In this blog post I shall be addressing various feminist issues and putting down my current opinions on them. Feminism is the campaign for equal treatment regardless of sex or gender (sex is the physical, gender the cultural side).
Often an argument for equal rights begins with the claim that all people are equal. This leaves the argument wide open to any new data showing differences between people. I think that's a mistake. It is better to argue that people should not be treated differently because of average characteristics of their sex (race, sexuality etc.). Instead we should treat them on the basis of their own abilities and failings.
The female and male genders consider different things valuable. I won't try to make a list of such things but for example strength is a male value and dexterity a female one. Given that men (and hence the male gender) have been in positions of power for a long time it must be expected that male values have come to be accepted as societal norms. In order to fully overcome gender discrimination we must therefore recognise those values that are gendered and critically reappraise them. An example would be in the world of sports. It does not make sense for women to compete at traditionally male sports (with the same rules). It is not necessarily the case that women are worse at physical sports. It could well be that sports have evolved to show case male strengths and avoid their weaknesses. It may be that we need to invent new sports which show case women's physical talents.
Education is probably the most important battle ground in the war against discrimination. Possible Biases in education include: Valuing 'male' disciplines above 'female' ones; valuing 'female' work ethos above 'male' ones & failing to provide adequate child care facilities (for higher education). To decrease discrimination in education we must work on all these areas and ensure that those people making decisions regarding these issues have equal numbers of women amongst their numbers.
There are strong arguments to the effect that child care is undervalued in the UK. This is a form of gender discrimination in that it marginalises an important value of the 'female' gender. A more equal division of child care is generally a laudable aim in order to allow both parents to work and to spend considerable time with their children. Allowances must be made for average differences between male and female psychologies here. We should be concerned only when people involved are not happy with arrangements (baring in mind not everyone who objects to divisions of labour will talk about it). Never the less several of societies attitudes stand out here. Firstly men and women are not given equal time off to look after new born's (although a small difference is justified due to PNS) and this makes it harder for men to get involved during the crucial early period. Secondly the skills learnt through child rearing are not sufficiently highly valued. Bringing up children is a very hard task requiring the ability to multitask, to manage egos and desires, to deal with mental and physical stress amongst other things. Thirdly the government ought to pay the wages of women and men who take leave to bring up children (rather than companies doing so). Otherwise with the best will in the world companies (especially small companies) will find they cannot afford to stick to the law on mat/paternity leave.
Men and women need to be equally represented in government. But crucially this must be achieved socially not through the law. Tinkering with the political system to achieve social ends is unwise and could lead to substantial drops in democratic accountability. Women and men should also expect equal pay in the workforce when they take on equivalent jobs. The major reason for a discrepancy in pay are dealt with above (namely child care). When women tend to take on jobs that are less well paid in society we must ask ourselves "Are we undervaluing the skills needed in those jobs due to a bias in gendered values?" On both counts we still have a long way to go before achieving equality of opportunity.
Female and male sexualities are not viewed in the same way by society. Women who are promiscuous are branded sluts when such men are thought of less negatively. This does seems to be changing (note the new term "man-slut") but there's still a big difference in attitudes. Female and male nudity are dealt with in very different ways by society. Although female nudity is considered undesirable (and sluttish) the main concern of public decency law (in practise) is the prohibition of male nudity. Various pragmatic reasons can be given for this divergence but it still essentially boils down to treating one sex differently on the basis of their average characteristics (or the emotional bias of the population). Stereotypical male and female roles are strongly reinforced by the mass media which results in a substantial repression of female sexual desire and male emotional desires. This causes problems in relationships from the perspective of both sexes.
The sexualised depiction of women and men in video, photo or literature is commonly described as pornography or erotica. I shall refer to all of these media that are intended for (or can reasonably be expected to be used for) sexual excitement as pornography. The main objections to the pornographic depiction of women are that it (a) Establishes narrow sexual expectations amongst men (b) Demeans women (c) Is not kept out of sight of those not consenting to its viewing (d) Encourages men to be see women in primarily sexual terms. I would argue that the a,b and c are all results of the commercial nature of most pornographic material as well as the prevailing social taboo that accompanies the use of pornography. The need to tailor to sexual tastes that are fairly common encourages a rather narrow concept of sexual beauty being employed by the pornographer (hence causing a). Much pornography is associated with text that is sexist or consists of sexual dynamics that have sexist subtexts (problem b). I would argue that this is mainly due to the continuing taboo nature of pornography ensuring that there is a bias towards it being used by sexist individuals. The commercial interests of companies causes c. On point d it is not the presence of pornography itself but the shear quantity of it and the absence of equivalent material emphasising other aspects of women. I would emphasise that the pornographic depiction of women is not wrong in itself. The appropriate answer to commercial pornography might well be non-commercial pornography without the sexist undertones (the Internet makes this feasible without massive overheads) alongside a promotion of media emphasising other aspects of the female gender.
The large majority of issues that feminism should tackle are issues where women are discriminated against when compared to men. However there are a few issues where it is male problems that are overlooked. In particular when women are more often the victim of certain crimes, male victims are not acknowledged (or given help). Two instances are the crimes of rape and domestic violence.
The figure for rape of a male is roughly 9% (British crime survey) of the total rapes (a significant if small minority). More information of sexual assault of a male can be found here. This article suggests that most rapes of men are committed by men (but by only a slight majority). With domestic violence estimates vary from ~1/6 (Police figures) to ~1/3 (British crime Survey) of victims being male. I'd give you the precise figures if the BCS hadn't suddenly become much harder to access recently. Note that these figures are achieved by state of the art statistical methods. Many other methods make the mistake of using non-representative samples or assuming all crimes are reported (the police figures quoted above can't be trusted for precisely this reason). Particularly with regard to domestic violence there is a substantial need for support for male victims which isn't being met.
Overall there is still an awful long way to go towards equal treatment of men and women with women still at a large disadvantage to men in many areas. I think there are substantial difficulties in achieving equality that do not boil down to the will to change. There are throny issues of exactly what equality means and how best to achieve it.
Q: What causes the psychological differences between men and women? To what extent can those differences be reversed by changes in society?
Q: What areas should feminists concentrate their efforts on here?
Q: Where do you disagree with me?
On the matter of pornography I came across an interesting article recently.