There is still a long way ahead for gender equity, but today’s feminism is straying away from that cause: it is losing touch with reality.
Trump’s victory left many gutted and devastated. It was the bombshell that shattered the feminist dream of a female US President, a milestone anticipated since Victoria Woodhull’s presidential candidacy in 1872. Since then, there has been a hue and cry about the prevalence of misogyny. The media lamented the death of feminism, and held the fairer sex responsible. But rather than jumping into a game of finger-pointing out of exasperation, this calls for a thorough introspection of the feminist movement.
Although around two-thirds of the British public support gender equality, only seven per cent consider themselves to be feminists. A 2015 Vox poll yielded similarly lopsided patterns in statistics for the US: 18 per cent of Americans identify as feminists, with an overwhelming majority of 85 per cent believing in equality for women. Men and women are shunning feminism for the same reason that compelled them to embrace it in the first place: the love of both sexes. The exodus from the feminist camp as it marches into its fourth wave can be baffling. How did feminism become a taboo as gender equity becomes paramount in political and public spheres?
Emma Watson’s speech at the UN in 2014 was heavily applauded chiefly for inviting men to hop on board the feminist voyage. It reminded us that the inclusion of both sexes is pivotal to curb gender inequality. Sadly, online feminism is becoming an exclusive sorority. The movement is ill-represented with the parochial narratives in the feminist conversation. Many feminist causes célèbres are branded women’s issues when in fact they are not. Childcare is not a women’s issue but a parenting one. Domestic violence and sexual harassment are not crimes against women; they are plainly crimes that affect everyone, male and female alike. Of course, women get the worst end of the bargain, as well as facing problems like forced marriage and female genital mutilation in developing countries. But labelling them as “women’s issues” overlooks the severity of these problems and trivialises them into issues about gender.
Explicit alienation of male counterparts is the epitome of elitist culture online feminism practises today. Considering the great lengths feminists go to celebrate diversity in race, sexuality and nationality, it is ironic how men and boys can be shut out from feminist discussions. At best, men play second fiddle in these discussions. At worst, they don’t get a say at all. Coupled with call-out culture, terms like “mansplaining” and “manterrupt” become convenient devices to silence men by accusing them of speaking and acting from a position of gender privilege. With the lingering stigma of man-shaming, men are becoming overly conscious of their behaviours to avoid getting caught in crosshairs. Unnecessary wariness does more to hinder than to foster amity between the two sexes.
Feminism is also sinking in the whirlpool of myth information. Whether it’s the gender wage gap or sexual assault against women, statistics are blown out of proportion to raise more eyebrows. While the hardships women face deserve more scrutiny, it does not call for a hype and spin with the statistics. As far as misrepresentation instils a false sense of urgency, it discredits noble causes and will only be met by incredulity. Sexism is still a problem, but the 1960s are long gone; this is 2017. Women lead giant corporations and write influential books. They are renowned for their ground-breaking discoveries. The structural disadvantages are significantly subdued, so why pretend otherwise?
Aside from toying around with numbers, feminist propaganda is also guilty of citing and exploiting data selectively. Advocates tend to focus only on gender disparities among elites. They protest about the dearth of women in the Fortune 500. Yet they are taciturn about the misfortune of 2.2 million (or more) – the number of occupational fatalities around the world. Most lethally dangerous jobs are manual labour: lumberjacks, construction workers, power-line installers – few of the many professions – and are disproportionately male. One of the reasons that account for the gender wage gap is the fact that men are 20 times more likely to die than women in work. Activists need to consider the whole workforce for context before complaining about gender imbalance in a particular setting.
But perhaps the foremost reason feminism is losing relevance is simply because it’s out of touch with the lives of most women. Some propaganda portray men as pawns of a hateful patriarchy. Yet their realities paint a different picture. Their male colleagues are mild mannered; their husbands and fathers loving. Uncouth men may come across as a disrespectful clique or an occasional hazard, but never the devil incarnate. Women are more than their sexuality: they are also mothers, wives and co-workers. They aren’t only defined by who they are, but also by the mesh of relationships they share with other people, some of which include men.
Feminism also has to take women for who they are, not for who it wants them to be. Feminist scholars place little credence to the notion of gender inborn differences, specifically the physiology of the brain. Yet empirical evidence indicates otherwise: there may be truth in biological determinism after all. This leads us to the issue about gender disparity in STEM disciplines. The underrepresentation of females isn’t necessarily derived from a gender bias. As Simon Baron Cohen’s findings conclude, women are better empathisers whereas men have the upper hand at systemising. Simply put, women will make conscious decisions that differ from men, including subject fields of interests. Advocates must understand that. With the scarce resources available, fringe benefits are to scaffold women who opted into STEM fields on their own volition, not as an incentive to entice women who otherwise would not commit in these subjects.
Clinton’s defeat has wreaked havoc for feminists and galvanised war cries against the patriarchy. Feminist icon Robin Morgan, in her eloquence, claimed that “a diseased patriarchy is in a battle to the death with women”. Feminism nowadays is becoming synonymous with man-hating, and it’s giving the fight for gender equality a bad name. Extreme feminists personify themselves as docile sheep, preyed upon by a ferocious patriarchy. Is that really the case, or are they the shepherd who cried wolf?