Monday, February 20, 2012

Abortion, Feminism, Sexism, and Not Being Critical Enough


Some of you may have seen this image floating around the World Wide Web. 


Now I am all for feminism. In fact, my Japanese history degree is specifically about feminism in Japan and the diversity of feminism globally as well as multiculturally. Of course my interest in Japanese women's rights should come as no surprise to those who know me, since I am married to a brilliant, beautiful, and highly sophisticated Japanese woman.  


The thing is, people are often extremely opinionated about things related to gender and identity. The reason I tend not to talk about such subjects here is not that I am disinterested but that people usually like to pull out the ad hominems and attack you when your opinion differs with theirs. Nobody seems able to simply agree to disagree. Instead of taking the time to write out a well reasoned criticism, like a civil person, they would rather call you sexist, racist, and so on. Usually, I find this juvenile behavior aggravating as it ends the conversation before it ever has a chance to begin.

A good example of this is when I recently wrote about the lack of female atheist authors. I theorized that the long tradition of male ownership of publishing companies along with the masculine biological trait to tend to be domineering, all contributes to part of the reason why men want to dominate the philosophical discourse (maybe even the religious discourse overall). 



It may come as no surprise that when I initially posted the article on Reddit, I was labeled sexist. The boards lit up with complaints. Guys were saying that when men get labeled as the oppressors of women they just stop listening--obviously ignoring the historical context my theory was in reference to. The women were equally provoked, saying that I obviously don't read enough female authors. I can assure you neither of these complaints are anywhere near accurate.

They missed the point of the critique. It is a historical fact which nobody can deny that in Western culture the publishing industry has typically been owned and run by a long patriarchal tradition. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but mine was a general observation.

Moreover, there is nothing sexist in the hypothesis that the male dominant trait exhibited in the human species has biological reasons which influence male behavior. As I posited this was just a theory, based on what I observe, I noted that more research needed to be done to see whether this dominant trait really did factor in to how men tend to want to argue the loudest and dominate the discourse.

That's not to say there aren't equally loud women activists, as some people wrongly assumed--for some reason. I was merely theorizing that if our behavior to dominate, much like a dog's behavior to hump your leg, is affected by biology, then this may bare relation to why patriarchy (instead of matriarchy) has been so prolific throughout human history.

Now this brings me back to the above picture, which I find makes a really good point but then tarnishes that point by throwing racist and sexist slurs on top of everything else.

I support feminism as long as it is about gaining equal treatment and rights for women. I do not support women who are out to attack men or who wish to sponsor a New World Order. I do not believe women would rule the world any better than men have. It is the destructive and misguided desire for power which leads one to think this way in the first place. Genuine equality, fairness, and peace can only come after we learn to mutually respect one another, not always trying to one up the other.



Many readers have asked about my opinions on abortion. Which, admittedly, is something I typically shy away from. Not because I haven't formulated an educated opinion on the subject, but that I frankly do not believe it is my place to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.

To speak of the moral implications of abortion is to assume you know what is right and wrong for the woman and the control she has over herself, her body, and her decision making. That's before you ever get to the philosophical question of whether or not a zygote can constitute a (human) life, and whether or not science bares this out. I feel that for me to voice my opinion about abortion would merely fall into the category of male dominion over the female. 



The fact of the matter is, when it comes to abortion, a medical procedure that directly impacts the woman's body, that's the woman's personal and private business and none of mine, or anyone else's, bees wax. Unless the woman is my partner specifically, or the one I am involved with, only then would I feel I had the right to chime in with my opinion with regard to the pros and cons of abortion.


This is what I like about the above picture when it states, "No man, no group of men, and no institution holds dominion over me, my mind, or my body, my life, my choices, my vagina, or my uterus."


That's exactly how I feel too. Exactly.


As William Wallace once purportedly proclaimed, "Freeedooommm!


I agree with the second part about it being wrong to restrict women's access to proper health care, including, but not limited to, things like birth control and contraceptives. 


Again, I agree with the third part about men not having the authority to speak on behalf of women for those women. They can speak for themselves. I would make a distinction between talking on behalf of the women versus advocating women's rights for women. Talking on behalf of women often leaves us placing our words and opinions into their mouths. While advocating women's rights usually is saying something along the lines of "I believe women deserve equal treatment and have the right to govern themselves."


Where this feminist's messages goes horribly wrong, and becomes nothing more than a sexist diatribe, is when she brings up the age of old white men being at an end. Maybe she is right, but it is rather an obtuse statement. Nearly two billion Chinese citizens have been ruled by an age of old yellow men for just as long, if not longer (yes, it is racist and sexist to bring up both gender and ethnicity in the same slur). So, it seems to me, her complaint is overly ethnocentric on top of being an obvious racial slur and sexist remark. Personally, I feel the message would be better received without denigrating men in such a way.  


