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Stuck in the Controversy Bog: Thoughts on Feminism and Identity Politics

Pew... Okay. I have talked about this kind of stuff before in various places, but it's a topic that keeps getting brought up over and over in gaming circles and I don't know if I ever really sat down and made a blog about the subject. Partly because I suspect 90% of people really really do not care, or if they do, are completely sick of hearing about it or talking about it. The other 10%? Well probably 90% of them have already made up their minds no matter what I say. So likely only 1% of people will actually care about and pay attention to anything I have to say about the subject. But I feel like blabbing about it anyway so here we go.

 

First of all, lets ask an important question:

 

What exactly is feminism anyway?

 

Feminism is, as far as I am concerned, a number of movements which concerns it's self with a subset of the larger subject of Identity Politics and is in particular focused on the liberation and promotion of the "female" identity. It is not, as some people would insist, simply the promotion of gender equality. For many if not most feminists solving the problem of gender inequality is, has been, and always will be, the primary goal of feminism, true. But feminism is not a goal, it is a rhetorical method. The method can be and has been used for different ends, even up to and including the promotion of the domination of the "female" identity over the "male" identity. This however is again a goal and not one a vast majority of feminists share.

 

Therefor, one thing that is incredibly important to realize is the goals and ideals of particular groups of people who use feminist rhetoric are not necessarily the same. Making blanket statements about all feminists or anyone who uses similar ideas and methods is incredibly misguided. If you have a particular objection to a particular recurring argument or a foundational criticism of feminist theory, then those kind of debates and criticism are far more valuable then just blatantly attacking a goal that someone may not share. On the flipside, if someone is using feminist rhetoric to argue for a goal or position that you disagree with, then arguing directly to oppose that goal or position is far more valuable then attacking the theory behind the rhetorical devices they use to push for it.

 

In short, feminism is a tool. If you oppose the tool's usefulness, debate the tool. If you oppose the people's use of the tool, debate the individuals who use it.

 

I have my own objection to feminist theory and to the whole field of identity politics, but on the other hand I also share the same goal as most of the people who are into it do: The ever murky idea of "equality". I just don't think identity politics as it exists is the best way to go about accomplishing that goal.

 

So, what, exactly, is the problem we should be trying to solve?

 

They say life isn't fair. Maybe that is true, but I don't think of it that way. Life is very fair. People are born in the same way as basically everyone else, and everyone's life has the same kind of random factor to it. Are you born as a particular race or gender? Roll a dice. Are you born with some genetic disease? Roll a dice. Are you born in a particular area of the world? Roll a dice. No it's not truly random, but from a personal perspective it might as well be. Everyone starts out pretty much the same, as a helpless baby. Everyone has pretty much the same odds of being born in any particular position starting out as any other.

 

No, it's society that's unfair. It's society that judges you for your birth, not life. Life just doesn't care. It drops you in the middle of things at some random point and leaves you to sort it out. Society wants to sort you, to put you in a nice box. Sure society protects people, but only for it's own interest. Unlike life, it cares about you, but only in how best to use you. The uncaring wilds may chew you up and spit you out but they won't judge you. Except if you count in retrospect by how many babies you managed to pop out and genes you manage to spread, but that's coincidence not intent. To life society is just complex tricks to increase the amount of wiggling things that can be wiggling together at any one time. To society, life is just a source of things to put into different boxes and judge according to what boxes things were put in.

 

So people are put into boxes like "male" and "female", and much more then just biological traits are put in these boxes. Ideas, behaviors, rules, everything is divided up into these boxes. There are boxes for gender, boxes for race, and boxes for other things. Some boxes are put inside other boxes to make a neat tree so everything gets cleaned up and organized. People are expected to take what box they are put in and use it to model their entire life around it. If they can't be put in a box or refuse to be put in one they are just thrown into the "other" box and distrusted and scorned. Once a group of people in the other box with some arbitrary number of traits the same emerges they can be given their own box. And so the cycle continues.

 

People of one box can find it easy to hate and scorn people from another box. People who identify as a box with fight furiously to defend and promote their box over other people's box. And boxes who gain some sort of "power" will try and dominate other boxes. Some boxes will be put other others. It has happened time and time again, and will continue to happen. Life doesn't care as long as that means more wiggly things everywhere. Society delights in it's happy little boxes without caring about the contents of the boxes at all. So what fights for us? Well we do of course. Nothing else will.

