If you’re at all interested in feminism on the Internet, you know that a lot of people equate feminism with “gender equality.” They point to things like unequal pay, discrimination in employment and sexual harassment to argue that what we need is more equality between men and women.
This of course is a surprising statement to those of us who think that feminism is about, you know, identifying the source of women’s oppression and bringing it to light, cure the disease, not just treat the most superficial wounds.
And then we are told that we are supposed to “respect their position” because they are women, all women have the right to define themselves however they want, and we have the duty to buy it wholesale.
But even if we accept the whole “gender equality” concept, it still elicits a lot of questions. For one thing, which men should women be equal with? Each gender contains its own gradations: a gay man is “less of a man” than a heterosexual man, a prude is “less of a man” than a sexually active man, a frail or weak man is “less of a man” than a strong, muscular man, and so on. For every attribute of masculinity there are men who fulfill it more or less, and they are “more or less of a man.”
So if we have gender equality, which women would be equal to which men? Would a lesbian be equal to a gay man, or to a heterosexual man? Would a butch woman be equal to a bodybuilder dude, or to an effeminate man?
There’s a [problem] with the equality definition. Even if we could figure out which men are the ones to whom women should be equal, that way of putting it suggests that the point of feminism is somehow to get women to measure up to what (at least some) men already are. Men remain the point of reference; theirs are the lives that women would naturally want. If the first problem with the equality definition is “Equal to which men?” the second problem could be put as “Why equal to any men?”
Of course these questions are stupid. And in issues like equal pay or harassment, we just want everyone to be paid and treated the same. There are no gender considerations there. So they are not issues of “gender equality” at all, but issues of “equality,” period.
By definition there can be no such thing as “gender equality” because gender is a construct which divides human beings into a hierarchy where men are superior and women are inferior. Gender means, by its very nature, inequality, and that’s the function it serves in society: to classify human beings into two categories, one which is active, aggressive, empowered, and another which is passive, surrendering and disempowered. There are only two options: genderism (inequality) or anti-genderism (equality).
Likewise, there can be no such thing as “racial equality,” “status equality,” “worker-boss equality” or “child-parent equality.” Any term that implies hierarchy is incompatible with equality, because by definition a hierarchy has superiors and inferiors, with directed control flowing downwards.
Some people may be goofing by using such a term as “gender equality” when they really just mean equality between all individuals. But then why add the word “gender”? This seems to serve no purpose apart from associating whatever cause you’re advocating with feminism. If you advocate for equality, well, that could mean a lot of things. But if you advocate for “gender equality,” then you’re a great feminist oh my god have all the cookies.
The “equal rights” definition of feminism basically tells men that they can be feminist without ever changing their behaviour or the way they think about women. Ending sexual assault (and patriarchy!) is going to take an actual change in behaviour and social norms. And that’s probably going to feel a little “uncomfortable.”
Another term I don’t like is that of gender as performance. I posted this Judith Butler video last year, and Heretic made a good point in the comments about the flaws of this idea of gender as performative.
But just take the idea completely at face value for a minute. Gender is performance… performance of what? Not of gender, as that would be circular. A performance is based on some template, some script, some role which must be imitated. So what’s the template?
If you incorporate the FETA concept of “innate gender identity,” then it all makes sense. Gender is performance of something we know deep down, of an ingrained behavior pattern that we must follow in order to be happy, said behavior pattern just happening to coincide with our society’s description of one or the other gender. And, get this, every single person’s behavior pattern happens to fit into a gender (however many there are) that exists in their culture, too. How utterly amazing.
So gender as performance seems to me to be closely allied with the FETA concept of “innate gender,” and therefore ultimately reflective of female exclusion.
If gender was performance, then there would be a way to perform that didn’t result in rape for women. But men rape housewives. Men rape butch lesbians. Men rape quiet women in dresses and lipstick. Men rape snarling punks in leather jackets and safety pins. Men rape every type of woman. There is no way for a woman to be that doesn’t risk rape. There is no way to perform that lets women escape the confines of gender because gender is not performance; it’s the designator of who can rape – us, the people called men – and who can be raped – them, the people called women. Performance has nothing to do with it.