Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gender roles and feminism.

I had some friends express an interest in what I think about gender roles, and why I don't consider myself a feminist. Feminism is supposed to be about the pursuit of equality between men and women. I believe in adopting a view of the equal worth of men and women, not necessarily equal rights in every possible sense. I don't think it's possible for us ever to be satisfied that men and women have reached a condition of equality. We can have specific kinds of equality, and there are cases where feminists pursue male-female equality where I agree (for example, the right have control of what goes into or comes out of one's body, or the same voting rights). However, I think that the biological differences between the sexes mean that we have different (and complementary) needs, and that it means we have different roles to play. We should be regarded as puzzle pieces which fit together, not identical units of asexual humanity who should be treated exactly the same way.

If someone were to ask the question "What is the opposite of equality?" some feminists would answer "hierarchy". Another answer is "diversity." Diversity is a fact of life, and male female diversity is one instance of this. I see gender as how a particular society has dealt with the differences between men and women which exist no matter what the culture does or says. I can agree that there are serious problems with particular features of gender roles as they appear in particular societies. Gender is a changeable thing, but (for the foreseeable future at least) sex is here to stay. As long as we have sexes, expectations of what men and women are or can be will come along with that. I think the relevant question is "How can the gender roles which we have take the healthiest form?" The whole thing should add up to an equitable relationship, but not necessarily equality in every detail, including the area of rights.

Now, at this point, a feminist like Christina Hoff Sommers could say that what I've said could potentially be compatible with what she calls "equity feminism" rather than "gender feminism." I respect what she's trying to do, and I wish her further success in spreading her ideas, but that doesn't work for me. The very name "feminism" signifies a primary concern for female interests, which is not what feminism is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be about fairness. If I were going to have a primary concern for males or females it's going to be for the group I'm a part of. That would make me a "masculist", something I would also reject for the same reason.

I think that whatever form gender roles take, we should try to accommodate people who aren't going to fit well into them. If we explicitly accept the universality (and potential flexibility) of gender roles, we could do a better job of accommodating those of us who don't fit well into the ones we have. Otherwise, I think we're in denial. Speaking personally, I feel as though I don't fit well either with the traditional roles we used to accept, or with the invisible and conflicting sets of expectations for men many people pretend they don't have.