Over the last couple of days, I’ve been musing on Feminism, as a Feminist and a Christian. Following Chimamanda Adichie’s faux pas to Hillary Clinton, and reading an exceptional take by a friend of mine on the subject, I’ve been challenged to address the validity and relevance of Feminism in society, and also the ways in which it is confusing things for everybody.
First of all, I keep coming across this confusion from Feminists and non-Feminists, and frankly, it’s shocking how widespread it is. It seems that people can no longer differentiate between SEX and GENDER. At times, I believe that the confusion is actually deliberate, caused by those who wish to destroy the social construction that is “Gender”.
Okay, I’ve said it now. Gender is a social construction. Sex is not! Feminism, the one I know, love, support and endorse is really about addressing SEXISM in the many ways that it is propagated in society, and that is also through the classification of gender.
Sex is a biology categorisation which identifies a person by their sexual organs. So, if your sex is male, you should have a penis. And if your sex is female, you should have a vagina. There’s no third sexual category, except for the acknowledgement that there is such a thing as a hermaphrodite (someone who is born with sexual organs from both male and female sexes). The rest of my discussion will focus on the two sexes identified.
Feminism doesn’t (or should I say, shouldn’t) seek to remove or invalidate this distinction between the male and female sexes, aka men and women. Feminism must recognise that there are biological differences between the sexes, and that these differences not only impact on our sexuality, but also on our emotions and behaviour, through the amazing phenomenon that is HORMONES. I believe it is from the observance of these physical, behavioural, habitual, emotional and mental differences between the male and female sexes that GENDER, as a SECONDARY distinction and categorisation between men and women, was adopted in society. And through socialisation and culture it has been propagated and sustained in society as a valid classification of the sexes.
Now, sexism is not a discrimination based on GENDER, but based on SEX! Let’s get it right! Gender categorisation has it’s problems, but Feminism is about eradicating SEXISM, which is the exaltation of one sex above the other, and the oppression of one sex by the other or society, through social constructs that propagate discrimination and abuse the differences between the sexes.
I can be a Feminist and APPRECIATE my Gender label, if it is working for me. If it is not working for me, then I can challenge the classification models of Gender, and influence the discourse around Gender without DENYING the inherent differences between the sexes. I can do this because while Gender is socially constructed and not fixed, SEX is fixed and definitely NOT a social construct that can be debated about!
The point of all this is to say there is no such thing as GENDER EQUALITY! Feminists fighting for Gender Equality are at best confused, or at worst, on another mission. There is, however, such a thing as EQUALITY OF THE SEXES, and this is what Feminism is really about. It’s about women – the female sex – having equal rights to vote, to work, to learn, to teach etc as men – the male sex.
No one should be hindered in their ability for personal, social, economic, political or even religious development because of their sex. No sex should assume superiority or power over the other, no matter if they are physically stronger or not! Such is an ABUSE and a disrespect to the humanity of the other. That is why CHILD ABUSE (which is really just AGE DISCRIMINATION) is a very valid problem addressed by Law.
The issue of child abuse throws in the issue of VULNERABILITY. This is another thing that makes child abuse distinct, because there is a case for treating children differently BECAUSE of their vulnerability. Vulnerability in the law is largely defined by AGE and not MATURITY, which is like the difference between SEX AND GENDER. Age is something that is not questionable. It is a fact. Maturity can be debated.
A twelve year old girl may feel mature enough to consent to sex, but the Law discriminates against her because of her AGE – due to the issue of vulnerability, which is assigned to her age. And it is according to this categorisation that child abuse is also defined. To protect the vulnerable members of society, an acceptable (some might say arbitary or culturally-limited) age is chosen as the cut off to determine if the child was able to give consent to an act of sexual intercourse. However, age of consent and vulnerability in human relationships ends with sexual abuse. When it comes to physical, emotional, psychological, mental, financial and spiritual abuse, no matter the age or sex, abuse is abuse.
So, going back to the Feminist discourse, vulnerability is also a factor in the discrimination between the sexes, and this is ascribed to GENDER. This is because men are generally physically stronger than women. So, their superiority in other areas has been assumed in times past, without giving women a chance to develop and compete for the same positions as men.
Through history, we can see that men have taken it upon themselves to be the protectors of women, due to this apparent vulnerability. And this is what makes the discourse on Feminism tricky. Because while some (I think MANY) women appreciate this respect and protection given by men, others do not. This is LARGELY because with the protection comes demoralisation, disrespect, disempowerment, over-protection, control and abuse, whether willful, coincidental or as a consequence.
The ability of a woman to stand alone, without the protection of a father or husband, has meant that women who do and have strove to are seen as deviants and rebels, and rather than respected as fellow humans, they are insulted and treated as prostitutes or commodities to be used and traded by men. So, if you were not under the protection of a man, who you are related to or married to, you become a property that can be owned/used/purchased by the nearest man! Hence, women were either daughters, wives, harlots or virgins, and ascribed respect accordingly.
So, the definition of Gender and gender roles is definitely relevant to the fight of Feminism. However, I see some benefits to this social construction that I wouldn’t want to eradicate it, but only ask that we continue to discuss it and develop our definitions and expectations. If we cannot agree on a global gender classification, we can each assume our own, accepting what we appreciate and rejecting what we do not. In every home, we can make up our own rules, if we have already conquered the monster of SEXISM.
I fear that at the rate the Feminist movement is going, Gender and other social constructs like romance, chastity and even the family will be done away with. Even SEX as a biological distinction has been undermined through the growing practice of sex changes. It is coming to that point where to identify with a certain sex will be seen as an oppression to the other, rather than an ACCEPTANCE, RESPECT and APPRECIATION of your own!
Though I am a Feminist, I recognise my VULNERABILITY as a female, I accept my DIFFERENCE from men, and I LOVE my individuality, which values my femininity – a Gender construction. Being a Feminist to me means that I should be valued equally with a man (all other things being equal), I should be given the same opportunities and not discriminated because of my sex and I should be respected for the DISTINCT qualities I possess as a woman, in my ability to conceive, give birth to and nurse a child. I shouldn’t be forced nor compelled to deny my abilities or traits in other to DESERVE respect and equality with my fellow men.
So, that’s why I also have a problem with what Chimamanda said to Hillary. Many Feminists undermine these traits, abilities, responsibilities and relationships we have that make us HUMAN first, and women second. A woman has every right to desire to be a wife and to hold it as the highest honour or calling, just as a woman has the right to desire presidency as her highest honour and calling. Telling women what they should strive to achieve and value is DEFINITELY NOT what Feminism is about.
I have more to say on this, so expect a PART TWO 🙂
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