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Matthieu Miossec

Doctoral Student - Genetic Medecine (Congenital Heart Disease),


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Our modern societies still need feminism

It is undeniable that the great feminist movements of the 20th century have come and gone and have left in their wake an impressive shift towards gender equality. But has it been enough? Are we really there yet or does the 21st century need to see more feminist movements in order to see gender equality become a tried and true facet of our societies.

Let's hear some arguments for or against the current proposition "Our modern societies still need feminism". Let's also hear arguments for what would and what wouldn't be appropriate for a 21st century feminism.


Closing Statement from Matthieu Miossec

Whether we agree that our modern societies still need feminism or not, it is clear that the issue is still a hot topic. I greatly encourage everyone to read some of the exchanges of this debate, particularly those which include Andrea Grazzini Walstrom's insight.

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    Jul 4 2011: Considering the fact that women have been oppressed in this world for ages, we do need feminism in this century. But once we think we have attained gender equality, we must ditch feminism. As Mr. Walker pointed out the need for feminism is more in some countries than others.
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      Jul 4 2011: The idea that "women have been oppressed for ages" is a popular myth in the realm of sexism that is not supported by history at all.

      First, social class has always been much more important than the location of one's genitals. So one could just as well say that "men have been oppressed for ages by women". That would be absolutely correct and yet highly misleading, because there were also women oppressing women, and men oppressing men. It would probably be much more accurate to say that "Short people have been oppressed by tall people for ages", assuming a connection between to nutrition, wealth and power. If we only possessed that population data over the millenia, I wouldn't be suprised to find a much higher correlation between power and body height than between power and sex.

      Second, there were times when women enjoyed even more freedom and acceptance than they do nowadays. Today, most people fanatically defend the belief that females are significantly inferior in physical regards. You wouldn't expect this belief to have been much weaker in the far past, let alone the so-called "Dark Ages", right? And yet, this was the case. For economic and social reasons, female family members of a socially superior had more rights and duties than men of lower classes. Nowadays however I have a hard time to find a person who can merely *imagine* a woman working as a blacksmith. And even in the rare cases where I succeed I am told that such women must be fugly butches.

      Human progress isn't linear, and the motivations for irrational discriminations have never faded. Therefore, one has to pay attention that one doesn't make the mistake of generalizing and overstating the role of sex when criticizing the mistake of generalizing and overstating the role of sex...
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        Jul 4 2011: I do agree with you saying " men have been oppressed by men, women have been oppressed by women and all such combinations with different abilities" but your statement " "women have been oppressed for ages" is a popular myth"" is making the entire issue trivial. I do not know where you come from, coming from a third world country, I have seen how women have been treated over the years. I can say that in my own family while my father supported me till I got my Ph.D., when my sister was asked to get married when she was only 20. We both were toppers when we graduated from senior high school, yet my sister is looking after her family now and I enjoy all the privileges America provides. I am not saying my sister is not happy, but I do feel that she has the potential to contribute to the society other than just being a good wife and mother.

        Yes, you are right in saying there are times women enjoyed freedom, but what percentage of women have? I still believe that it is not an overstatement to say " Women have been oppressed for ages".
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          Jul 4 2011: "Yes, you are right in saying there are times women enjoyed freedom, but what percentage of women have?"

          What percentage of men have? How many males in the history of mankind were kings, and how many of them were peasants? I agree, it is correct to state that women have been oppressed for ages. Just as it is correct to state that men have been oppressed for ages. Furthermore, it is even correct to state that men have been oppressed *by women* for ages. However, it is completely wrong to derive the equation "Womanity = Wrongdoers, Manity = Victims" from that. And the same applies to reversed roles. Which is always intended with that statement, according to my experience. Or do you know of any other reason for such an unjustified generalization? No doubt there are strong incentives to to create such broad categories, crossing the borders of space and class and time, often transcending oneself into them. That is a common technique found in religious and political ideologies. But it isn't supported by the facts.

          On a related note, such generalizations are made in many other fields as well. Since you mentioned Third-World-Countries, Hans Rosling has to say one thing or two about that: http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen.html .

