Clare has a great piece today examining how Carly Fiorina’s departure from the presidential race will diminish the discussion of women’s issues on the Republican side. A conservative feminist reader comments via hello@:
Fighting for female equality, like most things, can be done in 1,000 different ways. Depending on one’s priorities, some ways are better than others, but all of the ways are an attempt to achieve the same basic outcome. If you believe that women (and men) should be able and encouraged to fulfill their highest potential, you are a feminist. If you think women’s voices are as important as men’s, and that both sexes deserve equal opportunity, you are a feminist.
That does not, however, mean that feminism requires subscribing to the full platform of “pro-choice, let’s-make-it-rain birth control, we need more government mandates and more federal spending on women, etc.”
Personally, I’m pro-choice. However, a number of my fellow feminists are pro-life. We agree that women should be able to make their own choices for their own bodies; the disagreement lies in whether a woman should be given the choice to end another life. If, from a scientific and religious standpoint, you believe that human life begins at conception, allowing abortion based on “a woman’s right to choose” is analogous to allowing a woman to kill the man next to her on the subway for violating her personal space.
On the other hand, if you hold the view that a fetus is not a human life until it reaches viability, early term abortions don’t infringe upon another’s rights at the expense of the woman’s bodily autonomy, and therefore abortion should be allowed. Both views are quite reasonable, and it’s a mistake to discount a woman’s feminist views based how and when she defines life as beginning.
Similarly, most sane people support the idea that individuals who truly do the same work deserve the same pay, regardless of sex. The divisiveness comes when deciding what exactly constitutes “equal work,” and how much of a role the government should take in deciding that issue. Is the employee who has been in the same job for 25 years really do the same work as his colleague who was hired two months ago? Is the employee who works a flexible 40-hour week really do the same work as the employee who has to be in the office from 9-5 each day?
The reality is, there are a lot of factors at play, and those questions usually don't have easy answers. Left to employers to decide, there’s a risk they’ll act in their own best interest and reach whatever conclusion that lets them pay lower wages. Left to the government to decide, there are likely to be one-size-fits-all mandates that don’t accurately reflect industry or employee needs. Neither solution is perfect, but one’s personal trust in the free market vs. one’s trust in the government is what normally guides their decision, not their feminist beliefs.
Personally, I am both a proud feminist and a proud conservative. I work in a male dominated profession, and I’m incredibly grateful for all of the feminists before me who paved the way for women to work in jobs like mine. I support my fellow feminists who push for the stereotypical feminist platform, but ultimately, I think there are many other (and often better) ways that we can push for the same results.
There’s a major fallacy your reader makes, and it’s insulting and reductive in the extreme: “allowing abortion based on ‘a woman’s right to choose’ is analogous to allowing a woman to kill the man next to her on the subway for violating her personal space.”
Nope. Not even close. A pregnant woman is facing 18+ years of support, responsibility and sacrifice for the potential person she is carrying. A woman sitting next to someone on the subway has no connection, no responsibility, no long-term commitment to that adult person. “Subway man” is presumably autonomous, and makes no demands on our woman—besides, perhaps, taking temporary elbow space. She can end the connection between herself and “Subway man” by getting up and exiting the train at the next stop.
Our pregnant woman has no such remove from the fetus she carries. She will be intimately connected to, and responsible for that life until it reaches adulthood.
Unless the child is adopted, of course. But they’re certainly connected for nine months.
A reader revives the discussion thread on feminism:
The reason that a lot of people like myself don’t self-identify as “feminist” is because a lot of feminists (not all) self-identify as skeptics of the notion that there are any essential differences between men and women. Given the way these differences have been exploited by men to subjugate women, I have a lot of sympathy for these feminists and their mode of feminism. But my sympathies don’t mean that men and women are not different. They are—not totally different, not fundamentally different, but essentially different—in their essence.
When I was a kid, Bruce Jenner was the very definition of a male ideal, the best all-around athlete in the world. But for all his manly strength and power, he was actually a woman, whose essence insisted on expression in female-ness. Jenner’s femaleness was not the result of his biological attributes but the result of something that originated in his/her nature—not in nurture, not in social conditioning, not in patriarchy.
Which is why more than a few orthodox feminists are disturbed by the acceptance of transgenderism—as well they should be. Transgenderism is a reminder that gender essentialism is alive and well in our children.
And a lot of us accept that. Men and women share many attributes, but as groups, they also display some differences, which are the result of human nature. Most fundamentally, females experience all of the pregnancies. They bear all of the children. They do all of the breastfeeding. Males have none of those experiences and never will. The effects of these essential differences are reflected in the ways boys and girls are raised, come of age, mate and reproduce, and age. How could they not be?
We see and sense the resulting gender differences in our daily lives. Girls and women, in general, are more social, more emotionally fluent, more empathetic. Boys and men, in general, are more competitive, self-assertive, and self-interested. That doesn’t mean that boys and men can’t be social, emotionally fluent, or empathetic. That doesn’t that girls and women can’t be competitive, self-assertive, or self interested. Many are both—and more should be both. This is the wisdom embodied in the Eastern notion of yin and yang. To decry such observations as “sexist” seems both defensive and ahistorical.
