Can we constructively criticize Feminism?

It took me a few weeks before i decided to first post about overt feminism. I stood for everything in the post, but found myself apprehensive – a rare emotion for me and blogging. I asked myself, do you really want to do this? You know what’s gonna happen right? YOU DON’T NEED TO DO THIS. I published it anyway. For my second post, the apprehension remained. Unpopular an opinion as it is, i published it too.

Still, a vague sense of discomfort remained. I was dissatisfied, because those posts did little to bring across a point i really wanted to make – which i could not fully articulate until today. Instead, they were fertile ground set up for a misrepresentation of what i felt. My bad. Time for clarification.

1. I support feminism. No, you know what: I am a feminist.

Women should be given equal rights and opportunities in all domains – academic, social, political, in the workplace. Women should not be subjected to discrimination, violence, or any other disadvantages due to their gender. Gender equality, above all, needs to be established.

As of today, we are far from reaching the feminist ideal. In third-world countries and urban cities alike, women face both implicit and explicit violence. Little girls are deprived of education, women are burnt along with their husbands, forced into marriage, prostitution. Even amidst skyscrapers and iPhones, women are silenced, ridiculed, blamed for rape; hell, high-ranking females face subtle discrimination in their workplace, but find themselves unable to explicate their plight.

I recognize that, and I believe in the need for feminism.

In fact, it is because I believe in feminism, that manifestations of it that threaten its progress anger me.

2. Not all feminist outrage is bad. But not all is good either.

Feminist outrage is what will fuel social progress, inching us towards gender equality. Outrage is necessary both to reduce female discrimination and to bring down toxic forms of patriarchy.

While I have full faith in feminist outrage, for it to be reasonable outrage, two aspects need to be examined: content, and extent.

Content: Is the source of our outrage actually a feminist issue? This is in itself contentious, one may find it offensive while the other can’t see it. Furthermore, as a friend (cr: @wolneb) accurately pointed out, even if it’s not an overt one – it should not be dismissed from discussion.

There are many cases, however, that warrant no attention from gender-issue critics, but nonetheless spawned several articles claiming feminist stake. Such as Zuckerberg’s innocuous reply to wearing the same shirt daily.

Perhaps, then, the content relevance should be evaluated with the possible gender-sensitive consequences of an event. Admittedly, Matt Taylor’s shirt may affect society’s perception of women’s place in the scientific field – no matter how mild.

But then comes the question of extent: was the amount of feminist outrage appropriate for the issue at hand? We should cap outrage at the minimum level necessary to redress the issue and correct societal perceptions on gender. Simply because we are civilized, social beings – no one really like unnecessary aggression (well, okay, some do).

3. I recognize that feminism faces unfair criticism

Unfortunately, it does. Despite increasing support from the media, feminist ideas and movements are deemed by some to be unnecessary and overtly aggressive. Some of these are even women.

While I do not support such criticisms, some may have taken root because of an increasingly pervasive media phenomenon. Which, incidentally, is my main concern:

Feminist invulnerability to constructive criticism, supported by the media.

Let’s not hide it, feminism is gaining ground as popular thought, strongly protected by social media. And that is great! The potential is endless: we can raise awareness of implicit discrimination, share statistics, hold discussions, persuade, effect social change.

But. Much of this potential has been crowded out, because social media expends its protective and amplifying resources to issues that should instead be generating balanced discussions.

A great example would be the Times poll. Brief summary: “Feminist” was included under the 2015 Words to Ban poll, led to overwhelming backlash, Times apologized and took it down. In their apology, however, they noted that:

“While we meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year, that nuance was lost […]”

I won’t go into whether Times was right or wrong, but the public reaction was telling – instead of introspection about why feminist has garnered such a reputation, the immediate action taken was to aggressively shoot down the criticism.

Feminism, like any other movement, should not be free from reasonable criticism.

Even if Times should have removed the word from the list, steps should be taken to understand why it was there in the first place. Why was feminism considered overused, misused by some? As long as social media upkeeps indiscriminate protection of feminism from both unfair and fair criticism, constructive debate is curtailed, and true feminism progress in media might find itself reaching a plateau – a huge pity considering its vast potential.

Why am I so concerned about feminism being overly sheltered from criticism on social media? 

Feminism should be protected by media. It is the first step in the progress towards gender equality. However, over a certain point, its invulnerability becomes problematic:

a) Most importantly, it is portraying a skewed image of feminism, explaining #womenagainstfeminism. It is frightful, yes, that there are women against the promotion of their own rights (Seriously. What.)

This is easily resolved, however, when we realize that some of their definition of “feminism” is not really feminism at all, but instances of unwarranted attacks on irrelevant issues endorsed on social media.

b) Such as man-hating

Misandry is not feminism, feminism is not misandry. So why are they conflated?

