Friday, December 23, 2005

Don't Let Them Harden You

Sitting in my inbox this morning was an email entitled "Why I am NOT a feminist." It was written to me by one of my former students ("soul searcher"), who is very smart, thoughtful and successful. His politics have consistently differed from mine, which is what makes our conversations interesting. Sometimes he has granted me a point and allowed himself to rethink his positions. Very rarely have I returned the favor; it wasn't out of arrogance that I held firm to my convictions, but rather nothing in his arguments persuaded me.

Recently, he and I endured a real travesty of justice together. We were not the victims, but on the sidelines, watching it happened. I cannot, for obvious reasons, go into the details of what happened, but I can say that the experience was profound enough to make me pause and reevaluate my political commitment to feminism.

Let me be clear, it would take herculean efforts to transform me into someone who actively fights or denounces feminism. I have experienced and studied too much to ever think that the core principles of feminism are flawed.

I know that many out there hold the mistaken view that feminism is about giving women more rights or special rights. I have heard more times than I care to remember that feminism is about giving women more power, hating men, or screwing qualified men out of jobs. I also know that I will never see in my lifetime these mistaken attitudes and beliefs expunged from the earth.

Feminism is not about getting more power; it is quite simply about valuing women as much as we value men. Those who commit themselves to feminism often do so as a wish for their future children, a hope that the world will not be brutual, unfair, or hostile to their daughters. Gendergeek has a great post today on whay feminism is still important here.

Soul Searcher's email gave me pause today because I could full well understand why he had developed a bitter taste for feminism. Essentially, what happened to him was that a large bureaucracy executed poorly a policy that was supposed to ensure fairness to women. They simply gave women more consideration at the expense of men. This happens. There is no use for those of us who are feminists in denying it. It doesn't happen often or regularly, but it does happen. These failures have given a lot of fuel to conservatives, who want to fight policies such as Affirmative Action or Campus Speech Codes, because they violate our deep commitment to a meritocracy.

I don't think that all criticisms of the failed enactments of feminist principles are wrongheaded. Criticism is what allows us to improve and perfect the way we do things. What I dislike, however, is when criticism leads to the total abandonment and rejection of the need for better policies to ensure that we value women or other people who have been historically denied opportunites and rights in this country.

I also fear that suffering at the hands of such flawed systems will make it all to easy for someone like Soul Searcher to demonize and reject feminism altogether. Right now he is a great risk of adopting that view; it is very tempting and I am laboring to prevent that from happening.

I told you earlier that I rarely reevaluated my feminist commitment in my conversations with Soul Searcher. Watching up close and up front a miscarriage of justice that was justified in the name of feminism shook me hard. I grew angry at the unthinking bureaucrats who allowed this sort of sloppy mishandling of peoples lives and their smug belief that they were doing the right thing.

I believe that it is my obligation to watch carefully policies and actions justified as feminism, to make sure that they do not sell out our core commitments, use careless or dirty means to justify an end, or demean the hardwork and achievements of feminism.

Making this change means that I cannot deny that bad things happen in the name of feminism. However, these failures do not discredit the core ideals and commitments of feminism.

My friend, Soul Searcher, however has magnified the evil of feminism everywhere. He is suspicious that all programs aimed at achieving parity and all advocates are trying to stack the system in favor of women. I understand where this fear comes from; I am also bitter that the bureaucrats hurt him and soured his view of feminism.

Any miscarriage of justice in the name of feminism sets all feminists back politically, socially, and morally. I don't think this is fair. It shouldn't be this way. After all, the failures of Tom DeLay or Jack Abramoff do not set back the cause of white, male conservatives to quite the degree that any misdeeds by "feminists" do. The world isn't fair and we are still fighting a public sentiment that rejects the aims of feminism. When we fuck up it is really bad news.

I am writing this post, in part, to publically plea with my former student to not allow himself to see the world from an anti-feminist frame of reference. Don't let them win by turning you into someone who hates, who sees nothing but evil and misdeed in every face of a man or woman who fights for the equality of women. To do so is to let them rule your life.

Don't be overrun by hate. Fight injustices, all injustices, when you can. Finally, don't let the worst represent the best.