          I don't deny that there is actual sexism in the present as well as in history; I even acknowledge that it also occurs against males. But that doesn't mean that sex is the defining characteristic in general. Social class is much more important than the sex, back then as well as now, and therefore women have been oppressed as well as oppressors. Provided we want to stick to this dichotomy at all. In my opinion, a more accurate way to view society is to recognize that (almost) everyone has people above and below oneself. And that one doesn't try everything to abolish the differences to those beneath one...does that make one an oppressor? Then we are all oppressors, I believe.
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          Jul 5 2011: Ray,

          I think you need to support your claims that men are oppressed by women. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. But you need to hold yourself to the standard you are holding Kiran to. What's your evidence?

          I'd further say there is quite a difference between economic and gender bias. Ie: a peasant oppressed by a king vs. a woman oppressed by her culture, religion, employer, etc.

          I'm unaware of a quantifiably representative time when woman prevailed as the gender-oppressing hierarchy. Notably, those societies like First Nation (aka Native American) cultures where feminine-strengths have been perceived as a good thing, have comparatively little gender-based bias one way or the other.

          But civilization has throughout the centuries been ruled by economic models. ie: Money has long equalled power. It is the rare society, if any, in history where women have ruled through economic power in any meaningfully sustained and socially prevailing way.

          Indeed, in the US, women PhDs and MDs with the same academic credentials, equal or better outcomes and sometimes more hours on the job, are paid less than their male colleagues. There is good evidence these pay inequities correlate to other sectors. Pay disparities have scarcely budged in decades.

          All this said, I believe the most critical way to change sexism is to understand how both sides both lose and win when evolutionary adjustments are attempted.

          Feminism has critically improved culture. Still, it has contributed to unintended impacts which due to complicated translations of its ideals have undermined some parts of it, too.

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          Jul 5 2011: You still stick to the fallacy of viewing the sex as the relevant characteristic from the beginning. That's nothing less than starting with a conclusion. It's impossible to refute that. Any argument, any observation that is based on that unjustified premise will only confirm it or not confirm it. But it will never be able to falsify it. In terms of epistemology, it's the dogmatic answer to the M√ľnchhausen Trilemma. Or the Creationist Method, as I call it after this caricature: http://blog.cagle.com/2011/02/creationist-method/ .

          For comparison, you could just as well argue that Christian societies have always been more peaceful than any other, that they have never been violent or oppressing, that all their characteristics we consider to be good nowadays prove the glory of Christianity beyond doubt. Those actions which are morally wrong by today's standards? Economic, cultural, political reasons, everything but religious. And if the responsibility is undeniable, then the "interpretations" of the ideals have sometimes been unfortunate, with the "real" Christianity nonetheless being holy and just all the time.

          No amount of historical evidence - of which there is plenty - can refute this claimed superiority and benevolence of Christianity, because that position is already constructed unfalsifiably. One could also say fallaciously. So those who reject fallacies consider it refuted because of that already, and those who don't reject fallacies won't ever see the necessity to consider it refuted. No constructive discussion possible, sorry.
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        Jul 4 2011: Answering your question "How many males in the history of mankind were kings" , I do not think I am wrong in saying more than 95% of rulers are men. I agree to your point that social class is more important/equally important than/as sex. But even in the lower social class, lower class women have been oppressed by lower class men. You can not compare higher class women with lower class men (I see you are scientist, it is not appropriate control).

        I totally agree with you in saying " every one has people above and below oneself ". But as you see if the median of one sect is much lower than the other the other, then one must think about it and try to do some thing about it. In this case, we are talking about feminism, but same holds true for races that have been oppressed or untouchable casts in case of India, you can find many such examples.
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          Jul 4 2011: "You can not compare higher class women with lower class men"

          Of course I can. In fact, I even must. It would be willful ignorance to make only those comparison that confirm the preconceived conclusion which reads that women were oppressed and not oppressors. And before we start discussing how they were "less privileged oppressors", I want to ask three questions:

          1.) Is it important whether long-deceased members of a group have been oppressors at all?
          2.) Is it important to the oppressed whether their current oppressor is less privileged than other oppressors?
          3.) Is the unjustified categorization of people into "good" and "evil" groups based on a superficial characteristic really necessary, let alone a contribution to the fight against the unjustified categorization of people into "good" and "evil" groups based on a superficial characteristic?

          My answer to all of these questions is "No". And any attempt to merely change the group that is in charge of dominating the other ones is no real change at all. Take religious freedom, for example. In Germany, the debate is only about which religions should enjoy privileges. Should Christianity be dominant, with Islam playing second fiddle, or should it be the other way round? Conservatives demand the former, socialists go for the latter. And then they fight over which group fits the role of the evil wrongdoer and which group may pose as the innocent victim.