 

So what then is the solution to this problem?

 

I can tell you for sure what is not the solution. Playing society's little games with boxes. And that's exactly what identity politics is. If you insist to define yourself as "male" or "female" or "gay" or "straight" or "black" or "white" all you are doing is putting yourself in another little box. It doesn't matter how much you fight for the cause of your box, because your still fighting for the broken system that causes you to be oppressed in the first place. The only way to free humanity from this system therefor is to systematically tear down the system of boxes that people are placed into.

 

And yeah, that's really really hard to do. But maybe not impossible. Maybe as technology advances and humanity can change their bodies more and more in ways that they see fit, the need for these types of classifications will vanish. If people can change their gender whenever they want or even be in between, what need is there for gender identity? When people can change their skin or appearance what need will their be for racial identity? When people finally develop a post scarcity economic system what need will their be for class identity? But until that day comes, and maybe it never will, it will be hard to simply refuse to put ourselves in little boxes. Buit I think it's still something we should look to as an ideal if nothing else.



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I would call myself a feminist, though perhaps only in the respect of: "well, isn't everyone in the first world a feminist"?

I think ideally, what feminism should be is the discussion of women's human rights as they relate to real world issues. There isn't much room for discussion in the first world for that though. Women by law, are equal to men, and in practice have nearly the same levels of opportunity and ability as men (sometimes even more) - and far more often than not, earn the place in society they work towards. With nothing to talk about, the resulting conversation, this tool as you put it, seems just like one for agenda pushing though conversation. Conversation that often becomes filled with hyperbole and psuedo-thought, pedantic complaints, and let's face it- complete and utter toxcicity - and the results of this rampant ideology can be extremely harmful. Of course, this gets into games as well.

So.. you can probably understand why I, from one feminist to another, get a big yellow light when I hear someone say "I'm a feminist!".

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That's the exact type of attitude about feminism I was talking about that I think is wrong though. The word feminism in of it's self implies a focus on females. If you are simply for gender equality, you should be called a gender equalist. The idea of "feminism" is and always has been something different. That is not to imply it wasn't or isn't a viable and important development in the history of thought, it's just has an inherent bias like any other movement centered around a particular group of people.

 

At the same time, simply dismissing all the current concerns and attitudes that inform the kind of SJW hard core feminist is also wrong. They aren't all simply bringing up crap because all of the problems that feminism was intended to solve are now fixed, because they aren't. Are they hyperbolic and often complain about nothing? Yes. But they often also have a point. For every feminist who is just using the ideology and methods behind feminism for their own agenda, there are at least ten more that are genuinely concerned about real issues.

 

The question is if feminist thought is the best way to solve those issues, and I maintain that it is not. Any movement or philosophy that seeks to divide people into groups is not the solution.

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Unfortunately, neither one of us gets to decide what is and what isn't called feminism. "Gender equalists", though a very valid position, is a pretty unorganized camp, which is why people like me might be called feminist in name only. What you might think as the modern feminist isn't typically interested in true gender equality though. Despite how much they might say feminism is to the benefit of men as well, it (seems at least) like it's always about propelling women forward - men either being not part of the topic, or simply being pulled back to make way for the new protected class. As I'm sure you've heard the rhetoric "more women CEOs, but not more women sewage workers?!".

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Don't forget reverse discrimination only when it's convenient: if men are outperforming woman in a certain field, more woman should be hired for it, while if woman are the outperformers, men have no right to take those places from capable women.

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I don't think all feminists were ever fully interested in true gender equality as such, even historically. Feminism has always been primarily a movement run "by woman, for woman, of woman", and primarily motivated by their own perceived lack of agency and power. And that has not changed. Feminism has always had a "woman first" kind of edge to it. And the reason for that is the same reason any group of people who feel oppressed do the same thing, because they think they have to.

 

And sometimes they kinda do. Feminism was, and is, important. I just tend to think it's time for the next stage, for more Postfeminism thought. More about eliminating gender roles and the gender binary altogether and less about advocating for any one identity.

