I was asked to translate one of my posts on this blog into English for international readers. The following is a treatment of that blogpost. I translated it, and at the same time tried to get rid of most of the references to a typical Swedish situation. This means that swedish readers don’t need to bother with the text below. If you want to use this text in your national setting feel free to copy and share – sharing as caring. I haven’t really had the time to proofread it, so if there are mistakes I am happy if you correct them. If you want to translate into your national language it would only make me proud.
As a reaction to the discussion concerning the word feminism lately in the Swedish Pirate Party (for instance in different Facebook-threads) I would like to take the opportunity to talk a little about nuances.
A conversation doesn’t work properly if one or several sides refuse to handle nuances. For instance feminist skeptics in the Pirate Party. They would like to see members that are self proclaimed feminists (like me) use another word for our wish for gender equality. They claim the word feminist has a bad ring to it, but the ring to a word can be changed by the nuances you are prepared to accept. Another example of black and white -thinking is when feminists can’t even mention or talk about Valerie Solana’s play SCUM Manifesto without people accusing them for being fascists. A feminist becomes a fascist when you don’t consider the words nuances.
One reason to remind oneself about the (at least) fifty shades of grey between black and white when taking part in a conversation is the flexibility of most concepts. A word can have many different meanings for different people. It gives off varying associations. This makes it a huge mistake to force your interpretation onto the people you converse with. It is also a mistake to think that people necessarily mean what they seem to mean, without pondering their definition and understanding of key concepts in the conversation. Nuances.
When I was a kid the word gay (in swedish ”bög”) only had bad connotations: for heteros a pejorative for scary oversexed older men that you should shun, for homos a hated word used by people to degrade you. Today the homosexuals in Sweden have successfully seized the word for their own. You can use it to describe a couple of mononormative adoptive parents in the suburbs or leather covering swelling abs. The old usage and connotations are still there as nuances of the word. You still have to be careful how to use it and understand it, to avoid interpreting a sleight where there isn’t one or the other way around.
The word muslim is another concept so filled with conflicting nuances that you have to be careful using it. Are we speaking about a death seeking jihadist or a modern secularized family man? Some American commentators spot terrorists behind every muslim, but what gives them the right to label a large part of the world population as terrorists.
Feminist is also a flexible concept. One moment it is toothless enough to be a part of all major political parties platform in the Swedish election, the next moment it’s used to reference a limited group of aggressive maneating amazons with an agenda to nullify thousands of years of civilization.
We need nuance in our discourse because it doesn’t work to stamp everybody that identify themselves as gay, muslim or feminist, with your own worst interpretations of the concepts. The feminist critics shouldn’t label me a fascist on account of me being a self proclaimed feminist.
I am a feminist!
It is an ugly rhetorical device to challenge a feminist with ”But feminists hate men!” a bit like asking a muslim why they hate people in western countries. That kind of stratagems don’t help the conversation they destroy it. People should only be accountable for their own views, not bundled together with others that just happens to use the same epithet. Some people might object that I should take the general view (or the view of some undefined ”most people”) of feminism into account, and change my description of myself to humor them. I assert my right to call myself a feminist anyway. It would be a mistake to let some peoples black and white view of feminism stand in the way of our need for nuances. Feminism has the potential to be more than a militant movement for disenfranchised women. More than a movement that scares some men. It has the potential to be the humanistic striving for an equal and better society.
All liberals shouldn’t get the heat for the views of the most market oriented utopians. All socialists shouldn’t be made responsible for the terror under comrades Lenin and Stalin. All Pirate Party supporters shouldn’t be accused of wanting everything for free. Our discourse and our political debate won’t work unless we allow concepts to be multifaceted, allow people to have different interpretations, allow for nuances and avoid letting everything be divided into a black and white us against them.
It is possible to be a feminist without hating men. It is even possible for a man to be feminist without being gay or effeminate. It is possible to be a feminist.
I am a feminist and for good reasons. When I grew up I didn’t find the division of labour and roles in my family (and among the peers of my parents) to be what I wanted for myself and my wife when we started out or life together. I have spent my entire career watching overachieving and underutilized female talent. I have lost count of the instances when I have seen a group of men in vain try to find a female candidate for a position, a task or an appearance. I could keep going …
But today I want to focus closely on three of my many reasons for being a feminist:
The traditional male role limited the abuse women could be exposed to through the protection all men owed all women. Or at least that was the ideal. When the traditional gender roles erode as a consequence of female emancipation, some women are subjected to horrible abuse, that some men reckon they just have to tolerate. When men hate women with words through the internet, with threats or sexual harassment or in the worst case with violence, sexualized violence, it is not the same thing as men hating men. The ancestral differences between the sexes has in this case not disappeared. But in a society that claims to be emancipated women has to take care of themselves, their own defense, their own fear.
