To begin with, one could ask, “did we ever need feminism?” And the answer to that, I believe, is yes. Women did not have the right to vote. They could not hold jobs. They did not even own their own bodies, their husbands could legally rape and beat them. Saying that we should not have focused on these atrocities–that they should have instead talked about how men and women should not be forced to conform to gender norms–is ignoring the historical reality that created the feminist movement.
It’s like saying that we don’t need a gay rights movement, we need a human rights movement. It’s like saying that we don’t need to discuss systemic forms of child abuse, we need to discuss the abuse of all people. Where do such conversations leave us?
Ultimately, they leave us with nothing to say.
Of course, I would be equally concerned if a wife was beating and raping her husband; however, I am inclined to think that the culture and context surrounding these events would be very different, as the way that our culture perceives sex and gender is very different. In short, they require two different conversations.
And since I am being honest, you know what I think? I think that it is utter bull crap that 99.9% of the conversations that we have are only about *human* rights and ignore the innate worth of all other organisms; however, I simultaneously recognize the value of the conversation that is taking place about women, children, minorities, etc. Of course we need to discuss women’s rights and men’s right and so on. I just wish we talked about non-human rights more often. But since I recognize the value of the other conversations, I would never step in to a conversation about the systemic bigotry faced by, say, trans individuals and assert, “No. Stop. We need to talk about the rights of all organisms.”
How can we possibly address the very specific forms of prejudice and bigotry that individuals face if we are only looking at it as if “humans” or “organisms” are being oppressed? We can’t. When LGBTQ people are accosted, it is not because they are human, it is because they are LGBTQ. The same for women. The same for men. Consequently, the conversations that we need to be having are about how to best address rights in relation to specific individuals. Derailing these conversations—trying to shift the focus onto another group that has a very different experience and set of problems to face—is unproductive and does not bring us any closer to solving these issues. Rather, as I already said, it leaves us with nothing to say.
Case in point: Female genital mutilation is committed as a way of controlling women’s sexuality and asserting dominance. Male genital mutilation (circumcision, I assume) stems from very early attempts (around 15,000 years ago) to lessen the effects of certain STDs. In the present day, it is a religious practice used to symbolize one’s connection to their god and the American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that the benefits to health far outweigh the risks. How can we possibly address both instances simply by saying “genital mutilation is bad?” How can we address the cultural imperialism that either does or does not impact the former? Moreover, how do we actually stop these practices? Ultimately, the answer to that last question differs greatly depending on whether you are talking about males or females.
The main points:
- If every conversation attempted to address the rights violations suffered by all individuals, then the conversation would never get anywhere.
- We need a number of different conversations to take place in society, and they are.
- Just because I care about non-human rights doesn’t mean I have to fight with people who are discussing LGBTQ rights.
I suppose one could assert that such an outlook (focusing on all humans or organisms) encourages people to recognize the innate worth of all things. But this is not a utopia. Recognizing the innate worth of all living creatures and actually addressing systemic issues are two very different things.