When social media overly protects feminism against critical opinions, instances of hate speech against men are overlooked, allowing them to be subsumed under the broad voice of feminism online. Netizens fear that by pointing out misandry, they would be accused of being anti-feminists. I have read arguments along the line of: “Why is it not okay to discriminate men, when women have been discriminated for so long?”

Again, this is not the opinion of majority of feminists. Most feminists, online or offline, would recognize this as an invalid argument. My point is, in the crush of popular feminist voice online – protected and sustained by the media and online public – these arguments often go unchecked, as a result skewing the image of true feminism.

c) Suppressing unpopular opinion for fear of backlash

After awhile, auto-regulation occurs. People stop pointing out any inconsistencies, disguised misandry or false feminism, in fear of being labelled as anti-feminists.

I personally experienced this. There was a constant need to qualify, to explain what i actually meant. Even then, there is fear: I fear being thought of as an anti-feminist.

But it is precisely because i am a feminist that i’m writing this, disregarding the fear.

Because feminism online can be so much more, and so much better. By lowering the protective gates to a reasonable amount, allowing constructive criticism (but shutting down unfair, offensive ones), feminism would benefit by gaining more supporters and ultimately effect more concrete progress in gender equality.

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5 thoughts on “Can we constructively criticize Feminism?

  1. I agree that women’s right should be protected. However there are two points I want to bring in for your consideration.

    Discrimination against women is severe in other countries, especially the 3rd world countries like what you have mentioned. But is discrimination in our country really obvious? I believe if one is too sensitive about women discrimination issue, she actually subconsciously feels females are inferior in a sense. Hence this issue is like a sore nerve. Whenever it is touched, she jumps. As a psychology student, I believe you know what i mean. I am not saying this is the case for you or anyone in particular. I thinking if one so truly and firmly believes women are as good as men, why would she feel so disturbed?

    Another point I would like to bring to your attention is that reason for discrimination may not be simple as it appears to be. For example if a firm only hires men, it doesn’t mean the owner is discriminatory. That may be because the owner cannot afford a female employee taking paid maternity leave. If one say this is discrimination, that person should pay the paid maternity leave for the firm. Another example of “so-called” discrimination is firms only hire chinese and not other races. That may not discrimination because the firm may need people who can speak both english and chinese for the marketing purposes. Therefore what i want to say is that it is not wise to blame everything for discrimination. There are deeper reasons behind it. I am not saying you are doing this. It is just another point for feminist to think about.

    1. Uhhhm, I think you’re kind of missing the point of this post.

      I’m talking about the lack of open criticism allowed towards discrimination in social media, not making a case for whether sexism exists in developed countries. The preamble about discrimination was just that… a preamble.

      But since you brought it up, we can talk about it.

      “I believe if one is too sensitive about women discrimination issue, she actually subconsciously feels females are inferior in a sense.”

      This may be true. In my post, i have also highlighted the need for discriminate sensitivity to feminist criticism: that is, one should discern between actual, constructive criticism and unfair, discriminatory ones.

      But digging deeper, why would a female feel inferior in the first place? Is it because she is made to feel so? Female insecurity has its roots in patriarchal attitudes of society.

      “I thinking if one so truly and firmly believes women are as good as men, why would she feel so disturbed?”

      Because, if one thinks that she is truly as good as another, but experiences discrimination or was disadvantaged in any way, she SHOULD be disturbed. That is outright prejudice, and is exactly feminism should aim to reduce.

      Yes, not everything should be immediately dismissed as gender discrimination. There may be other factors (resource limitations, actual abilities) at play, but it may appear as discriminatory. But at the same time, we cannot deny that such prejudice does exist, and should be addressed.

      Thank you for your input, but most of these have been duly considered. What i was suggesting is exactly for more deliberate examination of what is immediately perceived as ‘sexist’, to distinguish prejudice from more innocent factors.

  2. Hi Wei Qing. This is a very insightful post.
    I believe you have made many valid points. You may want to consider the fact that feminism however, is still a REACTION to the fundamental subjugation and overt/nuanced suppression by men/rules established by the patriarchy whether in the workplace or not. Therefore this puts feminism into the backseat, whereby it will forever be subsumed and ancillary to patriarchy. A fresh concept needs to be developed such that it can be established on the same level as the patriarchy (i.e. a woman dominated social construct as opposed to a male centric one; to put it crudely there can only be one ‘victor’ in this gender struggle). Feminism is needed to first draw attention and awareness to such a prevalent issue that I believe many have actually conveniently ignored. To establish true equality, however, such a concept has to be reformatted and rethought. A new concept needs to be borne that elevates women’s position in society, such that a ‘phenomenon’ like that would not be conceived as an empowerment but a norm.

    Study hard and continue blogging girl. Few have the courage to address such an issue and even fewer can articulate their thoughts into a coherent post like you have. My hats off to you!

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