What Feminism Gets Wrong: The Antidote To Patriarchy Is Humanism
I have been thinking about modern feminism over the last few months and have finally found the time to write my thoughts down. It all started when I watched the movie Trainwreck. It’s a pretty good film, written by and starring Amy Schumer, who is paving the way for unconventional female leads with her über honest and raw brand of comedy.
There are many things I like about the movie. I like that the female lead character is the one that is afraid of commitment. I like that she drinks and swears and smokes weed. I like that she doesn’t have to play nice all the time. I think this is realistic and therefore refreshing compared to the formulaic movies that entrench gender stereotypes, especially the ones about women needing to be sweet and nice and pretty and the ones that position men as wild, sexualized creatures that need to be domesticated.
But there is something that I don’t like about the movie. I have a problem with the way her character treats men like sexual objects. I realized half way through the film that I felt uncomfortable with her relationships (if you can even call them that) because of the way her interactions were comparable to male characters’ in more conventional media depictions.
You see the thing is, I have a gripe with modern feminism on this front. I am all for equality of the sexes but I feel like the way this is often articulated, at least in mainstream media, is that women should be “allowed” to behave as men do. From this standpoint, equality of the sexes for modern feminism, is about women treating men like sexual objects, exhibiting dominating behaviour in the workplace and in other relationships, and generally being aggressive.
But is this really what feminism should be promoting? Don’t get me wrong. I believe that women have the right to fuck and fuck over whoever they want. We are all human and therefore capable of aggressive and sexualized behaviour. And I believe we have equal capacities for both. But how does this elevate us as a gender? And for that matter, how does that elevate us as a species? In my mind it is not worth being equal to men if that means equal to the appalling lowly behaviours promoted through patriarchy.
Patriarchy has far-reaching consequences for men and women. While women have been oppressed and silenced for millennia, men have been forced into narrowly defined roles in society. Patriarchy is extremely limiting. And the dog-eat-dog mentality of capitalism compliments it nicely. The behaviours that are valued and rewarded are ones that are generated out of greed and a desire for power, domination and control. If we as feminists feel we have succeeded in establishing equality because we have the freedom to behave in this way, then I am afraid I do not want any part of that success.
I don’t want to be a part of a feminist movement that believes that women are more powerful if they treat men like objects, or choose to dominate and control others through sex and aggression. Patriarchy has set that model up nicely and we can all see that it has failed. It fails women and it fails men.
So, my hope is that we can find a way of articulating our feminine strength and the essence of femaleness in a way that radically changes the game. But when I ask myself what this new kind of a ‘matriarchal feminism’ would look like I get stuck again. I know that feminism is all about bringing women’s rights into focus and I think we have done well so far. We cannot deny that we are in possession of increasing social agency. But we need to be careful here. Just because we have power doesn’t mean we should feel that we now have to be the dominant sex. That is playing the game according to the rules of patriarchy. And a matriarchy or any kind of feminism that tries to be a dominant ideology is doing the same.
Instead, I would like to propose that it is in fact the opposite of patriarchy that is required. Where patriarchy treats human beings like objects, we should promote humanity and humanism. If we are going to change the way men and women interact, it is not going to be through a reversal of the partriarchal dynamic in which women dominate men. We as women (and feminist men) need to help teach others and nurture human relationships so that these crude, animalistic games of domination can be eradicated.
To this end we need to keep in mind that all human beings are whole persons with feelings, thoughts, imaginations, desires, and beliefs. Whether we’re dealing with men or women or any other manifestation of a person, the common thread that joins us all is our humanity. Patriarchy and feminism has been divisive in that both these systems continue to separate out the genders and give power to one or the other in a way that maintains the status quo.
I am saying this as someone who participates and is complicit in both. I also feel that the feminist movement is totally essential to the liberation of women and I believe wholeheartedly in equality. But women, once liberated, need to make a choice. We can carry on asserting ourselves but we need to be careful when assertion turns into aggression. There is a reason why this is so tempting. It’s the same reason why the patriarchy exists. Human beings are vulnerable creatures. Vulnerable to feeling powerless and vulnerable to feeling powerful. Both states can lead to behaviours that remove us from our humanity.
If we can see that all of us – no matter our gender – are vulnerable in the same ways and can be corrupted in the same ways then we can understand why such games of domination and control are never going to be the answer.
We have to find ways to see the common humanity within all of us. We need to learn to share, to love, and to honour our capacity for tenderness and empathy rather than aggression and domination. Patriarchy has robbed us of our vulnerability and what has been lost is the acknowledgement that all humans feel the same range of emotions and are vulnerable in the same ways. Let us try and be conscious as human beings so that we focus not on what seperates us but rather on what unites us. Let us allow the other to reflect that which we are most frightened of in ourselves and lets heal the world through love, kindness and acceptance.