In a recent thread, a man insisted that gender inequality stemmed from men stereotyping women and vice versa. If only we understood each other better, he said, discrimination would disappear.
One problem with this argument is that it assumes people are equally motivated in their desire to understand one another, and that they are equally motivated to change society.
I believe in giving people information, in hopes they will see the light (i.e., think like me). But I have to remind myself that people need some impetus to listen, to think, to change.
I bought Allan Johnson’s “The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy” because I wanted a Feminism-for-Dummies book that I could give male friends. I thought they would be more receptive to a male author, and Johnson writes so that anyone can understand.
I have female friends who reject feminism or whose beliefs differ from mine. In general, however, they have a better grasp of the problems facing women, as you might expect.
I gave Johnson’s book to a colleague who expressed interest in my beliefs. He read only a few pages before concluding Johnson was president of the men-haters club. My colleague is a liberal Democrat who believes in women’s rights. But words like “patriarchy” sound crazy to him, as they do to many of my liberal friends. He’s busy, and he has only a passing interest in feminism.
Johnson says:I can't give up on the liberal project of providing information, even though I know that that alone is not sufficient. But sometimes I want to flag down Echidne's aliens and ask them to take me back to their world.
Liberal feminism’s main assumption is that privilege and oppression result from ignorance whose removal through enlightened education will clear the road to equality and a better life for all. But it doesn’t see gendered behavior in a larger framework in which some people benefit by “ignorance and misunderstanding.”