The Bitch, Bitch, Bitch

Surprise! Feminism is Hard
January 29, 2011, 3:50 am
Filed under: General Bitching

One of the most difficult things to do when introducing radical feminism to the uninitiated is to encourage a proper mindset. Even for otherwise intelligent people, there are prerequisites for feminist thinking that don’t often get covered – gaps that leave seasoned feminists feeling frustrated when the “new kids” just don’t get it.

Feminism, I have found, is tied closely to philosophy in that it demands a mastery of abstract thinking skills. It requires one to go through much thought and consideration before coming to any sort of action, such as forming an opinion or making a decision.

In philosophy, for example, within the branch of metaphysics, there is the question (which Renee Descartes famously pondered over) of human existence. When studying philosophy, one must consider that things might not be the way they seem- in this case, that we might not truly exist as we thought we did. This is an extremely difficult concept if you have not developed abstract thinking skills. The very idea of one’s own non-existence to a person who has not learned to separate themselves from the question can induce a sense of panic and unease (reasonably so, since we depend entirely on the idea that we do exist).

Such is the case with feminism – there are abstract ideas to be considered, which those who are not well-versed in abstract thinking can, at first, find scary and radical. For example, Andrea Dworkin’s question of whether women can, having grown up under the patriarchy, truly consent to sex with men is not some insane man-hating hypothesis, but a pretty basic inquiry about the nature of free will.

The confusion therein is also, I think, one major reason why Fun-Feminism is popular – it is not simply that those who subscribe to it are lazy or unwilling to sacrifice certain benefits they enjoy at the expense of others, but that those who subscribe to fun-feminism don’t have abstract thinking skills that are advanced enough to properly comprehend what radical feminism discusses. It’s not that these women are stupid, either – simply that they are approaching the ideology from the wrong angle.

In my women’s studies class, heirarchies of privilege would frequently factor into the discussion, and each time, it seemed, someone would be objecting to their nature based on a personal example. “Well, I know this guy, and he cleans the house, so women aren’t always required to do housework (subtext: so I’ve decided this discussion of “the second shift” is irrelevant).”

This doesn’t generally work, because citing one (or more) concrete examples does not negate an abstract systemic imbalance. The problem was that they simply weren’t grasping the abstract nature of systemic privilege.

Solipsistic thinking is also partly to blame – those who have not honed their critical thinking skills are prey to believing that if they have not experienced it, it is probably not true. Again, this is not stupidity, but merely a higher level of critical thinking many people are never required to reach.

When I consider Dworkin’s hypothesis, I approach it from an angle that does not speak to my experience. Because we are discussing something that would have influenced me, too, it is impossible for me to determine the ultimate answer, short of raising a child in a magical culture-free bubble. The fact that it does not reflect my experience, however, has no bearing on whether it might be true – in fact, knowing how we are influenced by our environments, it seems entirely plausible.

A person lacking in the ability to separate themselves from the equation, however, might be rather offended by the mere suggestion that they’d be intrinsically unable to consent to sex, and might even consider such a statement antifeminist, as it denies a woman the possibility of choice. But it is not intended to be interpreted in this way (the question operates by a different set of rules than we do in our daily lives), and I think many arguments could be avoided if this rift in thought processes were bridged.

While it may take patience and time (which is not everyone’s responsibility, I know), I think this one of the most integral factors to understanding radical feminism – I say this because I have, in just a few years,  jumped entirely from one side of the fence to the other when it comes to my views on the subject. That “click” happened one day, and I just got it. From that, I know that this kind of thinking is something that can be learned. The possibility that it is missing simply goes unnoticed.




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