Feminism is a storm and rainbow of social and political evolution

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Feminism is a storm and rainbow of social and political evolution

Edip Yuksel

11.06.1994


The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is a feminist manifesto that became effective in 1981 and was ratified by 144 countries in 1995. The text book has a comment on “Women’s Social and Economic Condition.” It states: “According to virtually every indicator o social well-being and status–political participation, legal capacity, access to economic resources and employment, wage differentials, levels of education and health care–women fare significantly and sometimes dramatically worse than men.” (International Human Rights in Context, Henry Steiner & Philip Alston, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996, p. 894). That is, of course, a bad news. However, I have problem with the comments and assumptions made regarding the disparity in employment. After citing disturbing statistics showing a world-wide discrimination against women, the authors continue: 

“Although employment outside the home provides women with increased income and often social status, employment remains a major source of discrimination. Women are doubly disadvantaged, occupying lower status and lower wage jobs in virtually every society while retaining the overwhelming burden of child care and household responsibilities.” (Ibid., p. 895)

I believe that the root of the problem here is the feminist assumption that women is exactly equal to men and they should compete in every area of life and they should demonstrate statistical equality of accomplishments or failures in every aspect of life. Pushing women to the areas that men are biologically advantageous and expecting equal performance is injustice both to men and women. Expecting military to have a 50-50 men and women participation and blaming every failure or shortcoming of women to men is absurd. Using the same mentality and holding the same assumptions I can claim that it is a grave injustice to men for being the majority in prisons. I can claim that majority of those who are sentenced to capital punishment are men, therefore, there is a great discrimination against men, prisons should be filled equally with women and equal number of women should taste capital punishment. Sure, you will shrug your shoulder and frown your eyebrows and discard this suggestion. Well, I do the same regarding the feminist assumption that women should comprise 50 percent of the employment force. Let me start from the beginning.

What was the gender of the Declaration of Independence?

The US is a male dominant country. If we look back, we cannot find a single woman among the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. We haven’t witnessed a single female president since its foundation. The present is not much different from the past. For instance, the number of woman senators is less than 10% of Senate. The World Almanac of 1992, lists 75 noted female personalities out of 300 widely known contemporary Americans. That is, 1 female for each 3 male.  Imposing man’s last name on married woman is a symbolic declaration of male dominance, and a big majority of American women lose their last name like they used to lose their virginity. 

From movies to children’s stories, from the business world to politics we can witness discrimination in par with the expectations of traditional sex roles. Using female body as a commercial object, sexual harassment, rape, women battering, and sexist language are endemic in our modern society. Feminist movement is an intelligent, but sometimes a highly emotional protest of this unjust historical treatment. 

One day, my wife came home with two promotional packs bearing the title “Free Campus Trial Pak.” But, the packs differed in their subheadings: male, and female. Her pack contained tampons, Tylenol, shampoo, shaving cream for legs, and corn nuts. Mine contained anti-perspirant, after shave, cologne for men, and corn nuts.

This was clear evidence that the market experts were not “sex blind.” It can be claimed that from their marketing perspective, my wife and I had only one thing in common: corn nuts! Were they affirming the sex roles imposed by the society? Were they conveying a subliminal message to my wife that she must have head-aches, and menstruation? Were they psychologically forcing her to shave her legs? On the other hand, were they telling me that my underarms should smell in order to be deodorized, and my face should grow beard in order to be shaved? These questions might contain a naughty clue for a serious argument. Since I’m not anxious to develop a feminist theory of my own, I will leave them as a tacit and spicy sarcasm in this short paper. 

Men and women, in general, are different by nature, and they have different needs and roles. However, there are some sex roles and inequalities that are created by society and exploited by man. In order to let the nature and justice prevail to superficiality and injustice, it is imperative to do the following: 1) Equal respect and appreciation of roles regardless of their gender. 2) Equal chance for both male and female to choose their roles freely and responsibly. 3) Laws to promote and guarantee these two goals.

Should we distinguish the “original, imposed, or imagined” differences?

Indeed, it is not necessary to distinguish what is natural and what is social in order to attain a fair relationship between both sexes. We cannot distinguish them from this point, since we cannot be sure about the bias of our perspective, and it is almost impossible to explain the causal relationship of infinite number of intricate correlation. 

I agree with Catharine A. McKinnon in her rejection of difference approach as a starting point: 

“Therefore, the more unequal society gets, the less likely the difference doctrine is to be able to do anything about it, because unequal power creates both the appearance and the reality of sex differences along the same lines as it creates its sex inequalities.” (Feminist Legal Theory, edited by Katharine T. Bartlett & Rosanne Kennedy, Westview Press, Oxford, 1991, pp. 85). 

