Is Feminism Radical and Regressive?

Feminism is a difficult topic to talk about, especially because saying anything positive about it gets a target painted on your back by Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) and other feminism opponents. When people hear the word “feminist” they react with almost pathological hatred, immediately assuming and projecting dozens of false beliefs on the feminist, while at the same time readying their pre-made talking points. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I can tell you what feminism I identify with, and it bares little-to-no resemblance with what opponents of feminism make it out to be.

Before we go on, I hate having to do the “I’m a feminist, but I’m not that kind of feminist” speech because it implies the standard normal feminist is radical, and I don’t buy that. There definitely are a large loud group of radicals, but I don’t think it is the majority. It just seems interesting that opponents of feminism assume criticism against any man means “all men,” prompting the knee-jerk reaction saying #notallmen, yet themselves do assume all or virtually all feminists are the bad kind. Perhaps we should start a #notallfeminists hashtag.

Incels

I freely acknowledge the bad apples in feminism, but anti-feminists need to admit that Incels are among their ranks, and that they most definitely are enabled by the anti-feminism community. The rhetoric that feminists want superiority and not equality, that they are trying to emasculate men, etc., is very often the same. Much of the time, it is hard to tell whether you’re on an Incel forum or a general anti-feminist forum.

Like anti-feminists, they cite areas where men are technically getting treated badly, but conveniently forget that men are almost always the sex inflicting the bad treatment on other men. I made “almost” bold because MRAs tend to assume people mean literally all when they don’t.

Several points refer to women’s opinions towards other women, but I’d like to see what men’s opinions are towards other men for similar questions. Considering that every study I’ve found shows men to have more negative thoughts towards other categories of people—gay men, effeminate men, masculine women, people of other religions, people of other races—than women, I wouldn’t be going that far out on a limb to hypothesize than polls of men’s attitudes would be even more negative.

Anyway, I suspect any MRAs reading this article find themselves agreeing with most of the Incels’ points.

“Third Wave Feminism”

I don’t identify as “third wave” (though I have nothing against those who do), and I don’t categorize “waves” like people who use the term “third wave” as a pejorative. Waves, are merely historical descriptions for cultural swells of interest in issues related to women. Even that isn’t clean though, because the “first wave” itself would then need to be divided up into multiple waves.

The other problem with this classification—especially when used by anti-feminists—is that it is often an obfuscation whereby anti-feminists verbalize no distinction to “waves” existing as schools of thought versus “waves” as simply referring to feminism from a historical period. Or if they do make the distinction, they are vague and inconsistent about it. This seems to be either by design to win arguments via baiting and switching, or by mere ineptitude.

Either way, the use of “third wave” seems to be mostly just a tactic anti-feminists use to project the beliefs of the more rabid and fanatical feminists onto all feminists, including ones like myself who reject extremist tenants. This is so they don’t have to honestly engage the arguments that might disconfirm their existing beliefs on the topic. I am aware some feminists do the same with with terms like “racist,” “bigot,” and other words, and I am opposed to that as well; I don’t make special exceptions for bad argumentation.

Intersectional Feminism

Intersectional feminism is also a term feminism opponents have turned into a pejorative—certainly the more radical strain of existing feminists identifying that way made it easy to do. The phrase itself is the logical conclusion to the fact that if black people and gay people (or any such combination) are both oppressed and/or marginalized groups in a society, a black gay person will likely experience more social and economic disenfranchisement than either alone.

Admittedly many of the more excessive and noxious feminists take this and turn it into a pissing contest of who is more oppressed, but the very basic concept itself still holds true. So this makes it a confusing conversation because, yes, I completely agree those reckless and overzealous people who take the concept to the extreme are wrong and harmful, but I don’t agree that everyone who accepts the basic principle is an extremist.

Are All Feminists SJWs?

