This week, the Harvey Weinstein scandal made headlines; prompting discussions about male power and feminism in Hollywood. Of course, the issue is much broader than just Weinstein, as abuse of power by any person in a position of authority comes as no surprise. But what is it specifically about sexual harassment that stokes the fire of the feminist debate?
For me, feminism has always felt like shaky ground. I know that by definition I live in a radically feminist society. I am ‘allowed’ to do things whereas women elsewhere in the world do not have the same luxuries or freedom that I am afforded. Even the expression of my opinions in this blog – of free speech – is something women in parts of the world have no legal right to do. It is this realisation that makes me dislike the label of feminism. How can we predominately and continually focus our fight for equal gender rights in our civilised, privileged and western context when other women cannot even leave their house without their husband accompaying them? The cherry-picking of the fight is my main bug-bear with it, whereas my second bug-bear has to do with so-called ‘movements’ behind such social issues.
For example, in addition to feminism, we also have LGBTQ and black lives matter movements. When we march in the name of these movements, we constantly reinforce the presuppositions behind their cause. With feminism, one might ask “Why are we fighting for women’s rights?” and the answer will be “Because women are the second sex in society”. The same is true when we fight in the name of same-sex marriage or racial equality. “Why are we fighting for same-sex marriage?” “Because love between two people of the same gender is seen as inferior”, and “Why are we fighting for black rights?” “Because black people are seen as inferior to other skin tones”.
We are, despite our efforts in fighting for the good in these movements, paradoxically reinforcing the negative label that the very cause wishes to eradicate. A great example of this is Morgan Freeman’s view on racism where he says we can solve the problem of racism when we stop talking about it. When we talk about feminism, gay rights and black rights, the movements become self-perpetuating and end up causing more harm than good. Our discussion and promotion of them reinforces that they are ‘not normal’ or somehow ‘not belonging’. Yet even our interpretation of these movements as social issues varies depending on who you talk to.
This is not to say that such movements are not without some degree of merit. Even in Australia at the moment we are voting on same-sex marriage. My point is that if we didn’t think there were anything wrong with same-sex relationships in the first place, then we wouldn’t be in the position we are in now – spending millions of dollars deciding if two people of the same gender have the same legal rights to love one another as heterosexual couples do. The foundational argument, however, is itself preposterous as we created a same-sex movement based on something that always had a false premise to begin with. Who decided that love should only exist between a man and a woman? Who decided that gender and sexuality go hand-in-hand? We as a society make up the rules we abide by, and then we act surprised that such rules exist. Feminism is no different.
The problem with feminism
I remember in the coursework of my Honours, some seven years ago when I was just 20 years old, a girl in my class was telling the room what she wanted to do for her research. She had the idea of using feminist theory to assess why one of the leading experts of female characters in fantasy fiction was male, and why there were more male authors of fantasy fiction than there were female authors.
I find it curious which memories in life stick, and one for me is that I can still remember the look of sheer horror, and outright disgust, in this girl’s eyes when I naively and ignorantly said “So what”? after she told us of her research interest. I might have even said something along the lines of “Isn’t that like the age-old joke that a male gynecologist is like a mechanic who never owned a car?”
I guess both me and the girl each had a point. For her, she rightly questioned how a man could be considered an expert about a gender he has never himself experienced, nor ever will. Whereas my bug-bear was that the man was an expert on the depiction of a gender that was predominately, in fantasy fiction, written by men anyway. How women were portrayed in those books said more about the male authors who had created them than it did to say anything about the role of actual woman.
The issue I had with my classmate was that if the world’s leading penis surgeon was female, we would be celebrating how far feminism and equal rights had come. The false belief that we can cherry-pick gender equality to suit our desires is the very problem with the movement. In June this year, for example, I watched the documentary The Red Pill which is about the men’s rights movement in the US. I saw the film advertised on the Australian talk show The Project and watched the film after being baffled by the rude treatment of the panel towards the filmmaker, Cassie Jaye. The panel was essentially calling Jaye anti-feminist and against women for making such a film.
