Ink & Penwipers

Scribbles, screeds, speculations, and the occasional reference to Schrodinger's cat.

24 October 2004

What A Woman Wants. No, Not Anything to Do With Mel Gibson.

A few years ago, long enough for some of the bitterness to fade but not so long that I can't remember the frustration, I got into a spot of bother on a Harry Potter email discussion list. You see, there were some people with entrenched opinions about Ron and Hermione, mainly having to do with their ongoing low-level conflict. They liked Hermione a great deal and were quite vocal about their distaste for Ron's character and intelligence. Well, one day I got kinda tired of the gratuitous Ron-bashing and decided to speak up for him in a couple lively posts.

The odd thing was, the instant I stuck up for Ron people started accusing me of being a closet Hermione-hater. Just imagine my amazement and frustration when my repeated insistences that liking Ron did not mean hating Hermione -- that building up one did not require tearing down the other -- that defending his actions didn't require making some sweeping moral attack on her character -- fell on deaf ears. They believed so strongly that Hermione was bullet-proof and Ron was reprehensible that there was no getting through to them, and they grew verbally extremely aggressive, not to say violent, both to the character and to me.

Sound less than rational to you? Sound a little...hysterical?

Now, arguments about fiction are pretty much harmless. Except by causing annoyance, frustration, and strained relationships, they don't have much to do with real life. But this scenario is a symptom of a logical disconnect that happens because of a psychological choice people make, and it happens with important issues too.

Like with the choice to self-identify as against feminism or feminists.

I've heard a lot of anti-feminist arguments in my time, that range from, "Oh, that's not a good thing to be. You don't want to be like one of those bra-burners," to "But what about all the horrible things women do? You're not going to make them out to be innocent angels, are you?" to "I think women are equal, but I support traditional gender roles and I think it's a mistake to be shrill in opposing them. It smacks of power hunger." All these arguments have one thing in common, an axiom reached by psychological choice long before any intellectual arguments are brought to bear: You can't help women without unjustly hurting men.

It has a corollary: People who want to help women are mostly, if not solely, interested in hurting, or causing injustice to, men.

I reject both premise and corollary.

One of the things that makes humans (by God's grace) a highly developed species is the ability to plan for long-term benefits for its society. Surely no one would deny that the well-being of half the population is in the interest of everyone. Nor would it seem illogical to assume that if there is a power imbalance between two groups of people, made all the more intractable by long practice, that carefully weighting the law in favor of the weaker party is, in fact, justice. Yes, such justice ought to be self-evident, and yes, it's a shame that legislation must be so weighted. It also ought to be self-evident to seventh-graders that they shouldn't have a war with perfume samples while doing an English lesson, but I had to send two of them to the office a few years ago for doing just that, and was pretty mortified (as a timid student-teacher) at the thought of having to call these boys' parents and inform them of what they'd done, since it rather reflected on my control of the class.

The point is, where there is no enforcement, no clemency sometimes even bordering on arbitrariness, there will be abuse of power. It doesn't just happen in Afghanistan, folks. It happens right here, and we don't do anything about it because it is mortifying to our sense of civilization.

I've seen and heard arguments in some specific situation against a feminist position that characterized the judicial weight toward the woman's cause -- as in a rape or divorce case -- as a grave miscarriage of justice. But I have noticed that the objection is rarely based on the specifics of the case; rather, it is more often directed at the bedrock idea that a woman should ever win a case against a man. As if that one victory were dangerously cracking open a pair of floodgates through which female usurpation of power would soon force its way rushing through. Likewise with raising issues of women's health -- as if caring more about women's health means caring less about men's.

It doesn't.

As a feminist since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I have never seen the granting of due justice to women as a way of hurting or dehumanizing men. In fact, I've been rather famous for appreciating the full humanity of men, in the face of indisputable familiarity with the abuses of power of some of them. And since I met more feminists, I realized that there's a veritable rash of this appreciation of male humanity among them. If we're not careful, girls, we'll lose our man-hating street cred. Don't let the secret get out!

Sorry, that was sarcasm. And sarcasm in the mouth of a woman is proof positive of her harpydom. Won't happen again.

I have met many people in my short adult life that match a lot of profiles, sometimes more than one profile at once. I know men who are as feminist as they can possibly be while still being misogynists. I know women who refuse to identify themselves as feminists because of the term's taint of liberalism (since this was once a description of myself I have a special sympathy with them.). I know feminists who change their name when they marry and feminist-haters who urge other women to vote. Everybody has stumbling blocks and frustrating complications in their lives; because humans just do.

My point is pretty simple. When Freud asked the famous question, "What does a woman want?" he neglected to ask an actual woman on purpose because he knew he wouldn't like her answer. A woman wants justice. Because people want justice, and women are people, and they've been denied it a hundredthousandweight of times. J.S. Mill said all this stuff a hundred years ago, but I'll restate it. Granting due justice to one person is good for everybody. Yes, it means sometimes taking power and privilege from people who've had it a long time, and that has to suck for them in the short term. And as Arthur Ashe remarked about his battle with AIDS, people never are inclined to ask, "Why me?" about the pleasant things, but with unpleasant things they nearly always raise the question of whether they deserve them.

To people who think that liking Ron means hating Hermione; to people who think defending women is to ignore their faults while punishing men's; to people who tell me they could never be feminists because that means being a harpy, a man-hater, or a liberal pinko commie -- I say, respectfully, that they suffer from a fatal misconception born of an unfortunate choice to draw lines between some ephemeral "us" and "them".

Further, I say that the moral or religious conviction that traditional gender roles are essential to our society because they entail the notion of a female as deficient or sinful and the male as her savior, teacher, or judge is itself sinful, because it misprojects the map of holiness. Greenland is three times the size it ought to be, and it screws with our ideas of reality. If that's dangerous thinking, it's only because it doesn't serve the status quo, not because it really violates God's plan for humankind. Here, too, to serve women is not to do a disservice to men.

I wanted to speak plainly about this because I get extremely tired of all the current political posturing about who's "us" and who's "them", over something that affects me directly every day, usually adversely. While respecting the humanity, integrity, and intelligence of those who hold different opinions from mine, I have to say that I hold these opinions precisely because I believe them to say something true about reality, not because I wish to be antagonistic for its own sake.

So, yeah, I'm a feminist. And I love males. They're not mutually exclusive.

Thank you and goodnight.


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