Another obfuscation is where anti-feminists assume that if you identify as a feminist that you are automatically a “social justice warrior,” or SJW for short. If by SJW they mean a pretentious demagogic fanatic who virtue-signals and tries to feel like a knight in shining armor coming to the rescue, then no, that assumption is wrong, and I am no SJW. In also certainly not a person who intentionally looks for things to be offended at.

Make no mistake, social justice is a positive thing that should be striven for. However, extremists who have a warped view of what justice is and take the idea to the extreme will get just as much vigorous disagreement from me as any MRA.

The muddiness of what SJW means is a problem, though, because anti-feminists exploit it to label and summarily dismiss any argument that doesn’t conform to their narrow ideology. For this reason, I prefer the term “Regressive Left” instead because it is by definition the extremist and regressive sect of the Left. It leaves much less ambiguity. I couldn’t be further from the regressive Left. Indeed, some of my favorite intellectuals like Sam Harris and Steven Pinker are regularly attacked by the regressive Left.

What Kind of Feminist Am I Then?

I’m a feminist in the sense that I fit the Oxford English Dictionary definition:

With anything past that, you should probably personally ask me rather than assuming my position, or projecting that of someone else onto me.

This is often where anti-feminists make the claim that women already have equality with us men. They are then given solid evidence to the contrary, to which they respond by moving the goal-post to the claim that this inequality is “natural” and “the way things should be.” Truth is, both of those claims are false; no, complete equality hasn’t been achieved, and no, inequality isn’t the way things should be.

  • Let me elaborate before we go further. By equality I mean equal opportunity and equal political power. I am not proposing that we unilaterally mandate 50% of everything across the board has to be filled by women. I don’t deny that there are modest biological difference that may lead to an offset ratio between the sexes in some areas. What I deny is that the level of offset there currently is and historically has been is the bare minimum that would arise from these small natural differences. In other words, I’m saying culture has taken whatever natural differences there may be, exaggerated them well out of proportion, and arranged the system and power-dynamics thereof at the expense of women.

Wage Gap

The wage gap absolutely exists. However, it is also true that many liberals and feminists tote the 80% figure in a way that is extravagantly oversimplified. Conversely though, anti-feminists and conservatives have taken the other extreme and either denied its existence altogether, or denied that it is problematic.

  • Only 7-4% of the wage gap can reasonably be attributed to blatant sex discrimination by employers. I say “only,” but in reality that is unacceptably high. That deceptively small number also fails to depict the life-time accumulation of lost income, which, in the upper echelons where the disparity is worst, can be hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.
  • Childbearing and rearing certainly makes up a portion of the gap. Anti-feminists like to play this part up as the be-all-end-all of the conversation, while some feminists ignore it. The truth is closer to the middle, and more complicated than either side wants to admit.
  • Childbearing/rearing highlights something important for improvement though; access to childcare and maternal leave. According to the International Labor organization, “Out of the 185 countries and territories with information available, all but two provide cash benefits to women during maternity leave. The two exceptions are Papua New Guinea and the United States…” Moreover, “Among all the Developed Economies, only the United States does not pay maternity benefits… either through law, or directly through the government.” So as you can imagine, this would help swell the portion of the wage gap attributable to birthing/rearing because a portion women will still take leave, but get no income during that time.
  • Then there’s childcare. Out of twelve selected OECD countries, only in three other countries did parents spend more of a percent of their income on childcare than parents in the US. Parents in the US spend 25.6% of their income on childcare, while those in France and Germany spend 9.7%, and those in Sweden spend 4.4%. Thus, many US mom’s, again, will have to forgo working because they wouldn’t even make as much money as it would cost for babysitting.
  • Men are naturally more ambitious than women.” While this is possible to some degree (though I don’t know about probable), culture has absolutely taken whatever natural tendencies that may possibly have existed and dialed them way up. Historically—and still present, but to a lesser degree today—American culture has encourage men disproportionately to chase careers, while encouraging women to stay home as baby-makers/rearers, meal-makers, and house cleaners. Encouraging may be a inappropriately weak word though; there is a veritable stigma against stay-at-home men. Thus, culture has strongly steered this portion of the pay gap unnecessarily at the expense of women, and it is an aspect worth acknowledging and working to shrink. Again, this isn’t about forcing women into the work place and men out of it through government decree, it is about giving men and women the liberty to choose their household division of labor free of cultural stigmas. This is largely a cultural battle.
  • Another cultural aspect is that there is a stigma against assertive women, leading them to be less competitive when negotiating salaries at a job (1)(2).
  • Culture encourages women to enter jobs seen as appropriate for them, jobs which are usually lower paying ones (1)(2). It is also true that women tend to look for more flexible jobs because of the aforementioned birthing/rearing issue. Both aspects contribute.
  • The gap is most definitely not the same across the job market. According to the Economic Policy Institute, at the lower end of the wage spectrum the wage gap shrinks to 92 cents on the male dollar, and conversely bloats to 74 cents per male dollar at the high-paying end.
  • The pay gap is also worse for minorities, and I’d challenge an MRA to say black or chicano/a people are just naturally less ambitious.

