Letter to the Editor: the slow death of the independent woman?

Submitted in collaboration by Christina Estimé, ‘17; Hannah Olek, ‘17; Emma Weisenfluh, ‘17

We are thrilled that the topic of feminism has become so popular in the pages of the Griffin. Sexual inequality is a major issue and we are happy that students are willing to think and write about it in their free time. In general, though, we wish that those interested in the theme of feminism would take time to study, and even take a class on it (many are offered, see the Women & Gender Studies listings) in order to make their “opinions” more “informed opinions.”

Sam Hansen’s piece entitled “Feminism: the slow death of the independent woman” was intended to spark debate, and we shall add to that debate here. We believe that, while Hansen does his best to write from where he is, his ideas and reasoning are flawed. We hope that he and others who are sympathetic to his opinion will seriously consider the arguments presented here.

 

  1. Why referring to experts in the field is good practice

Though Hansen claims to have done his homework on what the core values of feminism are, it is quite clear that he has come up short-handed as he completely disregards the most important aspect of feminism: equality for all genders. While reading bell hooks is a great introduction to feminism, we cannot attest to the credibility of an article developed by the porn industry or two case studies that are 20 years old.

It is good practice to refer to experts in the field before writing an article of this sort. For example, Emma Watson, while being a contemporary public figure for the cause, is not one to quote when “doing homework” about the values of feminism. She is not an expert analyst steeped in the field of feminist studies. Secondly, Hansen, so focused on proving his point that feminism is in someway out to discredit the male species, misquotes Watson.

When describing the HeforShe movement, Watson states, “…Women are already in the club, because it’s our movement. [However], it’s an equality club, for both genders. It’s about men coming in support of women and women coming in support of men.” Feminism is indeed about women’s liberation. However, one of the goals is to liberate everyone from restrictive oppressive gender roles. Many men feel oppressed by narrow gender roles as well. Feminism is about equal economic and political power. But as a “liberation” movement, it is at its core about freedom.

Pornhub is not credible nor is it scholarly. It is also worth noting that the porn industry is not the best source of information for understanding the behaviors and desires of women. A significant amount of porn is developed by men, for men, and with few regards for women’s rights, desires, or point of view. An entire industry developed on the humiliation and objectification of women can hardly be considered an appropriate source in an article about feminism.

Regarding the statistics presented by the PornHub article stating that women’s searches for the BDSM terms increased by 200 percent and men’s by only 20 percent, we would like to note that while this appears to be a staggering difference, we have to take into consideration that men were already interested in theories of domination and submission, so they could not increase the rate in which they searched for something they were already looking at. Women on the other hand were likely not interested in the dom/sub culture previously, so reading a book about it authored by a woman herself was bound to spark interest.

 

  1. TRP critique: inherently misogynistic, dangerous, and incorrect

The most problematic site referred to in Hansen’s piece was The Red Pill (herein referred to as TRP), an online community for men’s rights activists. TRP describe their movement as merely a “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men”.

TRP teaches men how to have “game” – essentially how to (1) manipulate women into thinking that men are dominant, and (2) manipulate women into believing that this is what they desire, their own weakness, and secondary status. While claiming to be constituted around voicing men’s frustrations of the dominant role that they are conditioned to fit into by society – instead of focusing on breaking the social stigma and stereotype of the strong dominant man that many heterosexual males do not fit into – TRP followers play into the misogynistic solution of reestablishing those same rigid standards.

  1. Why evolutionary biology isn’t a good enough excuse for oppression and inequality

We also want to challenge Hansen’s points about evolutionary psychology and biology. We have two problems with his approach: (1) biology is not a good enough excuse for oppression and misogyny, and (2) no understanding of biology, evolution, or psychology is ideology-free. Human beings practice these fields, and human beings are always socially constructed by the ideology of their time.

Hansen makes the claim (quoted in section four) that men have to see a woman as submissive and him as dominant in order to find her attractive. Essentially, the thesis of this article is that feminists will eventually die out due to their strength, i.e., they will not be able to find a man attracted to them or that they are attracted to and thus be unable to reproduce. Natural selection will work against the strong woman, eventually leading to her extinction, so parts of the article state.

