Why I am not feminist

Well, dur…that one is obvious. It’s because I am a man, and I already hold the power and so the only interest I could possibly have in not being a feminist is that I want to hold the power for myself and my kind, and oppress the ones who are different to me. Or so you’d think if you’d been reading blogs about feminism and Christianity this week.

Here’s my real reason, which I would quite understand you not being interested in if you are feminist, as I am a man who is to compound my issues, not a feminist, and therefore not worth paying attention to.

However, if you bear to read my views, hopelessly shaped by patriarchy as they are,  it’s all got to do what you think a person (of any gender identity) is. I don’t buy the twentieth century view, heavily influenced by Sartre, that human beings are essentially free, and people are at their most human (he would say authentic probably) when they are most autonomous. It was his partner Simone de Beauvoir who borrowed this analysis of consciousness to develop into a feminist ethic. And so our communal life has become this zero sum game; for this type of freedom is mysteriously elusive and always (in the real world) means someone else’s radical freedom being limited. Feminism argues that the losers of this perpetual freedom game have, by and large, been women. Which is true. And so the discourse, even in Christian circles, is about “my right to use my gift” being “limited” or “crushed” or “ignored”. Or indeed about uppity women stepping up and “stopping men” from leading as they should.

Whereas the real view is that we actually are communal beings. I am not at my most human when I’m free from the bonds other people place on me. I am at my most human, most male or female when I serve and love people of all different genders, races, nationalities and sexualities around me, and that is my value. Not seeking respect for myself, but for Christ, and hence for others.

It’s not that I’m against women’s rights. I guess I’m against rights, at least as they are rooted in this Sartrean sense of freedom. I’m against a philosophy, like feminism, that says autonomy is the end of personhood. It’s not  actually a possible goal, nor do I think that people are most authentically human when they are radically free to express some inner essence, magically formed and expressed apart from their relationships. Relationships are part of who we are, not just a means to express my freedom.

Of course, because this type of freedom is zero sum – one person’s freedom inevitably impinges on another’s –  any philosophy based on these premises becomes oppressive to someone, whoever the the person is who is blocking the realisation of this type of freedom for me or my interest group.

I finish with this example: at the time of the women bishops in the C of E debacle I witnessed the following exchange on Facebook, with some details changed to protect the innocent.

A: Oh no, the religious oppression of women in the church continues. Why can’t men see that by insisting certain roles are for men they are oppressing women?

B: I’m genuinely sorry that you feel oppressed, but I’m in a church with male leaders and I don’t feel that oppressed.

A: You are oppressed, you just don’t know it.

B: I honestly don’t feel that I am. But I really am sorry that you do.

A: If you participate in a system where there are any fixed gender roles for men and women you are oppressed. And you are oppressing other women too.

B: I don’t think I am oppressed.

A: You are, you are just too stupid to realise.

Now tell me, who is oppressing who here?

P.S. Thanks to my colleagues who helped me get thinking about all of this.

2 thoughts on “Why I am not feminist

  1. Hi Mo,

    Interesting thoughts – thank you for making me think. (Unfortunately, not about the essay on Martin Luther’s theology of the cross that I should be writing right now – but hey, you can’t have everything!)

    I think you’ve nailed a particular problem with a major way that feminism has been put forward here, but I’m not sure that’s quite the same thing as nailing feminism itself. Feminists have had quite divergent ideas about more or less anything other than “defending women’s rights” – there’s quite a widespread belief, for example, that the patriarchy actually oppresses many men, who are forced to not be fully the kind of men that they should be by a social system that organises them wrongly – e.g. requiring them to not be as good fathers, or whatever. Given that you recognise that women have been (surely are?) wronged by society, I don’t think that decrying the individualism of a lot of feminists actually puts you out of the feminist fold (although I’m sure some of the ways you, as a complementarian, articulate anti-individualism with respect to gender would kick you out!)

    The other thing I’d add is that I’m suspicious of any account of cultural change that acts as if ideas are dominant, which I don’t think is completely true. It’s the sort of thing that’s attractive to academics for obviously self-serving reasons, and therefore those of us who are educated types are likely to have been taught it, but I’m not sure it really explains much of the way societies and ideologies actually evolve. Most people, at least fallen ones, don’t make their decisions based upon academic theories, they make them based upon what seems convenient for them to do in a given moment; when necessary they justify this on the basis of reasoned argument, but I’d bet that 95% of the time the convenience/desires are leading and the reason is following.

    I therefore wonder whether actually a lot of modern individualistic feminism isn’t based on something else – I’d suggest late-capitalism (though maybe that reflects my own political prejudices!) The language of “discrimination” presupposes a “correct” way of distinguishing between individuals, which most people would fill in with “according to their abilities/giftings/whatever”. It seems obvious to me that this kind of language of equality serves our economy, which is based upon individuals adapting to the market and gaining rewards according to how well they serve it. Even in our economy, while we might claim to treat people equally regardless of how high up they are in terms of career etc, we really don’t (e.g. when I worked in Parliament vs when I was unemployed, I was treated very differently by even those closest to me, despite being the same person throughout). It seems to me that feminism is the ideological expression of a change from one oppressive form of fake equality (probably rooted in early capitalism, where women had to look after house in a particular way to enable men to use their greater strength in physical jobs and subsequently had oppressive power based on controlling the household’s income) to another oppressive form, albeit oppressive of different people in different ways.

    Right, I ought to go write the actual essay I’m supposed to write, instead of an essay on someone’s blog – sorry for such a massive comment, and thanks for promoting thought. 🙂

    John

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