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To look things in the eyes and call them by their right names*

I’ve watched a video by Scarlett Rose Turner titled “I’m a feminist & why you should be, too!”

The video wasn’t particularly obnoxious, but I left a comment anyway. And since I don’t post much on this blog lately, I decided to repost my comment here.

Watch the video first, my comment is posted underneath it.

My comment:

If you want equality of the genders, races, sexual orientations, and religions, why don’t you call yourself an egalitarian?

And your speech about society telling us how we have to dress and look… The original idea of feminism was that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, i.e., discrimination on account of sex should be prohibited. If there was a law that women aren’t allowed to wear pants (only skirts), that would be an example of discrimination.

However, there is no law in western democracies about how you should dress (with a minor exception of public nudity laws). Nobody is forcing you to wear make-up.

Sure, there are some informal rules on what most people find pretty and fashionable (they change with time though), and YOU with your beauty channel on youtube are one of the role models that young girls learn these rules from (some standards of beauty are innate, but others are learned).

You say women should “dress up because they want to, not because society is telling them that they have to”. Cool, but you don’t have to be a feminist to say this. You just have to respect individuality and reject herd mentality. The same can apply to almost any issue. The most trivial example I can think of: people should throw birthday parties because they want to, not because society is telling them that they have to!

Scarlett seems to be a perfectly fine young woman. She also likes to dress nicely and make fashion tutorials – I have no problem with any of these things.

Being part of the “beauty community” and having a Youtube channel dedicated to fashion, she probably also realizes that she does influence young girls who look up to her and want to emulate her. So, she felt obliged to make this video and assert that a woman should only dress up, if she wants to. I don’t object to that, either.

The only reason why I wrote my comment is that she’s pushing feminism into that. And modern feminism sees everything through the lens of patriarchy. So, soon it could become: “patriarchy is telling women that they have to dress up.”

In some places, women have to be covered – patriarchy is definitely telling women in Saudi Arabia what to wear. But, in the West, women don’t dress up because men force them to look as sexy as they can (which would be a reverse Saudi Arabia scenario).

No, they dress up, because that is a natural development in a world where men value physical beauty, and women compete for social status and the attention from men (and are free to do so). Scarlett inadvertently gives a clue on this when she says in the video that women have a pretty hairstyle or wear some red lipstick because it empowers them.

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and no man values exactly the same physical features – some may prefer a more natural look. But, certain generalizations can be made.

And this is not because of the patriarchy; women have their own standards of what they value in men, and men have to compete for their attention. So, it is fair to say that we are equal in that regard.

*Gone with the Wind quote

Clarifying my views on feminism

Below is my reply to a comment that was made in response to my open letter to Emma Watson. You can read the original exchange on Reddit.

“Feminism aims for equal rights and opportunities, but it also presupposes that it’s women who are being systematically oppressed by the patriarchy.” I’m wondering what you meant by this.

Well, the word itself suggests that this movement is about the empowerment of women, so if you want women to increase their “power” and at the same time you claim that you want gender equality, then it is only logical that you must assume that they don’t have equal power yet, i.e. they are oppressed. And as long [as] you strongly identify with feminism, you will continue to assume this, in spite of any evidence to the contrary.

Where is the evidence that oppression is “scarce”?

It is certainly not scarce in some parts of the Middle East; I clearly stated that this does not apply to the whole world. I was talking mainly about the Western world, and while you may still disagree that it is “scarce”, you cannot claim that the amount of oppression in the West did not decrease over the last century.

Basically, I was NOT making an empirical statement that the oppression of women in the West is scarce, I was explaining the logic of why I think feminism has a built-in flaw that will eventually make it counterproductive. Some people would say that this is happening now.

But hey, feminism was useful in the beginning. It certainly had a positive impact towards gender equality, I’m not denying that. But, maybe it’s time now to evolve to the next level.

what about people who are intersex? I find it curious that Emma Watson mentions a gender spectrum, and yet you continue to use these gender-binary norms

Yea, I used binary man/woman distinction. I was focused on making my argument clear and simple, so honestly, I didn’t even think about that. But, you are right for pointing that out.

Biological sex can be on a spectrum, too. So how do we categorize or find differences there and say what is innately this or that?

We don’t. We support gender egalitarianism and let everybody have the same rights and opportunities. We let people, no matter of their gender identity, to decide for themselves what they want and how they want to live.

