“Any woman who thinks [opinion] is brainwashed.”

I realize that this blog post is going to get political, so I figured it would be best to start with something non-partisan. This statement is made all too frequently by women all across the political spectrum. The fact of the matter is that, according to any relatively objective definition of brainwashing, a person can be brainwashed into either side of a controversy. To characterize an entire group as being brainwashed is silly unless you are going to continue by saying that this brainwashing has all come from the same source and that this source is a ubiquitous presence among the demographic in question. I do realize that this generally is the implication of this statement, but when the assertion is made in isolation, it’s an ad hominem attack against certain women. (Yes, I know what “ad hominem” literally means, but it’s also the widely accepted name of a logical fallacy, so it is gender neutral in English usage.)

If one is genuinely expressing concern that females are systematically being coerced into certain beliefs and values, then this is hardly the language that one ought to use to make such an assertion, at least not without thoroughly explaining what they mean. Otherwise, one is simply being dismissive and telling a group of people that their thoughts and opinions are totally invalid. Considering that this statement specifically refers to women, it is also indicating that, because of her gender, a woman is permitted to think some things and not others. That’s pretty much the definition of sexism; it doesn’t make it any better if it’s a woman who is saying it.

“I don’t like [name of character or name of book/movie/TV show] because [name of character] isn’t a strong female character.”

Hopefully, many of you reading this are familiar with Doctor Who and will recognize the names of the main characters, because I’m about to use them as a fairly lengthy example. The Doctor is a man from the planet Gallifrey, who travels through space and time in a blue box called the TARDIS. At any given time (with the exception of a couple episodes here and there) he has one female companion who travels everywhere with him and is a co-main-character in the show. (He also usually has a few other companions who are reoccurring characters even though they don’t appear in every episode. And then there’s Rory, who is Amy’s fiancé and then husband, and he travels with the Doctor and Amy for most of Amy’s stint as the Doctor’s companion. But that’s beside the point.)

Most Doctor Who fans have pretty strong opinions about which companions they like better than others. I personally don’t like Donna because she’s just plain obnoxious, and because she frequently forgets that the Doctor is a timelord and really does know a lot more than she does. I’m also not overly fond of Rose, although I liked her when those episodes were new. She’s a bit too much of a flirt and is pretty easily distracted. Actually, most of the Doctor’s companions get quite flirtatious sometimes, but most of them seem to take the whole saving-the-world thing a bit more seriously than Rose does when she’s busy flirting with someone. So I personally like Martha and Amy and Clara better than Rose and Donna. But it seems like the general consensus among the Doctor Who fandom is that Martha is the least remarkable of the Doctor’s companions.

Doctor WhoI can see why some people would say that; Martha is only there for one season, and she’s the most soft-spoken of the Doctor’s companions, and she doesn’t have a complicated and intriguing backstory that involves cool sci-fi concepts that become major long-term themes of the show. But what I’ve heard people say is that she just isn’t a strong female character. That is, she rarely argues with the Doctor or yells at him, and she doesn’t flirt very often, and she doesn’t insist upon doing impulsive things that alter the Doctor’s plans. Basically, she accepts his authority and follows his instructions and helps him save the Earth time and time again.

I think it says a lot about the mindset of the fan base that “strong female characters” are bossy and argumentative and unwilling to acknowledge the Doctor’s authority as a timelord, while someone who respects the Doctor, knows when to keep her mouth shut, and doesn’t get distracted by her own whims is considered a weak female character. But in a sense, Martha is actually the strongest and most capable of the Doctor’s companions from Earth. She rarely does stupid things that require the Doctor to come rescue her, as Rose and Amy constantly do. In fact, she single-handedly saves the Doctor sometimes, and in the season finale, she saves the entire world while the Doctor is trapped. Besides that, most of the Doctor’s companions are dissatisfied and bored with their lives before the Doctor shows up, and we’re given the impression that the Doctor essentially rescued them from the mundane-ness of their own existence, but Martha was an intelligent medical student with a bright future even before she ever met the Doctor. She wasn’t reliant on him to give her life meaning, the way the others were. It’s pretty silly to view her as a weak character just because she’s soft-spoken and polite rather than loud and pushy.

Yes, I know that Doctor Who is just a TV show and that you can only go so far in making comments on our culture based upon the opinions of the Doctor Who fandom. But at the same time, people apply this same logic to so many female fictional characters, and I think it shows a lack of understanding of what strength of character really is. Regardless of gender, being obnoxious is not indicative of strength. Just because Martha treats the Doctor with respect does not mean that she is weaker than the characters that backtalk him and argue with him all the time. In fact, I think that her willingness to trust someone with more intelligence and expertise demonstrates that Martha has a sense of perspective that certain other characters lack. And it serves her well, because when everything depends on her, she doesn’t fail. Both in fiction and in real life, we ought to measure strength of character by the ability to overcome adversity, rather than the inclination to push other people around.