Remember, feminism isn't about hating men, it's about helping to gain and safeguard the basic equality and rights of women. 


In many cultures, however, women's suffrage movements are much more difficult to come by due to many social and/or cultural barriers. In Japan, for example, social and cultural norms make it nearly impossible for women to mobilize or even just plain ole communicate. This lack of communication, impedes their basic ability to form support groups, find relief in like mindedness, and is the main reason for why the patriarchal model Japan is currently under hasn't changed in nearly three thousand years.

In America, two hundred and fifty years young, where women are not only free to communicate openly, but can also form various organizations, enjoy a much greater means of getting their voices heard and building adequate support groups to fund and carry on fighting for their collective rights. If they couldn't do that, then they would have to find alternative methods of gaining the same rights as men.

Even then, there are other cultural factors which may interfere with or retard the progress of women's equality. Since I have studied Japan quite thoroughly, I will sight one such example.

Serving tea is a custom of Japanese people. Strangely, however, it is traditionally only women who serve tea. Even now, in 2012, when a guest arrives at the school or office or place of work a woman scurries to get the tea ready. She then comes out, gets on her knees, pours the tea very daintily, then serves everyone. In half a decade of living in Japan I have only seen a man do this chore once, and that was specifically because all the women were out of the office at that moment. 



I once commented that the tradition of strictly women serving tea seemed rather sexist from my Western point of view. One of the women teachers cut in and protested, "No, no. This is a Japanese custom!"


I asked her, "Is it a Japanese custom that only women should serve the tea?"


She looked at me, as if she was offended.


I then asked, "Why don't the men and women take turns serving the tea? We could make a schedule with a rotation, and take turns. At least then it wouldn't be sexist."


She then responded, "You don't understand. It's a Japanese tradition that women serve the tea!"


I sighed sadly, and went back to grading my papers. In her eyes it wasn't sexist as long as it was the cultural norm. I couldn't convince her otherwise. She viewed my criticism of a sexist custom as a criticism of her culture. I only found out later that she was offended and had to apologize. I informed her that I had no problem with the Japanese custom of serving tea. I quite like it myself. But that it is the expectation which accompanies it which offends.


One of the problems I realized we were running into, besides the cultural differences, was the fact that I am privileged enough to enjoy a broader worldview. I don't say that lightly. I have been to seven different countries around the world. I have viewed various cultures and witnessed first hand the interactions of their people. She did not, unfortunately, have the luxury to say the same. She only knew her one culture, and in her culture, women served tea. This was the norm. End of discussion.


Such barriers can often prove to be a frustrating challenge. Which makes the anger of the above message, in the photo, seem somewhat misguided if not inappropriate. Is she really angry at men for suppressing her so severely? Or is she more angry at the idea of being oppressed? Has she ever had to get down on her knees and serve a bunch of sweaty businessmen green tea, who because of the expectation that this is the woman's duty, never even say thanks?

This is what I consider not being critical enough with one's opinion. Sure, none of us are perfectly self reflective all of the time, and certainly we still have a long ways to go before equality reigns. But there are women who have it far worse. I mentioned a mild example. But I also have a Muslim friend who lives in a predominately tribal minded Middle Eastern society who cannot speak openly to men on the street for fear of being mistaken for a whore, and then being stoned to death for it. I can understand my Muslim friend being angered for the inequality and iniquity she experiences due to her religious culture. I can see Japanese women, who like my wife, have been abroad and visited other countries and seen first hand other cultures being outraged when asked to serve tea. 



In fact, you may be pleased to learn, my wife flat out refuses to do it to the horror of her work colleagues. My wife even marched into the city mayor's office one day to ask why, after having worked their for several months, she was still serving tea to the rookie salary men with low ranking position who only recently started? The answer she received, "It's tradition." She stormed off angry and the mayor was left confused. He had absolutely no perspective. I support my wife fully when she does things like this. It's one of the many reasons I love her so much. However, I fail to see why this above girl is so angry with men. 


Maybe it's a failure on my behalf, but I can't see this girl being so worked up about being so wealthy and privileged that she enjoys being part of that 80% buying power she is so proud of. Maybe it's a matter of perspective. Maybe if she new there were better causes worth her time and energy she would write less diatribes against men and start working toward helping women who are worse off than herself. That doesn't mean she has to quit fighting for her rights, but disenfranchising males is not the way to gain their confidence or support. 


It is my belief that we are in this together, and instead of placing the finger of blame, we would better serve our purpose to let bygones be and move forward with the struggle together





Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist