Sumair Ali Khan:
Let me throw some of my “canned” answers at you.
Anyone, and especially anyone female, who can hear accounts of honor killings, of female genital mutilation, of girls being killed for daring to pursue an education, of women having acid thrown in their faces for not wearing a burqua, without becoming at least a little bit of a feminist, is not someone I want to know.
At this point, in first-world countries, feminism is about… relatively subtle issues (except among nut-job extremists). But that doesn’t mean they’re not issues at all, just that they don’t have simple, obvious solutions.
Most feminists *are* egalitarians, whether or not they use the term. So why do we use the term “feminist” rather than “egalitarian”?
1. History. For most of history, and still today in the third world, women were/are getting a seriously raw deal. It was blindingly obvious that women were oppressed relative to men, so “feminism” was an effort to elevate women to the same status as men.
2. The nature of the problem. Good, reasonable feminists also try to help men, when men are unfairly disadvantaged by gender binaries and the like. But many if not most of those problems that affect men are still about female-ness, femininity, and all things associated with women being denigrated or disrespected. Guys being called “p*ssies”? Is “bad” because being, or presumably having, a p*ssy is seen as a negative thing. Men and boys being told not to show their emotions? Is because showing emotions is “girly”. And so on. It’s still femaleness being attacked, even when the actual targets are male.
3. Linguistic convenience. Feminism and feminist sound natural to me. “Equalism” and “equalist” sound awkward and made up. Now, it may be the case that these things would sound just fine to me if they’d been used for the last 50–100 years, but the fact is that they haven’t been, so they just don’t sound right to me. Egalitarian’s not so bad, but it just doesn’t have quite the same weight behind it, and there’s a distressing tendency among a lot of people who call themselves egalitarians to really be anti-feminists of some stripe.
A feminist is someone who thinks that women should have at least roughly the same legal and social rights that men do. Some feminists want female superiority (I think they’re wrong). Some feminists hate men (I also think *they’re* wrong). But the only actual requirement for being a feminist is the belief that women should have about the same rights as men.
People view feminism negatively for a few reasons:
1. They only notice or pay attention to the misandrists and those looking for female superiority, rather than the (often more quiet) feminists who are simply trying to achieve equality
2. They don’t want things to change, because they like the way they are
3. They genuinely believe men are superior to women
4. They mistakenly believe that women already have full equality in this society (we’re… a lot closer than we were, but not quite there yet), so think no one honestly interested in equality would call themselves a feminist
5. They’re me-too-ing someone who falls into one or more of the other categories, and aren’t really thinking about the issue themselves
And, possibly also other reasons I haven’t thought of.
At this point, even in Western nations, male privilege does still exist, but for the most part it’s fairly subtle, so the solutions to it need to be… nuanced.
For example, I read about a study where orchestras that did blind auditions (where the musician is behind a curtain or something, so you cannot determine his or her gender or physical appearance) hired about 25% more women than those that did not. Various other studies, with various methodologies, have found that, given essentially identical candidates (in some cases, the same resume with a male vs female name), employers are more likely to hire a man than a woman. There’s about the same level of evident bias against identifiably black candidates (eg both Karen and Jamal are less likely to be hired than George)
This suggests that… this is an issue we need to pay attention to. Quotas are a clumsy tool, and I think they should not be used full stop, but they should be… used as an indicator.
That is, if an employer (especially a very large employer) is hiring a statistically unlikely number of white males vs females or minorities, their hiring and promotion practices should be evaluated to make sure there are not elements of bias, and wherever practical things should be made as gender-blind and race-blind as practical (e.g concealing names on resumes before evaluating them).
Feminism, contrary to the belief of many conservatives, is not favoring women. Feminism is actually an ideology which wants women to have equal rights as men.
I have more on specific issues.
The article is reproduced All Pakistan Feminists’ Association blog.
About the writer:
Sumair Ali Khan is a Pakistan based creative designer, humorist, and an inter-sectional feminist. He is an active member of All Pakistan Feminists’ Association.