So when one of your readers talks about about the “complementary features and qualities of the sexes” and is rebuked by your feminist reader who says such language “echoes an adherence to traditional gender roles,” I have to side with the former. I prefer understanding and appreciating the male/female yin and yang to an ideological commitment to challenging its existence.
There’s nothing wrong with a commitment to challenging the limitations of gender roles, but compared to ideological commitments like challenging America’s imperial ambitions, the normalization of war, the persistence of racism, the rise of wealth inequality, the prevalence of violence against women, the heedless consumption of the planet’s resources, and the demonization of the immigrant, a feminism based on a litmus test about “gender roles” is just not that compelling.
Thanks for listening.
That note reminds me of a great piece from The New Yorker’s Michelle Goldberg on “the dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism.” She writes:
Trans women say that they are women because they feel female – that, as some put it, they have women’s brains in men’s bodies. Radical feminists reject the notion of a “female brain.” They believe that if women think and act differently from men it’s because society forces them to, requiring them to be sexually attractive, nurturing, and deferential. In the words of Lierre Keith, a speaker at Radfems Respond, femininity is “ritualized submission.”
In this view, gender is less an identity than a caste position. Anyone born a man retains male privilege in society; even if he chooses to live as a woman – and accept a correspondingly subordinate social position – the fact that he has a choice means that he can never understand what being a woman is really like. By extension, when trans women demand to be accepted as women they are simply exercising another form of male entitlement.
All this enrages trans women and their allies, who point to the discrimination that trans people endure; although radical feminism is far from achieving all its goals, women have won far more formal equality than trans people have.
Michelle Goldberg’s piece was great but it’s almost too hard at this point to find anything about radfems that isn’t either a full-throated condemnation or a full-throated defense. But they’re the only organized feminist movement that promotes and pushes separation of the sexes and the removal of men from the picture. Even that is more about protection of women than about punishing men. I think your reader [the first one here] is instead uncomfortable with the ways “modern feminists” are trying to right the ship from aboard the ship.
The major source of disagreement within the larger group that calls itself feminists is intersectionality. White feminists can tend to ignore problems that feminists of color experience. Wealthy feminists can tend to ignore problems that poor feminists experience. Hetero feminists can ignore problems that queer feminists face. Trans feminists—especially trans feminists of color—are a statistically small group (since trans people are a statistically small group) but they bear a disproportionate amount of grief because they can fall through each of this series of cracks.
To me, it’s sad and gross that these real points of contention and attempts to hear all voices open feminism up to critiques that it’s too fractious or contentious.
The other night my husband sent me a link to your thread on feminism. It sparked a debate between us, which I should thank you for. While we have very different educations (my background is in anthropology, he is a physicist), it had been a few months since we’d challenged each other intellectually, and it’s nice when we do. I feel lucky when I learn something new about him, or when we manage to teach each other about a different worldview.
I am a proud feminist, likely because I’ve studied a fair amount of feminist theory. When I was younger, I’d describe myself, stammering: “I’m a feminist but, I mean, I don’t, like, hate men or anything.” I was terrified that labeling myself a “feminist” would relegate me to the fringes, where nice boys wouldn’t like me or I’d be seen as “difficult.” Yet I wanted to be valued; I wanted to have opportunities.
The tricky thing with feminism is that, so often, we are so close to those who are discriminating against us.
It’s well-meaning Aunt Faye saying to a new dad: “Let me take your crying baby, the baby just needs a woman's touch!” It’s not negotiating for a raise with the boss you sit next to because you want to be a “nice girl.”
And it morphs throughout our lives; just when I was getting a handle on this “feminism in the office” thing, I started thinking about the “motherhood” thing. If I look at stay-at-home-moms doing crafts with their kids and think: “my God, how mind-numbing!,” and stay-at-home-dads doing the same and think: “How sweet!,” am I bad feminist? (Answer: yes. Because if feminism means we’re free to chose our fate, we are as free to choose a traditional gender role as a non-traditional one.)
I hope one day we live in a world where men and women don't feel pressured to live their lives a certain way because of an expectation of their gender. In the meantime, as a feminist, I’m going to keep plodding along, trying to judge the people around me by their actions and words rather than anything else. Or, as my husband put it: “By what’s between their ears rather than what’s between their legs.”
I asked the reader to detail the crux of the debate between her and her husband:
I said: “Wait—would you describe yourself as a feminist?” And he said, shockingly: “I don’t think so, no.”
When we started dating, I’d even given him a copy of How to Be a Woman, which I’d enjoyed, so I thought we’d covered the feminist topic and were on the same page. I knew he hadn’t liked How to Be a Woman as much as I did; he prefers more data-driven arguments (in hindsight, it wasn’t a great introductory text for me to choose). But I guess I had assumed he would have described himself as a “feminist,” because I see him as one.
When that Computer Engineer Barbie story came out—where she needs men’s help to solve some problem—he was pretty funny about it. He’s also very much a scientist and has a deep respect for life in and of itself: we are all just stardust. Ascribing social values (i.e. women=lower, men=superior) to different physical forms is a little presumptuous.
So we sent a few emails back and forth, which is unusual because we live together. He’d classified a lot of the things I see as sexual discrimination as just “asshole behaviour,” to which I said: “Yes, but women are more likely to be on the receiving end of asshole behaviour.” We talked about discrimination here, around things like pay gaps, and then discrimination in other parts of the world—like honour killings, child brides, and child pregnancies (in Paraguay, specifically).
