This is so well said. My poor, patient roommate has heard me spew off a much less articulate version of this many, many times (usually after reading something akin to Rebecca Traister's interview of Kate O'Beirne). Individuals who style themselves as "anti-feminists" often treat feminism as though it were a religion or a race or a political party -- I suspect that this is because one needs a concrete and simplified idea of feminism in order to call oneself an "anti-feminist." Otherwise, being anti-feminism would be like being anti-breakfast or anti-tall. Where would one begin? "People who eat breakfast are elitist and decadent. And they worship Wilford Brimley." "Tall people always take their height for granted and often purposely spit at short people. Also, they eat babies."


The trouble with defining feminism is that a definition is subject to hijack. And here you are do the hijacking:

"The only thing you HAVE to believe in order to call yourself a feminist is that ensuring women's freedom and equality of opportunity in all spheres of life is a crucial priority. That's it."

So who decided this basic Axiom?

Take defining "communism" for example. One can say with all sincerity that you are a communist because you want all humans to live in harmony, sharing abundance, without bias or discrimination.

But that isn't what huge numbers of people will think when you say you are a communist. Some Eastern Europeans will want to kill you, many from other places will think you a hopeless fool, an intellectual idiot. And yes, others will think you a fine person. Internationale anyone?

Are those who will kill a logger to save a tree really "environmentalists?" Who knows? But this environmentalist won't be picketing outside the courthouse for their release.

I don't believe "Feminists all work from that basic axiom,". You may wish it were so, it sounds like dogma to me.

The Happy Feminist

Interesting. Of course, I am certainly not the high priestess of feminism -- but I would submit that my definition is a fair one. I think every movement or ideology has to have a basic defining principle in order to have any meaning. However, in feminism, there is no dogma beyond that basic defining principle. We can however say that something is unfeminist if it conflicts with what defines feminism. If you have a different definition that you would like to offer, I would be interested to hear it.

I was very careful, by the way, in my definition to say that the freedom and equality of women should be "a" crucial priority. I have left room in my definition for other priorities. For example, I am still hashing out the issue of women in combat. If you were to convince me that having women in combat would compromise national security, I would say that national security would have to take precedence over women's equality. But because I believe that women's equality is a crucial priority I am not going to simply take it as a given without examining it very carefully that women in combat would in fact compromise national security.

To analogize to your logger example (and this is going to be a little clumsy because I am less familiar with environmentalism), I think it's fair to say that all environmentalists think that ending needless destruction of natural resources is a crucial priority. That's not to say they think it's such a priority that it would be appropriate to kill a logger, although it's possible that some crazed environmentalists out there might reach that conclusion.

The Happy Feminist

For all the non-feminists out there who are inclined to think of feminism as a monolith, I should clarify that my definition of feminism was not dictated from on high at Feminist Headquarters. Rather, it is my descriptive definition of the commonality among all the diverse feminisms I have encoutered.


K, if there's no meaning to the word "feminist," why use it?


I thought you were very fair. My view is that a lot of "isms" screw up things by over- definition, purity, and litmus tests. Those that think of "growing" a movement lose me. I think of dealing with issues. i.e. can't vote - why not? women can't be priests - why not?

A few years back I thought over women in the military, dangerous jobs, etc. At that time I concluded that only in firefighting was absolute physical strength and agility so important that I would not weaken physical requirements to bring in women. That infuriated my office mate. She probably never saw a fireman trying to get a kid out of a burning car wreck.

The military can be a tough issue too. It is inevitable that if women are not in combat units then there will be "de facto" different career and promotion tracks. And to be honest, the non-warriors have a much better deal when the bullets fly.

On the other hand, combat is a team sport. If the squad thinks Soldier X can't do the job - run fast enough, climb well enough, etc. then Soldier X isn't wanted. The expulsion can be viewed as discrimination or as staying alive.

I finally concluded that women should be in combat roles. But I don't regard it as a Feminist crucial. Humans are deciding and we compute badly, the universe actually doesn't care. Every decision about the tough, killer, jobs ultimately is a decision about who and how many deaths are OK.

Yeh. Some idiots actually have tried to kill loggers. I forget specifics but brake lines were cut, cables weakened, small hazards hidden in the woods, etc. I think the defense said that they hurt no one, loggers should have known they were operating unsafe equipment. ala "people don't kill people, guns kill people".


Oh! Sorry Sara, I didn't see your comment.

That's right. Why use it?

Let the dictionaries wrestle with concepts. To paraphase Hegel (haven't read him for decades so this is what I think he said) you cannot have "slave" without "master" but there need not be either.

