The Feminist dictionary argument

This article is a response to Marissa who posted a comment on the page I Need Feminism Because… Wait. Do I really?

Good morning.

Please note that all my arguments apply to North America, current day. I know the languages, the culture and can understand the legal systems and laws. I do not speak on a global scale, nor across time. I am an egalitarian and practice my Men’s Rights Activism here and now, not there and then.

Marissa asked:

Is feminism not just a label and a vehicle for someone who supports women’s rights?

This short sentence is loaded with assumptions and is a wonderful Feminism/Egalitarian/Men’s Rights Advocacy 101 question.

Let us examine how the term “Feminism” is defined, what it claims, if it matches what you claim it to be, and whether preceding all correspond to evidence and is logically sound.

Note: Text in red is mine and is used to point to a later argument.

Defining feminism

If we inspect the majority of definitions, both in dictionaries and more importantly in common usage we will find that generally speaking, feminism is acknowledged as being rights for women, or rights that make women equal to men:

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.[1][2]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism

[1]: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
: organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism

[2] the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state:
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/feminism

Feminism
1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2. (sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/feminism

fem·i·nism  (fĕm′ə-nĭz′əm) n.
1. Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
2. The movement organized around this belief.

***

feminism (ˈfɛmɪˌnɪzəm) n
1. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) a doctrine or movement that advocates equal rights for women

***

fem•i•nism (ˈfɛm əˌnɪz əm) n.
1. a doctrine advocating social, political, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
2. a movement for the attainment of such rights.
3. feminine character.[1890–95; < French féminisme]
fem′i•nist,n., adj.
fem`i•nis′tic,adj.

***

feminism
an attitude favoring the movement to eliminate political, social, and professional discrimination against women. — feminist,n., adj.feministic,adj.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/feminism

feminism
The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/feminism?q=feminism

The dictionaries generally agree that feminism consists of two generalized concepts: the first being “equality” in a general sense (which is laudable), the second being equality specifically “for women” with the presupposition of the existence of one or more unnamed rights in law that men supposedly enjoy and that women do not, are the standard against which equality is to be empirically measured.

Which definition is used, in my opinion can be assessed by observing the contextual behaviour of those who use the word. I am in agreement that men and women should both enjoy equivalent rights under law, as well as being subject to equivalent duties and obligations.

Where I take issue with such claims as “feminism is exclusively synonymous with non-sexism”, or “feminism is just a label and a vehicle for someone who supports women’s rights” is the equivocation between the two senses of the meaning, and the demonstrable behaviour that is attached to those who purport to use the gender-neutral version.

Should one want to appeal to the historical root of the word feminism, we must first look to the French language . The term feminism is the Anglicization of the word “féminisme”, which might be translated into English as “femininity”. “Son féminisme est évident”: Her feminine qualities are evident; her femininity is evident. It is reported to be imported into English sometime before 1837 by Charles Fourrier (Goldstein, L (1982). “Early Feminist Themes in French Utopian Socialism: The St.-Simonians and Fourier”, Journal of the History of Ideas, vol.43, No. 1.).

Wikipedia adds:

The terms “feminism” or “feminist” first appeared in France and the Netherlands in 1872 (as les féministes),[13] Great Britain in the 1890s, and the United States in 1910.[14][15] The Oxford English Dictionary lists 1894 for the first appearance of “feminist” and 1895 for “feminism”.[16] The British Daily News introduced “feminist” to the English language in a report from France.[12][when?] Before this time, the term more commonly used was “Woman’s Rights”.[citation needed] One professor of government uses the term feminism to label women’s rights partisanship including that prior to the word feminism coming into vogue in 1913.[17]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_feminism

This argument disposes the fallacy of appealing to the term’s origin as having any authority over it’s singular meaning. Simply put: coining a term in one language that is a derivation of another used to convey a tangentially related sense does not limit its purchase, or adoption of current meanings; were this so, we would also be forced to deny the plasticity of language and human communication.

Feminists themselves do not seem to agree to one simple and clear definition. This one page offers a good example. A more formal source, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy claims:

Feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms. However, there are many different kinds of feminism. Feminists disagree about what sexism consists in, and what exactly ought to be done about it; they disagree about what it means to be a woman or a man and what social and political implications gender has or should have. Nonetheless, motivated by the quest for social justice, feminist inquiry provides a wide range of perspectives on social, cultural, economic, and political phenomena.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-topics/

It is a subtle error to ask “Is feminism not just a label and a vehicle for someone who supports women’s rights?” where the presupposition is that feminism is ” …a vehicle… ” when in fact we know that feminism is not a monolith with a homogeneous set of tenets.

