I would like to be a feminist ally. In this post, I will explain why I use that wording, what “feminism” and “intersectionality” mean, and explain why I support it. (This is the secular version of this post. I will be making a biblical case in a later post.)
When I say, “I want to be a feminist ally”, this means I am a male who supports feminism. I say “want to be” because there are a number of complaints from feminist bloggers about male “feminists”. One such complaint is of the Nice Guy Syndrome, in which guys will be feminists to either get praise (called “cookies”) or sex, and said guys turn hostile when it is not given. In addition, it is said that not intending to be sexist is not enough, for the harm is the same. (There is an old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.) I want to *actually* be of help, and not offer some benevolent sexist paternalism.
What is feminism? One definition is that feminism is the idea that men and women are equal and the movement to achieve this equality for women. However, there is a stereotype that feminism is about man-hating, which is false. (Here is my translation of Sarah Andres’s post addressing these stereotypes; the original French is here.) What I will note is that feminism is not a monolithic movement, and that there are differing approaches how to achieve equality. (See here for more.) For the purposes of this post, “feminism” means “the movement to dismantle patriarchy (systematic disadvantaging of women in favor of men) and to empower women”. And, to aid in explaining my position in this system (and address at least one objection), I will explain “intersectionality”.
When I referred to “patriarchy” as “disadvantaging women in favor of men”, I choose a longer expression rather than use the controversial term used to describe this phenomenon: male privilege. Some dudes will object to being called “privileged” because they are poorer and there are women that are more successful than they are. This is explained by the concept of intersectionality, that talks about how we are all on a spectrum of privilege and marginalization. “Marginalized” means you face disadvantages due to certain aspects of yourself (such as being female, POC, LGBT, etc) and “privileged” means you lack those disadvantages. So, “male privilege” means there are things women face due to being female that men don’t have to face. Here is a video in which Kimberlé Crenshaw, the founder of Intersectionality Theory, explains the theory: https://youtu.be/ROwquxC_Gxc
In my case, I am privileged in being a cisman (meaning that I am a biological male who identifies as male), straight, a native English-speaker, and a native-born citizen of a core nation (in my case, USA). I am marginalized in being relatively poor (though I do not face absolute poverty), not being college-educated (though I am in school now) at the time of writing, and having grown up in an insular, controlling church (that many consider to be a cult). Other areas of note are that I have some privilege in being fairer-skinned, though it is not full white privilege in that I am mixed race, and thus my racial identity varies by country. (In USA, for example, I am considered black.) This is called “passing privilege”. Also, in Western countries (such as USA), I have Christian privilege. Due to these factors, the are women who are better off than me, because they have some privilege in areas that I lack. However, male privilege means that, even with my disadvantages, it will be easier for me to move forward since I am male. Feminists want to change the system, not to make things harder for men, but easier for women. (More on this later.)
One popular objection to feminism is that it ignores how men and women “naturally” are: men are seen as “natural” leaders and as gravitating towards certain interests, and women as “natural” followers, gravitating towards other interests, and feminists are accused of messing with it! First of all, this objection commits the Naturalistic Fallacy, which says that if something is natural, it *must* be good or moral, and immoral or bad if unnatural. In his book The Subjection of Women, John Stuart Mill observes that feudalism and slavery were formerly considered “natural” and observes “unnatural generally means only uncustomary”. In addition, Mill observes that women are specifically trained to be submissive and to not seek their own desires (qte. in Encarta Reference Library Premium). Plato too addresses the nature objection in his Republic through a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon. In the dialogue, Socrates says “the only difference appears to be that the male begets and the female bringd forth” (qte. in Barry, p. 16; note: today the difference is seen differently in an attempt to be trans-inclusive, but that is outside the scope of this post), and thus generally irrelevant elsewhere. Socrates is depicted as making his point that it would be absurd to, once you acknowledge a difference in natures between bald and long-haired men, you were to forbid one from being shoemakers if the other engage in the trade (ibid). Instead, Socrates argues that sameness or difference is regarded in the presence or lack of natural talent (i.e., the ability to learn something easily and then to to do it with little instruction), not gender (pp. 16-17).
We can see Socrates’ principle in action in our world. He specifically mentions that women get made fun of if a man is better at weaving and watching over saucepans and batches of cake, since those are seen as the strength of women (Barry, p. 17). In our world today, there is a stereotype that women aren’t good at math or science. However, this belief is contradicted by the existence of Hypatia and Marie Curie. One factor contributing to the existence of these stereotypes is confirmation bias, the tendency to only pay attention to ideas that confirm one’s preconceived notions. In addition, these ideas are taught to children at a young, highly impressionable age, so it is possible these norms can be implanted. (Studies of false memories show that memories can be implanted, and it is not much of a stretch to suggest that interests and desires can be implanted.) Furthermore, deviance from gender norms results in shaming: if a woman is too “uppity”, displays anger, or deviates from femininity norms, then she is called nasty names. If a man deviates from masculinity norms, he is compared to women. (It seems sexist to use terms related to women as an insult.) Sociologist Émile Durkheim observes that punishing deviance reinforces norms. So, all this means that talk of how men and women “naturally” are turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A third point rebutting the claim about how men and women naturally are is cultural variability. Consider the village of Gapun in Papua New Guinea, where they have the custom of kros (which means “angry” in Tok Pisin). A kros is an angry rant about another’s behavior that generally includes strong language, and is generally delivered by women. In fact, men generally have their wives deliver a kros for them. For the villagers, such behavior is seen as in line with the nature of women (Cameron, pp. 32-34), whereas in the West such behavior is considered unbecoming to women and “masculine”. This supports the theory that most differences between the sexes are social, not biological.
Also, society tends to set up norms that disadvantage women. For starters, the traits and careers coded “masculine” tend to be more prestigious, and women in those fields tend to face a lot of sexism. In addition, social norms and conditioning make it more likely that a woman will take time off work for maternity reasons and thus have a gap in employment. (Note: there is a perception that feminism is hostile towards being a stay-at-home mom and having a more traditional lifestyle. It is not; feminism just argues that women should have the *choice* to be or not to be a SAHM. Feminists to pressuring women into being in the home.) Also, a lot of success comes from thinking outside the box and being creative. Thus, encouraging submission in women essentially functions to keep them down. For more, please check any feminist blog!
Now, onto my reasons for supporting feminism. First of all, my support comes from the fact that women’s rights are human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (article 1) and article 2 indicates that the rights apply regardless of sex. Article 23 says, “Everyone has a right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work….to equal pay for equal work”. In addition, article 16 says, “Marriage should be entered into only with the full and free consent of the intending spouses”. Article 26 says that everyone has a right to an education and that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality…”.
This shows that human rights apply regardless of sex or gender identity, and thus apply to women.
The first two articles indicate that, as human beings, women deserve the same rights as men. Articles 23 and 26 establish that women should be able to seek careers wherever they would like, and have the training to do so. (The line “favorable conditions of work” means an environment free of sexual harassment, among other things.) To say that women must be certain things because “nature” or “tradition” is a violation of human rights.
The “full development of the human personality” brings up another aspect: the right to not just survive, but thrive. This is expressed in Maslow’s pyramid: We need feminism so that women, too, can reach the top. This brings me back to what I said towards the beginning, about how feminists don’t want to pull men down, but to lift women up. Too many men have a scarcity mindset instead of an abundance one. They hear that women have a smaller piece of pie and jealously guard theirs, fearing they’ll lose their pie. However, a better model is an abundance one, that focuses on expanding the pie, knowing there is enough for everyone. In addition, since we are all interconnected, I cannot be all I can be unless you are all you can be, and you cannot be all you can be until I am all I can be. That means that if women are systematically disadvantaged, we all lose. We all win when everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
In summary, I hope to be truly helpful in helping women to achieve equality (called feminism), rather than a burden. Intersectionality explains where we are on the axis of privilege and marginalization, and with my having male privilege, this means that, while there may be women better off than me (due to their having privilege where I lack it), a woman in my situation would face more hurdles in life. Feminism is not contrary to nature and is, in fact, in line with human rights and the best system to contribute to human flourishing. Women’s liberation will not hurt men; in fact, we all will win with feminism. This is why I want to be a feminist ally.
Barry, Vincent. Philosopy: A Text with Readings. 1980. Wadsworth, Inc.
Cameron, Deborah. The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages? 2007. Oxford University Press
Encarta Reference Library Premium. 2005. Microsoft