When I Disagree with Feminism

When I Disagree with Feminism April 18, 2016

Note: Now that this article has been posted on the Patheos main page, I’ve gotten a lot of anger about it. I feel that I made a big mis-step in writing out these thoughts. You guys who know me know that I like to ponder things “out loud” through writing and I’m not trying to make the argument that I’m the one who is right about everything. I wanted to bring up these issues because they are things that I’ve been thinking about. But I guess I should have kept my mouth shut. Most of the time I think that I’ve grown beyond the conservative gender roles of my upbringing but a lot of it is very deeply ingrained. So I guess that’s where I get these ideas from. I don’t know. I just wanted to suggest less divisiveness and making a happier world. Now it seems that people will call into question everything I’ve ever said because of these thoughts. I’m sorry that I wrote this and I’m sorry that I published it. 

It took me a while to identify as feminist. But when someone described it as the “radical idea that women are human beings” it really clicked for me. Yes, I’m a feminist. Of course I’m a feminist!

That said, there are some popular feminist ideas going around that I’m not entirely sure about.

  1. You Should Smile

Apparently a lot of women get offended when someone tells them they should smile. I guess that could be seen as policing someone else’s emotions and maybe it is seen as telling women that they have to be happy all the time and they have to put on a happy face. But why are we all going around frowning all the time?

The “resting bitch face” idea is true of some people. But not nearly as many as like to claim it. Some people look unhappy when their face is neutral. But even those people can smile more. We can all smile more. Not just women.

I made the decision several years ago that my default expression would be smiling. And that has been a wonderful thing for my life. Smiling at people lifts their spirits, they smile back, it lifts my spirits, and we’re all happier for it. Women and men both should be smiling more!

  1. Street Harassment

I have never experienced street harassment/cat calling/eve teasing. Never. Some of you I know will say that maybe I’m just not that attractive. It’s certainly been said before. But from what I’ve been told street harassment has very little to do with a woman’s actual physical beauty. Add to that the fact that there have been times in my life when I was more attractive than I might be today. When I was young and living in Los Angeles I had waist-length black hair and a figure of 36-26-36 (often considered ideal. A size zero hourglass). But still no degrading comments about my appearance.

I can certainly see street harassment being a problem but I wonder if promoting the idea that all women experience this is seeing more problems than actually exist. I often complain that when people say they are being honest that they are actually just being mean. I would like to see people be honest about positive things, but if we label every compliment as harassment that can’t happen.

I remember rushing off the subway towards a Hindi class a few years ago. And as I dashed past a very stylishly dressed Black man, he said, “That shirt looks great on you.” It made my day! He said it with such kindness and sincerity and I thanked him and went on my way. I felt happy and uplifted. That’s a genuine compliment. That’s not the same thing as street harassment.

I think it might benefit us all to assume good intentions from people. Yes there are times when a woman is being harassed and harmed, but taking offense at genuine compliments just seems to make the world a sadder place.

When I was working at the grocery store an older man told me that I had a beautiful smile. And I happily accepted the compliment. He was relieved. He started complaining about how you can’t say anything to anyone these days without getting yelled at. It was awkward as he ranted but I also felt for him as he never knew if it was safe to say something nice to someone. Is it not weird that we’re afraid to say something nice to someone?

Perhaps the solution is to not discriminate these things just based on gender. We should offer compliments to both women and men. We can all remind each other to smile. It doesn’t solve all your problems but it sure doesn’t hurt!

Let’s start remembering that the other people around us are manifestations of God and sharing happiness with them will help remind them of their divinity.

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  • Phoenix

    I very much appreciate this. I don’t like to play the Oppression Olympics as everyone has privilege and oppression is some way. But what upsets me about feminism is that feminists will forget that gender is not just male and female. There are many genders being ignored when feminists say “Women are the most oppressed gender”. That line of thinking completely erases trans women and trans men and all of the non-binary genders, gender identities, and gender expressions. Even living in Chicago I never saw a woman harassed on the street. Yet my wife and I (I’m agender) can’t go out in public without one of us being misgendered or verbally harassed. Female-presenting cis women aren’t being prevented from using the correct bathrooms by multiple state legislations. Are women oppressed? Yes, absolutely. But I wish feminists would also look at cis female and “passing female” privilege and include other gender minorities and men harmed by the patriarchy-instead of treating us all as an afterthought. So many feminists say that LGBTQ+ issues are separate from feminism and fail to see how the patriarchy and the binary in general are hurting every gender. LGBTQ+ issues are gender issues as well.

    Sorry for my rant.

    • Ambaa Choate

      Thank you for bringing this up!

  • Amar

    your reaction on this, Ambaa?

    • Ambaa

      I don’t know. I’ve walked around NYC without any issue. But I can’t say that it doesn’t happen. Clearly it does and it’s not okay.

      • Amar

        I meant that her facial expressions aren’t normal by the US standards, this is a big reasons people reacted.

        • Sarah

          Her facial expression is perfectly normal, actually. Plenty of people don’t just smile for no reason, and “happy” (well, any emotion, really) doesn’t look the same on everyone. Still gives no call for comments, for being followed by at least two different people, and being cat-called and harassed because she happens to be walking with what looks like determination to me and isn’t smiling.