This isn’t good enough. We need more than women that react to this violence and hate. We need men reacting, reacting forcefully. We need to display our defiance not only towards the hate, the threats and the violence but also to anyone apologizing, diminishing or whitewashing the problem, because this helps build a society where there is less room for women. It may be the female voices that try to change sexist attitudes and structures that are the first to be silenced. A loss for us all.
I don’t claim to have the solution to this problem. I just believe that we need to give creedence to this problem, to talk about it and call it the way we see it: a structural oppression of women. To fight this equalitism or general humanism isn’t enough. We need feminism!
Narrow Gender Roles
Men are also affected by narrow gender roles. Everybody that lives in a society where it is important to uphold gender differences, is forced to adjust who they are in accordance to their accepted gender role, Mostly this is something that goes on in our childhood when we are socialized into our genders, when it of the outmost importance to know if it is a boy or a girl. A child quickly picks up what clothes to appreciate, what games too play and what things to wish for.
Little boys can play with dolls, but there will come a day when they better get tired of girlish games. There are toys for boys and for girls, and it is peculiar that although girls may take up male toys and games with abandon, there is still a price to pay for a boy crossing the gender barrier in the other direction.
This is true for adults as well. The time has passed when women in trousers or even a pair of jeans where disdained, but a man in a skirt is another story. It is something reserved for the avant grade, transexuals and celebrities. Bowie and others were playing with this in the seventies, but we’re still far from living in a society that accepts it.
Still most of us harbor some transgender issues. The typical male and female attributes are probably more common in the other gender than the gender roles let us believe. Since most of us expend a lot of energy keeping to our gender role, we never get to see most of the transgenderisms that can be found inside of us. A little bit of a female perspective here and a little bit of a male reaction there, with no connection to the actual physiological sex of the person.
I think we have a lot of reason to affirm these small gender transitions, however small and insignificant they may seem. We diminish ourselves as human beings, when we deny parts of our personality. I believe we would get a better, warmer and more human society if men and women let themselves be more female and male. If those of us that live with a more complex sexual identity, and choose not to hide it, didn’t have to justify it all the time. Feminism isn’t about everything becoming more female. It is about giving female and male attributes equal status and let all of us be as male or female as we want. This is why we need feminism!
Men Picking Men
It is a well known fact that we have an overrepresentation of men in leading roles in society. It doesn’t matter if we look to business, government, organizations or the academic world, the pattern is the same. If we go to a conference most speakers are typically male.
There are a lot of different reasons for this: historical, lingering effects of a less equal time, socioeconomic etc. But I think an important reason that this pattern is hard to break is the frame of reference men and women use.
First: Think about the fact that we live in a society that historically has given status, power and acumen primarily to people with male traits. As a compensatory strategy a lot of women have emulated men to gain their position in society. As a result the early female role models in positions of power hasn’t been very female. So, we still uphold a male norm as the standard for success and women still have to compensate.
Second: History, our culture or even our biology has taught men to look to other men and women to look to both men and women. This isn’t a tendency that I can prove in any way. But in my own experience there is a kind of gender induced blindness among men, that makes them never see or possibly forget about the women.
A personal example: When I lecture and need a name or a couple of names for an example I need to fight my tendency to automatically say male names. They are at the top of my mind. I need to dig deeper to find female names. Of course it would be ridiculous to assume that all men are like me. One example is hardly consequential. But I challenge men out there – try it. Three names, really quick! And not now when you just read it, imagine yourself in a situation where you would need them to tell a story or set up a math problem or something.
This means that we need to work on our recruiting processes in society. When we want a person for a position, a task or an appearance, we need to make sure we remember the women. I am not a supporter of gender quotas, I am a supporter of looking again to see if there weren’t female candidates that slipped our mind. We need to make ourselves remember, because men is still the norm, and that’s another reason we need feminism.
I am a feminist, but that doesn’t preclude me being a lot of other thing: a liberal, a humanist, a pirate, a socialist perhaps … A human being has an immense capacity for complexity. Our views if we let them can be multifaceted and nuanced. When we force each other into templates based on our preconceptions, we suppress an opportunity to learn from each other.