Anyway, for me, it was kind of fun, to have our minds meet like that. I wanted to mention it for a couple of reasons: 1) when you put these threads together, people actually read them and have discussions in their living rooms, and 2) one woman, in a note published on October 5, wrote:
Worse, some of the proudest ‘feminists’ I know are quite vocal about their disdain for partnership with men. I quite enjoy the complementary features and qualities of the sexes, and whether feminism claims misandry as its own or not, there is a definite correlation between the two in my acquaintance.
That anecdote didn’t sit right with me. I suspect a lot of women are afraid to be labelled “feminists” because they’re afraid to be labelled “misandrists.” (I suspect there’s a little homophobia in there too.) I wonder if some of that is because there’s a fear that a feminist woman’s male partner is seen as somehow less “masculine.” The idea that there are “complementary features and qualities of the sexes” echoes an adherence to traditional gender roles, which is exactly what feminism challenges.
Maybe I wanted to mention that I was married, and that we had the kind of marriage where we actually discuss the world, because I felt defensive: I’m a feminist and I love and respect my husband. Both things can be true: to think that being a “feminist” means you can’t have a good marriage is not just sad, it’s illogical. One does not prevent the other.
I also invited the husband to respond:
I sent my wife the link because I have some arguments with those who self-identify as feminists. As many of your readers have said, the word seems to be hijacked.
I don’t like the hypocrisy I see. For instance, my wife mentioned the Caitlin Moran book, How to be a Woman. This is a celebrated writer who many look up to as a voice for feminists. In the book, though, she is dismissive of men, or: “the men.” At one point, she assures women that they don’t have to be self-conscious during sex because there are “men out there having sex with bicycles.” She describes gay people with stereotypes (“the gays are up for glitter, filth and fun”) that I would’ve thought a militant feminist would disagree with. She marginalizes minorities in the same manner that she finds abhorrent of how “the patriarchy” apparently treat women.
My wife mentioned that we talked about the plight of women and girls in the developing world. Comparing women’s rights in North America to the plight of women and girls in the developing world is like comparing apples to oranges. Rape as a tool of war, forced marriages, genital mutilation: these are repugnant. But these atrocities are on a completely different scale than the struggles faced by women here. It approaches offense when feminism offers both a) honor killings and b) the difficulties women have in North America achieving a “work-life balance,” as key issues.
Regarding pay gaps, Dr. Claudia Goldin is a leading academic studying this issue. An article in the NYT quotes her as saying: “The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours.”
My wife and I discussed this at length. She says traditional gender roles push women into working less because they have to take care of their children, and if that’s true, there’s something to be changed there. But to me, it looks like women get paid less because they work less. If I were to take parental leave to care for our small children (as I intend to), I’ll be giving up my income for a time, just as a woman would. I’d make less because I’d work less.
Some arguments about pay ignore that many of us, male and female, are dealing with the trade-off of career vs. family. Rarely can both partners be completely successful outside of the home; someone’s gotta take care of the kids. Suggesting that the whole world change its work ethic and reward system to accommodate this “pay gap” is laughable.
So to have said all of that, am I a feminist? Yes, in my wife’s definition. No, in many others, including mine. I’m not a feminist like Caitlin Moran if it means deriding men, and I’m frustrated that so much attention is given to a “women vs. men” conversation, instead of being given to a more important social issue.
That’s how this reader frames his criticism of contemporary feminism:
Beginning in my late teens and for many years later, I would have called myself a feminist. This was partly due to my passionately left-wing friends, and in part due to the effect of reading literature like Taming of the Shrew and Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. I saw the ugliness, the way society had utterly refused to recognize the humanity of women. I saw that gender has been a cage that stunts a woman’s individual life rather than the piece of identity it is and should be. I saw the contempt, the fear, the condescension and repression, and I strongly felt it had to change and has to change more.
So I don’t think Feminism is a dirty word or should be gotten rid of. But I no longer care to describe myself as a feminist. It doesn’t have anything to do with language, and little to do with ideas.
The feminist movement today has startling similarity to religious fundamentalism. There is the same dogmatism, the same zealous fervor, the same fear, the same clinging to certainty and the absolute conviction in one’s own correctness. Dissenters are marginalized, castigated, even cast out. The psychology is identical; all that differs are the goals.
Another striking similarity is the hostility towards science.
One of the cardinal sins is to disagree with the feminist doctrine that gender is entirely a social construction. Anyone the least bit familiar with evolutionary biology and the nature/nurture debate can see that it is not an either/or, and neuroscience has found subtle but interesting differences in the brains of men and women. [See this piece from Olga titled “Male and Female Brains Really Are Built Differently” — C.B.] But for some reason, ideas from the humanities (mostly critical theory) have been pitted against empiricism, and since the former must be correct, the latter can be dismissed.
It’s a shame, since it is due to progress in science (and not to Foucault) that society no longer believes that women have smaller, inferior brains and other such nonsense. But just as with religious extremists, feminists are fearful of what science might do to their perfect tapestry of beliefs, and what it might lead to in society, even if this doesn’t make any sense. It saddens me that friends I grew up with who were negatively affected by this mindset in the context of religion have traded that in for a different version.
