be more willing to come forth and join the feminist movements once they felt that the movement will actually benefit them.
We cannot expect everyone to be so noble to fight for a cause that may not be at all beneficial to them. We must show that feminism and the feminist movement is important and beneficial to everyone, regardless of gender, social difference, cultural difference or any differentiation. And to do so, it is my opinion that the first step is to discard the myth that there is a unified feminist agenda.
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Feminism (Part 2) – victim blaming

I am not sure how much I will write on this issue; I only know that I am pretty passionate about it. Am I bossy? Yes. I was told I was an ‘alpha female’. Does this make me a bitch? Perhaps, perhaps not. As Bette Davis said, ‘when a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.‘ So if I gave outspoken opinions on things, am I a bitch or am I just a woman?

As mentioned in my earlier post on Feminism, female bosses are often perceived as ‘witch’ and ‘bitch’. Fair? I don’t think so. You do not automatically think that way of your male boss, so why think that way of your female boss, especially if she isn’t married? Newsflash: women are NOT born to get married and have babies. Neither is she there to fulfill your sexual desires.

If someone is raped, it is never her/his fault; it is the rapist who deserves all the contempt and hatred society can pour onto him. Yet what we often observes is victim-blaming: ‘It is her fault to wear skirts that short”; “She shouldn’t have wear clothes that are so provocative”. Or worst of all, “she’s asking for it.” Does a victim of an assault ‘ask for it’? Does a victim of a road accident ‘ask for it’? Does the victim of a murder ‘ask for it’? If not, then why in the whole wide world would you suggest that a woman is ‘asking for it’?

As to those who would point their ugly fingers at women who wear short and tight clothes, what is your problem? If a man wearing tank top and shorts are raped, would you say it is because of his clothes that he brought this upon himself? If you say that the woman is raped because she dress provocatively, then surely the man is also raped because of the same reason! If you disagree that the man is raped because of the way he is dressed, then no way can you agree a woman should be blamed for being raped just because she dresses as she wants, dresses as a woman who is proud of her body.

I will leave you with a quote from Iggy Pop: “I am not ashamed to ‘dress like a woman’ because I don’t think it is shameful to be a woman.” Think about this the next time you decide to blame the victim for the rapist’s vile acts.

 

Feminism – Unneccessary?

One of my modules this year is Jurisprudence and one of its topics is Feminism. As a woman myself, this topic of course attracted my attention. It is not too long ago in history that women have little to no rights compared to men. We have come a long way since the days where all women are seen as property or a subset of men.

Although ‘equality’ in its current form does not reach everyone in the world (for example the Middle East), a large part of the world has, at least on the surface, bowed to social pressure and given ‘equal’ rights to women.

Until now, there are many who says that feminism is no longer necessary – women’s rights are already as strong as, if not stronger than, men’s rights. These people sees feminism as bringing a danger of causing inequality to swing the other way, being unequal to men for once. Among the examples they brought forth to prove this point is that during divorce, it is the general rule that the wife will receive alimony and maintenance for the children while the husband gets nothing even if he takes care of the children after the divorce.

They feel this is unfair to men and there are now groups that is fighting for men’s rights. It is the view of these people that feminism has done its job and it is time for it to leave the world’s stage. Any further requests by feminists is unfair to men and will drive inequality between sexes wider – adversely for men.

Yet is this true? What are the aims of feminism? Are they merely to get rights for women? It is my opinion that getting rights, formal rights, are not the only aims of feminism. As Bell Hooks said, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” Has these aims been reached? Arguably not. Not yet anyways.

Any student of feminism will tell you that yes, the early history of feminism is occupied with getting formal rights for women. This is because the fastest way to change society’s attitude and morality is through the enactment of legislation. The proof can be seen through the effects on society after UK and US enacted anti racial discrimination laws and decriminalization of homosexuality.

Although the enactment of laws can never change the minds of diehard extremists, it can help to sway those who are neutral or not overly invested. It also extends formal protection to those who are oppressed before the enactment of those laws. As such, before even thinking of changing society’s attitude, feminists have to get formal equality. It is a form of state protection and approval, which is a great help when trying to get further concessions from society itself.

But clearly equality between sexes cannot only rely on state’s legislation. While state interference is a good thing at the beginning, if a misogynist wins in the election (a current risk in the US), then there is a very real potential risk of him overturning or at the very least refusing further protection given to women. Therefore, it is important that feminists use the edge given to them by the legislation to further educate and influence society. Only when society itself accepts that equality is a good thing will women’s rights be safe from state interference.

The Suffragists asked for the right to vote and was called peevish. The Editorial of the Academy in the June of 1908 implied that the Suffragists’ discontent with society lies in their small prospects of marriage and that an unmarried woman’s life in incomplete and ‘pitiful’. It states that ‘politics, like prize-fighting, is a man’s job’. This, of course, sounds ridiculous in the modern era: Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton, Sonia Gandhi to name a few. Yet that is the attitude of society towards women at that point of time – women are only supposed to stay at home and take care of the children.

It is only during the first world war that women, specifically white women, for the first time, turned out to work in masses. It is at this point when the inequality reared its ugly head and blatantly charged into public viewpoint. Lower wages, loss of promotion, limitations of jobs, insecurity of jobs. All these becomes the reason that women are forced to fight for their rights more. While voting rights are something abstract and something that most women may not care about, no one wants to work the same amount as another and yet receive lesser pay. No one wants to be ignored when promotions came. Yet those are what happened to working women when they started working in the early 1900s.

While these have been largely resolved in this current era, gender equality is still something that is far from being achieved. Society’s impression of women is too deeply embedded into our subconscious and the existence of the ‘glass ceiling’ in the workplace is the best proof of this.

While formal equality is by now a fact, society’s impression of women being the weaker sex is still prevalent. For example, when people speak of a boy or man being ‘girly’, it is often with contempt. When a woman becomes the boss or a superior, she is often said to be a witch, more so if she is unmarried. Of course, this is not only by the men, but also by quite a number of women. But why? People admires successful people, but successful men are not asked whether they have ignored their family. They are also not presumed to be difficult to please. They are considered to be complete. Why is it that society continues to question the completeness of a woman while celebrating her success in the workplace?

From this it can be seen that for feminism to completely eradicate sexism is a very difficult task. Not only do feminists have to fight against prejudices against themselves (eg. ‘Feminazis’) but also have to fight against those they are fighting for.

Attitude of a society does not only comes from men, but also women. As long as society see feminine characteristics as shameful or something undesirable, women will continue to receive unequal treatment. We have been trying to reach the standards of men for so long that we have forgotten to ask: why not standards of women? Is there something shameful about being feminine? The answer is NO. Yet society continues to avoid feminine characteristics as being a desirable part of humanity.

I myself had been guilty of the same misconception. When I was younger I used to dislike wearing skirts because it is, here’s the word, girly. I am a girl and I have this thought. How then can we expect men to respect feminine characteristics when we ourselves dislike them?

In the modern era, formal equality is almost complete. Changing social attitude towards women and feminine characteristics are more important than ever. Gender equality will only become a reality when people are able to give equal respect and concern for both sexes. This, in my opinion, includes the characteristics of both sexes.

 

 “Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of sexes. -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

 

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