Interestingly, the movie’s namesake is after the Matrix when Neo is presented with taking either the red or blue pill – taking the red pill will allow him to see the truth of the world he lives in. Ironically, The Matrix is written by The Wachowskis – transwomen ‘brothers’. Filmmaker Jaye decided to go where no feminist had gone before and meet the men from the men’s rights movement. After meeting the men, Cassie could no longer call herself a feminist. Men were facing just as many issues as women and sometimes, as is the case with the rate of male suicide, even more dire consequences from their suffering. One of the men even points out that the rise of societies, in the history of mankind, has been the result of men who fought and died in war – men seen as disposable objects.
For me, what the movie points out is that we only know the suffering of women because we know the suffering of men, and vice versa. The two find meaning in their so-called opposition. To quantify the suffering of one gender over the other gender not only propagates the assumption that the two are disparate, but will also constantly reinforce their non-unity. The best quote from this film was the feminist man who said, “Don’t confuse sufferance with oppression. Everyone suffers. It’s Universal”. To exist is to suffer. The Matrix analogy, as depicted in the film itself, is accurate for the need of raising your level of consciousness in order to realise the point and purpose of such suffering.
However, why is it that men commit more murder, mass shootings, wage war, and always hold more power – both in business and politics – than their female counterparts? Is it something to do with the male gene, or have women simply never been given the same opportunities in life as men have been given? I thought about this in relation to the Harvey Weinstein case.
Male abuse of power versus the role of women
Many celebrities have come forward and spoken about the Weinstein scandal. One such celebrity is Emma Thompson. In her interview with BBC, Thompson claims:
Speak to women over the age of 15 and they will all have a story to tell you about some kind of harassment.
Unfortunately, this statement speaks volumes of truth. In my life, and predominately in my career, I have far too many stories to share. For example:
- When I was 8 a man tried to abduct me/take me into his car when I was out cycling in my neighborhood.
- In two separate jobs I’ve had male colleagues send me (of course, unsolicited) porn via internal mail.
- In one job a male colleague followed me into the lift, pressed the emergency stop button, and pinned me to the back wall.
- In another job, on a selection panel, one of the males on the panel cornered me and got angry when I declined a dinner and movie date with him and his daughter.
- In another job, I was wearing a bandage on my wrist, and my male Director asked if I had gotten a new boyfriend.
- In one social setting, I was on the verge of calling the police to help with a so-called friend who would not take ‘no’ for answer when he was in my house as a guest.
I have girlfriends who have been raped, and many more who have had to put restraining orders against their abusive partners. Even in my current academic context – the world of science, business and technology predominately at the hands of man – I have felt uneasy from the amount of ‘man-splaining’ imposed on women and not men, and the somewhat promotion of a segregation between genders. The media rhetoric for the Weinstein case is bashing women for ‘not speaking up’ sooner. Strangely, little attention has been focused on addressing the source of the problem (the men). The focus tends to remain on the female victims.
For example, this week saw the #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign polarize women about the Weinstein scandal. The idea behind the hashtag was for women, and men, to take a stance that women should not feel ashamed or fearful in speaking up and out against male misconduct. The outcome of the campaign, however, saw many women criticise one another because the campaign promoted the very thing feminists were fighting for – not silencing female voices. This goes back to my earlier point where movements tend to negatively reinforce the very thing they are wanting to positively change.
In terms of feminism and this particular hashtag, the division of women seems to be quite common. I have heard the expression “women hate women” many times throughout my life. Female feminists often struggle in understanding women who work in the adult film industry, or women who use their sexuality for their benefit, such as Hooters waiters or cheerleaders, and let’s not forget the women who supposedly marry men for their money. I am definitely not saying all women are this way, nor am I blaming all men or the male gender for abuses against women, but is part of the problem with some men in society something to do with the lack of unity among women?
In Bonobo monkey tribes, for example, the female monkeys hold all the power. The female sisterhood and unity with one another has been shown to suppress male aggression and testosterone-based outcomes. In these tribes, levels of violence are minimal and a sense of community is high because of female camaraderie. A great article about these monkeys can be read in “Bonobos Use the Power of Female Friendship to Overthrow Male Hierarchy“.
This suggests that as female Bonobos unite with one another, the same could be true for human beings – not only among women but also with men as well. Why aren’t the ‘good men’ keeping the ‘bad men’ in-check, and why do women not support other women despite not agreeing with their lifestyle choices? But where does this blame game stop? If we keep blaming and pointing fingers, we never get anywhere.