What many feminists don’t understand when they complain about people refusing the “feminist” label is that it’s not about the ideas or the history. Most people don’t know much about feminist theory. It is everything to do with the feminists themselves. There is in feminism a tone of relentless grievance and antagonism. (Many feminists would tell me I’m a misogynist—a term bandied about so casually it has become self-parodic—despite the fact that I’d likely agree with them 75 percent of the time.) It is such an insular and dogmatic movement that, as with any similar milieu, people inside it can’t sense what is immediately apparent to others.
Look at the furor that erupted over Women against Feminism [see above for an example via Twitter — C.B.] There were some especially nasty responses to it, but most were the familiar spiel that if only these women knew what feminism actually meant, they wouldn’t say they were against it. What feminists didn’t see were the consistent patterns in what those women were saying.
Common reasons for being against feminism were they had been treated poorly by feminists and did not share the negativity towards men that they felt feminists were full of. They often qualified that their responses were to “modern” feminism, so as to differentiate it from earlier versions. These young women actually knew far more about feminist ideas than the average person, either from college or the internet, and they for various reasons disagreed with it. But the problem must be that they’re ignorant, because if people understood everything about feminism, they couldn’t possibly disagree with it.
Update: A reader pushes back:
The reader critiquing feminism used the fact that male and female brains have biological differences to back up an unfounded claim that citing science of any kind is a “cardinal sin” among feminists. Says who? His letter is full of weasel words—“modern feminists,” “most feminists,” “many feminists”—and these are gestural referrals to a feeling he has, as though it’s observed by evidence.
Then he says he knows feminists will call him a misogynist! What is this, Reddit? It’s not even a good critique, and “gender is a construction” isn’t only feminist territory! (Radical Feminists, proper noun, think men and women are an unchangeable biological binary and that transgender women aren’t women or feminists.)
It’s irresponsible to fuel the fire of something like the debate over feminism without questioning the claims or lack of evidence in such a long reader letter.
Another reader absorbs the debate thus far:
Reading through responses to Sophie’s note, it seems the main issue here is simply one of miscommunication. It sounds like there are mainly two distinct understandings of what you focus on when you talk about “feminism.”
The first camp talks about it like a tribal identity marker. The reader described as “firmly siding with Sophie” talks about wearing feminism as a badge of honor and traces her affiliation to the word itself to a long and continuing history. This is a textbook example of an “imagined community,” similar to nationalism, where people identify with a broad family of people they will never meet based on an idea that they have a common history and a common future destiny. To people thinking this way, identifying yourself as feminist is less about your concrete beliefs and more about a general declaration of fealty and respect to the tribe. It sounds similar to when people identify themselves as Jewish because the community identity matters more to them than the concrete theological underpinnings of Judaism.
A second camp talks about it like an ideological descriptor. This was exemplified by the summary of Charlotte Proudman’s comments, where she lays out the philosophical positions and whether she agrees or disagrees with them. In this sense, it sounds more like being a Utilitarian or a Modernist. The focus isn’t on the people who hold the belief; it’s on the details of the beliefs themselves.
The disconnect seems to be that people in the second camp are making what they believe to be innocuous statements about which values they prize more highly, and people in the first camp are interpreting these as explicit rejections of a deeply held part of their identity.
See anything important missing from this debate? Drop me an email and I’ll post.
A reader responds to our previous reader roundup, which emphasized poll numbers showing that the vast majority of Americans say they believe in “equality for women” but only a small percentage of Americans identify as “feminist”:
I’m rather surprised you didn’t mention Christina Hoff Sommers’s useful, if controversial, distinction between “equity feminism” and “gender feminism.” (Her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? goes into great detail, but here’s Wikipedia’s synopsis.) Most everyone is an equity feminist and believes that men and women should have (and do have) equal rights under American law. However, very few are gender feminists—who believe that men and women are physically, psychologically, and mentally equivalent in every way (and if they’re not, then that’s a result of evil patriarchal heterosexist culture, not nature). Very, very few women and almost no men (outside of academia, anyway) are gender feminists.
Another reader also mentions Sommers:
She was recently invited to speak at Oberlin, an event which was vigorously protested. Sommers is very critical of the last 30 years of feminism in general, but her primary critique is that feminism has relied on statistics that are misleading, such as the study that found one in five female college students have been raped.
I remember how shocked I was when I read that statistic, and I had no reason at the time to question its findings. But on further inspection, the study engineered its own results by expanding the definition of rape to include stuff like sex that was later regretted, or even a guy attempting an unsolicited kiss at a drunken party. Some of those interviewed in the study did not think they’d been raped or abused, but that didn’t matter; the imperative was to stir up outrage over the genuinely serious problem of campus rape, and in this it was successful.
Sommers included that rape statistic in a video on “the top five feminist myths of all time.” (Slate’s Emily Yoffe, who is to the left of Sommers, tackled that statistic in greater depth.) However, it’s important to note in the context of this discussion that Sommers still considers herself a feminist. Watch the video embedded above for her lengthy response to the “Are you a feminist?” question.
Unlike Sommers, another reader—a “credentialed teacher and homemaker with a Stanford B.A.”—no longer considers herself a feminist. Here she addresses Sophie’s note directly:
If your goal is to engage those who think differently, quoting a woman, Caitlin Moran, who accuses her fellow females of being too drunk to respond to a survey in the manner she would prefer is not, perhaps, the best strategy.
