Thursday, 14 March 2013

Why Feminism.

This blog was written at the invitation of award-winning Bangladeshi writer, physician, secular humanist, radical feminist and human rights campaigner, Taslima Nasreen, and appeared on her blog, in August 2012.

The reason I am a feminist is really quite simple: I am a feminist because I am a Humanist and a Socialist. I am a Humanist and a Socialist because I am a human being and I have a single guiding principle which, like a coin, has two sides:
  1. I am better than no one.
  2. No one is better than me.
No one is endowed with the right to assign status on another at birth. No one has the right to restrict the right of another to make their own choices and to take their own decisions in life. If anyone claims for themselves that right, then, with equal ease, I claim the right to deny them that right.

In the words of John Donne (slightly modified)

No person is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each person's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

To me, Women's liberation was always a part of people's liberation and liberation is about freedom to choose. Socialism can never be achieved whilst half the population remain subjugated, restricted, repressed and dependent on the other half.

How pathetic, how utterly shameful for one half of humanity to try to maintain their privileges with bans and proscriptions on the other half. How pathetic for men to use their physical strength, not to liberate women but to maintain their subjugation.

To me, feminism is not about what women should do but about what they have the right to choose to do. If they choose to be miners or lumberjacks, doctors or architects, lawyers, barristers, engineers, emptiers of rubbish bins, fire-fighters or soldiers, they should be free to make that choice. If they chose to be full-time mothers they should be free to make that choice too but they should also be free to expect their partners to take on that role if that's the right choice for them both.

People liberation cannot be achieved by assigning stereotypical roles and expecting people to fit themselves into those stereotypes. People liberation is about choosing the role you want for yourself in consultation as an equal with others involved in and affected by that choice.

It would be easy to blame religions for the institutionalised misogyny women have suffered for centuries. Though they are undoubtedly now complicit in it's retention in many parts of the world, and especially in the more fundamentalist area where women are required to cover themselves or take the blame for men seeing them as mere sex objects, and even for 'loosing control' and raping or sexually assaulting them (what a grotesquely pathetic abdication of personal responsibility that is!), I'm not convinced religions cause misogyny. I think religions are, at least partly, the product of misogyny. It is surely no coincidence that gods are overwhelmingly seen as male and that the Abrahamic religions have a god which closely resembles a despotic Bronze Age tribal chief.

When the origin myths were being invented and written down, and the early laws were being codified, the people who wrote them were almost certainly high-caste males from already misogynistic cultures and women had already been relegated to chattel status. Even the creation myth of Adam and Eve results in Eve being told her role, and that of all women henceforth, was to satisfy the desires of man with "... and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." (Genesis 3:16).

Of course a misogynistic male god would put men in charge with the right to rule over women and to have them merely for his convenience. What could be more natural and 'right' than that? In the blog The Evolution Of God I have shown how I think religions could well have evolved out of the pre-human or proto-human social structure with an alpha male leader. It could have been from this evolved dominance and the assumed right to have first access to the females and to control their sexual activity, that both male dominance and an obsessive interest in the sexual activity of others may have developed and entered the human meme-pool. Having invented gods and religion we then handed over responsibility for our moral development to the high priests of these gods, as I argued in Religion: An Abdication Of Moral Responsibility.

Pat Robertson is a multi-millionaire fundamentalist Christian
But, however it evolved, there is no excuse for it now. We are a very different species to that evolving millions of years ago on the plains of East Africa and we have a very different culture now to that of Bronze Age nomadic goat-herders. We have no use for many of the memes they generated or many of the rules they codified.

It used to be said of Britain that 17% of the people controlled 94% of the wealth. We have a long way still to go to rectify that obscene statistic. The women of the world are said to do 90% of the work but to control only 10% of the wealth. That is an even more obscene statistic which no civilised society or fair-minded person should tolerate.

We are free now, to paraphrase Richard Dawkin's, to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of unthinking replicators in our meme pool. We no longer need to check with sanctimonious moralising high priests and wizards in silly dresses whose living depends on maintaining the status quo and who consult their books of magic words and miraculously come up with the answer which always suits them and those they serve.

We are free now to ask if it is right or wrong that half of humanity should still be a lesser people; a subject people subject to the whim and fancy of the other half and to always be at their disposal. And women are free now to decide whether they will continue to accept this abrogation of power and authority or whether they will deny men this right and take their own lives back under their own control and assert the simple slogan:

No man is better than me because I am part of humanity. Until I am free, humanity will not be.





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2 comments :

  1. This was written in response to Laurie Penny and the problems of the SWP in the UK, but I think it applies here too. I hope we don't have a falling out over it :)

    http://athefist.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/feminism-socialism-an-open-letter-to-laurie-penny/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just as not all 'feminists' are socialists, so not all 'socialists' are feminists. I remember well a friend from the early 1970's who had been a member of the National Committee of the Young Communist League and could quote Marx and Lenin all day long, but treated his wife in a way a fundamentalist Moslem would be proud of. In fact he was expelled from the Party for beating her up. He was no Socialist, though he would have called himself one.

      For me, it's quite simple: whilst one half of humanity has less opportunity than, or is dependent on, the other half simply because of gender, we do not have an egalitarian society.

      Delete

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