In almost every case, feminism is neither consistently defined, described or practised as a genuinely egalitarian movement. The term, without a modifier is incorrect. A better, more accurate, consistent and absolute terms for the ideologies and people who activate for general gender equality across contexts might be “egalitarian”, or simply “non-sexist” or at the very least, Christina Hoff-Sommer’s term “Equity-Feminist”. The simple use of a precise modifier can be the weight that cements the goal-post from shifting.

Feminism as Women’s Rights

Let’s look at the part that speaks of “supporting women’s rights” in detail. First, we agree that a right itself is non-sexed. A right is, fundamentally, a social agreement that is encoded in a body of laws. Whether it is enforced or not is separate issue. In this case, we can safely say that what is intended might be “rights applied to the class of people who are females”.

To rephrase that one bit more accurately, one might say “to support rights in law that are applicable to women”. As an egalitarian, my first question is why support rights that are only applicable to women, or if the self-same rights are applicable to men as well, then why refer to them as “women’s” rights?

The second implication might be, to promote the adoption, acceptance and enforcement of rights under law that are applicable to women, that women do not yet have. Once again, I ask the same question, and follow up with another: what rights under law do men have, that women do not? Can you point to a black letter law, act or statute that clearly points to a right that men can enjoy that women cannot?

If the above yields no results and if Feminism is indeed what it claims to be about “equal rights” for men and women, then an inconsistency becomes evident: after 50 years of vigorous feminist activism that has led to women having each and every single right under law that men have, even the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the United States, our legislatures, congress, senates, corporate CEOs and billionaires, let alone the common man are without a fundamental right that women have: reproductive rights.

As a tangent I may point at that this in violation of articles 1, 6 and 7 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which both Canada and the United States are signatories. I will further leave you to ponder article 25 from an egalitarian point of view.

Feminism as Women’s Wrongs

Those who claim to promote and activate for “gender equality” have failed to demonstrate any visible or effective activity on the matter, even with the feminist movement collectively bringing in untold sums of government and charitable funding demonstrates that “equality” is not in fact central to the thesis that “feminism is about equal rights”. Either the claim is spurious or actively duplicitous.

This same group of people have actively demonstrated a willingness and ability to promote, enact and enforce laws that specifically violate some of men’s most fundamental rights in law, such as the the benefit of being considered innocent until proven guilty in cases where men are accused of violence or sexual-assaults when women are involved, or to be treated equally under the law.

The third implication might be that the term “right” is in fact misused, it has become a colloquialism for “interest” or “advantage”. One has no rights in politics or culture, for example, rights are a matter of law. I believe that it is a commonly misused term and that what is intended is not “to promote rights”, but to promote “interests”. In short, advocacy for women as a class, which may or not imply advocacy for or against men’s interests, in the sense of vested interests.

Interest: something that brings advantages to or affects someone or something:
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/interest_2

1. a strong personal interest in something because you could get an advantage from it:
2. vested interests [plural]
people or organizations who have a financial or personal interest in a business, company, or existing system.
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

Yet to be mentioned are the multiple examples of individuals in positions of influence or power who actively speak out against and lobby, and activate for causes that are specifically contra men’s rights being enacted or enforced, who wilfully censor voices that oppose mainstream feminist ideology, who promote knowingly false materials in an effort to discredit or support the discrediting of men’s issues. Universities promote mainstream feminist ideology under the guise of studying women in a positive light, whereas the message that is conveyed is in fact a demonstrably false one: men as a class of oppressors and women as a class of victims. This not only dis-empowers women but promotes bigotry against men.

Bigotry is the state of mind of a bigot: someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats or views other people with fear, distrust, hatred, contempt, or intolerance on the basis of a person’s opinion, ethnicity, race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigotry

Wrapping it up

I believe that I have demonstrated that an accurate-to-reality definition of feminism is : “a collection of movements and ideologies that advocate for women’s interests”. This is the definition that I accept, and can measure.

I find that advocacy for any groups interests to be perfectly natural, acceptable and even in many instances, laudable.

Where I take issue with the use of the term “feminism” is that it has been demonstrated that the word itself does not singularly represent one universally agreed to position, that it is inconsistent and thus natural fodder for equivocation and political manipulation. As is currently used, the term feminism is a bait-and-switch tactic.

This is why I declare myself an anti-feminist and an egalitarian, and why I activate for men and women having equal benefits and duties under law, and for equivalent and fair treatment in politics and culture.

I welcome any counter-argument.

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7 thoughts on “The Feminist dictionary argument

  1. Tarnished says:

    “…and why I activate for men and women having equal benefits and duties under law, and for equivalent and fair treatment in politics and culture.”

    So very much this. ^^^
    The part that truly stands out is the whole equal benefits *and* duties.
    You know what I mean.

  2. Marissa says:

    A whole post! Dang, thank you. I see you’ve considered this a lot, and some of your points are familiar to me. Excuse me if I get really, deeply, disgustingly off-topic here, but I’ve accrued so many ideas and questions over the years!

    If I parse you right, saying that today’s feminism strives to be “equal to men” is a fallacy once you accept that men are disadvantaged. I can totally agree with that.

    The reason I still consider myself feminist (as well as MRA, I figure) and personally reject the “egalitarian” label is because, while it’s linguistically more accurate, I have been unable to find any protests, gestures, or causes in the name of egalitarianism. It’s never felt right to politically identify with a term that doesn’t yet represent action. I prefer the focus, dense education materials, proposals, and easy Googlability created by specialization. I feel I can take on as many labels as need be, like so many after-school clubs. It should not be one movement’s responsibility to /also/ focus on someone else’s issues, just not to villainize them.

    So because of that, I do find myself disgusted with individuals, especially those who treat their understanding of the movement like dogma and would sooner be seen as “man-hating” censors than adjust for new information. Makes me feel like this quiet suburban Republican dad who can’t turn on the TV without seeing a Tea Partier claiming to represent me. You named a few parts I’d love to reform about feminism, but I also want to add rampant transphobia and race erasure. Feminism is just barely beginning to expand its concerns to more than just white cis women.

    Worth mentioning, though, is that NOW formally challenged the all-male draft as early as 1980, first trying to abolish conscription altogether and second trying to change the law, believing that being excluded “deprived them of a sine qua non of American citizenship”. And I’ve seen paternity leave discussed quite a lot lately, because it confronts the idea that men can’t be caretakers. The claim that feminism is just a charity vacuum is too nebulous to address, because what’s “visible or effective” activism is highly subjective. As someone who consumes feminist material regularly, I often judge it to be both.

    You touch maybe just barely on a couple reasons why antifeminist pieces tend to leave me unconvinced:

    1) saying that mainstream feminism teaches women to hate men suggests a huge misunderstanding of how the concept of patriarchy is different from the individual man. I’ve never taken a gender studies course, but I’ve been in philosophy and art history discussions in which the guys in the room immediately took offense… but that defensive thinking led them to the very correct conclusion that women oppress women, too. Thereby discovering the idea of patriarchy on their own. (But if non-feminists misunderstand the difference, it’s totally within reason that some feminists would, too.)

    2) I’ve yet to see an anti-feminist essay that didn’t hinge on feminism’s relationship to the government. They never seem to acknowledge the reason I became one in the first place: cultural ills like media representation, our convoluted opinions of femininity, and gender roles. It’s “equal opportunity” taken to the interpersonal realm, and what I like best is that it’s hard to ignore that classifying someone’s abilities, feelings and interests based on their assumed genitals affects both conventional genders. In my experience this is the most fashionable concern in the movement. For instance, I think feminists have been sufficiently active in challenging notions of sexuality… though I’d really like to see more tangible strides in making science and programming less anathema to girls.

    Anyway, whew. Sorry if you read all this. I’m just.. aaagh! Too excited.

    • Francis Roy says:

      >If I parse you right, saying that today’s feminism strives
      >to be “equal to men” is a fallacy once you accept that men
      >are disadvantaged. I can totally agree with that.

      Partly. First, in my experience, when feminists claim that a) a (the?) measure of “equality” is when women have numeric parity with men in positions of visible influence or power, or that b) that women do not have disadvantages that men do not experience. This has many problems. The first being that in case a) holding an office of power is not the same as being the one who benefits from said power, b) it assumes that he who holds an office of power does not, is unwilling, or is incapable of serving those of the opposing sex in a manner consistent a non-sexist manner. The second problem is that the the so-called equality sought after rarely (if ever) explicitly states that the corresponding burdens of duties and obligations are equally sought, the claim to equality sought is that of benefits and advantages to the exclusion of duties and obligations, which are very frequently framed as discrimination. Third, the equality is typically measured against the most visibly advantaged representatives of influence, wealth and power. Fourth that rarely do I see feminsts printing outraged posters decrying the injustice that men face, such as higher rates of suicide, homelessness or other such social ills.

      >The reason I still consider myself feminist (as well as
      >MRA, I figure) and personally reject the “egalitarian”
      >label is because, while it’s linguistically more accurate,
      >I have been unable to find any protests, gestures, or
      >causes in the name of egalitarianism. It’s never felt
      >right to politically identify with a term that doesn’t yet
      >represent action.

      I can understand that, and I will admit that I use the term “egalitarian” in perhaps the same inaccurate way that I accuse feminists of using their label. In order to be more precise, I might want to claim that I am a “sex-egalitarian”, or a “gender-egalitarian”. There are those who object to my use of the term because it does not meet a politically oriented definition, where they claim it is more precise than my lax and convenient one. I’m willing to accept that as a rebuttal to my usage of the word, and welcome any suggestions to a more precise word that does not encompass space for equivocation.

      If I may, however, I’d like to point out that where the terms Men’s Rights Activist and Feminist both imply a level of activism, no such implication applies to the term “egalitarian”.

      >I prefer the focus, dense education materials, proposals,
      >and easy Googlability created by specialization. I feel I
      >can take on as many labels as need be, like so many
      >after-school clubs. It should not be one movement’s
      >responsibility to /also/ focus on someone else’s issues,
      >just not to villainize them.

      I do acknowledge that labels are short-hand speech, which is fine when the individual or group has a clear understanding of the nuances of one’s usage of a term. Trouble starts when addressing strangers i.e. the public.

      I also agree that it is not one group’s responsibility to advocate or act upon the causes of another group, unless of course, the first group claims to share that cause, in which case behaviour must be measured against words if any level of credibility is valued.

      >You named a few parts I’d love to reform about feminism,
      >but I also want to add rampant transphobia and race
      >erasure. Feminism is just barely beginning to expand its
      >concerns to more than just white cis women.

      I’m not sure that I follow. Are you saying that you’re aggrieved by Feminism’s lack of addressing trans folk? Or that they are bigoted against them? Or merely remarking that the feminists are only now beginning to act upon these issues?

      >Worth mentioning, though, is that NOW formally challenged
      >the all-male draft as early as 1980, first trying to
      >abolish conscription altogether and second trying to
      >change the law, believing that being excluded “deprived
      >them of a sine qua non of American citizenship”.

      I’ll acknowledge that. I have a very vague memory of something of the nature being the case, but I’m in no position to back it up.

      >And I’ve seen paternity leave discussed quite a lot
      >lately, because it confronts the idea that men can’t be caretakers.

      That also I’ll acknowledge.

      >The claim that feminism is just a charity vacuum is too
      >nebulous to address, because what’s “visible or effective”
      >activism is highly subjective. As someone who consumes
      >feminist material regularly, I often judge it to be both.

      Not quite what I said, or meant. What I meant was that while Feminists (and again, I should add the qualifier “mainstream” feminists, or “gender” feminists–it’s too easy to be undisciplined about the distinctions) claim to value equality for all, that their high level of funding never seems to find a place in their budget for beds for men in the government funded shelters. Look under the “posters” link to find a graph that I did. The government of Canada funds 693 shelters, I believe–none permit men. The very few that do permit male children of women, if they’re under a certain age.

      >You touch maybe just barely on a couple reasons why
      >antifeminist pieces tend to leave me unconvinced:
      >
      >1) saying that mainstream feminism teaches women to hate
      >men suggests a huge misunderstanding of how the concept of
      >patriarchy is different from the individual man.

      I did not say that feminism teaches women to hate men, I said that it promotes bigotry. And it does. Let us examine the most fundamental claim of Patriarchy Theory, and you can correct me if I’m wrong. Patriarchy Theory posits that men, as a class, knowingly or not enjoy an legal, social and political advantage that is designed to promote male class advantage, and that it simultaneously promotes female class disadvantage and that this set of attitudes that lead to concrete action, and thus results, is both systemic and institutionalized. Note that a class can only be composed of individuals. Without individual members, no such class can exist.