“I don’t understand why any woman would vote for [politician]”

Here’s where it gets specifically political. Okay, I get it, many people vote according to the ideology that gender issues are the most important political issues and that the primary factor to take into consideration is which candidate is the most favorable towards women. I already disagree with that ideology to some extent, but I’m not going to try to argue with it in this blog post. It’s impossible to affect anyone’s ideology via blog post because that’s not the way ideologies work and it’s not the way the internet works. And besides, as ideologies go, this one isn’t so bad. Pretty much all of us, regardless of what we think of the feminist movement as a whole, can agree that sexism is bad and that we wouldn’t want our government to do anything that would be bad for a demographic that makes up approximately half of the population. Of course, the real disagreement here is what can or cannot be called “sexism” and what is or is not “bad for women”. Although that’s a relevant point here, it’s more relevant in the next section of this blog post, so I won’t belabor the point here.

facebookWhen it comes to this particular statement, my complaint isn’t really against the ideology or the specific political issues that are implicitly mentioned. The problem is the statement itself. Let’s imagine two hypothetical female voters. For the sake of discussion, we shall call the first one “you”, and the second one, we shall call either “me” or “I” depending upon grammatical context. Now let us imagine that you post a Facebook status that says, “I don’t understand why any woman would vote for [politician].” And let us further imagine that I had voted for (or am about to vote for) [politician]. Your Facebook status isn’t merely disagreeing with my opinion that [politician] is a better candidate than the alternative(s). It also tells me that you don’t value my opinion and that you think that it’s wrong for a woman to hold such an opinion. Granted, it’s technically possible that you actually didn’t mean that status the way it sounded and that you are simply expressing your puzzlement as an invitation for discussion. But even if that is the case, it’s understandable why I might not realize that, especially once other women who dislike [politician] start chiming in with their opinions that [politician] is a misogynist.

And now, in an admittedly predictable turn of events, I will reveal the fact that this hypothetical situation is in fact not hypothetical, and that I saw an awful lot of Facebook statuses and heard an awful lot of remarks like this back during the presidential campaign. In this particular case, it does seem to be the feminists who say these kinds of things. I point that out not for the sake of finger-pointing, but because, unless I am completely incorrect about what “feminism” even means, feminists should be the last ones to tell women who they should or shouldn’t vote for. I am given to understand that, at its most basic level, feminism is defined as the belief that women are human beings who are not inherently inferior to men and whose rights and opinions are meaningful and should be respected. As far as that goes, I agree, and if that was really what I heard the feminist movement saying, I probably would consider myself a feminist. But what I actually hear from feminists is remarks like this one, which tell me that my opinions are actually not meaningful and deserve no respect. This kind of statement is essentially the same as the first one on this list, just restated in a way that’s a little less dismissive and a little more antagonistic.

Anything that equates “women’s rights” with only issues pertaining to reproduction

The issue of abortion has been a matter of much heated debate for a long time, a lot longer than I’ve been alive. A more recent issue is whether or not it is right for government money to be used to supply birth control to women, even though that money comes from taxpayers, many of whom disapprove of the lifestyles that require the use of birth control. Both of these debates involve factors other than the value of women as human beings. (In the case of abortion, it’s largely an ethical matter that involves the questions of when life begins and whether the right to life applies to the unborn. In the case of birth control, it’s largely an economic matter that involves the question of how much control the government should have over the ways that people’s money is used.) Both issues are actually much more complicated than the way I am presenting them here. I don’t mean to oversimplify them or to ignore all of the what-ifs that would need to be addressed if this blog post was intended to be a political statement or a detailed explanation of my own views. My point is that neither position is specifically misogynist, even though one position is frequently labelled as such. I might as well take this moment to acknowledge that, particularly in respect to abortion, I agree with the position that tends to be characterized as anti-women, and that I am therefore a little personally insulted when that characterization is made. It is my views that are often labeled as being hateful or cruel when in fact they only seem that way if the underlying values are being utterly ignored or dismissed. Particularly in the case of abortion, it’s a little narrow-minded to see it as being a women’s rights issue.

But since that often is the way that these debates are framed, I want to additionally point out that it’s demeaning to women when the term “women’s rights” is used to describe only these kinds of issues. Just a few generations ago, American women couldn’t vote. There have been many societies throughout history where women had absolutely no legal standing and were literally considered to be the property of their fathers and husbands. In many parts of the world even now, it is acceptable and even normal for a man to physically abuse his wife. Even in our own culture, some women are victims of violent crimes or harassment that occur specifically because they’re female. Unfortunately, misogynist abuse cannot be completely eradicated any more than any other kind of wrongdoing can. No matter how strict the laws are, there will always be people who are rebellious enough to break the law. And it’s also sadly true that it simply isn’t possible for every individual to be an advocate for every group that needs an advocate. But if our feminist-influenced culture is truly dedicated to the rights of women, shouldn’t we be more concerned with helping to decrease anti-woman violence and oppression than with getting our government to pay for birth control? Isn’t there more to a woman’s value as a member of society than what she wants to do in order to keep from becoming pregnant? Isn’t it a little self-centered for women in a free country and a relatively safe society to use the term “women’s rights” to refer only to what they choose to do to prevent bearing children (without taking into consideration the obvious and most effective method of not having kids) when there are so many women out there who are being denied so many basic rights?

