Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Feminist Pet Peeves. Part II: Nitpicking Accusations

I once wrote about the armpit hair wars, and called that one of my feminist pet peeves. This post shall serve as the second installment in the series, and it is about How All Really Is the Fault of PC Feminists.

This is how the story goes. To really appreciate it, you have to imagine a person who has never much studied feminism, who has heard about it largely through Rush Limbaugh's feminazi version and who thinks that he or she surely knows more about feminism than those uppity feminist bitches. Now imagine this person taking off the spectacles, looking down at you and wagging the right forefinger in your face while giving this speech:

Life is still horrible for many women in this world. Gender-based oppression, unequal earnings and sexual violence are serious problems, and feminists should certainly tackle them. If they did this, we would all be behind them every inch of the way. But do they tackle these weighty problems? No! They choose to nitpick over the honorable English language, fighting a pointless and unwinnable war against the lack of a gender-neutral third person singular. They choose to pretend that women are but men without that awkward dangling thing between the legs. They become a laughing-stock in all thinking circles.

They have killed feminism by their nitpicking and by their denial to admit that women really can't do science. They have left all those women in real need to suffer and die, and they have killed feminism as an ideology. Young women shun the label, because they don't want to be associated with those lunatics who insist that women should be called womb-men or womb-daughters and who want everyone to use readaughtering instead of reasoning. And everybody knows that men are warriors and women are nurses, but feminists have nothing constructive to say about that. And Barbi was right: Math is hard for girls.

See how difficult writing satire in this field is? I tried to do that, but I have gotten something like that exact speech more times than I can remember, and it is always presented with great authority. Let us now parse it with the same great authority.

Note first that the real and grave injustices that women still face: oppression, rape and even being killed for their gender in some countries, are somehow all problems that only the feminists should try to solve. The rest of the society can just sit back and criticize the feminist attempts, almost like those ice-skating judges at the Olympics. Though of course they would applaud should the feminists actually solve all those frighteningly large problems, without much external funding and while being criticized of nitpicking and various forms of lunacy. But are these problems not the responsibility of the rest of the humankind to solve? It appears not. Only the feminists are expected to fix the world for billions of women.

Next, the nitpicking accusations. Nits, by the way, are eggs of the head lice, so picking them off makes excellent sense. But that is not what our wise critic means by those accusations. The meaning has to do with feminists focusing on trivialities, on things which don't matter, compared to rape and honor killings. And focusing on trivialities makes feminists look ridiculous. Besides, others always have the right to judge what a feminist does, says or writes. Sometimes they nod approvingly, mostly they urge her to try harder and to focus on the Correct Topics.

That there might be something deeper in the trivial topics some feminists (read: Echidne) chooses is lost on the critics. This something deeper is twofold: First, language matters. It matters that the most common insults in the unmoderated parts of the blog threads are about the object of the insult taking the female position in sex (blow me! bend over!). It matters that a politician who is viewed as bought is called someone's bitch. It matters that "whores" are a common term of denigration, too. It even matters when a politician gives a speech with references to great statesmen, not to stateswomen, and it matters because of what the images might be that our brains create from that speech, and how those images then become expectations having to do with how a politician should look (masculine).

Second, trivialities are sometimes trivial for only those who are not affected by them. Suppose that you are bitten by mosquitoes while your friend is not. You go out for a camping holiday together. You get bitten in the morning, your friend does not. You get bitten at noon, your friend does not. You get bitten in the afternoon, your friend does not. You get bitten all evening at the campfire while your friend enjoys some marshmallows. You then scratch like mad and swear and rant, and your friend suggests that you pay far too much attention to such trivialities as mosquito bites. Then you kill your friend.

The trivialities I sometimes write about are a little like those mosquito bites. If you are a woman you will be affected by them a lot more than if you are a man. Only yesterday I was unable to get a reasonable answer from the boiler repairman. He would look through me and mumble something. I had to call the firm to find out what he fixed and why. There was a time when I would have thought that I just happened to get the one grumpy repairman or that I said something wrong or that he had a bad day or whatever. But I have learned that my experience has a lot more to do with being female than anything else, though I'm also glad to note that these incidents are getting less common with the younger guys.

Returning to the points in the sermon, note all the strawmen in it. All feminists say the same thing, all feminists deny the existence of innate gender differences, all feminists squeak with the same tone of voice, against the implacable burden of scientific (read:anti-feminist) evidence. And note that men are "warriors", not "killers" in that sermon, while women have "nursing" talents and not "curing" talents.

The final point in the sermon has to do with young women refusing to be feminists because of horrible nitpicking feminists like me. To address that properly will take a separate post, perhaps called The Fall And Rise And Fall And Rise... of Feminism.

But a concise answer to that accusation might be that it is the Rush Limbaughs and their feminazi labels which have made feminism less popular than it really should be, given that people, including women, don't actually love to be hated. Though right now I think that the idea that feminists are to fix the world, without pay, for all women while the rest of humans sit in the audience giving style points and drinking beer is also a very good reason not to come out as a feminist.