What do we really mean? Why do we have heah a failure to communicate?
Many recent set-tos and arguments on the internet we’ve seen seem to hinge on differences of definition and related communication difficulties.
Micro Dr. O was recently “raked over the coals” for a post she made saying that women who say that people who say that becoming the trailing spouse is failing the sisterhood are not feminist. (She has promised to refrain from using the offensive term “feminazi” in the future.)
I’m hip with the idea… it’s like those crazy guilt-mongering “AP” folks with the lists of you must cosleep/sling/breastfeed etc. that totally don’t understand that the definition of Attachment Parenting is simply, “Do what works for your family” (and what works can include the list, but should not force the list because not all things work for all baby/parent dyads). But the difference between “attachment parenting” and “feminism” is that there’s one definition for attachment parenting because it was coined by one person (Dr. Sears).
My definition of feminism does not include putting women above men, it focuses on equal treatment and equality more generally. But apparently that is not the definition of Dr. O’s detractors, as they specifically state that the fringe elements are still part of the greater feminism set. Huh… so what is feminism then? Who is right?
Maybe there are multiple definitions of feminism.
In fact, there are.
From colleagues on the intarwebs, a non-comprehensive list of feminism types, as listed in Half the Human Experience: The Psychology of Women, by Janet Shibley Hyde, 7th edition, 2007. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
•Liberal feminism: This is what I mean when I use the term “feminism,” and probably what Dr. O means as well. Specifically, that women should have opportunities and rights equal to those of men. Not more, just equal. We favor working to reform the current system as it just needs some tweaking and will progress if we keep pushing (though probably too slowly).
•Cultural feminism: In this version, women have special, unique qualities that patriarchal society devalues. These feminists might argue that a woman’s place is in the home, but we should value home production more than we do as a society.
•Marxist feminism: Standard Marxism. Women are oppressed based on class because of problems with capitalism, just like everybody else except our capitalist overlords.
•Radical feminism: Radical changes are needed, such as female-only space safe from oppression.
•Postmodern feminism: This places a strong attention to the language we use and the structure we are in. We do not experience reality directly but construct it actively, assigning meaning based on our past experiences, expectations, etc. Gender can’t be understood in isolation, but only in relation to things like class, race, etc. Gender is a stimulus variable that affects other people as well as yourself. This I think probably best describes #2’s version of feminism, to which I have some sympathies, but as a pragmatist, liberal feminism is mostly where I’m at. I imagine #2 also sympathizes with liberal feminism.
(#2 says, I’m kind of a mixture. I have some sympathies with all the approaches, depending on situation. My male feminist friends also run the gamut, which is interesting to me.)
So if your definition of feminism is liberal feminism, then women who advocate for women’s preferences over men’s are not feminist. In fact, they may be doing harm as they are placing the blame for a trailing spouse on the woman herself (rather than on, say, the patriarchy as a post-modernist would), thus further distancing us from the ideal of equality. However, in the context of radical feminism, such a stance seems appropriate.
Are radical feminists true feminists? Well… that all depends on your definition and how expansive it is.
As academics especially, before we start raking people over the coals, let’s stop and remember that our disciplines have different jargon and different definitions and maybe if we’re polite to each other we can learn new viewpoints and come around to other ways of thinking. After all, we’re not stupid, we just have different training. (And bullying is so anti-feminist… or is it?)