This Economic Policy Institute article does an excellent job of of thoroughly and with as little bias as possible explaining many of the factors—biological, cultural, and systemic—that contribute to the pay gap, particularly the part related to the choices women make. MRAs often believe this system benefits women because they get to not work as much. Whether that is the case or not, the problem is women (and men for that matter) deserve the liberty to choose and not be pigeon-holed or stigmatized. In fact, you’d think someone called a “Men’s Rights Activist” would advocate that very thing, yet paradoxically they don’t if it allows them a chance to oppose feminists.

Anyway, there is also great pride to be felt from having a fulfilling career, a pride which women should have the option to experience free from unnecessary systemic or cultural constraints. Conversely, a man should have the option to experience the pride of child-rearing if they so choose.

So yes the pay gap exists, and it is something that we should work towards shrinking, but it isn’t quite as outrageous as the 80% figure may suggest.

“The Patriarchy”

I personally hesitate using that word because some people see it as implying much more than just a political and social power imbalance, so I minimize my use of the word to doge unnecessary confusion. The system is not a giant planned conspiracy by men to oppress women (some believe “patriarchy” implies that). To be sure, the religion of most Americans, Christianity, is absolutely patriarchal, and it was designed that way by the individuals who wrote the various books of the Bible (some were more misogynist than others). You’d have to be delusional to suggest this didn’t before, and doesn’t continue now to empower and encourage men of those religions with patriarchal and misogynist trappings. However, overall in the development of cultures, there are countless uncoordinated interacting threads that developed—some going extinct, others getting stronger—which led to how things are today. So I don’t believe in a coordinated conspiracy of men. There are many reasons why the power imbalance between men and women exist, but it does exist, and it is one of the primary things feminists are right to fight against.

With those numbers it is undeniable that men hold drastically more political and economic power than women. Once more, anti-feminists would say it is just because women are naturally less ambitious and less interested in these types of positions. Once more I would respond, whatever natural tendencies there may be, there’s no way they account for that large of a discrepancy—especially with such drastic variance by country. The variance between countries would be small if it was truly that biologically hardwired. Once more, it is cultural ideas about what men and women should be that drive this discrepancy—though this is a smaller factor today than it once was. The probably more important factors are residual habits and institutionalized factors from decades long past that contribute to the abysmal ratio of women in power positions today.

Regardless, what is natural is not a good argument even if it supported the MRAs’ position. Men are naturally more violent and homicidal than women, that doesn’t mean that tendency should be nurtured and encouraged does it? The human brain is sufficiently developed to allow us to encourage our positive tendencies and discourage our negative ones.