In college I identified as a feminist for the simple reason you state:
I know that women have historically had fewer rights than men, and I believe that they are absolutely deserving of equal rights and opportunities (as opposed to outcomes). Now, I don’t identify as a feminist, and in a nutshell, the reason is that the feminist movement espouses a particular set of leftist political beliefs that I don't share. If feminism could accommodate multiple political viewpoints, perhaps I could rejoin the bandwagon.
I don’t know any women who oppose the right to vote, equal access to healthcare (distinct from “my employer must pay for my abortion or contraceptives”), or greater freedom to make whatever sort of life choice she should so desire. I know plenty of women who don’t want to have to pay (with tax dollars) for the lifestyle choices of others (particularly wealthy others with plenty of life opportunities anyway). That would result in a greater tax burden on my family, which would jeopardize my ability to stay home and have the quiet domestic life I desire at this juncture. I take no issue with women making their own choices about careers, sex, or anything else; I just don’t wish to subsidize it, and all too often “feminism,” on this score, seems to call for public funding, or at least expensive regulation.
I also know women who are somewhat weary of being called names because they want to be free to choose conventional lifestyles that prioritize marriage and family, or because they value the lives of unborn children over the license to have no-strings-attached, consequence-free sex. Getting married and staying home to raise children is as valid an option as becoming a CEO. Yet much of the rhetoric I’ve read from self-labeled feminists seems intent on making women the same as men, rather than equal to them.
Worse, some of the proudest “feminists” I know are quite vocal about their disdain for partnership with men. I quite enjoy the complementary features and qualities of the sexes, and whether feminism claims misandry as its own or not, there is a definite correlation between the two in my acquaintance.
So no, I don’t identify as a feminist anymore. If feminism means I have to support a particular political platform that includes permitting the murder of unborn children and paying for universal childcare at the expense of raising my own child, count me out. This isn’t a matter of “misinformation,” as you say, but a matter of experience.
The dictionary definition may be simple, but this is what I have seen from the movement. We may agree on points, and I thank the movement for some of its historical legacy, but its core values and methods differ from my own. As a believer in women’s equality, I will continue to work toward acceptance of women as equals, but I will do so on my own terms, with my own solutions in mind, and not those of the feminist brand.
On the other hand, this female reader declares, “I’m an ardent feminist”:
When I say that out loud, or write it in a comment, I know how it sounds to most people: harsh and persistent. It implies that I might be, in some abstract way in the distant future of a conversation, a difficult woman. I want that harshness to sink it, because my propositions are so reasonable.
What better way to prove that sexism truly exists than to self-identify as someone who is adamant in the fight against its tangible harms (for both men and women) and have that self-identification make most people uncomfortable, if not downright angry? What is up with that cognitive dissonance? I want people to push back against it and examine why they feel it, so I drop this “F word” as much as do the other “F word,” as often as I can without being opportunistic.
Truly great feminism requires an emphasis on the “equality” part. It’s not always that women have to “catch up” in some way to men; it’s that those tangible harms I previously mentioned hurt both sexes, all genders, and feminism aims to make sure that no male, female, or agendered person is hurt because of a set of hate-inspired beliefs.
More of your emails soon. If there’s an aspect of this debate you haven’t seen addressed yet, let me know.
Many readers are emailing about Sophie’s frustration that a growing number of female celebrities are shirking the “feminist” label:
I’m male, and I used to think feminism was outdated, since women already achieved the right to vote and work. As time passed I came to realize feminism is still important, particularly in fighting sexual assault and slut-shaming … but am I a feminist?
There are some people who think, as Sophie implied in her note, that being a feminist just means general support of gender equality in the home, the workplace, the public sphere—so it would be crazy not to identify as one. But some other feminists believe that feminism requires commitment to a pretty specific political agenda, and I can’t honestly say I agree with all those policies. For instance, while it’s ideal for women and men to be paid the same for the same work, I don’t believe the government should police salary negotiations.
So whether or not I’m a feminist depends on your definition. I would like to be, but I’m not ultimately the one who gets to define the word.
Another reader doesn’t want anyone to define it:
The reason why everybody opposes feminism isn’t because of its message; it’s because it’s akin to a religious ideology. You do not decide for me, or anybody, that they are a feminist if they agree with a certain ideal or ideals.
Another is on the same page:
How words are defined is fluid and quite individualistic. It is part of the reason why there is so much miscommunication. Clearly there is something to the definitions these various female celebrities have offered if so many of them share similar views.
Several more readers sound off:
One of the main barriers to more people identifying themselves as feminists is a lack of clarity on what the term actually means. Not all feminists agree that gender equality is the ultimate aim of Feminism. Charlotte Proudman, the British barrister at the centre of the recent LinkedIn sexism controversy [which Sophie covered here], is a self-identified radical feminist who strives for liberation, not equality. She explains her rationale as follows:
The equalist debate is one way of preserving patriarchy, whereas feminism seeks to give power to women on their own terms—not mens. This is why I am a feminist, not an equalist. Equality is harmful to women and most men, as they are required to replicate behaviours that are degrading and dehumanising. Once women buy into the masculine terms of society, our civilization will become crueler than ever expected.
