How International Women’s Day is a Synecdoche for Misunderstandings of Feminism
So, in response to International Women’s Day, a bunch of people on teh twitterz have been asking “When is International Men’s Day?”
It’s November 19th.
And, according to its Wikipedia article, it actually looks pretty cool. Some of its explicitly stated goals are to “improve gender relations and promote gender equality,” and to “promote positive aspects of male identity based on the premise that ‘males of all ages respond more energetically to positive role models than they do to negative gender stereotyping.’”
So, ok great — so, men get a day, which seems like it has loftier purposes than compounding internet-induced incel rage. So, no problem, right?
But wait! No one actually celebrates international mens’ day! It generally just passes unnoticed, unlike international women’s day!
I saw this complaint on my facebook wall, and my favorite response to it — which I can’t find to quote right now — basically went “There are no celebrations on International Men’s day because men don’t arrange anything. Or, are women expected to organize that too?”
Like… women are generally the ones going out and making an effort to do shit on International Women’s Day. If men want to celebrate International Men’s Day, we’re not going to stop you. And, even if some women get weird about it, it’s not like some men aren’t getting weird about International Women’s Day. Seriously, dudes, stop whining and get your shit together.
One of my deepest frustrations, like, in life right now is that women and feminists get blamed for oppressive institutions that are actually based in patriarchy. Like… part of the reason it’s hard to generate enough enthusiasm to celebrate International Men’s Day is that men are shamed for taking on roles that are caring and nurturing. It is seen as a female role to nurture and care for men, so men who nurture and care for each other are seen as “un-masculine,” which places social limits on the men who may want to plan International Mens’ Day celebrations. Relatedly, where patriarchy explicitly plays into this, is that nurturing roles are seen as lower status — because they are feminine — so men who are willing to publicly care for and mentor other men risk being publicly shamed and losing status. Women don’t risk as much taking on feminine roles because we’re already seen as lower status than men, so fuck it, we can do what we want. Men can “lead” and “command,” but “mutually celebrate?” That is some girl shit.
Except it shouldn’t be, so men, get your radical MRA on and mutually celebrate each other.
Another area where this has resurfaced in my life is that many people have recently expressed that “feminists shame housewives.”
No we don’t.
The entire fucking feminist movement was founded by housewives. Think about it for a second; one of the major accomplishments of the feminist movement was making it socially acceptable for women to enter the workforce. This means that, the women who initially founded the movement weren’t working.
So what were they doing? Mostly, raising children. Not all of them, but a large percentage of early feminists were housewives for the simple reason that most women were housewives back in the day. Do you think these women thought they were wasting their lives? Do you think they believed their work was unimportant?
Not at all! In fact, one of the early feminist goals wasn’t to stop women from being housewives, but to raise the social status of the typical housewife.
So… who was it exactly who was devaluing the work of housewives? Who believed the work that women did in the domestic sphere was less important than the the work men did, and that women should be restricted from important public work because of this?
Hint: it wasn’t women.
One of the most frustrating things, is I’ve heard multiple men moan about how “feminists” degrade housewives, and I have never heard a single feminist degrade a housewife. I’m sure it happens, but I’ve never met a feminist who thought this, and I’ve met a lot of feminists. Most feminists I know say their goal is “to give women the choice to be, or not to be, a housewife.”
Not that there isn’t some truth to the fact that many housewives feel shame about their role, unfair and unjustified shame, but it isn’t feminists causing this shame. It is the continuation of patriarchal institutions. It is actually the fact that we don’t have enough feminism that women feel shame about being housewives, not that we have too much.
If you get a few drinks in me, I’ll start shouting about taking down the capitalist patriarchy (with a bit of luck, in front of a few male investors at an office party) but my sober self is slightly more nuanced around the functions of capitalism.
When I shout “fuck capitalism!” it’s not that I don’t think capitalism ever has a place. I believe it to be an efficient system for encouraging innovation, and I believe it to be a functional basis for certain types of economies. What I object to, is the internalization of the morality of capitalism. Or, phrased another way, I object to the way people feel like they are “better” or “more important” people if they have more money, usually in ways that are implicit and escape conscious recognition, and how more money generally leads to higher social status.
This plays into feminism because historically women’s work has not been paid so they were not able to earn social status through money, like men were. And, housewives still aren’t paid, and so they still lack social status. But, it’s not the feminists who are shaming housewives; it’s the capitalists.
On the flip side, the quickest way for women to gain social status in a capitalist system was to start working. So, yes, many feminists do work — I’d daresay, most women work nowadays, and yes— for women — entering the workforce was likely the biggest step forward in gender equality since getting the vote. However, it was not because “feminists were forcing women to act like men” but because capitalism disregards the historical unpaid work of women as unimportant that women chose to start working.
And, we’re suffering for it. Simply stated, no one is taking care of shit. No one is taking care of the environment, and we’re about to boil the atmosphere. No one is taking care of raising children, and they’re getting AK-47s and shooting up schools. The work women have historically done was very important and completely undervalued, usually by men.
And why is that? What is at the heart of men undervaluing female work?
I think, it’s because men believe they have to be better than women in order to attract them, and that belief is rooted in patriarchy. There is a paradoxical counter-belief, at the heart of patriarchy, that women have more innate value than men. The corresponding reaction to that belief is that men have to accomplish more to be worthy of women. I believe the basis of this belief to be patriarchal because it is generally straight men who appreciate the “innate worth” of women, and the “functional worth” of other men. A straight woman would be less inclined to see another woman as “innately useful” the same way a man would, cuz they can’t make babies together. (Not yet, at least.)
Anyway, when women start accomplishing things for themselves, this lands as deeply threatening for men who want to partner with them. If a man and a woman are similarly accomplished, it will seem like that man is “not worthy” of his female peer, because her innate value is (societally) seen to be higher than his. So, if women achieve equality, there is an implicit fear that they “will no longer need men” and men will become “obsolete” or something, which is bullshit, but an anxiety I hear men articulate from time to time.
Of course, this is all stupid because women do not have higher innate worth than men. Men’s health and lives are just as valuable than women’s, but deep down, most people don’t really believe this is true. A simple example of this belief is the truism “women are better looking than men.” I’ve heard so many people, both male and female, say this — that women are just more aesthetically pleasing.
Like… this just patently cannot be true, given that beauty is in the “eye of the beholder” and as many people are attracted to men as are attracted to women. What I think happened, was most artists happened to be straight guys, and they painted the fuck out of the female form — but the major appreciators of male beauty (straight women and gay men) were too oppressed to create as many similar artistic expressions about male beauty. It is notable because — cosmetics not withstanding — beauty is generally something that is granted by genetics and not earned with accomplishment. Our societal “belief” that women are, somehow, more objectively beautiful than men is an expression of our societal belief that they have more innate worth.
So — here is an articulated double bind. Historically, women have been seen as having more innate worth, but their agency is limited, as is their ability to improve their social condition. Men are seen to have less innate worth, but are able to ascend to higher social positions if they work enough. Who has a “better deal” is a subject of debate, and probably depends on your temperament, but for the record I hate lacking agency so I know what I’d pick if given a choice. But, you know, grass is always greener…
Anyway, deep down, as far as I can tell, men generally feel like they are playing catch up with women, and it suckkkkkkks cuz this belief is the heart of the force that opposes female ascension. So, men, go celebrate International Men’s Day guilt free, and have yourself a jolly good time appreciating your innate worth. Just don’t make us organize it for you.