She is clever in noticing the difficulty to separate the original differences from imposed ones. The mustache of dominant paradigm and women’s mindset that is shaped and defined in relation to men seems to handicap us in distinguishing the real differences from fake ones. The dominance version, which is currently represented by McKinnon, suggests to end the dominance without falling into the trap of trying to distinguish the nature of differences. 

Still, there are some differences which a sober person cannot suspect from their originality: child-bearing and the importance of breast feeding. By acknowledging this very clear biological difference and responsibility we can at least avoid the high risk posed by dominance version of feminism. While trying to balance the gender power, we can get intoxicated in power struggle and harm our children; a harm that will have an everlasting negative impact on the future of human societies. Therefore, we should aim to balance the power between men and women without becoming a blind skeptic regarding the clear biological differences between men and women. Society cannot just experiment ideologies recklessly; especially, when it is loaded with emotional hormones! 

“Eve is responsible for all evil things”

The black widow spider kills her mate after sexual intercourse. The governments of ant and bee colonies are ruled by queens, not kings. On the other hand, apes show a patriarchal social organization. The nature and motivation for survival–indifferent to the moral concerns of the human race–determine the sex roles in the animal world. Human history is also shaped by a cruel past where fighting for survival was more important than cooperating for survival. Since aggression and muscle were the most important qualities of humans for millions of years, they became the dominant characteristics. Man, took advantage of these characteristics to dominate woman, and usually exploited her physically and mentally. 

This exploitation reached its peak when man created religious institutions or distorted the ancient religions to sanctify the supremacy of man. The concept of God was reduced to human image and was referred as a male,   father god in many cultures. Even the Bible, the most influential book in American society, teaches discrimination between the two sexes. The Old Testament goes further and blames Eve for tempting Adam to eat from the forbidden apple. St. Paul, the real founder of Christianity pontificates this mindset clearly: 

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (1 Timothy 2:11-15).

This and similar religious teachings, directly or indirectly have a great impact on our conscious or subconscious regarding the value of sexes and their roles. As a result, women lost their self-esteem, and voluntarily bowed down to a long lasting slavery. Being a homemaker was not a choice, but a consequence of being a member of Eve’s party, the sinful party. Therefore, this thousands year of exploitation degraded the role of women in society. Child raising and housekeeping, two of the most important and difficult jobs in the world, were considered inferior by men. What is worse, women adopted this bogus perspective too. 

Enjoying the natural diversity of sexes: an intermediate ideal

The basic natural role for woman is motherhood, and partnership. Nevertheless, individuals, be men or women, should be able to choose their roles. If a woman decides not to bear children but have a career in management she should be able to do so without any legal obstacle and moral red light. Motherhood and partnership, on the other hand, should be rewarded both economically and socially. Life without diverse characteristics of women or men would be excruciatingly boring and detrimental for their survival. Even those feminists who have discovered an unorthodox emotional satisfaction and pleasure in lesbian relationship would lose their passion and pleasure if there were no children of heterosexuals around. The death of each lesbian friend and the mushrooming of ghost houses in the neighborhood would cover their faces with the terror of death and darkness. 

Without denying the inherent genetic differences, we can claim that “aggression and power” should not be the dominant characteristics anymore. This historical crime should stop. We, as the generation of information and intellect, should appreciate and enjoy the natural diversity of sexes, without refracting or exploiting them. 

It is not a coincidence that in the era when the balance of power shifted from muscle to brain, women cried for their dignity and freedom. The movement which became known as feminism  received full support from many male intellectuals as well. The feminist movement stretched out and created a rainbow with all colors, from purple to red, from pastel to neon. This rainbow, brought hope for the future of the human race. The feminist movement as an amalgamation of rational and irrational reaction, has been forcing us to reevaluate and modify our concept of genders and sex roles. 

Liberal feminism is partially (and subliminally) influenced and directed by male chauvinism. Liberal feminists claim that man sees motherhood as inferior and tries to fit women into that role. As a reaction, they try to deny the importance of this vital female quality. Instead of denial, they should fight for its dignity and value. An argument can be very compelling on behalf of economic appreciation and support of motherhood. If a husband and his business benefit from the emotional and physical effort of a housewife, then why not she split the salary? Besides, the job of bearing and raising the next generation is one of the biggest asset for human society. In a society where capitalist economy is valued, women, as the vital half of human race ought to be empowered economically. This is not just a utilitarian concern or a pragmatic solution, but the result of a universalized maxim. 

Blaming feminism for all evil things!

