When I’m Embarrassed to be a Feminist

Before: Machism, Today: feminism :-)
I was enjoying a coffee date with a girlfriend and she directed me to this article that did the rounds on her Facebook news feed. It’s an article from xojane titled ‘35 Practical Steps Men can take to Support Feminism‘. Aside from the slightly cringe-worthy title, I hoped that it would be interesting.

I was wrong. The more I read the more mortified I became. If I was reading the article on my phone instead of my friend’s it probably would have been flung into the traffic in disgust. For the first time, I sympathise with the “I’m not a feminist because…” crowd. I won’t inflict a point by point analysis upon you. Instead I will give you just the highlights. Starting with the first ‘practical’ suggestion.

1. Do 50% (or more) of housework.
You need to do your share of housework all the time, of your own accord, without procrastinating, without being asked, without making excuses. Recognize that our domestic habits and our internalized ideas about unpaid domestic work are hugely gendered and hugely benefit men, and accept that it is your responsibility to fight against this. If feminism is the theory, clean dishes are the practice. Over the next week, take note of how much housework you do as compared to women you live with and note where it is or is not an equitable division.

First of all, is taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, fixing the leaking tap, replacing light bulbs and cleaning the gutters considered housework? Last time I checked, living quarters have an inside and an outside that require dedication and effort to them liveable and pleasant. Generally speaking, these jobs are as unpaid, tedious and thankless as dishwashing, toilet cleaning and vacuuming. A further observation: generally, these jobs are taken care of by men either by themselves or by a hired plumber/gardener/relevant tradesperson who also are predominantly male.

What is actually more helpful to the feminist revolution is something like this:

Men, take note of the amount of time you spend performing household chores and paritculary what kind of chores you do. If you find yourself washing dishes, vacuuming and toilet cleaning as well as mowing lawns, cleaning gutters and fixing taps and lightbulbs, congratulations, you are a (probably) single, house proud man (or living with one) and magical domestic fairies ain’t gonna do your job for you! If you are fortunate enough to share your life with a significant lady, and you notice that you do more mowing, gutter cleaning and garbage removal, be sure to inform her that you are concerned that your patriarchal domestic privileges are hurting her empowerment and suggest that you trade her lawn mowing for vacuuming to break down gendered domestic stereotypes.

Another gem was this one…

20. Ensure that some of your heroes and role models are women.

Honestly, anyone who has ever met a man knows that they have at least one woman as his hero, and that his mother (whether she is his biological mother or adopted mother figure). His number two is his grandmother if he is fortunate enough to have known her. The mother (or mother figure) of a man rightfully classes as the first among equals in his life. Why? Because this is the woman who gave him life, physically and metaphorically speaking. How much more feminist can your get than a man witha deep admiration and respect for a ‘very ordinary woman’. Tokenised admiration for women who have ‘made it’ in the world is not feminism and no one should be forced to admire and lionise someone purely on the basis of their sex.

In case it couldn’t get any more ridiculous… It did…

33. Walk the walk about income inequality.
Women still earn about 77% as much as men. If you are in a position where you are financially able to do so, consider donating a symbolic 23% of your income to social justice-oriented causes. If 23% sounds like a lot to you, that’s because it is a lot and it’s also a lot for women who don’t have a choice whether to forfeit this amount or not.

Okay, so it turns out that the author of this list is a PhD candidate in political science so she can be forgiven for having a crude understanding of economics. I am a political science student myself and most of my (poor) understanding of economics is gleaned from various attempts at trying to teach myself. However, I do know that statistics that are so crude that they are worse than useless.

As one of my girlfriends said, (who has a degree in economics) “I’ll donate 23% a of my income to fund a better education for this woman!” An upper to middle class Caucasian woman over her entire lifetime might earn less in dollar terms (this doesn’t count the invaluable contribution she will make if she has children) than an a man of similar social class and ethnicity, but she’ll earn more than most people in the world, 80% of whom live on less than $10 USD per day.  80% of the world’s population lives on what I’d spend on lunch or daily coffee. If you want to talk about structural privilege, let’s talk about the First World-Third World Divide. (If you’d like a breakdown of the 77% figure, there is a highly accessible article on Verily.com to start with).

The proposed solution to the wage gap? Donate it to a social justic cause… Honestly, this just smacks of sheltered, middle-class, caucasian logic. Nor does it take into account that most men earn incomes for the purpose of providing for their families (which usually includes at least one female in that household). Throwing money at social justice causes don’t actually solve them  because the world’s problems can’t be purely solved by money, they require human creativity, connection, innovation and inter-cultural respect (Don’t believe me, check out this epic fail).

But what really, REALLY irked me was this glorious point:

34. Get in the habit of treating your maleness as an unearned privilege that you have to actively work to cede rather than femaleness being an unearned disadvantage that women have to work to overcome.

I call it ‘glorious’ because I honestly thought that this kind of self-righteous, power-grabbing feminism died in the 80s. This is such an antiquated notion of feminism it honestly should be in a museum. Yet here it is doing the social media rounds with comments like ‘OMG so true!’ and ‘Preach it sister!’.

Well, my dear sister Pamela Clark, fellow political science student and middle-class, caucasian female, do not preach it. You are not helping your sisters by casually spouting poorly thought-out marxist power politics. You do not have the right to claim power over men because you have a vagina any more than men have a right to claim power over you because they have a penis.

This is a gross perversion of feminism into petty, juvenile, power-grabbing that sees ‘equality’ as the oppressed group becoming oppressors because it’s MY turn dammit! Clark entirely ignores the fact that women because they are women have power and agency. Women’s power and agency are different to men’s AND that difference is not a structural impediment unless you buy into patriarchal attitudes.

That is why I am embarrassed to be a feminist. Honestly, I don’t blame men for being less than enthusiastic about ‘feminism’ if it entails a kind of self-righteous lecturing about structural privilege as if they were children. Ms Clark, you have done your sisters no favours and you have just confirmed your brother’s worst fears about ‘feminism’. Please take your list and donate it to a museum and consign it to a lesson of history.

Masculinity and Femininity are awe-inspiring and powerful in their own right. The elevation of one does not have to come at the expense of the other. Both can amplify and enhance the other’s power and dignity. This is what equality actually looks like and this is what feminism is actually trying to achieve: a world where men and women are free to be themselves as they were made to be.

Feminism is not about women seizing power and crushing those horrible, abusive, privileged men. No one should have that kind of power. That kind of power is a gross violation of the dignity of the human person. Feminism is about reclaiming the rightful place of female privilege alongside and equal to male privilege. Yes, we have been deprived and women continue to suffer horrendously from structural inequalities around the world. However, feminists, often inadvertently further disempower women by insisting that power=maleness. Power also=femaleness, you just have to give yourself the chance to be a woman about it.

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