Another issue for many is the persistent infighting. Today, the prevailing feminist ideology is Intersectionality. Those who call themselves feminists but do not demonstrate sufficient familiarity with this concept are branded apostates. High profile examples include Lena Dunham, Caitlin Moran, and Taylor Swift.
These are some of the reasons why I do not identify myself as a feminist, despite supporting gender equality and being pro-choice.
When a large share of your natural allies—younger educated women in particular—reject what they perceive the term has come to mean, and you tell them that they’re wrong because it means only this other thing (that you know they support), you have to realize that the word no longer means only what you’d like it to mean.
It has also come to mean which side you’re on in the war of men vs. women, especially in an online context. (At least “feminism” hasn’t accrued a penumbra anywhere near as toxic as the equally innocuously-named opposition, “Men’s Rights Advocates”!) This idea, that language is not rule-bound but is inseparable from its lived use, is basically the realization Ludwig Wittgenstein came to later in his career. As I’m not a Wittgenstein scholar, I’ll just drop a quote from someone who (readably) is:
...Wittgenstein pioneered the controversial linguistic conception of meaning-as-use, or the idea that the meanings of words, relative or not, cannot be specified in isolation from the life practices in which they are used. Instead, language should be studied from the starting point of its practices, rather from abstractions to syntax and semantics. As Wittgenstein put it, “Speaking a language is part of an activity, or of a form of life.”
This reader firmly sides with Sophie:
I read her piece and I died a bit inside. I’m emphatically a feminist and I hate to see other women, who have a platform, denounce feminism. They do so because they worry they will be targeted by those who have co-opted the term and turned into code for “I hate men.” Just as “Black Lives Matter” does not mean that those are the ONLY lives who matter, advocating for equality between men and women does not make one a “man hater.”
I have considered myself a feminist since I learned what the word meant, and I know I have benefitted from the generations of feminists who came before me.
Does feminism have problems? Absolutely—the biggest being the exclusion of women of color by mainstream white feminists. But I will always proudly wear the title of feminist as a badge of honor.
To throw some statistics into the mix, the above chart from the Public Religion Research Institute finds that, in 2015, “Less than half of millennial women identify as ‘feminist.’” And from a Vox poll, also this year:
[C]onducted by research and communications firm PerryUndem, [it] shows that a strong majority of Americans agree on gender equality. Eighty-five percent, for example, say they believe in “equality for women.” But many fewer want to put the feminist label on their beliefs. Eighteen percent of poll respondents said they consider themselves feminist.
[J]ust 20 percent of Americans -- including 23 percent of women and 16 percent of men -- consider themselves feminists. Another 8 percent consider themselves anti-feminists, while 63 percent said they are neither. … But asked if they believe that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals,” 82 percent of the survey respondents said they did, and just 9 percent said they did not.
You have to wonder if that 3 percent bump in 1992 was due to Hillary Clinton coming on the national scene and winning the White House with her husband.
More of your emails to come. If you’d like to counter any of these readers, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also be sure to check out Becca’s note wishing more male politicians and other powerful figures would get asked the “are you a feminist?” question. If you know of any examples of the press doing so, please email the hello@ address.
Sophie writes forcefully of the “long list of female celebrities who’ve declined to identify themselves as feminists out of an assumption that the word implies widespread rejection or dislike of men.” She laments, as do I, that many people embrace the ideas of feminism but nevertheless recoil at the label:
Because whatever the history, whatever the nuances, whatever the charged sentiments associated with political activism, being a feminist is very simple: It means believing that women are and should be equal to men in matters political, social, and economic. They should be able to vote. They should have equal protection under the law and equal access to healthcare and education. They should be paid as much as their male counterparts are for doing exactly the same job. Do you believe in these things? Then, you are a feminist.
These seem like the kinds of things that women are likely to support. They also seem like the kinds of things that men are likely to support.
And I’d like to know when men do. It’s a shame that famous men (not only entertainers, but CEOs and politicians too) are so rarely asked whether they are feminists.
Has anyone asked Mark Zuckerberg whether he is a feminist? What about Barack Obama? What about Bill Gates? I cannot find many examples of men in power being asked how they feel about this label, but if you know of some, please give a shout at email@example.com. (Bernie Sanders, to his credit, says he is.)
It’s my hope that just asking this question of men would go a small way to diminishing the stigma that’s attached to this word. (At the same time, I hate the sexism implicit in that belief—that it will become more acceptable to women once men have given it their stamp of approval—but I’m willing to hold my nose to get to my goal.)
But there’s another reason that I think it’s time for reporters and activists to ask men whether they are feminists, and that’s because failing to ask suggests the assumption that they’d answer no. But this is 2015, and these are smart, forward-thinking, and caring men. Let’s give them a chance to claim the feminist mantle, and to use it to champion the women they work with and admire.
The French actress Marion Cotillard recently gave an interview to Porter magazine in which she said, “I don’t qualify myself as a feminist.”
We need to fight for women’s rights, but I don’t want to separate women from men. We’re separated already because we’re not made the same, and it’s the difference that creates this energy in creation and love. Sometimes in the word ‘feminism’ there’s too much separation.
Cotillard joins a long list of female celebrities who’ve declined to identify themselves as feminists out of an assumption that the word implies widespread rejection or dislike of men.
I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from power’ is never going to work out … We have to have a fine balance. My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism.
