— Feminist? If you say so…

There is no other answer I can give, I fear, because the word has no fixed definition; therefore, if the composite set of beliefs and attitudes I hold fits sufficiently closely with those which comprise, in your mind, the definition of "feminist," then yes, I am one, — as you understand it. If not, then no. It's all one to me. 

How can I speak with such indifference of such a "loaded" name? Very simply: the term, being to my mind meaningless, means nothing to me. Since it covers such a variety of contradictory sets of declarations, as it is used by those who claim it as a self-designator and those who use it as a pejorative alike, it is impossible for me to have any feelings about the term itself, whether of discomfort or allegiance. It might as well be a foreign word, and in a long-dead language, at that. Are you insulted, troubled, or proud at the possibility that someone might call you yãjaka? What sensations does the word bring to mind? Devoid of definition, and of context, how can it bring any? 

Before I set out that set of positions which I do embrace, in specific, to forestall any of the likely rhetorical devices that will follow in an effort to dismiss my declarations for the would-be refuter's content, let me make clear certain pertinent facts. 

—I have never burned a bra; I dispose of mine, when the elastic and stitching has outworn its usable lifespan, in the refuse bin. (Local residents and authorities alike strongly disapprove of rubbish burning, and doing so without permit will result in complaints followed by admonitory visits from the fire department, followed by fines in the case of recidivism.) Nor have I any inclination to make such an effort under controlled indoor circumstances: they're not blessed palms, after all, or other such sacramentals requiring respectful disposal of burning or burial. 

Nor have I ever taken any courses in "women's studies" at "feminist institutions" — though I have taken Formal Logic, Ethics, Metaphysics, Rhetoric & Dialectic, Critical Theory, Great Books Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern, Critical Thinking, Early Church History, Shakespeare, and Epic & Romance — in other words, a great many studies of books by dead white guys (or more accurately, writings mostly by males from the Mediterranean basin, including North Africa and the Levant, and their subsequent students in Northern Europe) taught at a monastic institution of higher learning, and, as it happened, entirely by males.

Thus, for those whose logic skills are shaky, it is necessarily impossible for me to have been "indoctrinated" — that is, overwhelmed by a propaganda campaign rather than convinced by evidence and reason — as an impressionable young student* surrounded by "feminists." My sexual orientation is no legitimate concern of yours (unless you are considering seeking my affections.) As to whether or not I "hate men" — that, indeed, must hinge on how you define "hate" (and "men," for that matter.) Myself, I would say no, save when in a particularly misanthropic mood, and then, like Alceste, I merely do so as a subset of the whole of humanity.

Although for reasons of symmetry it is tempting to reply, to such queries, No, I am a humanist, due to yet more of the terminology issues aforementioned it is most accurate and least confusing to say, I am an egalitarian. I refuse to award any fellow human being automatic reverence, without demonstration of deserving such, merely because of external circumstances. Wealth, fame, rank, and age do not of themselves demonstrate that the possessors of these either merit them or have any of the nobler qualities which humanity in our better moments aspires to; far less, then, do states over which the individual has no control whatsoever, such as race, place of birth, and physical appearance. I no more accord a person respect for the possession of an external DNA delivery system than for having eyes. Conversely, the presence of mammaries is no more an indicator of moral superiority than any other configuration of body fat. 

Thus from a philosophical standpoint I look on the whole idea of a "war of the sexes" with a certain bemusement, as a singularly pointless exercise in illogic. As the foundation premise of it is to treat male and female as opposing positions, rather than as involuntary states of being, and also to deny utterly the importance of individuality, like any reductionist argument it is from the outset a falsification and a destructive waste of mental energy. As a historical reality, however — something that is accepted as truth by many and has been engaged in on a variety of fields — it must be considered and engaged.

I refuse to indulge in any of the comforting myths, employed equally by those who term themselves feminists as those who insist that they are not — that women are necessarily kinder or men braver, that "nature" indicates the superiority of one gender over another, that logic and reason are the exclusive and rightful property of any group — fully as much as I deny that any group is another's rightful prey. 

I consider it to be the case that most "gender issues" are not specifically gender-linked, nor even specifically-human problems, but derive from troubles endemic to all social animals, which manifest themselves in male-female relations as in everything else. Furthermore, the fact of language and the human conscience oblige us to justify, whenever might is employed as right, by arguments however specious, and this has led throughout the ages to attempts at rationalizing prejudices of all sorts — including sexism. 