I have yet to find any empirical evidence that gender is innate – because it’s so embedded in society that you cannot tease it apart.

Steven Pinker would disagree here. Read his book that I was referencing in my letter to Emma (The Blank Slate).

it’s pretty cool that Emma Watson addressed that men are also subject to this gender role socialization

Yes, we are. And there certainly can be a downside to gender role socialization, but pretending that gender is a social construct will not help. These problems (e.g. some men being incapable to express feelings) have to be addressed individually.

The innate differences between men and women produce gender roles, i.e. statistically significant differences between lifestyles of both sexes. However, egalitarians refuse to judge people by gender stereotypes, even though they might be correct. They treat each person as an individual. Women might (!) really be worse drivers on average than men, but does that mean that no woman should be allowed to become a professional truck driver? Of course not.

Thank you for your response and for being constructive.


An open letter to Emma Watson regarding her U.N. speech

Dear Emma,

You are a classy lady and I have nothing but respect for you. Despite becoming a movie star at a very young age, you’ve avoided child star stereotypes, graduated from Brown University, and even got certified to teach yoga and meditation.

So, it is not my intent to discredit you in any way, I just want to express my views about your speech as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Hopefully, some constructive public discourse will come out of it.

In that speech you declared yourself to be a feminist, because you believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Nothing to object here. Overall, you gave a good speech, and I’m all for giving rural African girls access to secondary education.

But asking why feminism has become such an uncomfortable word, and then not exploring this question any further, is not very helpful.

In my view, there are two problems with modern-day feminism, at least in the Western world.

The first is a misuse of the term gender equality, which should mean solely that a discrimination on account of sex is prohibited. Men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, but that does not mean that the social outcome should always be exactly the same for both sexes. Some feminists would disagree strongly, because they believe all gender roles are socially imposed. They do not consider a possibility that some differences between men and women are innate. What a typical girl wants or desires may be different from what a typical guy does, not only because of the culture, but because she was born with different drives as well. Recognizing the fact that men and women are not identical has some implications on what a public policy should be. As Steven Pinker puts it in a chapter on gender:

“Eliminating discrimination against women is important, but believing that women and men are born with indistinguishable minds is not. Freedom of choice is important, but ensuring that women make up exactly 50 percent of all professions is not.”

The second problem with feminism is that it perpetuates “us vs. them” mentality in women who become strongly identified with it. This may or may not be the case for the majority of self-proclaimed feminists, but there are extremists who definitely have this mentality. How does this happen?

Feminism aims for equal rights and opportunities, but it also presupposes that it’s women who are being systematically oppressed by the patriarchy. While this assumption is historically correct, and still pretty much the case in a large part of the world, it’s becoming increasingly counterproductive to think in those terms. A feminist’s identity is defined in part by belonging to a group that is being oppressed, and on a deep subconscious level, people want their identity to be validated at all times. When evidence of actual oppression of women becomes scarce, a confirmation bias will kick in, and the mind will manufacture false evidence of oppression in order to confirm this view of the world. Thus, the less gender inequality that there is in a society, the crazier the movement will become to justify its existence.

I think that this movement cannot reach its end goal intact. It will either have to transform itself into something that’s impartial (gender egalitarianism), or it will become ever more counterproductive and possibly disintegrate.

The above is my personal opinion and I don’t claim to have any expertise in this field. You could easily dismiss it as a psychobabble.

However, Emma, you said it yourself that your research has shown you that feminism has become an unpopular word. I think that it is essential that you investigate this further and find out why. Maybe you will be able to reject my writing with an alternative explanation. If so, I will be honoured to lose an argument to an Ivy League graduate – I won’t feel humiliated to be defeated by a woman.

Ultimately, though, we can both agree that the idea of having equal rights and opportunities for men and women is the most important thing here. Your speech clearly was a step in that direction. So, I wish you plenty of success working as a Goodwill Ambassador, and may the Force be with you.

Oh shit, wrong movie.

Matej (Matt) P.

Youtube: TheChangingWays

References and further reading:

  • Emma Watson to United Nations: I’m a feminist:
  • Steven Pinker, 2002. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Chapter 18: Gender)

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“An open letter to Emma Watson regarding her U.N. speech” by TCW is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.