From time to time over the coming weeks and months, I am planning on reading and sharing my thoughts on several books that relate to the topics of feminism and violence aimed at women. Before I begin to post about these books and the ideas contained in them, I think that it is important to share a little bit about some of my personal biases, options and associations in relation to these topics. As of late my views have become very strong.
I have always considered myself a feminist. Feminism has always been one of the belief systems that I advocated. As with several other social topics, I would have described myself a moderate on the issue. Over the past year, for various reasons, on various social media, but especially on Twitter, I have strongly spoken in support of causes focusing on the reduction of violence aimed at women as well as upon feminism. Over the past year, my support for feminist ideals, as well as my belief that violence aimed at women is an enormous societal ill that needs more attention, has strengthened.
There are two reasons for the increased level of my convictions. First, I have been reading blogs and articles, as well as listening to women, both in my life as well as on social media, concerning these issues. This has convinced me as to the gravity of the issues that women face worldwide as well as the far - reaching benefits of feminism to all of humanity.
Something else has solidified my beliefs and led me to a point where I would now describe myself as an adamant and committed feminist. Something dark has come along with the recent trend of women speaking out strongly on social media about violence and sexism. I am not unique in observing unrelenting threats, harassment and insults, some of it perpetuated by semi - organized groups, against women who speak about gender issues on social media. This goes well beyond the usual trolling. It is extremely serious. At its worst it involves death, torture and rape threats directed at both notable Internet personalities as well as against less famous people who I know personally. There have also been campaigns of slander, as well as the release of extremely personal information aimed at women who speak about gender issues. Lately, there has been a fair amount of media coverage, especially on the serious American public policy shows and publications on this issue.
Most of what my friends and acquaintances have experienced was not even the result of speaking about feminism, but instead was prompted as a result of protesting the morally unambiguous issues of rape and violence directed at women.
There is a lot more that I have witnessed that has shocked and angered me. It has been really ugly and unrelenting attempt to silence women who express views on these issues. If anyone is curious for additional details I will be happy to discuss in either in my comments section or through private email.
All this has helped to convince me that misogyny is a much greater problem in the Western world then I ever imagined, and that the ideals embodied by mainstream feminist thought are directly relevant to what is going in in social media.
I bring this up in context of my future posts to highlight that fact that I am not unbiased in this argument. The unrelenting rage that I have observed by a percentage of my fellow men, directed at women who speak on these issues has influenced my opinion in many areas relating to gender issues as well as feminism.
Though I believe that it a extremely important issue, social media harassment of women is certainly not all there is to gender relations, or to the idea set that is feminism. It is but one of many issues and arguably not the most important. However, my observation of all this has influenced my personal views and has led to an emotional response. I have become downright furious at times. At other times I have lost my objectivity. I am the first to admit that I must be on guard to the fact that my outraged reaction to the harassment may be distorting my view of the big picture. With that said, what I have observed is clearly relevant to the big picture. As such, I felt the need to air this out before I begin commenting upon relevant books and ideas.
I choose to strive for intellectual honesty. That means I will attempt to examine all ideas critically and fairly. I will listen and discuss dissenting views. I intend to be as open minded and civil as I always am. My regular readers know what I mean.
I can and will apply my usual open mindedness to anti–feminist or the ambiguous opinions of others. Feminism is a set if ideas that like any set of ideas, should be open to scrutiny. There are reasoned and civil arguments against feminist ideals. I would even point out that I do not agree with every pro - feminist idea or concept. I will express my disagreement with ideas, including pro – feminist ones, as I see fit in the context of these books.
It is not anti – feminist ideas and opinions that anger me, rather it is the ubiquities and unrelenting harassment of feminists on social media (I must qualify this to say that there are a few extremely odious ideas that I have encountered recently that I have no respect for. For instance, I have run into folks who claim that most women are intellectually inferior to men, that society should accept rape as natural, etc.) . I have had rational discussions with both men and women, who for various reasons are anti – feminists, who are reasoned, respectful and are in no way misogynist. I consider this an intellectual disagreement.
Since I am bandying about the word, I think it is fitting to define what I believe feminism is. In my opinion the term is one of the most misconstrued around. For now, I will start with the basic Miriam - Webster’s definition,
The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
Organized activity in support of women's rights and interests.
The above definition is simple and in accord with my own beliefs. I would go a little further and argue that in order to be a feminist these days also means that one believes that there is still progress to be made in the pursuit of equality.
Some of the thinkers that I will discuss in future posts may have alternate definitions that I hope to explore.
In my opinion feminism has been given a bad name. Feminists have been unfairly stigmatized as all adhering to the most extreme positions. Like most broad based ideologies with a lot of adherents, there are some very controversial feminist thinkers and ideas out there. One does not need to accept all, or any, radical or revolutionary ideas to be a feminist. However, I hope to investigate and weigh in upon some of these controversial ideas in upcoming posts.
I also would like to address the contention that I have heard from some feminists as well as others: that is the opinion that men cannot be feminists. Since I consider feminism to be a set of ideas and ideals, I would argue that anyone who holds such ideas and ideals is a feminist.
I want to mention a couple of books that I have already read and written commentary on. While not considered a book on feminism, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, is in my opinion, a profoundly important work that relates to the subject. In this book, Pinker lays out a hardheaded and convincing case for what he believes are five historical forces driving humanity to a more peaceful, prosperous and virtuous future. One of the factors he calls “Feminization”, which is basically the empowerment of women and the increased influence of women on society. My commentary on this work is here.
Christine de Pizan ‘s The Book of The City of Ladies was written in 1405. Christine was amazingly ahead her time in her presentation of what I would call pre - feminist ideals as well as in her identification and criticism of what today we would call stereotyping. I commented upon this book here.
I do think that I will take on some challenging and controversial books. I will be reading authors who have ideas on gender issues that I both agree and disagree with. Thus I anticipate some very interesting posts to come.