Feminism vs. individualism? Or something? I don’t get it by mattsteinglass
July 29, 2008, 1:31 pm
Filed under: Gender

Megan McArdle has an interesting post referencing this interesting post by Ilyka at “Off Our Pedestals” about why it’s hard for some ambitious young women to embrace feminism.

I forgot that one of the losses I had to grieve when I threw my lot in with feminism was the idea that I was special and that, as someone special, I could beat the system all on my own. I was cute enough. I was funny enough. I was a “guy’s girl” enough. I was laid-back enough. I was smart enough. I liked fucking enough. I could totally do this, and just as soon as I did, oh, how I was going to have a good long laugh at all the pathetic loser women down there who couldn’t.

Megan responds that this is an instance of the own-bootstrap vs. social-influence mentalities:

It’s good to recognize how much of what we achieve is possible because we stand, so to speak, on the shoulders of giants. It’s very good for women who find the more radical, humorless brand of activist kind of annoying (and I am often among this group) to recognize that their willingness to be radical, humorless, and not very well liked was a necessary component of the massive advances we won a few short decades ago. But it’s not good to tell yourself that really, it wasn’t you, just your environment.

I felt on first read that I understood instinctively what these posts were saying, and then a few hours later I realized I didn’t actually understand them at all. Why should anyone’s ability to give thanks for the titanic struggles of their forebears, or their eagerness to consider themselves a member of the movements those forebears founded, diminish their own sense of accomplishment in (or responsibility for) their lives? I’ve spent my whole life being grateful to Louis Brandeis, my own grandparents, etc. for breaking down the barriers of quotas and prejudice that once kept Jews out of elite universities and so forth. But that didn’t make me feel any less proud of anything I’ve accomplished; if anything I felt more proud as part of a tradition of accomplishment by anyone I could call a forebear. I can’t imagine that blacks feel diminished by identifying themselves with the Civil Rights movement; I can’t imagine Dave Winfield thinking to himself I’m only here because of Jackie Robinson so it doesn’t really count or whatever a more appropriate analogy would be.

If it’s different for women, then why? Clearly gender is very different from race, ethnicity or religion. Its power of influence runs much deeper, and each gender’s identity is involved in a constant conversation with the other gender about what makes each side desirable in a way that isn’t true for ethnicity, race, or religion. But I still don’t really feel I understand this at all.


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