Feminism & Socialism: An Open Letter to Laurie Penny

solidarityDear Laurie,

We had a bit of a spat over on Twitter about the fallout from the Socialist Worker’s Party rape scandal. Not over the rape or the scandal itself per se (which is pretty obviously beyond the pale) but over Feminism and Socialism and the interface between the two. We also fell out over your proposal as to the examination and discussion of Feminism as a whole and the possibility of a space in which men could ask questions without being shot down.

My only comment on the SWP scandal itself would be that I do not find it that surprising that things turned out as they did. When a small(ish) ideological group rejects the society it finds itself in it cannot remain ideologically pure while calling to the society at large for help with its problems. When something like a rape – or other crime – occurs they will look to deal with it internally. The problem with that is that in a small group everyone is interconnected to a much stronger degree than in a larger society and it’s far easier for bias and political concerns to override the necessity for justice. We see this even in our national judicial system, let alone in small fringe groups. It is disappointing – but almost inevitable – that things turned out as they did.

Moving beyond the SWP to more general terms there was something you said about the join between Feminism and Socialism that I wanted to comment on but felt I could not because of the inevitable backlash whenever a man comments on Feminism.

I’ve decided to stick my head over the parapet anyway because I’m an idiot, clearly.

You said:

@Pennyred: Socialism without feminism isn’t socialism that’s worth having. We must fight sexism within the left, whatever the cost. #SWPconf

@Pennyred: Feminism without socialism has internal logic, but limited usefulness. Socialism without feminism makes no sense whatsoever.

 Such statements are a problem for me because Socialism (non-Marxist) is predicated upon the premise of equal opportunity, egalitarianism and equal rights for all human beings regardless of gender, race, wealth, class and so forth. In fact it is committed to redistribution and evening of rights and privileges as much as it is material wealth.

Feminism, for all its pretensions to the contrary, does not seem to fit this definition. Feminism is specifically concerned with the rights of women, not with the rights and equality of all human beings. It seems obvious, to me, that this is at odds with the stated aims and goals of Socialism.

Why?

Well, consider this diagram. (fig 1).

fig1

Feminism is concerned with:

A: Areas in which women have less advantage than men.

B: Areas in which men have more advantage than women.

Feminism is not concerned with:

C: Areas in which women have more advantage than men.

D: Areas in which men have less advantage than women.

If Feminism were to achieve its goals completely it would result in a society where women had all of the advantages and none of the disadvantages and men had none of the advantages and all of the disadvantages. This would not be egalitarian. (fig 2).

fig2

Now, of course, many will claim that this is a misrepresentation of Feminism and that feminism is:

@c_richardson_nz: And feminism isn’t about absolute right and absolute wrong, it’s about accepting difference & being inclusive.

To which I answered “*Bitter Lol*”, and very nearly answered “Is it fuck.”

Whether you like it or not the Feminism that I encounter every day is not inclusive or accepting of difference.

The Feminism I encounter every day is arrogant, condescending, interfering, censorious, po-faced and unwilling to brook any question or examination. It brushes off any query or disagreement by calling it ‘derailing‘, it seeks no common ground and dismisses any and all concerns about arenas in which men suffer from inequality and disadvantage. It even dismisses and ignores science on ideological grounds, something I’m far more used to finding amongst creationists and deem to be just as unacceptable on grounds of ideology as religion.

It both amused and irritated me that the typical angry-white/right-male seems to have tapped into my disagreement with you.

I am not angry at Feminism because I am some right wing conservative and Feminism is all lefty-pinko liberal nonsense. I am angry at Feminism because I am a nonsensical lefty-pinko liberal and I find Feminism to be archly conservative, censorious and closed-minded.

  • If Feminism wants to stifle creativity.
  • If Feminism scoffs at and ignores the inequalities facing men.
  • If Feminism is anti-sex and anti-pornography (despite people like my friend Nica Noelle).
  • If Feminism is anti-Science (see earlier link).

Then I want nothing to do with it.

Show me an egalitarian Feminism and I’m all over it. Show me a Feminism that fights just as hard to remove female privilege as male privilege and to help men to equality where they are at a disadvantage and I’ll shout it from the rooftops.

Where’s male reproductive autonomy for example?

At the moment, at least in this country, a woman has all the agency when it comes to the choice to have a child or not. A man has no choice, no voice, no say in this whatsoever.

Obviously we don’t want men to be able to force their partners to carry a baby to term.
Obviously we don’t want me to be able to force their partners to have an abortion.
What if the conception is an accident, the result of a one-time thing and the man absolutely doesn’t want a child though?

At the moment he’s out of luck. He’s now on the hook for life to a child he never wanted and a woman he may want nothing to do with.

Where are men’s reproductive rights?

Why is circumcision laughed off as a non-issue?

Where are the woman clamouring to shoulder their load of the dangerous and shitty jobs that men overwhelmingly perform?

Why aren’t women eligible for the draft?

In the US women can now choose to opt for frontline combat duty as an opportunity, something that men in a similar position do not get the same degree of choice over:
“No general, actually I’d rather work in supplies than go over the top if it’s all the same to you.”

