Feminism and You: How to Participate in Open Discussions

Note: I would like to note here and now that comments will be moderated. I am the sole person to approve them. Why?? The simplest answer is because many people can’t talk civilly to each other.*

Around the twitter-verse there has been a lot of buzz surrounding feminism… and other -isms. Today I’m going to address some of the problems surrounding the types of conversations being had on twitter, despite listening to my gut which says to stay the hell out of the dialogue. While I’m not going to single any particular person out some of the referenced conversations might sound really familiar. If you’re feeling as though I’m pointing a finger at you specifically, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the way you’ve been treating others, and how you’ve been handling having discussions about feminism among your peers. Feminism is one of those really touchy subjects in which people feel very strongly one way or the other, including ambivalence and apathy. In order to have a productive and constructive conversation about feminism, people need to understand the history of feminism and how we’ve gotten to where we are today.

Feminism, an Intro

Feminism at the core is a desire for equality between men and women. It’s a “movement aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.” Historically, women have been oppressed for far longer than it’s been recorded in history books. Women are still oppressed in many countries outside of the United States, but for today’s history and civil rights lesson, I’m going to stick to U.S. History only.

In 1868 African American slaves were granted citizenship equal to those of whites (though we all know that it didn’t necessary play out that way, but this is a discussion for another post on a different blog… I digress). In 1870, the 15th amendment was enacted, prohibiting “the denial of suffrage based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.Note that it says nothing about gender. Fast-forward 50 years (50 fuckin’ years people… wrap your head around this shit!! That’s a lifetime!) and women are granted suffrage with the 19th amendment, lawfully ending women being viewed as the property of men in the United States.

Take a moment and process that. No really. Just think about it. African American men were property one day, and in two years are granted full rights (again, in law only. I realize shit went on for years after this point). But oh no! We lowly women were still the property of men for another 50-fuckin’-years!

Please understand that I am angry. This shit makes me damn angry. Women still make less money for the same work and education when you look at specific power-positions (things like CEO, CFO and directors). Then there are those archaic politicians like Rick Santorum running around spouting bullshit about how he, as a white man, has the right to put into law what is and isn’t okay for a woman to do to her own body.

“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country…. Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” – Rick Santorum (Speaking with CaffeinatedThoughts.com, Oct. 18, 2011)

Couple that with the ignorance of men like Rush Limbaugh who, as evidenced by what he says, clearly doesn’t actually understand how birth control or women’s bodies work.

“She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.” – Rush Limbaugh

So here is all of us, in current times. Women are still often treated as second-class citizens. Women are still coddled and treated like children. They are still the highest demographic to be sexually assaulted and raped. Many feminists have been fighting the good fight for so long; I feel like many of them have forgotten what it was like before they were feminists. In the experiences I’ve had on twitter, as well as what I’ve seen passively, it seems that many people have forgotten some of the basics of feminism. So here I go… and I’m going to school you, dear reader, in the early learnings of feminism.

THINGS TO REMEMBER

Many women want to believe that they have always been a feminist, but the fact is, most people don’t even realize there’s a difference in the way men and women are treated until well into adulthood. Feminists are created, taught, and made. There is no collective feminist mind in which some people tap in, and others do not. There is no special initiation, either, much to the chagrin of many self-declaring feminists. You don’t pay dues. There is no membership card. And there are no special parking spaces anywhere. Does it seem as though I’m making light of the feminist cause? I am, in a way. Like so many other things, the extremists make it easy to poke fun of important issues. Feminism is not exempt from this. Feminism is still pretty srs bzns. Even for me.

Men can also be feminists, but they cannot actually know what it’s like to deal with mistreatment based on gender (except for a small population of transgendered individuals).

So, most important rule to remember: People are not born feminists.

No one is born knowing all there is to know about feminism. At your conception, your parents did not have some survey to fill out in which they chose whether or not you would be a feminist, or a misogynist. It’s a sliding scale. I’ll have graphics for this later.

