Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Women Can Be Sexist Too . . . Who Knew?

We’ve spent some time bashing Yale and celebrating good old Harvard for its proactive stance against sexual assault and rape. But a recent editorial published by Virginia A. Fisher, a Harvard undergrad, entitled “Fie Feminism” may prove that we have one more nasty little thing in common with the crimsons: sexism.

In her article, Fisher argues that feminism has made “enough real gains that organizing women to struggle together as a special interest group is often counterproductive, as it encourages the development of a victimized group mentality, rather than encouraging women to develop as individual people.” She then goes on to defend President Larry Summer’s lovely comment that women were not as gifted in the sciences as men (“he may have had a point”).

While her article seems pretty shocking to the average intelligent and educated individual, especially considering that she is a woman and a math major, what is more disturbing is how much her attitude resonates with other women on college campuses. Many women do not think such blatant inequality exists and see feminism (and women’s centers and adequate sexual assault policies on college campuses) as unnecessary and even “counterproductive”.

The question we want to ask is why? Why are so many WOMEN (and men) so against feminism? Ms. Fisher has an intelligent point: identifying as a feminist means admitting that you are in a less powerful position in society, that you are oppressed, that you are a victim (to use her language) of sexism. Although feminism is meant to empower women to fight for equality and to fight against oppression, it also requires women to acknowledge that they live in a compromised world with compromised power and compromised agency.

For many people, being a feminist then is mutually exclusive with being a successful Ivy Leaguer. Being a student at an elite university where students are trained to become powerful people in powerful positions means that no one wants to admit to being powerless (or even less powerful) than their male counterparts. What people are missing is that to be less powerful does not mean you do not have the brainpower or even the physical strength to compete and to succeed, but rather that there are institutional and cultural impediments to women’s ability to be their best and greatest selves. Recognizing the ways in which our power in compromised is the first step to reclaiming our lives. Denying that sexism exists, allowing President Summers to get away with those kinds of comments, and even agreeing with him suggests that women would rather be silently victimized by men and by themselves than admit to being oppressed and actually doing something about it.

[Welcome back...stay tuned as our blogging gets underway again]


Jessie said...

okay, so this isn't a direct response to the most recent post, but i thought you might be interested. campus progress is in the midst of a photo petition campaign against Alito's confirmation to the supreme court. we are asking college students across the country to join together in expressing their opposition to Alito. students will be given a blank sign and markers and
asked to write or draw something that answers the question: “What is your idea of America?” volunteers will take a digital picture of these students with their signs and have them to sign onto a petition.
these images will be assembled into an online photo petition made up of photos submitted by students from campuses all over the U.S..

to check out the photo petition go to:

campus progress is also working on a creative way to display these photos during the third week of Judge Alito’s confirmation hearings.


Elizabeth said...

Speaking of women against feminism, I was in a class where we were discussing the possibility of feminism in a post-colonial country such as India where feminist concepts are regarded as "Western". In trying to build an identity separate from the West, the prevalent idea was that India should attempt to discover it's "true" self and sever all connections with the West.
One girl argues that feminism is a Western influence and taints the culture which had previously had no form of it.

Feminism is a "Western" taint?
Is freedom a "Western" taint?

The question of feminism is NOT a matter of exclusion, no matter how our dominant culture attempts to say it is so. Male, Female, Asexual - all have the right to claim feminism. The idea of feminism is the idea of freedom. Women have the right to behave outside of traditional norms. Men (shocking!) should also have the right to behave outside of their identity structures if they desire. I mean, I am not male, but I will venture to say that the defintion of "man" is fairly narrow (is he still one if he chooses to wear a skirt every saturday afternoon?) - the dressing of power may make him appear more free but he's only afforded that privilege if he ascribes himself to given structures. Women, minorities - we are more obvious symptoms of discrimination because of past tangible exclusion from society such as voting and land ownership.

In this context, liberating women is liberation for men. Gender freedom. It's a little comical how prized the concept of freedom is prized in our American identity though the practical reality, racial, sexual, political, gender freedom, doesn't sound so exicitng.

Do women just want to be "one of the guys"? Maybe that is why feminism appears so repulsive to some.
Maybe once you've gotten into the boy's club, all is well. But the boy's club isn't so free either. There are stringent rules and regulations which also bind their identity. According to Fisher, we pant-wearing women are free. But I argue that we have not changed the rules of the games, just the teams. Women on the men's side and even men on the women's side doesn't really change the structure of top-down power. Some group remains oppressed. This is no freedom.
And feminism calls for freedom of all genders.

Feminism is a lot more complicated than burning bras and not shaving. Maybe Fisher needs to look past that archaic definition.

Matthew said...

#1. Word, Elizabeth.
#2. Western culture had no taint of feminism 300 years ago. If it's since been "tainted" by the it, then that's a good thing, and it might be good for Indian culture to get a little taint of its own. I don't pine for pre-feminism America, and the question for India, or anywhere, shouldn't be "Is it a western idea?" but "Is is a good idea?"

Della said...

I couldn't agree with you both more. I do, however, some apprehension about Western versions of feminism that are "exported" to other countries such as India. I'm really thinking Afghanistan/Iraq. Often feminism becomes coopted and aligned with the state and, in turn, justifies violence against a whole country (e.g. bombing) in order to "save brown women from brown men". The best example of this is the debate over the hijab in France or you could watch the Battle of Algiers. It's a tough debate: universalism versus cultural relativism. And, I think post-colonial feminism is looking for ways to bridge those gaps and sometimes I think it's a grand idea and other times I think it's colonial and violent.

maggie said...

The Crimson article is possibly the worst attempt to negate feminism that I have ever read. Flaws include: the opening paragraph (stay-at-home moms + female orgasms = no need for feminism), complete ignorance about the importance of power dynamics in gender roles, and a gross miscalculation of the gains women have made in the past several decade. The author even admits that there aren't as many women in academia or in science, yet she doesn't see why organizing people (not just women) to advocate for these issues is important. I know that the Yale Women's Center has greatly improved the life of Yale female's undergraduates, and I'm sure a Women's Center would have a similar effect at Harvard.