No, I wouldn't say feminist—that’s too strong. I think when people hear feminist, it’s like, “Get out of my way, I don't need anyone.” I love that I'm being taken care of and I have a man that’s a leader.
I’m not a feminist—I, I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male culture, and beer, and bars and muscle cars…
You could call this feminism’s PR problem—that people who’ve never thought much about Betty Friedan or the sex wars or women’s suffrage or marital rape understand feminism to be a Political Movement, with all the internal conflict and jockeying for power and us-versus-them that political movements imply. In rejecting the word, Salma and Carrie and Kelly and Shailene and Marion and Gaga are understanding feminism by what they assume it opposes: men.
But it’s hard to solely blame bad publicity (there can be no advocate more powerful than Beyoncé, who literally stood in front of the word “feminist” spelled out in six-foot high letters) when the real issue seems to be a profound degree of misinformation among women and men as to what feminism actually means.
Because whatever the history, whatever the nuances, whatever the charged sentiments associated with political activism, being a feminist is very simple: It means believing that women are and should be equal to men in matters political, social, and economic. They should be able to vote. They should have equal protection under the law and equal access to healthcare and education. They should be paid as much as their male counterparts are for doing exactly the same job. Do you believe in these things? Then, you are a feminist.
Or, as Caitlin Moran puts it in How to Be a Woman:
We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism.’ We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist—and only 42 percent of British women—I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?
Midnight Mass is a morally urgent critique of how faith can fuel everyday cruelty and violence.
This story contains spoilers for the Netflix series Midnight Mass.
The Exorcist is a film I’ve long loved because it raised the bar not just for horror, but also for movies that explore questions of faith and doubt, good and evil, life and death. I know all of its beats by heart, but when I recently rewatched the 1973 classic, the ending hit differently. The movie concludes with an exorcism, naturally. Chris MacNeil has brought her daughter, Regan, to a host of medical professionals in a desperate attempt to save her from what turns out to be a demonic possession. But the only person who can save the girl, it seems, is a priest. The camera lingers on the mother’s exhausted face as two priests close the door to her daughter’s bedroom and go to work.
The election of the elders of an evangelical church is usually an uncontroversial, even unifying event. But this summer, at an influential megachurch in Northern Virginia, something went badly wrong. A trio of elders didn’t receive 75 percent of the vote, the threshold necessary to be installed.
“A small group of people, inside and outside this church, coordinated a divisive effort to use disinformation in order to persuade others to vote these men down as part of a broader effort to take control of this church,” David Platt, a 43-year-old minister at McLean Bible Church and a best-selling author, charged in a July 4 sermon.
Platt said church members had been misled, having been told, among other things, that the three individuals nominated to be elders would advocate selling the church building to Muslims, who would convert it into a mosque. In a second vote on July 18, all three nominees cleared the threshold. But that hardly resolved the conflict. Members of the church filed a lawsuit, claiming that the conduct of the election violated the church’s constitution.
Thousands of pages of internal documents offer the clearest picture yet of how Facebook endangers American democracy—and show that the company’s own employees know it.
Before I tell you what happened at exactly 2:28 p.m. on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the White House—and how it elicited a very specific reaction, some 2,400 miles away, in Menlo Park, California—you need to remember the mayhem of that day, the exuberance of the mob as it gave itself over to violence, and how several things seemed to happen all at once.
At 2:10 p.m., a live microphone captured a Senate aide’s panicked warning that “protesters are in the building,” and both houses of Congress began evacuating.
At 2:13 p.m., Vice President Mike Pence was hurried off the Senate floor and out of the chamber.
At 2:15 p.m., thunderous chants were heard: “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!”
At the White House, President Donald Trump was watching the insurrection live on television. The spectacle excited him. Which brings us to 2:28 p.m., the moment when Trump shared a message he had just tweeted with his 35 million Facebook followers: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution … USA demands the truth!”
Breaking up social-media companies is one way to fix them. Shutting their users up is a better one.
Your social life has a biological limit: 150. That’s the number—Dunbar’s number, proposed by the British psychologist Robin Dunbar three decades ago—of people with whom you can have meaningful relationships.
What makes a relationship meaningful? Dunbar gave TheNew York Times a shorthand answer: “those people you know well enough to greet without feeling awkward if you ran into them in an airport lounge”—a take that may accidentally reveal the substantial spoils of having produced a predominant psychological theory. The construct encompasses multiple “layers” of intimacy in relationships. We can reasonably expect to develop up to 150 productive bonds, but we have our most intimate, and therefore most connected, relationships with only about five to 15 closest friends. We can maintain much larger networks, but only by compromising the quality or sincerity of those connections; most people operate in much smaller social circles.
In ways both large and small, American society still assumes that the default adult has a partner and that the default household contains multiple people.
If you were to look under the roofs of American homes at random, it wouldn’t take long to find someone who lives alone. By the Census Bureau’s latest count, there are about 36 million solo dwellers, and together they make up 28 percent of U.S. households.
Even though this percentage has been climbing steadily for decades, these people are still living in a society that is tilted against them. In the domains of work, housing, shopping, and health care, much of American life is a little—and in some cases, a lot—easier if you have a partner or live with family members or housemates. The number of people who are inconvenienced by that fact grows every year.
