My issue with the feminism card

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Wednesday April 18, 2007.

You know, it’s not like I’m way too busy right now to do anything I consider meaningful on this blog – it’s just that I have neither the energy nor confidence to do something as well as I’d like. In the past two weeks I’ve started and not finished posts such as “Why the blogger code of ethics is silly and useless” and “Why UpNorth’s invasion of my privacy makes him/her a douchebag and the implications it could have on blogging.” It wasn’t until a subject appeared and reappeared a few times over the past couple of weeks that I decided I could maybe finish a thought. (For the record, this post tok nearly five days to write and finish. See, no problems at all.)

The subject that seems to keep appearing is that of feminism and the treatment of women in society. Let me get right into it then come back with a few comments of my own.

The latest go-round of this topic began at the Gleaner (Post 1) when an otherwise pedestrian post about, well, nothing to do with feminism turned into a comment thread about words and their sexist meanings. The next occurrence was just the other day at Myrna’s place (Post 2). At least this time it was in response to a guy that had been arguing his position somewhere else (Post 3). It ended (this time) with a post about netroots hero Markos Moulitsas Zúniga by Myrna (Post 4).

I was initially prompted to post after I commented in Post 2’s comment thread (sorry for the confusion, but the posts are not necessarily in chronological order). I left a comment that included, among other things, the following:

I am pretty typically opposed to when you use any issue to pull out the feminism card. I rarely see it as fair and it’s often incredibly self-serving.

Myrna responded to that statement with this:

I think its sad that there is a feminist card to be played. Everyone should be a feminist. What’s so controversial about equal rights and equal treatment and an end to sexual discrimination and sexual violence? For both sexes–that’s what feminism really is.

That’s the real provocative thought. While it is very true that there should be nothing controversial about what she says, the bottom line is that there continues to be controversy surrounding those things. The posts I mention all include them in various degrees. Here’s how:

Post 1

Gleaner commenter IronJawed brought the issue of gender into the conversation by (once again) insisting that Dina Titus lost the election for governor because she is a woman. Despite people using personal examles as to why they had issues with Titus, it seems like a conversation can’t be had with IronJawed over the election without the claim that Titus being a woman cost her. Who knows if it did? Then came the claim that use of the word “annoying” is based on gender. That was ridiculous. The post’s original point was derailed and the argument was on about whether “annoying” is a sexist word.

Annoying may or may not be completely entrenched in the differences in how women are treated from men. While I don’t think it is, I suppose I could just not understand. But, even if it is, the shifting of a discussion that wasn’t about gender bias to one that became comletely about gender bias is a tool for someone who can’t argue the points well. It was an attempt to find fault where there was no fault to be found. And like false accusations of sexual assault, it hurts the cause by numbing people to the real life effects these things have on the actual victims.

Post 2

The response by Myrna to a guy who immediately assumed she had condemned the Duke Lacrosse players when they were accused of rape was completely justified. If someone assumes something about you, whether right or wrong (but mostly wrong) you have to respond. I liken the action to when someone posts something meant to persuade that is utter BS. If you let it go, someone might actually be persuaded. If you don’t, you have the chance to state your case and set the record straight. I understand that as well as anybody, I think.

I have one issue with the post. She has a paragraph where she states her position as a feminist, then goes on to frame the next pulled quote from the guy she was responding to as if it was a response to her. He called the above-mentioned IronJawed “butch.” Now, I don’t know what was going on in the guy’s head. And I certainly wouldn’t do what he did, ever. But is it possible that he was not being completely serious? Does that make a difference? I’m not sure. But to say that he said it simply because someone is a feminist is just slightly dishinest. And for Myrna to pretend as if he was addressing her is also dishonest. Maybe she was trying to show some sort of solidarity with other feminists. Well, isn’t that also part of the problem. If we take the above quote by Myrna as what she truly wants, I think it’s a bad idea to start forming teams around the issue. What other reason could there be for her to have done that with his statement?

Post 3

This is the post that Myrna was responding to. It was another that was essentially hijacked to discuss the proper way feminists should treat issues involving men and women. Points were raised on both sides of the argument, but ultimately, you can’t expect someone to chime in on a subject that is semi-related to something close to them. It’s an argument you can’t win.

Post 4

In this one Myrna scolds Kos for his flippant dismissal of what amounts to the female online experience. Fair enough. There is definitely a back story and it’s not a good one. I read with great interest the post by Kathy Sierra on what happened to her and why she shut it down. I don’t read Kos, and generally don’t care about Kos. I do read Myrna and care what she has to say. I’m not sure she’s wrong in her assertion that Kos should be a bit more concerned that women experience different things online than men do. But the more I thought about the point she made the more I was drawn back what she said in the quote above: “I think its sad that there is a feminist card to be played.”

My thoughts

This brings me back to why I wanted to post this to begin with. If there should be no feminist card, then why do the people identifying themselves as feminists continue to pull it out and hit people with it? Why can’t Kos be allowed to not understand that there is a different life for women? He isn’t one, after all. Why, if it’s so important that women are on the same level, are we constantly pointed to places where the difference is shown? And why, if it’s so important that there is no feminism card to be had, are people still identifying themselves as feminists? That’s what’s maddening to me. I try hard to treat eveyone I interact with online the same. I hope I do. But I don’t think it would be a sin if I was unable to notice a difference in how I treat someone when in a discussion. Should that exclude me from a conversation?

I really just don’t understand all of this. Count me as someone who cares a great deal about women’s equality, but that also gets tired of hearing how men don’t get it.

On a very personal level, I have a daughter who should receive the very same treatment in her life as my son. Believe me, we did our damndest to treat them the same early in life, and differences still emerged. So now The Boy plays baseball (and has girls on his team) and The Girl does dance. Their interests lie in different, even stereotypical, places. Will that mean that they’ll be treated (and act) differently later in life? I hope not, but I can’t control that. I can, however, help them adjust to how they’ll be treated and hope as a parent that it doesn’t affect their happiness.

If my daughter comes home one day and tells me she’s a feminist, I’ll ask her the same questions I ask above. I’ll want her to be sure that she knows I support her and she knows that I expect her to fully think through the argument she’s about to start making. I expect that Myrna has done the same thing. With the amount that the argument has appeared in just the past couple of weeks, though, I can’t help but think that the issue is getting way more attention than it both deserves and is good for healthy debate. I would hate to think that anyone involved is essentially a one-issue thinker that can’t see past their own personal issues.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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