So which is it; is feminism dead or alive, and who is it for?
FEMINISM FOR MEN AND WOMENSimone de Beauvoir answered these questions 63 years ago in her book The Second Sex. Beauvoir wrote that feminism is necessary for men and women; everyone is oppressed by our current system, just in very different ways.
To be clear, not all feminism can be boiled down to Beauvoir. She is but one of many influential feminists and I'm using her to make my point. Someone else could use Foucalt, Butler, Irigaray, Harraway, and so forth and make the case for feminism in a very different way.
Beauvoir believed that people of the female sex are made into "women" and that this is to our detriment. She explained that young girls are forced to wear dresses they can't move in, not allowed to climb trees, forbidden to fight and learn to defend themselves like their male peers do, encouraged to play with dolls, told that they should be married and be a mother, and taught to cook and clean. The upbringing of a girl makes her into a defenceless home keeper, or even worse a working mom who does the 9-5 job then comes home to cook and clean. This is further emphasized in her adult life when she is encouraged to become a mother and wear clothes that keep her defenceless (try running as successfully in a ball gown and heels as a man in his suit!). Beauvoir argues that boys are raised to be humans that work towards their goals whereas girls are raised to be parasites. We can see this clearly in her quote on page 749:
“Women are “clinging,” they are a dead weight, and they suffer for it; the point is that their situation is like that of a parasite sucking the living strength of another organism. Let them be provided with the living strength of their own, let them have the means to attack the world and wrest from it their own subsistence, and their dependence will be abolished – that of man also. There is no doubt that both men and women will profit greatly from the new situation.”
Ultimately, Beauvoir argues, there is nothing wrong with "women" naturally but the problem lies in how we are raised by our society to be women. If we raise girls to be human beings that can defend themselves and have actual choices then women will be able to be independent and men will be free of the parasite we've been trained to be.
So, according to Beauvoir, all we need to do is raise girls differently and give them choices. This is where it gets tricky. Antifeminists believe women have enough or too many choices. Feminists believe that although women have come a long way, we really don't have many choices. What seems to be choice is, if you look closer, not a choice at all.
WOMEN DON'T HAVE CHOICE
“The girl's choice is usually quite limited; and it could not be really free unless she felt free also not to marry.” Simone de Beauvoir "The Second Sex", p 433Beauvoir and I would similarly argue that the choice women are said to have is an illusion. In many areas of their life, women are not able to say no. Thus, they are not free and have no choice. While they could physically say no, saying no comes with consequences that can range from stigma to physical assault. When there is any negative consequence that comes from saying no, saying no is not a free choice. I will illustrate this with several examples and personal experiences.
Having Children: Since women can have children, it is often assumed that it is their biological destiny to procreate. Even with obvious problems of overpopulation, women are still expected to become pregnant and have their own children. This is so pervasive that women who don't want children are seen as abnormal. I have known since grade 5 that I would never have human children. I have received a range of responses including: "You'll change your mind.", "You'll regret it if you don't.", "Don't you want to be a grandparent?", "What if your husband wants them?", and "Who will take care of you when you get old?". All of these responses assume that the person talking to me knows more about my body than I do, which is funny, as I've had it for 21 years thank you very much. It also assigns a stigma that would not exist if I had children at the appropriate age with the appropriate person. There is no choice, only societal hell to pay if I want to fight to keep my body child free.
Getting Married: In high school I decided that I'd never meet the right guy and never get married. Even though I have, we're still not getting married because I disagree with the institution of marriage. This results in the stigmatized questions of: "Don't you want to buy a wedding dress?", "But he'll always be your boyfriend.", "Don't you want a big wedding?", "What about a wedding ring?", and "You'll regret it." Once again, this is not a choice. There are clearly values assigned to one side over the other. If it were a choice, no one would have any say or comment on what I did with my future.
Having Sex: There is a remarkably appropriate amount of sex to have, which I think is ridiculous. If someone thinks you have too little, you get responses like I do such as "Your boyfriend will leave you" and "I feel sorry for your boyfriend" (both of these came from people very very close to me). If you have too much, you're a slut. The reason this occurs is because women are expected to have a certain amount of sex. Too little and we're not fulfilling our "biological role" as women. Too much and we're spoiled goods, which is ridiculous considering women are not property! The idea of the slut is a herald back to a time when women were property and men didn't want to share. We're no longer property under the law, but we still are when it comes to sex. When we can specify any amount of partners we want without any shame, then it will be a choice we make as free individuals.
Shaving: Like your grass lawn, women are expected to be shaved. There are a lot of good reasons not to shave. Some of them include: not looking like a prepubescent girl and because it grows back so it's a waste of your very important time (read a book instead!). I shave every once in a while because of the awful stigma that comes from not shaving. Clementine Cannibal, an amazing person I was lucky enough to have a class with, tells a story on her blog about being beaten up at a show because she didn't shave her armpits. We have no choice in this matter, it's shave or get ready to defend yourself. That is not the choice of a free individual.
Wearing a bra: Women have breasts and are thus expected to wear bras, even if they are uncomfortable for some of us. The amount of stares or indecent comments a women can get simply because she is not wearing a bra is surprising. I remember a friend once called my professor a "hippie" and was disgusted that she wasn't wearing a bra. This brilliant woman with her PhD in a field I could never even get through because it would take so much math had suddenly become nothing more important than a woman without a bra. Every accomplishment in her life was reduced to nothing because she failed to put on a bra that day. It is not a choice.
There are countless examples of women not having a choice when society claims that we do. The "choice" we have is really only one option that society values and we must face the wrath of society if we do not pick it. Women should be free to look however we want, sleep with whoever we want, and do whatever we want, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else in the process. Until we can, we still need feminism. Men need it too. We know they are not free either.