So I would roughly urge "work to eliminate what you see as inequitable, pay little attention to wonderful abstractions about how collegues can think just right about an absolute, non-negotiable, way the universe ought to be".

And Happy Feminist doesn't. If she did I would have been tossed out on my ear (or rear*) some time ago.

*("rear" makes a little more sense. I suspect two expressions got mixed, the other being "lead out by the ear" as the once fearless schoolmarms once handled problems)


... ensuring women's freedom and equality of opportunity in all spheres of life is a crucial priority ..."

The Devil's in the details. By your definition I am a feminist, which is fine by me, but it's odd so many self-ascribed feminist would call me (and do call me) a misogamist or worse (just check your comments sections ;) This is standard practice in the movement. "Will", who leaves occasional comments here, has had the same experience from what I understand. Your definition of feminism is very inclusive (maybe too inclusive to be a helpful description), but your sisters in arms are not nearly so lenient or welcoming.

You say feminist disagree on all sorts of issues, but it's the type of disagreement that turns a blind eye to abuses, and condones -- let's just say it -- the bizarre. When a feminist says "Men are sociopathic and unable to properly empathize with others," or "Rape is the only patriarchally [sic] approved form of sex," or that "[Mr Alito's] little woman's just not man enough to be a Supreme Court spouse," I hear dead silence from the pack, most of whom are purportedly reasonable people. Why? When I read that a 246 pound young woman is afraid to diet [ http://www.richardames.us/2006/01/dying_to_be_a_g.html ] because it might be a "sign that I'm irreparably warped by the patriarchy," I think something's gone horribly wrong with feminism. She is a victim of The Cause itself, just as surely as the woman who never got the job promotion because she was female. And yet I saw no incredulity, no outrage, not even snippets of surprise from her purportedly reasonable fellow feminist over her concern. Why not?

Despite your definition, feminists will be judged, accurately or inaccurately, by the company they keep, and how they police their own ranks. Movements have personalities, we know this, and feminism has some serious PR problems that are materially hindering it. Ask around. The movement has failed to discriminate against its less savory opinion makers and has reaped the corresponding reputation among the great unwashed as being a hateful, bizarre, shrill, and sullen regime. Many in the movement wear such adjectives as badges of honor as if to be obnoxious is the ultimate sign of feminist purity, a sign that one is not "under the thumb" of "the patriarchy". Where did such skewed thinking come from? One day, hopefully, feminism will see such characteristics as unhelpful and unnecessary to its cause and will snuff out the inside culture of churlishness that has allowed it.

I think I'm taking up writing some humor next.


The Happy Feminist

Richard, I sincerely doubt that you qualify as a feminist. You may believe vaguely in women's equality, but you have never uttered anything to indicate that it is a priority for you or that you appreciate the issues that we feminists care about as a result of our commitment to women's equality. You seem to be on the warpath for some reason that I can't quite fathom, on a crusade to scour the internet for one line snippets that you can quote grossly out of context in order to demonstrate what you perceive as feminist "churlishness."

And I do mean grossly out of context. Take little e's comment on ginmar's thread that "Men are sociopathic and unable to properly empathize with others." You quoted that lone sentence on your blog as an example of misguided, obnoxious feminism. But this is what little e actually said:

"I find that for every stereotypical defect men ascribe to women, there's an equal one I can ascribe to men. Women are emotional? Men are sociopathic and unable to properly empathize with others. Etc. It all depends on what we take as 'normal'."

She's obviously giving an example of how unfair stereotyping works, yet you have chosen to present her statement as an opinion by a feminist that men are sociopathic. This seems like a mind-bogglingly dishonest tactic on your part. I think you should take that statement off your blog, or at least quote the full paragraph.

Similarly, you devote a whole post to a young woman who asks whether dieting for her health would be unfeminist and you ask whether a "rational" feminist would be able to answer her-- yet you omit to mention the veritable chorus of responses to the post advising that she should by all means take care of her health.

Indeed, all of your examples are similarly bankrupt. If you are sincerely concerned with the health of the current women's movement, I would advise you to read more carefully and perhaps ask questions about what you don't understand (like the word "patriarchally") before simply jumping in and labeling feminists as "shrill" and "obnoxious."

(By the way, I am not going to make it a practice to use this blog to explain and defend every single thing from a feminist website that you choose to cut and paste onto your blog. You are welcome to email me with anything which you have questions about.)

The Happy Feminist

Come to think of it though, maybe Richard has a point.

Republican churlishness #1:

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," said Ann Coulter during a talk Philander Smith College.


I am shocked, shocked, I tell you. Is that what modern day conservatism has come to? How depressing, how sad. I think Republicans for their own good should start "policing" their own "ranks" to make sure their members don't commit such acts of churlishness.

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