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Well... Yeah. Ditto everything above me. It all never made much sense to me in the first place cause gender kinda never existed to me anyway xD "Are you a boy or a girl?" Me: "Uhhhhh -checks pants- guess I'm a girl? Gee, two whole X's to work with ey? That's- that's cool I guess?" Seems like there's some stuff I have to deal with because of that, and that's not so cool, but I like to think things are slowly improving, it's a step-up from just about any other era I could be living in, at least in Western society, I suppose.

 

Not that I'm dissing anyone by saying that! I hear all about all these people who identify as this or that, or don't feel they're the gender they were born as, and I sympathize even if I don't understand it, and I say as long as you've got a great personality, I don't see what the bfd is, you be what you wanna be yo xD Isn't fair that more people couldn't try to look outside themselves a bit more, I guess.

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Well... Honestly I feel people should have the right to change their bodies however they want (heck I kinda wanna do that), but I tend to be skeptical of innate gender identity sometimes. I think if their ideal self images happens to be of a particular gender that's one thing, but that's an idealized self image, not really an aspect of the "true self"... buuuut I shouldn't preach to people about who they really are. Society does that enough.

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Well sheesh, we really oughta be allowed to do whatever we want with ourselves and our property and our bodies as long as it doesn't endanger others, seems like a basic human right to me, standards of things are so weird xp

 

I'm all for idealized self-images, may as well have fun decorating the fleshpile you're shuffling around in if ya can ;3 Whatever makes anyone feel comfortable with themselves, at the end of the day, if that sort of thing matters to em -shrugs-

 

BUT when cyberbodies happen then maybe on-the-fly gender fluidity can totally be a thing, that seriously sounds interesting in and of itself, haha x3

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Madonna earned a lot of my respect when she said, "I'm not a feminist. I am a Humanist."

Though, personally, I don't believe species chauvinism is very healthy either. Robert Anton Wilson taught me that.

I feel like having any concrete identity based on your corporeal envelope can be very limiting as well, but as long as you're not harming or hindering anyone I don't honestly care what you do in your life.

 

 

(I sure hope this topic isn't being discussed by a group of privileged males...)

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Well, yeah, I mean I am a fairy and I think humans are okay too for the most part... if a bit misguided. Most fairies are rather high and mighty about it, and I guess I used to be that way at one point, but nowadays I just mostly care about how fun you are, not what species you happen to be. :P

 

(Yeah because being in the box that happens to be better off automatically makes all your opinions invalid. That's a wonderful attitude to take and totally doesn't prove my point.)

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Just to be safe, I want everyone to check their privilege before continuing any of this discussion.

Only the poor can talk about welfare, and only the women can talk about gender - after all.

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I think the underlying problem isn't society, it's human nature.

 

Human nature, being the sinful, evil thing it is, gives rise to evil actions. People who wish to harm others will always find some way to rationalize their actions. The "boxes" as you put it are one tool people use to justify inflicting pain on others. Selfishness is a universal trait, and it's not a problem that can be solved until there's some fundamental change in human nature itself.

 

(As for the whole "Gender politics" thing, I find that politics in general brings out the worst in human nature on both sides(heh), so leave me outta this.)

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Eh, I don't think the "human nature" excuse is a valid one, nor do I think "human nature" is an inherently evil thing, or set in stone.

 

First of all. there is nothing wrong in my eyes in being selfish. Everyone is selfish, even people who seem like they are not. The only difference is if the needs of others is included in the needs of the self or not. Being selfish doesn't mean you don't care for others too. In fact I kind of think if people were more selfish and less automatically preconditioned to put the needs of others of the group on par with their own needs, we wouldn't have this problem as much. That said, there is a difference between being healthily selfish and being a psychopath. Caring for and aiding others is not a bad thing. It just becomes a bad thing when groupthink takes over.

 

Second of all, "human nature" is as much memetics as it is genetics, maybe even more so. And both can be changed. Humanity already advanced so much, and is bound to advance more. The question you have to ask yourselves is, what exactly do you want life to be and how can you get there? Spreading the right ideas, and eventually changing humanities genetic code, will allow humanity to change it's very nature to anything we like. There is no reason to stick by old ways of thinking, but no reason to completely abandon them either. We can choose now how we want humanity to advance, how we want our nature to be. Make sure it's a choice you will be happy with!