Beyond this, and also as much a cause as a result of it, there are radical and chronic problems related to human attitudes towards the mere facts and elements of mammalian breeding — any culture which uses the concept of copulation as experienced by the female as the worst possible of threats and imprecations has a serious problem, as much so as any which uses the idea of femaleness as an insult — mingled with issues of hierarchy and territory, which have been used to justify, or at least excuse, male mistreatment of females throughout the ages. "Protection," to my mind, means exactly what it does in the vernacular: i.e., a racket.

I have never actually met any of those much feared, much vilified "radical feminists," the dreaded bra-burning lesbian man-hating Feminazis — though I have known many a male chauvinist of varying degrees of bigotry — and incline to believe them as chimerical as the abducting aliens snatching up citizens for experimentation. (In fact, I've never personally encountered any homosexuals who "hated" the opposite sex.)

The female chauvinists I have encountered have invariably been "traditionally-feminine" women employed in traditional occupations of wife, mother, girlfriend, concubine, homemaker, &c — "Rules" girls who accepted The Rules' dicta that men exist solely to provide women with material comforts, are incapable of deeper emotions and nobler thoughts, and to whom one should give everything that "males" expect, never challenging or engaging on an intellectual level, and expecting nothing of spiritual communion, sympathy or interest. (The Rules, for those who have missed this phenomena, is a series of books purporting to return to such traditional womanly values as a focus on physical appearance, coyness, assumption of a phony personality  — all guaranteed, according to them, to lure and lock in the ideal husband —'ideal,' it quickly becomes clear, being synonymous for "well-to-do." It is interesting to note that at least one of the authors has subsequently been divorced by her "guaranteed" husband.)

Such a combination of crass materialism masking as "realism" or pragmatism, phony submissiveness for ulterior motives, and patronizing disregard for all men as individuals (also found in books/programs such as the earlier Fascinating Womanhood, a more comprehensive & offensive version of The Rules) is fully as repellent as any oafish declaration that women should not be permitted to teach anyone other than children, or drive, or that women do not deserve equal pay because they should be staying at home, or any of the other sexist (& illogical) remarks that I have personally heard over the years. 

And yet all of these women built their lives around men, and would no sooner think of living without a male than most males would think of living without a woman — regarding males as necessary to help pay the bills, take out the trash, mow lawns and fix things, however incompetently and lackadaisically. I don't think that all marriage necessarily is but legalized prostitution, but I do think that a great many marriages are, and that these wives are but socially-sanctioned mistresses, whose relationships have nothing sacred or worthy of respect about them, being but a covert and mutual form of predation. "The men loved the women as the fox loves the hen, the women loved the men as the tapeworm loves the gut," a memorable line I once chanced across by an author I cannot recall, describing working-class London families between the world wars, defines such marriages with brutal accuracy.

I do not understand nor sympathize with such self-deceivers, who not infrequently interrupt their own perpetual complaints about their lives to engage in mockery and phony pity for the single (thus demonstrating the adage about misery loving company) before returning to unfair generalizations about "men." They are, in fact, the female equivalent of the male co-worker who once lamented to me, without a shred of irony, that he could not find a good-looking girl who would give him sex, cook for him, clean his house, "be there" for him, and at the same time ask for nothing from him, not even attention, much less fidelity, fiscal responsibility, and mutual assistance in all things. 

"You want a slave," I said to him, puzzled.

"Well . . . yeah," he admitted, frankly, and a little bewildered himself at the realization.

"I don't think you're going to find one," I said in return, being charitable. 

"If only it was the good old days," he continued his lament, "when women were obedient and grateful."

"There weren't any good old days," I tried to explain, with true family anecdotes of 19th-c. divorces, thrown knives, husbands retiring to live in basement apartments to avoid familial strife, matriarchs stepping in to rule where feckless drunkards had vanished, and the like. (It didn't seem kind to point out that his distinctly-un-Adonislike face and figure, lack of anything remotely resembling manners, and cawing, braying laugh, combined with lack of financial success, made it highly unlikely that any would-be Rules Girl would find him a worthwhile catch in return for total exterior submission, regardless of his shiny new motorcycle.) 

To insist that sexism directed against women is chimerical, or so slight as to be a non-issue, and that all male-chauvinist activities are solely due to the provocation by "feminists," is to live in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land — a region from which, alas, it is singularly difficult to persuade anyone to emigrate. To go into a discussion of the historic and pervasive — and enduring — aspects of the problem would be a much longer discussion than this essay's scope permits, but that co-worker was real, and that conversation reported as word-for-word as memory allows.

