Feminism and “women do this”

08Aug09

Often times, I’ll be writing about something and think, wouldn’t it be fucking wonderful if I had an example of what I mean? Well, I do, for once! Amber Rhea wrote a response to some discussion that was happening over at Renegade Evolution’s post. I’ve noticed a trend recently that I feel like needs to be visited by the Ghost of Feminism 101.

There are things men do and there are things women do. And then there is gender as a system of privilege (sexism, patriarchy, whatever you call it). In these examples, whatever percentage you want to put on how many decent guys are in the world is distinct from the privilege that all men have as men. (Of course, I’m making some serious generalizations and completely ignoring cis privilege, but since there are multiple systems of privilege, I’m going to say that I’m talking about gender privilege here. Although it is tightly bound up with cis privilege and sexuality, it can be thought of as its own system.)

I’ve noticed a lot of comments from friends, other people, the internet, saying things like, well, feminism is about letting women make their own choices. Sort of. Feminism is about eliminating the inequalities based on gender that hold women back from deciding for themselves. It may seem like a gray area and I’m being nit picky, but there’s a big fucking difference. There things white people do (and like!), and then there is white privilege. I may be totally awesome and aware and have black friends (to quote the trope) and all that, but when I have a run in with the police, it’s different to me and the police officer than for my black friend.

I’m going to extend this to the debate about sex work because I’m mostly familiar with that one. I really, really don’t like the feminism empowers women and women are empowered to choose sex work! argument in support of sex work. I believe that people who use this argument have their hearts in the right place, but it doesn’t address the criticism lobbed at sex work. You can’t make an individual-level argument (“But I voted for Obama!”) to counter a system-level one (“White people are more likely to be called back for job interviews”). I think that the whole argument about how sex work is a form of sexism because whatever, whatever, is incorrect. That’s a whole separate post, though.

To say that an industry like sex work shouldn’t be criticized because individual women are doing this, this, and this, is confusing what women do with women as a whole, with gender privilege. To say that all men are these evil, abusive johns, who are basically just raping all sex workers also confuses things individual men do with gender privilege that all men have as men. We live in a rape culture, certainly, but this confusion blurs the line and forgets the reality that some individual men have and do rape individual sex workers.

There is some gray, something mushy in the middle, between the choices people make as individuals and the system that informs their choices and restrains their actions. A dude has all the gender privilege in the world, but at the end of the day, if he rapes someone, he’s a fucking asshole. He, as a person, as a human being, not him as a man.

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6 Responses to “Feminism and “women do this””

  1. 1 700stories

    you are so smart. i want to be you when i grow up haha.

  2. 3 Amber Rhea

    Thanks for this. Couldn’t agree more. I think you put it really well when you draw the distinction between things men and women do (as individuals) and systemic, societal issues.

    I have more to say about the “conversation” at Ren’s but I have to take it slow, for my own sake. Last I saw, comments were closed, leaving me no retaliation to a MAN who was basically calling me damaged goods. Although really all there is to say to that is FUCK YOU SO FUCKING MUCH.

    • Yeah, there’s really nothing more to say. Someone who can’t educate hirself on an issue isn’t worth the energy required to type a response.

  3. 5 Amber Rhea

    Really, I couldn’t believe the nerve of the guy. He knows absolutely NOTHING about me other than what he’s read in comments at Ren’s blog, and he feels qualified to make a sweeping judgment about the entire state of my life history and relationships. Just… the entitlement and arrogance is amazing.


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