Those who live alone, to be clear, are not lonely and miserable. Research indicates that, young or old, single people are more social than their partnered peers. Bella DePaulo, the author of How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, reeled off to me some of the pleasures of having your own space: “the privacy, the freedom to arrange your life and your space just the way you want it—you get to decide when to sleep, when to get up, what you eat, when you eat, what you watch on Netflix, how you set the thermostat.”
Claims about the drug are based on shoddy science—but that science is entirely unremarkable in its shoddiness.
Ivermectin is an antiparasitic drug, and a very good one. If you are infected with the roundworms that cause river blindness or the parasitic mites that cause scabies, it is wonderfully effective. It is cheap; it is accessible; and its discoverers won the Nobel Prize in 2015. It has also been widely promoted as a coronavirus prophylactic and treatment.
This promotion has been broadly criticized as a fever dream conceived in the memetic bowels of the internet and as a convenient buttress for bad arguments against vaccination. This is not entirely fair. Perhaps 70 to 100 studies have been conducted on the use of ivermectin for treating or preventing COVID-19; several dozen of them support the hypothesis that the drug is a plague mitigant. Twometa-analyses, which looked at data aggregated across subsets of these studies, concluded that the drug has value in the fight against the pandemic.
A brilliant new account upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change.
Many years ago, when I was a junior professor at Yale, I cold-called a colleague in the anthropology department for assistance with a project I was working on. I didn’t know anything about the guy; I just selected him because he was young, and therefore, I figured, more likely to agree to talk.
Five minutes into our lunch, I realized that I was in the presence of a genius. Not an extremely intelligent person—a genius. There’s a qualitative difference. The individual across the table seemed to belong to a different order of being from me, like a visitor from a higher dimension. I had never experienced anything like it before. I quickly went from trying to keep up with him, to hanging on for dear life, to simply sitting there in wonder.
The James Webb Space Telescope, the long-awaited successor to Hubble, is mired in controversy over its namesake.
In 1999, Karen Knierman picked up a free mug at her first big astronomy conference, just before she started grad school. It bore the logo of an ambitious observatory, designed to peer at the most distant galaxies in the universe: NGST, short for Next Generation Space Telescope. The mug was on Knierman’s desk in 2002 when NASA made a surprise announcement: NGST was going to become JWST, after James Webb. Knierman sipped from her suddenly out-of-date mug and wondered, Who?
That was the prevailing reaction among scientists at the time. Webb, who died in 1992, was more of a behind-the-scenes manager than a space-science star; he had served as NASA’s second administrator, in the 1960s, during the run-up to the Apollo moon landings. But scientists went with the rebrand. Work on the telescope continued. Scientists got new merch, new mugs.
Internal documents show the company routinely placing public-relations, profit, and regulatory concerns over user welfare. And if you think it’s bad here, look beyond the U.S.
In the fall of 2019, Facebook launched a massive effort to combat the use of its platforms for human trafficking. Working around the clock, its employees searched Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram for keywords and hashtags that promoted domestic servitude in the Middle East and elsewhere. Over the course of a few weeks, the company took down 129,191 pieces of content, disabled more than 1,000 accounts, tightened its policies, and added new ways to detect this kind of behavior. After they were through, employees congratulated one another on a job well done.
It was a job well done. It just came a little late. In fact, a group of Facebook researchers focused on the Middle East and North Africa had found numerous Instagram profiles being used as advertisements for trafficked domestic servants as early as March 2018. “Indonesian brought with Tourist Visa,” one photo caption on a picture of a woman reads, in Arabic. “We have more of them.” But these profiles weren’t “actioned”—disabled or taken down—an internal report would explain, because Facebook’s policies “did not acknowledge the violation.” A year and a half later, an undercover BBC investigation revealed the full scope of the problem: a broad network that illegally trafficked domestic workers, facilitated by internet platforms and aided by algorithmically boosted hashtags. In response, Facebook banned one hashtag and took down some 700 Instagram profiles. But according to another internal report, “domestic servitude content remained on the platform.”
James Michael Tyler, who died yesterday, played the beloved Friends character with a sense of ironized self-awareness.
In a Season 4 episode of Friends, Ross is about to get married (again). At his bachelor party, Joey and Chandler argue over who will serve as his best man. Their bickering devolves into pettiness, until a fed-up Chandler makes an announcement about one of their guests, the barista at their favorite coffee shop: When he gets married, Chandler says, he’ll just ask Gunther to be his best man.
Gunther, who is accustomed to being the object of the friends’ varied condescensions, considers this alleged honor. “What’s my last name?” he asks Chandler. Chandler is stymied. “… Central Perk?” he replies.
Through Friends’ 10 seasons, Gunther serves as the consummate supporting character. He is often simply there: working behind the counter at Central Perk, standing around at parties the friends throw, backgrounded even in the moments when he is brought to the fore. But the actor James Michael Tyler, who died yesterday of prostate cancer at the age of 59, didn’t play Gunther as a side character. He played Gunther, instead, as a character who was sidelined. That made all the difference. Tyler invested Gunther, who was otherwise the stuff of sitcom cliché, with a biting awareness of his own exclusion from the show’s hermetic main group. Gunther is always in their orbit, but never in their world—and he is keenly aware of that disconnect. In the friends’ lives, though no one told you life was gonna be this way, things work out all the same. Not so for Gunther. Through him, reality pierces Friends’ chipper fantasies.