Lack of Women in STEM Fields

There is a lack of women in STEM fields, that’s not under dispute. What people argue about is whether the disproportionately small number of women in STEM fields today is attributable to nature or nurture, or whether it’s attributable to women’s choices rather than social conditioning; whether women are just irrepressibly drawn to different fields than men, or whether they are programmed by culture that way.

For the umpteenth time this has been mentioned in this article, it is possible—though far from certain—that there are some natural differences affecting which fields men and women are drawn to, but it is indisputable that culture has taken whatever small differences in preference that may exist on average and massively exaggerated it. With that being true, some intervention is warranted to give women equal opportunities. However, MRAs and Incels react viscerally to any help to women on this front. Van den Brink and Stobbe (2014) mentions that one of the reasons is that the help men get in their careers is taken for granted, while women are expected to do it on their own to prove they are sufficiently qualified. Needless to say, this is a double standard.

  • Palumbo (2016) summarizes issues of female graduate students. “The issues identified that seem to most affect female graduate students are the persistence of bias about women in STEM fields within academia; the lack of self-efficacy among females in STEM fields; and the difficulty in achieving work-life balance for some female STEM academics. There was also significant evidence found for the acceptance of the stereotype of STEM fields as being inherently masculine…”
  • Settles, O’Connor and Yap (2016) found that “poor perceptions of the academic climate and woman-scientist identity interference were related to negative outcomes for women in STEM through a mediated pathway.”
  • Van Oosten, Buse and Bilimoria (2017) reviewed several barriers to women in STEM fields: “barriers and biases have been summarized into the following categories: structural barriers within the educational system; individual and psychological factors; family influences and expectations; and perceptions of the STEM educational and the workplace experiences.”
  • Kanny and colleagues (2014): “As Drew (2011) notes, ‘Women…are consistently discouraged from studying science and mathematics, the very subjects that would give them access to power, influence, and wealth’ (p. 195)…” The authors identify everything from K-12 schools encouraging children differently, family factors, values, preferences, biases, and structural problems relating to the STEM gap.
  • Anti-feminists might see themselves in this Danbold and Huo (2017) article: “Two studies tested the prediction that men in STEM… who believed that initiatives to increase women’s representation in these fields were effective would experience prototypicality threat (men’s concern that they would no longer be the gender group that best represents what it means to be a member of the STEM community). Among those who believed it is legitimate for men to represent STEM, men’s prototypicality threat mediated the relationship between perceptions that more women were entering their field and resistance toward this change (i.e., opposing women in STEM initiatives, wanting women to conform to the field’s traditional norms, and expressing exclusionary intentions toward women peers). The opposite pattern was observed among those who rejected the idea that men’s claim to represent STEM was legitimate. This work highlights how diversity initiatives in STEM,if successful, can be undermined by triggering prototypicality threat among men.”

This isn’t meant to be a complete scholarly literature review, but the direction which the trend of literature is going in is clear: Bias exists in academia; bias exists in parents raising their children; bias exists in K-12 schools. These biases encourage women and men to enter STEM fields at different rates, and it differentialy equips them with the tools to fail or succeed in STEM fields.

There are also some reasons that may be related to natural biological differences; family planning affects which women’s decision-making; and biological reasons may lead men to populate both the high and low levels of the bell curve—though this shouldn’t lead to an overall massive trend of a ton of men in STEM fields since most of them are still in the center of the curve.

So both nature and nurture play a part, big surprise. Cultural, developmental, and experiential reasons are the biggest cause of the STEM gap, but it is possible that natural reasons may also play a modest part. Unfortunately though, in my experience, anti-feminists basically use the natural reasons as the be-all-end-all, and fanatically deny either that the nurture-based reasons exist, or they deny that they should be changed. Extreme constructionist interpretations by overzealous feminists are wrong too, but the anti-feminists are even farther from the truth.

“But Men Get it Bad Too!”

Of course they do, there isn’t a sex that avoids being hit by the stupidity of this system’s poor layout. Male religious leaders, politicians, judges, and market magnates are just as good at oppressing their own sex as they are the other one. That fact doesn’t take away from the fact men still hold most of the power.