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Human nature can be good or evil(and we all show both at different times)- it depends on the person. I don't believe we are powerless to resist our nature. That said, there will always be people who submit to their evil side. My point is that, even without these boxes, they will always try to find ways to gain power over other people, even without that tool of distinction/otherness.

 

There is a difference between a healthy concern for one's needs and deciding that your needs outweigh the needs of others, It's a balance that needs to be struck.

 

As for changing human nature itself... Most of our advances throughout human history - even discoveries that reveal more about our flawed psychology - haven't so much changed human nature so much as they have amplified it. People now have a greater capacity to perform good or evil than ever before - It depends on who decides to use it for what.

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My point is, human nature is a huge nebulous thing that may or may not actually mean anything and certainly doesn't excuse or even really explain anything. It's so easy to point to "human nature" for all the world's evils, even though by definition it would include all humanities good points too. But that's not how it really works. The idea of "human nature" is just a big ball of traits and trends that happen to be true for most of humanity for whatever reason. It's already changed. People's ideals and values are radically different then they were even a hundred years ago. We haven't eliminated nearly all the factors that drive people to do all the horrible things people do, no, and maybe we never will. But there are reasons for them besides simply being "human nature".

 

Also, it's not about people's needs outweighing or not outweighing the needs of others, it's about people's needs including or not including the needs of others. That's a big difference. People don't do things because they put other people's needs over their own, they do things because they care about other people's needs. Often for purely selfish reasons, but still. Others needs become their needs. Therefor it's all ultimately still selfish. Even when doing things for others, people are doing it for themselves. So it's not about balancing your needs with others, it's about deciding how important the need to help others is to you.

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Human nature is still somewhat consistent and definable. All humans have been born with complex(but tangible) behavior. We still create and approach our ideals and values based on tangible, definable human desires(even if they are altruistic desires). Our desire to change our values and control our desires still come from desires such as empathy. However, these attempts to compensate for our flaws still come from flawed people with a flawed human nature, which is why I think that any solution to this problem will have to come from outside humanity.

 

As for selfishness, I think our point of contention lies in the definition. Your definition of selfishness is self-concern, while my definition is self-concern at the cost of others' needs. When you include the needs of others as your own, I call that love. With my definition, love cannot be selfish because you actually put their concerns on the same level as your own. 

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I don't think humans are nearly as uniform as you think. People have different brains that work in different ways, some which function in ways so radically different they are often labeled as "mentally ill". The ideas you hold change a lot too in how minds interact with each other.

 

As for human's "flaws", who exactly says that? Why is seeing human nature as flawed even credible in the first place? And what kind of "fix" are you looking for? You sound like you are looking for some supreme god to sweep down and fix all of humanities problems. Would you really trust such a being? I for one rather humanity solve it's own problem. Besides if you believe in one, wouldn't that make all humanities problems the fault of the god in the first place? Either way, I doubt a god is coming.

 

I don't know how you can't call love selfish with how much trouble it can cause, but whatever. :3

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I agree with all your points except the last one. I do not think that your proposed solution will really "solve" the problem. Why? Because even if the human can change their bodies to whatever they want, there will always be the social problem associated with practically any concept, which is the "underlying" problem of the "boxes" concept in the first place. What is the "social problem"? To put it simply, it is an opinion, but a little more established. So, what will be the next solution, get rid of the social infrastructure altogether? That could work, but that has several repercussions. Instead, what would be my proposed solution? Remove the social problem? That can work, but require the education and even then, as long as there is a free speech right, someone will want to cause the social problem. Removing the free speech might not a be good idea either.

 

My proposed solution is much simple, albeit a bit naive: different people has different opinions; don't fuel the opinion. That might not be much of a solution, but I might start finding one by doing something simpler first.

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Well I guess you are right that simply making gender./race/etc. a matter of self expression rather then solely based on what you happen to be born as isn't going to really make the problem go away. I mean, people are prejudice on things like what clothing you ware or what shows you like too. Maybe the only way to fix the problem really is just to alter how human brains work. Maybe it should be seen as a mental illness and "cured". That seems like a bad road to start down though.

 

Not sure what you are talking about in "don't fuel the opinion" though.

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Not really as of enforcing anything against them; more like simply not paying attention to their opinion, because heeding them is the same thing as playing their little game. It's not really a solution as I said, but people will always have their opinions...

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