Anything that denies that there is a distinction between male and female

I am aware of two different views that belong to extreme feminism, and they are very different. One is that women are better than men, and that the world would be a better place if women were totally in charge of absolutely everything. The other is that there is essentially no difference between men and women and that it’s sexist to even imply any such thing. Granted, those are both extreme statements, and there aren’t many people who go quite that far in either case. The first one is a little odd when it’s taken to the extreme, and it’s certainly sexist against men, but it doesn’t really need to go on this list because it isn’t sexist against women. But the second one is quite demeaning to both genders.

legosYes, there’s obviously a problem with placing socially constructed limitations on a person because of their gender. I remember as a kid being annoyed that Legos aren’t supposed to be a girl toy, and now I find it absurd that Lego makes products specifically for girls, because I still think that “boy” Legos are completely gender neutral and totally awesome. In terms of academic interests, there’s a tendency to label math and science as male fields, while literature and writing are female fields. I think that most of us can agree that we have to be careful with those kinds of distinctions, because we don’t want to discourage females who have mathematic and scientific talent, and we don’t want to discourage males who have literary talent. But that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s statistically true that men are, on average, more intelligent when intelligence is measured in terms of mathematical skills, and that women are, on average, more intelligent when intelligence is measured in terms of verbal skills. The same thing applies to personality traits that are specifically associated with one gender. Not every woman is stereotypically feminine, and not every man is stereotypically masculine, but trends do exist.

Both biologically and psychologically, there is a difference between men and women. There are obvious anatomical differences and there is a difference in the proportion of hormones, which has some impact on the way a person’s mind works. Of course we shouldn’t insult any individual just because they don’t entirely correspond to the standard description of their gender. But at the same time, if we deny that there is any difference at all, we’re ignoring and even devaluing a lot of traits that are sometimes treated as being gender-specific. This is especially a problem when there’s an implication that a particularly feminine female is doing something wrong by failing to challenge the status quo. I’m going to stop there because this leads directly into the next point.

Anything that shames women who don’t reject “traditional gender roles”

It’s a great and wonderful thing that, in our culture, girls are generally given equal education opportunities, women have the option of dedicating their lives to their careers if that’s what they want, and there’s nothing shameful about a woman who works a full-time job, (even if she has kids) whether out of necessity or by choice. For most of the history of Western culture, a woman’s job has been to get married, have kids, and run her home, and if she didn’t do all of those things and do them without attracting any attention to herself, she was unfeminine and immoral. It’s nice that in our society, women aren’t required to live a completely domestic lifestyle if that’s not what they want and if they have something to offer society in another vocation. But that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for some women to choose a more traditional domestic role. It’s not wrong for a woman to give up other long-term opportunities to get married and start a family. It’s not wrong for an educated woman to choose to be a stay-at-home mother if she and her husband agree that it’s what’s best for their family and that they can afford to live on a single income. And it’s not wrong for a woman who is trying to balance a career and a family to allow the career to become the lower priority. In fact, it’s necessary for the continuation of the human race and beneficial to our society that many women become mothers, even intelligent and educated women who could have (and in most cases, still do) contribute to society in other ways as well.

I acknowledge that there are plenty of feminists who don’t verbally attack housewives, and that there are even some self-described feminists who actually do fulfill a traditionally female role within their own families. But there are also many feminists who make remarks, whether in real life or in political debates online, that label such women as traitors. In an earlier draft of this blog post, I had mentioned a few specific examples, some of which went so far as to insult specific women simply for having children. (Did you know that J.K. Rowling is a drain on society because she’s a mother? It’s true; I saw it online.)

And it’s not just motherhood that is under attack. For example, teenage girls and adult women alike get criticized for conforming to societal norms concerning female fashion. Anyone who has seen much internet feminism knows exactly what I’m talking about; there are some people who evidently think that it’s wrong for a girl to wear makeup, shave, or wear specifically feminine clothing. That is obviously an extreme position, but it’s not very rare. It’s quite ironic that this form of feminism operates mainly by attacking females. How is it not misogynistic to bully girls for being (or wanting to be) feminine?

I don't even know what show this is from, but it's basically the most popular thing on tumblr that isn't about Doctor Who, Sherlock, or Supernatural

I don’t even know what show this is from, but it’s basically the most popular thing on tumblr that isn’t about Doctor Who, Sherlock, or Supernatural

We hear so much about the evils of the patriarchy and how terrible it is that our culture is so male-dominated. While it’s obviously true that the government, much of the corporate world, and many sectors of the media are mainly run by men, it’s not necessarily true that this means that women are subjugated. And it’s definitely true that women are objectified far too much and that this is a problem, but men are not solely to blame. Advertisements for women’s clothes and makeup feature unrealistic physical beauty not because men want to look at those ads, but because women buy products that they expect to make them look beautiful. And gender-based stereotypes come from the mouths and keyboards of men and women alike. There certainly are some misogynistic men out there, but men as a group are not evil sexists who are running the world according to a no-girls-allowed agenda. If the “war on women” is a real thing, it isn’t a war waged by male politicians against women, or by Christianity against women, it’s a war fought between women and other women.