ISSUES I SEE ON TWITTER THUS FAR

Many people are extremely quick to label others. They also seem to feel as though they can think for others, tell others what to do, and flame them if they don’t agree. There is little room for open discussion among this particular group. If someone is curious about feminism they are met with derision and blame for not being cultured on all things feminist. There is also little room for opinion. If you have a differing opinion, you are flamed, chided, and eventually shunned. This is coming from both sides of the feminism scale, where feminism is on the extreme right and misogyny is on the extreme left (and the red dots are where various different people will fall on the scale).

The best thing is that people can fall somewhere, anywhere on that spectrum of feminism and misogyny. There are an infinite number of points there. Remember that too. Infinite. Unending. There will be a quiz at the end.**

Now here I’m going to toss some math your way. Statistics. I know. I hated this stuff when I was in school, but I’m glad to have learned it. It’s going to help me out right now. Statistics, in my own definition, is theoretical math. It’s often used to help postulate or find relationships between two or more variables. Right now, we’re talking about two extremes: Feminism and Misogyny.

Now, if I was so inclined I could create a questionnaire that might measure a person’s feminism (or subsequently their misogyny). Scientifically, I might give this questionnaire out and ask people to anonymously answer and submit their responses. As a scientist, I am trying to be as objective as possible. No matter what the sample size is (meaning whether 100 or 1000 people responded), their scores would fall into this distribution table. All samples are meant to be representative of the population, but realistically, it’s impossible to get a full population of subjects. So I’d have to make inferences. The bigger the sample size, the more likely it is to see this bell curve of where people will fall on the scale between feminism and misogyny.

What you’re seeing is that the largest portion of the population will fall in the center, just to the left and right of the middle, by one SD (standard deviation)***. 68% of the population will fall in this middle section. When you go 2 SD out, you end up capturing more people within this middle area totaling about 95.4% of the population. What this means, in the end, is that I can reasonably guess that if I gave a new person the questionnaire, there is a 95.4% chance they will fall somewhere within 2 SD of the mean (middle).

Why is this important? This is important to remember when you’re talking to people about feminism because such a tiny portion of the population falls at the extremes. I can, subjectively, only give questionnaires out to a feminist population, skewing my results. I can do the same the other direction as well. Objectively, this is pretty standard when measuring human behavior and other non-mathematically measurable attributes. In science you can make inferences based on these standards.

HOW DO WE MAKE THIS BETTER FOR EVERYONE

In many of my efforts to discuss feminism on twitter, the extremists are quick to twist my words around on me. I’ve been calm when trying to discuss things, but in the same vein as talking with a misogynist, it seems that people are quick to jump to irrationalities and generalities that don’t hold their own out of context. I’ve watched people go from perfectly reasonable to arm-flailing, finger-pointing, screaming-the-top-of-their-lungs type nonsense. I’ve watched people get singled out, name-called, and shunned by others in the community. I’ve had those same fingers pointed at me.

My point, often times, has been to educate with resolved calm. To which I’ve been accused of telling feminists and victims to “be the bigger person” and equally pointing fingers telling them they’re not allowed to be angry. Quite the contrary. Be angry. Be damn angry. Fuck! I’m effing angry!! But I choose to focus my anger and energies toward social change, not just to make myself more comfortable. I want the change for future daughters and transgendered children. I want the change to happen, but I understand that humans cannot and will not listen to you when you’re jumping around like a banshee, spitting fire and pointing fingers in their face. The up-in-your-face method isn’t working. The anger is often channeled in the wrong direction. Remember, 95.4% of the population. That’s a lot of fuckin’ people who may not have been a victim of a sexual crime. That’s a lot of people who have never been objectified. That’s a lot of people who don’t know a feminist. That’s a lot of people who I might be able to educate and talk to and maybe, just maybe, I can get them closer to that 2nd standard deviation of feminism. Closer to the outliers.

