@teach_well wrote a blog about feminism in response to three blog’s, Man up, Like a lady and He for she by Sue Cowley. I suppose I have an interest because I was mentioned in one of the blogs @teach_well critiqued.
Teach_well accuses Sue of “female chauvinism” but it is a somewhat confused argument. It must be a fine line between asserting a feminist identity and being a chauvinist. There are many schools of feminism but I have yet to encounter one that does not in some form or other deal with power relations. Those who are dis-empowered surely need some kind of collective representative identity to be able to exercise any kind of power.
Teach_well says this:
To state that some traits are masculine and others feminine, which are biologically bestowed on us dependent on gender, which are natural (and thereby traits of the opposite gender are unnatural to us) is simply playing into the very stereotypes used to oppress and subjugate women in the first place.
I’m not sure that Sue Cowley made that point but even so even if gender is socially constructed it is perfectly reasonable to assert that men and women are different. Unpicking the nature / nurture argument is a mine field.
The feminist position presumably is that whatever the truth of the matter it has to be recognised that women have less opportunity to assert their identity. Feminism is surely not an argument about what women should and shouldn’t but about their ability to be so.
Regardless Teach_well identifies with the characteristics that are required to be successful in a society that is male dominated:
I know my parents despaired at times that I was strong minded, opinionated and out-spoken but in the long run it helped get me my politics degree! I did not adopt ‘masculine’ traits, I was just like that. That I was not stereotypically feminine was one of the many battles I fought with my parents. Far from being a people pleaser, I was happy to just ignore and not care. It was unnatural to fit those stereotypes.
Asserting the right to conform, however naturally, to a male dominated society in order to succeed is a perfectly legitimate argument but is it a feminist one? Later in Teach_well’s blog it becomes clear that the object of her ire are feminists themselves but first Teach_well seems to want to challenge gender identity politics::
Stereotypes of masculine and feminine traits have abounded for millennia and to deny there is any truth in them is wrong. Yet to me they represent a list of traits which are similar to star signs. There are so many that you are bound to have some of the stereotypical traits of your gender, just as you are likely to have some of your star sign. That these stereotypes hold true entirely in any individual is fantasy. That they are biologically determined, even more so.
Are gender traits entirely socially constructed not biologically determined? Are there no differences between a man and a woman? Can a women, as a gender type, only exist in relation to the oppression of a man? There are more questions than answers but it is, if nothing else, an interesting argument.
The anti feminist – feminist
Having seemingly collapsed the notion of gender Teach_well then constructs an anti feminist – feminist argument that sees women asserting their right to an identity as being a form of oppression in itself:
That she (Sue_Cowley) ‘naturally’ displays traits that fit the feminine stereotype is not the issue, it’s that she applies this rule to all others and is thus pushing an agenda of conformity onto female teachers. I have met many women in primary teaching like Sue and so her arguments are not new but depressing all the same.
in some ways I agree. Asserting the right to an identity could actually be an act of power. Collectives create norms that can become as much of an imposition as the norms they aim to displace.
On the problem of collectives
It seems to me Teach_well’s argument is reminiscent of the Gramsci argument adopted by the radical right of politics and neo traditionalist bloggers who often seem to have similar political views despite ascribing very different labels to themselves.
The argument goes that the Marxist collective created the norm of the working classes. Without Marxism there would be no working classes. In effect, having established a working class identity the working classes lose the desire to aspire to be something more. They become normed as working class, which is an obstacle in itself. Marxism is guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectation. It is, I have to say, an impressively clever circular argument. Surprisingly so considering the kind of people who make it. Gramsci, the Marxist, morphs into Gramsci the hero of the radical right and neo-traditionalism.
Teach_Well seems to argue that in asserting her right to a feminist identity Sue Cowley is creating the very characteristics that have made women fail in a male dominated society. Women should adopt the traits that help women succeed in a male dominated society in order to be successful.
There is nothing wrong with this argument as far as it goes. Again I wonder whether the argument is a feminist one or just an adaption of the arguments of the radical right that to be working class, or to be a woman, is an act of submission that can only be resolved by adopting the ways of a cultural elite that happens to be male. Again it has overtones of Hirsch another darling of the radical right.
The bitter rambling of the scorned feminist
Invariably the radical right would characterise Sue Cowley’s position as the bitter ramblings of a feminist who hasn’t the grit and determination to succeed on her own merits:
Teach_well duly obliges:
What I really think is going on is that Sue is simply upset that she was not asked to serve on the behaviour panel. End of.
She is now waging a war of manipulation and desperate trying to taint those who want changes made to the current methods used and systems adopted. To call it sexist is a means of controlling the debate through other means.
The fact that the rest of the blog is an anti-progressive neo-traditionalist critique does little to counter the view that it is Teach_well who has hijacked feminist discourse to make a political argument.
By the end of the blog Teach_well has to re-construct the notion of a woman to be able to re-claim the feminist ground. And of course expose the essential straw man at the heart of the argument. Sue Cowley’s blog was not about gender based traits. It was about gender based discourse that is male dominated. A totally different argument altogether.
As for the men – feminism at its best was about freeing us all from a checklist of gender based traits that we had to adopt in order to be accepted.
Differences are real but they need not be exaggerated or used to peddle deterministic ideas of who we are as individual humans. Sexism is real, affects millions of women daily and to use it in this way demeans the very real problems women face.
In the end being a better person is far more important to me than being a better woman.
“Sexism is real” and women face real problems but it is far better to be a better person than a better women?
Again it seems to me to suggest that the only resolution to women’s issue is not to be a woman at all. Maybe so, who am I to say otherwise but I would say that gender is not only the means to oppress women but also the means by which women can take collective action..
Sue Cowley’s view that the re-emergence of gendered language is a step back in time seems like a classic feminist argument whether you agree with her or otherwise. Teach_well’s argument on the other hand is that women need to adopt the traits that are required to succeed in a male dominated society. Indeed she goes even further seeming to suggest that in fact the notion of a feminist identity is in itself a form of oppression.
I think it is that argument, which I fundamentally object to. By collapsing power relations and dismissing collective action it allows some to argue that it is those who seek to represent the dis-empowered that are responsible for creating the dis-empowered. It is an argument that makes more sense in education where an educated work force understands the issues but in many communities across the world the “man up, show some grit, we can be as good as men” arguments simply make no sense whatsoever.
I have tried to write an objective counter argument to a blog that was, in my view, quite personal. I hope I have achieved that. I have no wish to argue about it ad infinitum on twitter. if you wish to respond write a blog disagreeing with the arguments as opposed to commenting on the person arguing them..