Why will all the above meet with eye-rolling and dismissal or even worse, the patronising and insulting phrases: “Patriarchy hurts men too” or “Men need Feminism”.

Why would such a thing be called Feminism though? By privileging the concerns and issues of one subdivision of humanity, Feminism is absolutely not Socialist.

You talked about wanting to set up a forum in which men could come and ask about Feminism without being shot down or summarily dismissed. Yet a few tweets later you said this to me:

@PennyRed: I don’t think we have anything more to discuss here. You seem very angry at feminism in general.

This is a dismissal and provides us with no progress. You show no interest in the reasons I might be (legitimately) angry at Feminism but expect me to listen to why women are angry at ‘patriarchy’. You just want to shut down the discussion and escape because I am pissed off. This doesn’t get us any progress. You gain no understanding of my point of view and you have absolutely no chance of convincing me of your point of view without having engagement with mine.

I’ve intimated above, in vague terms, why I’m angry at Feminism (or at least the Feminism that I encounter day to day). Some of those reasons are personal (I’ll spare you the details), some are related to my work (writing and game design), others are even broader (internet culture, anonymity, free expression, art, scientific method and debate in the public arena).

If you’re seeking to set up such a forum and yet within a very short time are shutting me down because I’m angry then that project isn’t going to get very far – or at least not serve any useful purpose. Limiting such a forum to simply asking questions is somewhat patronising and assumes that the other party just needs educating before they will agree with you. It’s actually possible to be fully aware of what the other side thinks and believes and still to disagree with it – and that’s not always due to pigheadedness or unwillingness to learn.

For this idea to serve any useful purpose it needs to go further than that and to allow a forum in which Feminist ideas can be challenged, examined, torn apart and put back together without being an echo chamber. Yes, it would need to be moderated and, almost certainly, that moderation would be used to hit legitimate arguments and challenges over the head as well as trolling and shit-stirring, but it’s still got to be worth a try.

If it’s just a soapbox though, it’s worthless.

If you think I’m being unfair or combative above then point it out, but I can only go on my empirical experiences. If the attitudes and actions I talk about aren’t Feminism, then you need to get that message to the Feminists who are representing you or to more vigorously assert your own definition.

I find myself agreeing with you a lot of the time, but not when it comes to these topics.

If you can’t convince me, an educated, left-liberal socialist who would have called himself Feminist up until a couple of years ago, then what hope do you have of getting through to people who actually oppose you? An inter-gender consensus on equal rights for both genders has much more potential for positive change than the division that Feminism or Men’s Rights engenders (no pun intended).

Pax,

Grim

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5 responses to “Feminism & Socialism: An Open Letter to Laurie Penny

  1. You’re not an idiot.

    The portion of your post below that line pretty much explains why I no longer consider myself feminist. I do not support a supposed equality movement that would put a thumb on the scales rather than balance them, and that brings in socially conservative dogma under the assumed-liberal equality banner.

    A key problem is the terminology. We have to lose exclusive terms like “feminism” and “misogyny” and focus on inclusion, promoting “gender equality” (for males, females, and everyone else) and reducing “sexism” (against males, females, and everyone else). There should be a Violence Act, not just a Violence Against Women Act. We should oppose Genital Mutilation, not just Female Genital Mutilation. Anyone seeking equality would be happy to see equal laws.

  2. [quote]Feminism is concerned with:

    A: Areas in which women have less advantage than men.

    B: Areas in which men have more advantage than women.[/quote]

    Both of those, huh?

    [quote]Feminism is not concerned with:

    C: Areas in which women have more advantage than men.

    D: Areas in which men have less advantage than women.[/quote]

    Both of those too? Feminism’s twice as bad as I thought!

  3. Pingback: Sulista, Elitista e Liberal » Blog Archive » Feminism & Socialism: An Open Letter to Laurie Penny

  4. A passer by from a Feminist Theory course. While I would love to discuss these issues with you someday, I would like to say 2 things:
    1) As a feminist, I would like to point out that many of us are deeply concerned with genital mutilation of any kind, to both males and females. If gender equality issues such as this have been laughed off, that does really suck. The feminists you’ve encountered are perhaps missing some education themselves.

    2) There are branches of feminism. You’ll meet a million feminists who hate sex/porn for a degrading and transactional nature. You’ll also find millions who love sex, and porn, but want only for the degradation in much of it to be questioned, like myself. It stings when guys you meet want to strangle you or insult you into a bj because porn is their education.

    Anyway, a last question: Without forcing a partner to carry to term or abort, how would you protect men’s reproductive rights in the case of an accident? If it was an accident, if you both don’t agree on a solution, how might it ever be solved fairly? Since the man’s life is not jeopardized with pregnancy, and since the mother is villainized for leaving, while the man who stays is a saint. As the reverse is not true, it seems unfairly skewed. It is, in the current cultural climate, still worse for a woman either way. If you have a solution to protect men’s rights, I’ll gladly spread the word. I want it fair, but payments is not the curse being left a child you were unprepared for is, or the punishing experience it is when you insist on birth control your partner doesn’t like.

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