Kay Ebeling, a former liberal feminist, a freelance writer and a single mother of a 2-year-old daughter, criticizes the extreme feminism (doctrines of dominance, lesbian, domesticity, etc.) in an article called “The Failure of Feminism.” After telling us about her 50-minute blind date with a Yuppie of the same age, she claims that feminism freed men, not women:

“To me, feminism has backfired against women. In 1973 I left what could have been a perfectly good marriage, taking with me a child in diapers, a 10-year-old Plymouth and Volume 1, Number One of Ms. Magazine. I was convinced I could make it on my own. In the last 15 years my ex has married or lived with a succession of women. As he gets older, his women stay in their 20s. Meanwhile, I’ve stayed unattached. He drives a BMW. I ride buses. . . . Feminism made women disposable. So today a lot of females are around 40 and single with a couple of kids to raise on their own. Child support payments might pay for a few pairs of shoes, but in general, feminism gave men all the financial and personal advantages over women. What is worse we asked for it. . . . How wrong we were. Because like it or not, women have babies. It’s this biological thing that’s just there, these organs we’re born with. The truth is, a woman can’t live the true feminist life unless she denies her child bearing biology. . . . Women should get education so they can be brainy in the way  they raise their children. Women can start small businesses, do consulting, write freelance out of home. But women don’t belong in 12-hour-a-day executive office position, and I can’t figure out today what ever made us think we would want to be there in the first place. As long as that biology is there, women can’t compete equally with men. . . . The economy might even improve if women came home, opening up jobs for unemployed men, who could then support a wife and children, the way it was, pre-feminism.” (Newsweek, Nov. 19, 1992, p. 9).

This criticism based on personal experience reflects one of the side effects of feminist movement. Yes, in the arena of individual power struggle with men, some feminists lost the battle. But, not all the feminists. A number of women, on the other hand, won and drove BMW! Women progressed and won many battles in legal arena, which is more important than the current ratio of female BMW owners, when long run impact is considered. Besides, the ex-feminist author’s ability to express her ideas and having the opportunity to publish them in a national magazine is one of the achievements of feminist movement. 

I believe that the feminist movement has helped and will help women. I acknowledge that extreme feminism has created some problems. For instance, some may claim a correlation between the divorce rate and the feminist movement. Currently, every one out of two marriages ends up in divorce, and it creates millions of broken families, emotionally disturbed children, etc. Blaming feminism as the only or the main cause of recent problems in our families can be easily refuted. There are many factors to be considered for the troubles plagued our families, and there are many pre-feminist problems related to this institution, such as domestic violence, incest, etc. Besides, all reforms and revolutions create certain problems for status quo. The secular movement in 16th century caused a lot of pain for many. But, the long-run benefit of the reformations is clear. Generations have been freed from the fear of inquisition and excommunication, hopefully forever.

Feminism, with its all moderate and ultra factions, has helped the majority of women. It supplied them with self-esteem, and a sense of identity. When the side effects of liberal feminism are fully felt and understood, then, the correct dose will be accepted by the whole society. Trial and error will clarify the ambiguity between nature and nurture. Indeed, there won’t be any need to distinguish them, when women got equal freedom and opportunity to find themselves. There won’t be widespread sexism when women are empowered economically and respected for their free choice regarding their roles in the society. 

Women’s economic reliance on men has so far shaped family institution. As a result, women lost their identity and became slave mothers. Without legal protection and rights, the male hegemony was a sure destiny. Laws being suggested by feminist movement, eventually, will create a paradigm shift in male perspective regarding women. The war ignited by feminism will end with peace when this paradigm shift creates a mutual and equal respect in the minds of opposite genders. Then, each sex will freely and proudly choose social roles and occupations according to their biological, natural and personal abilities and responsibilities.

The struggle between genders will continue until, 1) men gets rid of all unfair advantages they have gained through muscle, and 2) educated women feel that they have equal rights and opportunities. The bargain between men and women will fluctuate for decades, probably centuries, but finally will settle down. Both liberal and conservative feminism will be catalysts for reaching this intermediate ideal. Diversity, the responsibility of motherhood, career opportunities, respect and peace between men and women, and technological advances will be the main factors in shaping women’s role in society. I think the future social condition for women will be somewhere between conservative and liberal feminism. Day by day we can see the erosion and transformation of traditional roles assigned by society. The feminist movement, with its extreme and moderate forms, is the storm and rainbow of this reformation.

So, CEDAW is a good step though with some unrealistic political agenda. The condition of abandoned or neglected children in modern societies and the associated problems will bring both men and women to their senses. Meanwhile, as a devote Muslim intellectual, I entirely disagree with the reservations made by mostly Islamic states, especially Bengladesh and Egypt. Although those reservationsare made in the name of God or Islam, they have nothing to do with God and Islam. Those so-called Islamic states are using and abusing a medieval culture that have replaced Islam as tought by Prophet Muhammad via the only book he preached, that is, the Quran. (For an argument on this issue, see: 19 Questions For Muslim Scholars by the author).