The Issue with Feminism

The issue with feminism, as is the case with most other counter groups to injustices, is that it’s complicated. Now, that’s somewhat misleading, I’ve mislead you in the name of catching your attention (you can blame every English teacher who tried to press the importance of a “hook” on me). The issue with feminism is what is simultaneously the beauty of people: grand, messy, immense complexity. And the issue related to that isn’t an issue of feminism at all, it’s an issue related to those who actively oppose feminism. Why? Because they can prey on that.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times, in a conversation discussing feminism itself or an important feminist issue, I have been interrupted with numerous objections.

 

“But what about black women?”

 

“But men are victims, too! What about that?”

 

“White women aren’t real feminists, what about women in the Middle East? Or in third world countries?”

 

“But not all men…”

 

I’ll state now: these are all valid (except perhaps the entirety of the last two). My issue is not necessarily the content so much as the way in which these are used. In my experience, in the instances in which these have been thrown out, it’s done with the intention of trying to crumble the foundation of what was being discussed. The strategy is to throw out an objection in the hopes of poking a fatal hole in the argument and simply leaving it at that. Were these objections made with the goal of expanding the conversation and contributing in a beneficial way, I would welcome them warmly and eagerly. But often times, they’re not. They’re tools used to discredit the merits of the discussion because they try to “create” exclusion within a group that tries to stand for inclusion.

 

Now, do not mistake my words. I said that the issue with feminism was not actually an issue with feminism itself, but that is not to say that feminism is devoid of issues. Feminism actually has a fairly serious issue: lack of specificity, which creates internal division.

 

Feminism is defined as: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. You may read that and think, “Yeah, great. Sounds good. I already kind of knew this. So what?” As a lover of concepts, it took me a little while to see the issue myself. As a concept, a lot of people agree with this. In practice, things aren’t quite so simple.

 

White women are often branded as “fake feminists” because they tend to be ignorant or not as inclusive of women of color when discussing feminist issues. Some individuals are highly aggressive with their feminism, or mistake their own misandry for feminism; they are frequently referred to as “feminazis” (classy, I know). Feminists in first world countries are sometimes criticized for not focusing on feminist issues occurring in third world countries. Some feminists or feminist movements are criticized for not being inclusive of men or non-cisgender females (which is my attempt to succinctly include those with a non-binary gender expression, transwomen, and other identity expressions). Perhaps by now you’ve noticed a pattern: expressions of feminism tend to be lacking in one way or another. To me, this is a marker of internal division.

 

Who decides what does and does not constitute feminism? How are we being critical of feminism when its expression is unclear? If you’re someone trying to embody feminism in your day-to-day, this can feel overwhelming, or even discouraging.

 

Internal division creates weakness for those who want to troll or oppose feminism to strike upon and strike effectively, and that’s frustrating. Because people are complex, our issues are complex and complicated. Unfortunately, that means that the solutions to those problems can be as complex, if not more. It requires addressing the multitude of layers involved: race, gender, class, ethnicity, geography.

 

A classic example would be the wage gap. On the surface, it’s a pay disparity between men and women. But there are variances between women due to race. Things get more complicated as we focus on cisgender women versus transgender women. What appears to be a straightforward issue is anything but.

 

So how do we reconcile an inconsistency of understanding how to put feminism into practice and the complexity of feminist issues? Is it acceptable to focus on one aspect of an issue at a time? (For example, focusing on resolving the gender wage gap, then resolving the racial disparity, etc.) If I’m being honest, it’s not my place to say. I’m a white, middle class, mostly straight, cisgender female living in a liberal hub in Seattle. Furthermore, I’m young. I am far from the person to have the breadth of understanding of feminist issues to be any kind of authority; I have only my personal experiences and the things I learn in my day-to-day. 

 

From a place of logic, I want to say that complex issues need to be handled one aspect at a time, going from the easiest to hardest elements to effectively resolve those issues. From a place of human compassion, I want to say that we shouldn’t need to break issues up, that we should be able to demand justice for people because our humanity is our shared experience. But systematic, structural injustice exists, and that evil requires a temporary compromise--not to justice--but to the way in which we enact justice.

 

Things may feel frustrating. Despairing. Too complicated. Disheartening. But in the face of all that, I would offer you this: a small step in the name of progress is better than no step at all.