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Credo

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 17 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.

Bitch. Ph.D. is always a good place to go for a good discussion. Several days ago she started one that has been fascinating reading, and that I’d like to see spread more broadly: we often talk about so-called feminisms–emphasizing the variety amidst our unity. Well, O.K.; but that does mean that at some point you’re going to have to come out and say what your commitment to feminism does mean for you. So, she asks, What is your feminism about?

Here’s what the good doctor had to say about it herself:

In many ways, I suspect my feminism is fairly bourgeois. I don’t want a revolution that doesn’t allow me to dance, flirt, and buy shoes. On the other hand, my feminism is fairly absolute in that I will not allow myself (or others) to demonize “radical feminists” or to ignore poor women or women of color, and I object very strongly when I see women fighting with each other over crumbs. I’m sure I do it too, sometimes, but I try very hard not to. My feminism is material in the sense that I believe that the body is irreducible (more and more so, as I age, and more since becoming a mother). I do not believe that there are no differences between men and women; but I believe that what differences there are have been vastly exaggerated by social conditioning, and I reject essentialism. My feminism likes men, and is sympathetic to the ways that they, too, suffer from narrow definitions of gender. My feminism insists on being heard, and will not give up a fight, and will not back down. On the other hand, my feminism deplores unfairness, meanness, and insensitivity. I believe in principles, including the principle that people matter. I believe in forgiveness and second chances, and in teaching, and in learning; and I also believe in having high expectations and firm boundaries. My feminism is polemical but embraces ambiguities. My feminism is aggressive and protective.

— Bitch. Ph.D. 2005-04-17: Feminisms

I think that most of what I would have to say at length would come around to many (tho’ not all) of the same points. I’m actually probably less concerned than she is with whatever suffering men might face (as men–gay-baiting and gay-bashing are different issues) under patriarchy. But I thought this was beautiful, and when it comes to teaching, and learning, sympathy and solidarity, high expectations and an absolute commitment to compassion over hurtfulness and meanness, I couldn’t agree more.

And for myself? Here’s how I try to put things when I come to think about what my commitment to feminism means for me:

My feminism is simple and direct. Politics is hard and complicated, but ideology shouldn’t be. If you like ticking things off, you could say that my feminism rests on Five Pillars. Here they are:

  1. It’s wrong to hurt other people. There are no excuses for hurting other people who have done nothing to deserve it.

  2. Women are people.

  3. In the society we live in, men hurt women who have done nothing to deserve it, all the time, more or less with impunity, because these men regard hurting women as something that they have a right to do.

  4. I have a responsibility (and so do you) to do what I can toward ending that–immediately, entirely, and for good.

  5. Women know more than I do about how men hurt them, and about how to end that.

The rest is all details.

So. What about you? What is your feminism about?

6 replies to Credo Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Cleis

    RG: I wonder that your pillars say nothing about the structural nature of sexism and patriarchy. I agree with what you say here, but it seems to be missing something crucial: viz., patriarchy is such that even well-intentioned men with no thought of hurting women can support and reinforce sexism.

  2. Rad Geek

    Cleis,

    Of course you’re right, and it’s important to say that. This is what I get for trying to fit everything in five points, I guess. (God only knows how it would have ended up if I’d tried to cram it into Four Noble Truths like I’d originally considered!)

    I guess I would locate the importance of patriarchy (as a social order and not just as an attitude) in points 3 and 5–although for what I said in #3 to meet that interpretation the “In the society we live in” has to do more work than just establishing location and “men hurt women” has to be taken as a statement about social classes, not just about collections of individuals. And 5 really should say something about the accountability that I (like other men in a male-supremacist society) need to commit myself to, not just commentary on my fallibility. I guess that if I’d explicitly mentioned the need to listen to women as part of it–which is as much a pillar of my faith as anything–that would help make things a bit clearer. I’m not really listening if I’m not open to criticism of myself or acting on that criticism to change the ways that I might be reinforcing sexism.

    Thanks for prodding me on this.

  3. anik

    I think what Rad Geek was more concerned with was violence against women as opposed the structural patriarchy you’re talking about. I’ve noticed that often the very structure is created to deal first problem results in the second… so I don’t think any solution to structural patriarchy can be structural as opposed to cultural

  4. Rad Geek

    Anik, I’m not sure what you mean by “structural as opposed to cultural.” People who differentiate between instances of individual and structural oppression usually include cultural factors (as opposed to this or that person’s idiosyncratic stupidity or hostile attitudes) under the “structural” heading.

    Broadly, my primary concern as a feminist has always been and probably will always be the individual acts of violence, intimidation, and harassment that individual men commit against individual women, every day, here and abroad, with almost complete impunity, because they feel entitled to control and to hurt women. The real hurt in real women’s lives is what grounds my commitment to feminism and what drives me when I study feminist theory, movement history, or when I get involved myself.

    But what Cleis was (rightly) prodding me on is the fact that these daily facts can only really be understood by reference to structural realities–it’s not just a matter of a lot of men with the wrong attitudes, and changing it isn’t just a matter of changing men’s minds. Changing men’s minds is important and worthwhile, but what’s really important is to uproot the political system that generates and enforces sexual politics as we know them. That means holding individual men accountable, but it’s important to recognize that individual men can (and do) participate in, and reinforce, those structures even if we mean well and even if we are consciously trying to change them. If I am going to live up to the responsibilities I have (#4), and to understand what it is about our society that male violence is systematic, ordinary, and excused in everyday life, then it’s vitally important for me to recognize this and keep my eye on it. It’s important for us feminist men to recognize that we have met the enemy, and they is us. I tried to get at that, somewhat, in #5, but Cleis was absolutely right to point out that this wasn’t clear enough in what I wrote.

  5. Anik

    Well what structural changes in policies or laws do you think need to be made here and abroad to give women more control over their own lives?

  6. anik

    I mean male on female violence is usually dealt with through legal systems created and implemented by political patriarchy.

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