This implies that, in a natural and “pure” sense, women must be submissive to men for the species to continue. However, if these roles and expectations were purely biological and natural, why did the feminist revolution come about in the first place? There was obviously something wrong with these “natural” male and female roles to the extent that females rose up to fight for their rights.

To quote Simone De Beauvoir, “nature can never dictate a moral choice.” Society is at liberty to judge whether or not a natural occurrence is moral and fair – which is what separates us from the purely animalistic state Hansen puts us in. Just because something “is” doesn’t mean it “ought” to be. Many things occur that can be deemed “natural” but this does not mean they are desired or must continue. As thoughtful, rational, and moral beings, we must always ask ethical questions of our acts whether they stem from the ‘natural’ world or not.

 

  1. Why sexual attraction needs to evolve

Let us return to the idea that strong women will be unable to reproduce. Hansen states that the “strong, independent woman”, can now use In Vitro Fertilization to become pregnant and doesn’t even need men (directly) to reproduce. This statement essentially refutes his thesis that “Feminism is slowly killing itself … [by creating] powerful women and less dominant men … Independent, economically successful women are less likely to be seen as an attractive mate”. Whether or not feminists are deemed sexually attractive becomes irrelevant when considering that they can reproduce regardless of whether or not they have a partner, and raise their children in the structure of their own beliefs.

Furthermore, biology and nature are not excuses to devalue the feminist movement. Hansen’s supposition that “the feminist will die out” translates as a call for the revaluing of the women’s liberation movement because it is making her undesirable, which is nothing short of insulting and ignorant. One might well use the same argument to deny women the right to vote, own property, or the right to attend college. If these things make the ladies less attractive, perhaps we should take away those rights? Human rights and equality are more important than being deemed to be “cute.”

Secondly, feminism is not a genotype. It is not a heritable trait. Even if the strong, independent woman is unable to have a child, it does not mean the death of the social movement. Oppression and misogyny would still exist. Thus, the fight for gender equality would continue on.

Based off of the heteronormative, American-centered viewpoint in which this article was written, it is easy to see why our views on sexual attraction need to evolve. Women are not immune to cultural pressures and influence of the media as to influence what they look for in a man. TRP is guilty of perpetuating the pessimistic philosophy that many people hold: “it is what it is.” Just because something is situated in a certain way by societal standards, doesn’t mean that it ought to be this way.

The whole focus of this article seems to be the effect of feminism on an individual’s likeliness of getting laid, and completely disregards the real, contemporary needs for equality of the sexes. In looking to other countries where women don’t have the right to vote, to own their own property, to even drive a car or choose who they marry, feminism is as much for the 12-year-old child-bride from Yemen who will die from internal bleeding on her wedding night as it is for the straight, white male struggling with fitting into his own gender roles in Western society.

 

  1. Feminism 101: sex does not equal gender

Sex and gender are not interchangeable terms. To clarify, “sex” refers to some physical marker such as having a vagina or penis, having estrogen or testosterone; whereas “gender” is a flexible set of behaviors that individuals choose. While Hansen does not use them interchangeably, his argument centers around certain qualities (i.e. dominance) existing in one sex: male. Most people (female or male) have some mixture of gender characteristics – masculine in some ways, and feminine in others. But Hansen assumes an essentialist understanding of the relationship between sex and gender: he presumes that there is one correct gender and gender role for each sex. This is narrow-minded, harmful, and does not correctly describe our day-to-day realities.

We thank Hansen for his willingness to engage in this debate. We wish everyone was so courageous, as it is only when we enter into discussions that we can learn. Although we disagree with nearly every part of his piece, we thank him for allowing this discussion to take place. But unlike the idea he is perpetuating, we hope for a world in which all people – regardless of their genitalia – are treated with equal respect and are able to have equal rights, powers, and opportunities. We, as feminists, call that liberation for all.

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