What’s actually happening is people are being chided for not having experienced something and thus not currently a feminist. They’re being accused of being ableist and victim-blaming. When what’s really happening is the extreme feminists are arm-flailing, spitting accusations, and finger-pointing, forcing people to pick whether they want to be associated with the extreme feminists or none at all. There are a whole helluva lot of feminists out there who can have a civil conversation with without blaming the people who aren’t involved. Not everyone is a feminist. Feminists are created out of circumstance and education. Being calm while educating others is not taking the high road and letting the misogynists run rampant. It’s having a discussion and taking the opportunity to teach people. Let the misogynists be the arm-flailers. Let them be the haters. Let them push people away so that feminists, as civil, adult, educated individuals, can teach those who fall in that middle 95.4%.

Focus the rage at the ones who deserve it. Please stop talking for all feminists. Speak as you, for you, and not for the rest of us. No one elected you as the spokesperson for feminism, so please stop. And remember, that on the other side of every all-caps tweet, on the other side of the computer screen, is a breathing, living person who has feelings. Surprisingly, there are people reaching out asking questions not to mock and demean you, but to learn and understand. Civility, people. It goes a long way in the quest for equality for women in all areas of life, not just in video games.

* Plus I pay the bill, so I can do what I want.
** No actual quiz.
*** I wish I could explain standard deviation better, but it’s used in statistics and probability theory.

5 thoughts on “Feminism and You: How to Participate in Open Discussions

  1. Your argument is based on the mean of the population being neutral between misogyny and feminism. I don’t believe that that’s the case.

    Nor do I believe that the population is a standardized normal distribution (what you’ve described here). The proportion of the population within 2 SDs may be more or less than 95% – we don’t know. I certainly can’t find any studies that try to quantify things as you’ve done here.

    If you have studies to back these assertions up, I would be interested to see them.

    • I imagine that there’s very little need or desire to do long-term studies on feminism. These are generalities, absolutely. Even these generalities carry some weight though. The more or less than 95% won’t be so skewed one way or the other unless you are only targeting specific populations (extreme feminists or extreme misogynists). For the most part, the distribution will be very much like this. It’s not an exact science. Again, when dealing with non-mathematical variables, you have to make inferences based on the information.

      Were I still in school I might have the ability to find some studies that might be done, but again, I imagine that because there is nothing to be gained from doing a study of this nature (med companies or some such), it’s unlikely that there’s much of anything. There are no underlying health factors or other things to consider. If I stumble across any, I will be glad to share.

  2. I am probably in the middle. I am married to a very strong minded Latino woman. I also have a daughter whom I affectionately call “The Knightling” on twitter. Both of these women are my world, and there is nothing more important to me than making sure my daughter grows up knowing that she is an equal to anyone regardless of race or gender. In fact as a manager, all the women I have hired who work for me, make more money than the men in the same positions, because I respect and value them, not because they are women, but because they are intelligent, they have more experience and to me that is worth more.

    I know I was the center or maybe an outer fringe of some debate last week over my post, but it goes to your point, I am OK with people being offended, in fact, be offended, write for change, but just because someone sees something one way, doesn’t mean I will see it the same way, nor do I like being forced into thinking that I am some horrible human being for disagreeing with someone who as you put it flails about and finger points, to me its almost as bad as bullying.

    Now that being said, do I play games that deal with sexism, racism, homosexuality, other isms, sure, do I watch movies and TV shows that have it in there, yes. BUT only if its done in a way that makes sense, showing complex characters dealing with struggles and overcoming them. Not in there for the sake of being in there. Imagine if Tom Sawyer was forced to be rewritten, or if the movie Glory was forced to be remade. I was partially ripped into because I enjoy watching Game of Thrones, heck my wife loves watching it with me. I personally feel if isms / ists are in media in a way that makes sense, is not tossed in there just to create controversy but fits the characters and the story that’s being told OK. I am extremely tolerant of a lot of things, maybe more than I should be at times.

    But in the end I personally feel men and women are equals, its how I was raised, its how I will raise my daughter. If people want to infer differently based on assumptions they have made that’s their own choice.

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