—Just as real, in fact, as the Evangelical co-worker who told me, quite seriously, that Christianity did indeed oppress women because women should be oppressed, and that females were not supposed to teach any male above the age of childhood (why the most impressionable years were permissible I never was given to understand) and that we ought to be happy and fulfilled in submission to our men, and would be, if only we had a proper relationship with The Lord and read our Bibles. (I open to the Wisdom of Solomon, 9:9 — "With Thee is Wisdom, who knows thy works…send her forth from the holy heavens…that she may be with me and…I may learn what is pleasing to Thee, for she knows and understands all things, and she will guide me wisely in my actions, and guard me with her glory." Oh, well.)

And these are some of the milder examples of sexism I have had personally to contend with — and I have been quite lucky in my life, all things taken equally into consideration. It's real, it's ugly, and it is indefensible — as dead white men have argued in past centuries. I agree with the courageous and renowned John Stewart Mill in all particulars of his 1869 argument against gender discrimination, considering his analysis of its roots and fallacious defenses as valid today as when it was first published, and with Mr. Wendell Phillips' challenge to Massachusetts lawmakers in 1851, deriding those males who objected to his cry for equal pay and open fields of employment and education on the grounds of women's supposed incapability as afraid of competition. —Susan Fenimore Cooper, (daughter of Mohicans author James Fenimore Cooper) deserves just as much contempt today, however, as when she wrote in 1870 that women did not need any political rights because (among other "reasons") their menfolk would take care of them, if only they behaved themselves, in an imbecilic screed that manages to segue from bad arguments-from-nature to bad arguments-from-precedent to bonafide appeals-to-Scriptural-authority.

So, am I a feminist or not? If you understand "feminism" to be synonymous with "female chauvinism," then I think the answer is clearly no; if on the other hand you understand "feminism" to be, as the bumper sticker has it, "the radical notion that women are people," then yes. Personally, I think that anyone who worries about the thought of being called a feminist (or any other -ist) is both foolish and foolishly fearful — such timorousness bespeaks a superstitious dread of name-magic, as though merely to be called by a false name might transform one into the abhorred entity; either that, or that one is surrounded by friends of dubious value, if one dreads so much the taint of being called one thing or another in anticipation of shunning, deserved or no. It is, after all, the principles held which matter, whatever sounds and letter-forms are used to describe them, and those who refuse to make any such distinction are so clearly irrational that their regard should be a matter of indifference.

Myself — I merely hope, and strive, for the time when neither male nor female is used in speech or in thought, in and of itself, as insult, and hold all persons to the same high standards of behaviour, in full confidence that neither sex is incorrigibly handicapped by reason of chromosomes, and that men, no less than women, are indeed capable of attaining virtue.


yãjaka (long initial a): Sanskrit, "one who offers sacrifices."

Alceste: titular hero of Moliére's scathing comedy on societal hypocrisy and overreaction.

* Having been raised from an early age in habits of skepticism, research, and critical thought by a bohemian Christian academic ex-military family, it's debatable as to when, if ever, I was an impressionable young student. I learned nothing whatsoever in eight years of parish schools, save cynicism, and in high school I finally learned some useful skills, namely spot-welding, drawing, and most especially typing. Despite this, I managed to receive high marks in most classes (I do poorly in math, unlike most of my female relatives) and invariably to score in the highest percentiles on standardized tests — which does not make me particularly likely to accept them as valuable indicators of a school's educating competence! (I entered first grade already literate; this fact was overlooked as irrelevant by my teachers, who compelled me to trudge along with Dick and Jane (or their near relations.) After my copy of The Jungle Book was confiscated in class, I spent the remainder of the school year inventing an imaginary tropical kingdom and peopling it with tyrants and heroes, its vine-laden palaces modeled on the pictures of Angkor Wat in my Geographics at home, while my teachers occasionally berated me for day-dreaming. —I'm not given to sentimental idealization of schools, private or otherwise, either.)

John Stewart Mill, On the Subjection of Women
Wendell Phillips, Women's Rights
Susan Fenimore Cooper, Female Suffrage
Fascinating Womanhood by Helen B. Andelin,  Bantam/Fanfare, orig. pub. 1963.
The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right by Ellen Fein, Sherrie Schneider, Warner Books, 1996.

Odd Lots