          Which is absurd in several ways. Apart from the fact that such a generalization stands in clear opposition to historical facts where Christians and Muslims were both victims and wrongdoers, this simplification doesn't serve any other purpose than creating the illusion of a homogenous ingroup and outgroup.

          The only way to overcome that eternal battle for dominance consists in abolishing these assumed roles completely, instead of merely assigning them to different groups from time to time.
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        Jul 4 2011: "The only way to overcome that system consists in abolishing these roles completely, instead of distributing them." Yes, but how do we do that? I think for that you need to bring every one to a common stage and ask them to be free. In that regard world must try to uplift the oppressed in what ever way it can and whoever the oppressed might be.
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          Jul 5 2011: Just for your information, I edited the posting a bit while you replied. That character limit is sometimes a challenge to me, forcing me to rethink where I want to put my emphasis on. Which isn't a bad thing, in fact.

          The main step towards abolishing oppression consists in the decision to let go of oversimplified, generalized categorizations of people. When one is able to refrain completely from viewing sexes/races/nationalities... as "good" or "evil", "victims" or "wrongdoers", "friends" or "foes", one has taken that step.

          In turn, a refusal means that moral orientation and simplification are more important to oneself than giving up discrimination. And assigning a single role to the entirety of people with a certain sex, race or nationality is such a refusal.
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        Jul 5 2011: There is no blame game going on here. It is not a problem if it were a problem, but it is a problem even now. So we need some solutions. It is not about what men had done to oppress women, it is all about what men and women can do to uplift women from the state they are living even now.
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          Jul 5 2011: That's exactly the problem: Focussing on uplifting only women. My suggestion is to abolish sexism entirely, but that requires to no longer practicing it. That means the question "Which sex should be targeted now with positive or negative measures?" will *never* abolish sexism, because that *is* sexism. Ask yourself, why are you insisting on keeping up sex discrimination instead of viewing people as humans, regardless of their sex?
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        Jul 5 2011: "Focussing on uplifting only women." I did not mean that. It is about uplifting of down trodden. Any sects could come under this category. Since we are talking about women in this debate, I am mentioning about uplifting women. I would very much want to live in a world where we see others as people but not men/women/gay/straight/lower-class/upperclass/white/black/brown/yellow. But to get there we should get rid of all inequalities.
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          Jul 5 2011: That will never happen as long as one insists on discrimination.

          There is a Monty Python Sketch illustrating the point I'm trying to make: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFBOQzSk14c . It dismisses it as absurd that the right to have babies should apply to people in general instead of only women (and it does so in a hilarious way). But actually, this *is* an act of sexism and oppression. There is no need to bind this right only to women, even if there were a 100% correlation between pregnancy and sex. Which does not exist, by the way, thanks to transsexuals. But even if there were no transsexuals, there would be no rational reason to do so. People always ask "Why shouldn't we discriminate if these sexual differences do exist?". Well, apart from the fact that these differences pretty much *never* exist consistently on the individual level - I won't even start with the many physical and psychological levels of sex/gender - there is no logical reason to take *another* characteristic than the relevant one to make the distinction. It simply doesn't make sense, unless one is motivated by sexism. The same applies to racism, nationalism and every other similar ideology, of course. Not even a 100% correlation changes that, so all discussions in that direction can be cut short.

          There are only two ways: Either we oppose sexism, or we don't. And if we oppose it, it means that we must *not* ask the question which sex should be targeted now with measures. And whether these measures are positive or negative doesn't make the question any more or less sexist. Currently, no society on this planet is willing to abandon sexism, and this is because their people are not willing to abandon sexism.

          Only when it seems wrong to one to write wrongfully generalized sentences like "That sex/race/nationality... has been the victim for ages", one can even think (literally!) of overcoming discrimination. Not one second earlier.
    • Jul 6 2011: I would argue that we need to hang on to feminism until we actually ACHIEVE gender equality! Yes, you could say that's just semantics, but many people already *think* that we've reached full equality. Susan J. Douglas does a great job of exploring this in Enlightened Sexism, a book I'd highly recommend!
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        Jul 6 2011: You are so very right Jane, we need to hang on to Feminism till we achieve equality.

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