      If you accept that this is a valid if basic exposition, then you must investigate the presuppositions contained therein. Men as a class oppressing women as a class. This means that men must be acculturated to view their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters neighbours as inferior in moral or practical value, i.e. be sexist. The problem with this is that it implies a moral inferiority on the part of men–as a class. It also implies that if men act upon this attitude, consciously held or not, that men are either stupid beasts, or heartless monsters–as a class. Such a claim can only be called sexist and bigoted. One who accepts this theory, and perforce it’s assumptions will hold equivalent attitudes, which all too often are reflected in behaviour. Patriarchy Theory is a sugar coated venomous fang. It pretends to deflect accusation on an individual basis by hand-waving to all people of the male class.

      >but I’ve been in philosophy and art history discussions in
      >which the guys in the room immediately took offense… but
      >that defensive thinking led them to the very correct
      >conclusion that women oppress women, too.

      People oppress people. People also help people.

      >2) I’ve yet to see an anti-feminist essay that didn’t
      >hinge on feminism’s relationship to the government.

      Has anything I said /hinged/ on the relationship to government? Mine hinges on the fact that feminism turns perfectly good people into bigots. That these same people then acquire and wield said power, is, however, a significant issue.

      >They never seem to acknowledge the reason I became one in
      >the first place: cultural ills like media representation,
      >our convoluted opinions of femininity, and gender roles.

      Does any of this require feminism to do something about? Do shared observations necessitate agreement with the whole of a dogma? I contend that it does not. Many see social ills, and due to the natural human instinct to want to fix what affects us on a personal level accept the claims of those who purport to work towards the issues that are important to us and identify with the group–and far too often without first investigating the group as a whole. I am an anti-feminist, and it is far from unusual for me to speak out on the behalf of women and girls, to point out the very issues that you bring up.

      >It’s “equal opportunity” taken to the interpersonal realm,

      Those I’ve met do not seek equal opportunity, but equal results without the commensurate obligations, including those of taking risks and working hard. An example is the implication that numeric parity of the sexes, or quotas is demonstrative of equality. While I fully acknowledge that there are many feminist-lead programs that encourage women to become entrepreneurs, those who speak most loudly do not seem to also encourage women to become trash collectors, sewer workers or members of low-status, low-paying fields that men mostly occupy. They seek equality of outcome, without recognizing that they already have opportunity of equality. Another goal achieved by feminists, but ignored when it’s inconvenient to promote the message to the membership. “We’re done” does not attract money.

      >and what I like best is that it’s hard to ignore that
      >classifying someone’s abilities, feelings and interests
      >based on their assumed genitals affects both conventional genders.

      I agree. If only judging people by their merits, character and behaviour were norm…

      >In my experience this is the most fashionable concern in
      >the movement. For instance, I think feminists have been
      >sufficiently active in challenging notions of sexuality…
      >though I’d really like to see more tangible strides in
      >making science and programming less anathema to girls.

      Why do you believe that STEM is anathema to girls? Just as men must adapt, so must women. Treating men and women equally means that we must also expect women to endure the tribulations and vicissitudes of life. It is not the world’s place to make life easy for women any more than it is for men. To claim otherwise, I believe, is to demonstrate disrespect for women’s strength of character, their ability to pursue difficult challenges, to make up their own minds and to set their own life goals unless it is easy to do so.

      >Anyway, whew. Sorry if you read all this. I’m just..
      >aaagh! Too excited.

      Excited because…?

  3. George Maxwell says:

    Did you grow up having mommy issues ? Your blog suggests so. U are out there to take your anger out in the world but nobody listens to you except some needy men and women requiring validation.

    • Francis Roy says:

      If I did, what difference would it make to my arguments? The argument would be correct or incorrect based on its merits, not based on who makes the argument.

      Honestly, you’re the only one that seems to be expressing anger–anger at your idea of what it is you believe that I’m saying, but a careful reading will demonstrate that I most likely haven’t.

      Deal with the arguments, rather than express your uninformed opinion of my character. That’s what adults do.

  4. […] Feminist. I have read the dictionary. I’m well aware that the definitions reflect current usage of a word. No matter how much […]

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