  • Men are most war casualties!” Of course they are, what else did you expect to happen when male policy-makers refused altogether to allow willing and qualified women into combat positions in the military until very recently? Men dying at the front lines at such an unfair ratio is the fault of other men. If you’re complaining about this statistic you should be supporting the feminist push to allow women into combat positions.
  • Invariably, this is where anti-feminists move the goal-post from “it is unfair,” to “well it’s the way it should be since women are unqualified for military service.” That is wrong, and it demonstrates a fundamentally inept black-white conception of something much more complex. (1) Women on average have less physical strength than men. However, there is considerable overlap on the bell curve, and the strongest women are still stronger than the average man. (2) Regardless, the average strength difference is largely irrelevant outside of a system where we’re swinging swords at one-another trying to physically overpower an opponent; women can shoot guns just as easily as a man, and they can drive tanks and jets as easily. And before you suggest it, no MRAs, I’m not supporting a lowering of military standards for the sake of women. I’m supporting letting the ones in who can achieve those standards instead of systematically discriminating against them for their sex.
  • What about men always getting the raw deals on custody battles.” Remember back to the male ratio of judges and law-makers? Yeah, that means it is mostly men creating those raw deals, often out of a sense of benevolent sexism, something feminists are fighting against. Yet another topic where MRAs should be fighting on the same side as feminists, but paradoxically don’t.
  • Men have the hardest, dirtiest jobs.” Those of you who are astute may have spotted the trend by now. (1) Culture dissuades women from working those jobs because they’re not “appropriate” for them. (2) Women in those job often get harassed by men. The first example that pops into my mind is Temple Grandin who entered the male-dominated meat industry and was mercilessly harassed by them for being where they didn’t think she belonged.

“Women Also Oppress Other Women”

Yes, they do. But that is missing the point.

Feminism isn’t and never was about men vs women. It’s about a culture and the problem of systematic inequality for women, that which both men and women can be victims of (and perpetrators of). This argument is another knee-jerk reaction which preys on the ignorance of a person who isn’t familiar with the issues and history of inequality.

Feminism is about creating equality for everybody regardless of sex, this means addressing anybody who makes the current problem worse, whether male, female, black, gay, disabled or immigrant. The fact that a member of the disenfranchised group may be part of the problem doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist, it means more people are part of the problem.

Like with anything else, there are opportunists looking to manipulate the system however it exists to their benefit; like with any oppressed group, there are the usual servile members of if looking to curry favor with the oppressors by throwing their own people under the bus.

“If Feminism was really about equal rights it would just be called Egalitarianism.”

Feminism is a type of egalitarianism. Egalitarianism is a broad term about the big picture, while feminism is a targeted egalitarianism that focuses on women. The thing is, the people who use the “egalitarianism” argument against feminism are rarely, if ever, sincerely concerned with egalitarianism; they simply throw out this semantic correction as a tool to oppose feminism. In context and reality, feminism is called feminism because it considers the world for which we live in, where inequality for women still exists.

It’s not that feminism isn’t egalitarianism, it’s that egalitarianism as a word does not sufficiently cover what feminists are concerned about.

I can oil the squeaky hinge without thinking the other hinges don’t deserve oil. The confusion comes because MRAs think the plight of women and men are equal when they aren’t. Thus they see people wanting to oil the squeaky hinge as discrimination against the other hinges that aren’t yet squeaking, but could still use a little oil. This is a fundamentally flawed and incorrect way of seeing things.

Closing

So the next time we want to have a discussion on feminism let us not knee-jerk, project beliefs onto people that aren’t there, and could we please dispense with the confirmation bias. It kind of defeats the anti-feminists’ purpose when they try to debunk feminist sources with even worse sources of their own.

Categories Feminism, Sex and GenderTags , , ,

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