Feminism and Me

I’ve been mildly interested in women’s equality issues for a while, but it was some time in the summer or 2014 – almost certainly as part of reading Gamergate commentary – that I ended up reading a fair chunk of the Geek Feminism Wiki. That was the start of a journey which is far from complete, but firmly begun.

At this stage, my views are reasonably “mainstream feminist” as far as I can tell. As an incomplete list of example views:

  • I believe women deserve equal pay for equal work, and that despite the Equal Pay Act 1970, that’s still not happened.
  • I believe society is squandering the talent of women through a culture of making it harder for them to make career progress in many professions, often through unconscious bias. (I believe that the same is true for men in some other professions – and that fixing the culture would fix both problems.)
  • I believe we are culturally desensitized to the difference in how men and women are represented and perceived. The media does a lot of this representation, but I believe that’s just part of a feedback loop of culture. The media may well be a great lever for helping to fix the culture though.
  • I believe that violence against women is significantly under-reported, under-prosecuted and horribly stigmatized against victims. The high bar for proof and “innocent until proven guilty” principles of the law do sound noble and I’m extremely wary of changing them – but they lead to a particular disparity in violence against women. At some point, the notion of “I’d rather let ten criminals go free than one innocent person go to prison” has to give.1
  • I believe our cultural and professional expectations of child-rearing need to change, and that this would be a net win for everyone. I suspect that more equal parenting would help keep families together in some cases, give better male role models, improve career opportunities for women, give men a better work/life balance, and so on.
  • I believe that remarks and catcalls which might be described as jokes or compliments by some have a significant impact on the lives of women who have to put up with them day in and day out. It’s hard for those who don’t experience this to really appreciate the impact – so I think it’s best to believe the reports of those who do.
  • I believe that with better representation in both politics and business, many aspects of our society would be fairer. Going back to “squandering the talent” point made earlier, I’m sure that widening the pool of thought leadership would lead to better ideas being aired, too.
  • I believe many people suffer discrimination on multiple fronts (e.g. race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disabilities) and that this can have a very significant effect on quality of life, requiring particular care and consideration in combination rather than treating each aspect of discrimination as isolated.
  • I believe trans women are women, and should be treated as such by society. There’s a huge amount I don’t know about trans and more at the moment, and I suspect that I’ll only make a dent in my ignorance over time… but I’m aware that those who aren’t conveniently cisgender (in whatever way) face very particular challenges within a cisgender-oriented society.
  • I believe men have a part to play in supporting causes of equality. (And yes, I think it’s entirely reasonable for me to call myself a feminist.)

I can’t decide whether that sounds like a bold set of beliefs that I should be somewhat ashamed of not putting into practice as well as I might… or just obvious, hard-to-dispute truths (that I should be somewhat ashamed of not putting into practice…) I tend towards the latter option, but if these things really are fairly obvious, why is the world the way it is? I suspect it’s like an oil tanker being very hard to turn around – deep shifts in culture (rather than just trends and technological habits) seem to take a very long time to materialize.

Most of my education so far has come from books, so it’s probably worth listing the relevant ones I’ve read (so far) since the Geek Feminism Wiki awakening. In no particular order:

I’m hoping to review each of these on this blog to whatever extent I can still do so (bearing in mind the time between reading and reviewing in some cases), but before going into details I can heartily recommend all of them here and now. Even those I found I disagreed with most (The Female Eunuch in particular) were definitely worth reading, and were thought-provoking. I’d particularly recommend Everyday Sexism as an eye-opener… and if you’re more of a fan of fiction than non-fiction (as I usually am), both of the Louise O’Neill books listed above are wonderful but deeply disturbing.

Next up: The Women’s Equality Party, and why I joined it. After that, book reviews – and after that, I may have had some original thoughts worth noting.

1 To clarify my view here, as it’s provoked some alarm – I really am extremely wary of changing any of this, but I don’t think the status quo is good enough. When so many cases of sexual violence are “he said” vs “she said”, what does count as fair? How can we best protect everyone? No system will be perfect, but it seems clear to me that the current approach simply isn’t working. Surely we can do better.