          When a man has an expression that’s anything other than a smile and is walking alone, perfect strangers don’t tell him to “smile more” and they certainly don’t follow him for five minutes harassing him about why he isn’t talking to them when he doesn’t respond to their comments. But this is not the first woman to report such behavior from perfect strangers, nearly always men, when the woman isn’t smiling and isn’t talkative.

          • Amar

            Sarah, though my experience was different, may be the effect of area, or locality, and most of those guys were trying to cheer her up, a couple of guys went a step ahead either to get her reaction, but certainly I’m sure, none of them had any bad thoughts about her. They should have avoided? yes.

          • Sarah

            You cannot possibly know that none of them had any bad thoughts about her. She couldn’t possibly know that either. Your dismissive comments are a big part of the problem. You seem to not take it seriously when a woman shows concern for her own safety, and that’s why things like harassment and rape, in this country at least, are under-reported. Victims feel that they won’t be taken seriously, or they will be blamed for it.

          • Amar

            I certainly do not support these guys, though crying out foul feminism is exaggeration.

          • Sarah

            Behavior displayed by many of the men in the video you showed is unacceptable and inexcusable to many women. That isn’t “crying out foul feminism” and it isn’t an exaggeration. Harassment is a real thing, and it is never okay.

          • Amar

            you are entitled to have your opinion, but I always go with positive notion, and in my view those boys did their best to cheer her up, but they were not aware of “any other plan” was going on with pre-fix agenda.

          • Sarah

            You’re entitled to your opinion too. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree here. I won’t try to convince you if you don’t try to convince me. Deal?

          • Amar

            deal, but you are sending a wrong message to society.

          • Sarah

            I’m not the one trying to defend men who harass women in the street. You’re the one sending the wrong message to society, telling people that it’s okay to follow and bother a woman who clearly doesn’t want to interact with them as long as they don’t mean any harm. It isn’t what they *mean* that matters, it’s what they *do*, and following a woman around, making comments, etc, is *harassment*, and it’s never okay and it should never be acceptable. But because of people with opinions like yours, this sort of behavior is what women the WORLD over have to deal with every day. The fact that men think it’s okay and women are told to just accept it is exactly why we need feminism.

            But hey – you don’t *believe* in feminism, so this discussion is pointless anyway.

          • Amar

            as bound with the deal, I won’t further argue, but most of the women like this, generally.

          • Sarah

            Do you really believe that women LIKE to be harassed?

          • Amar

            I said “most of the” in a positive sense, not sarcastic.

          • Sarah

            What you said was “most of the women like this, generally.” What that appeared to mean, in the context of this conversation, was “most women like to be followed around, wolf-whistled at, cat-called, and harassed on the street.” I wasn’t being sarcastic. If you actually think that women like that sort of behavior, well, then, bless your heart.

        • Amar

          Sarah, my experience was different, may be the effect of area, or locality, and most of those guys were trying to cheer her up, a couple of guys went a step ahead either to get her reaction, but certainly I’m sure, none of them had any bad thoughts about her. They should have avoided? yes.

        • Ambaa

          While I like to have a default of smiling, it is every person’s right not to smile if they don’t feel like it. We don’t know what’s going on in their life and we shouldn’t tell other people what to feel or to look more cheerful.

          Probably if you want someone to cheer up, you should leave it to people who know him or her and their situation or simply offer a smile of your own.

          • Amar

            most of them left onto her, no? if anyone can count the % of people whom reacted and whom not, I’d have had a better say.

  • Amar

    this of course attracts provocation, no? attractive of not.

    • Ambaa

      I’ve long been a believer that boobs are not intrinsically sexual. That society has taught us to find them sexual.

      • Amar

        it is, but why women in USA avoid breastfeeding in public places?
        & breast milk is the best food a baby can have.

        • Sarah

          Plenty of women in the US don’t avoid breastfeeding in public (I didn’t. I was discreet, but when my babies were hungry, I fed them were we were, and I only got hassled once.). The ones that do avoid it do so mainly because they’ll get harassed for it. This society has so ingrained us to believe that breasts are primarily sexual that we forget their main job – feeding our babies. Since formula and breast pumps are so widely available, there are loud, rude people who will say that women should just feed formula or pump and feed milk from a bottle because breastfeeding in public is “shameful” and “provocative,” in their limited view. Some women, especially those who are first-time mothers, take this criticism to heart and make what is an unnecessary sacrifice.

          Breastfeeding in public is legal in every state in the US. Where a mother and child are legally allowed to be, they are legally allowed to nurse. It’s hardly the fault of a hungry baby or a nursing mother that people in the US are perfectly okay with seeing everything but the nipple on a magazine ad, but gods forbid they catch a bit of side-boob while a mother is feeding her baby.

          • Amar

            Sarah, this is hardly a problem in india, because most women carry a cloth on their shoulder & chest, when they are feeding the child they just cover the baby and breast with that, even they do not cover hardly anyone will notice.
            on the other side
            when it comes to emotional bonding between the baby and mother the moment while she is breastfeeding the baby
            “anything and everything is secondary”.
            one more curosity I’ve in this topic,
            do women avoid breastfeeding, fearing that they will loose the tightness of the breast?

          • Sarah

            Some probably do. Others have insufficient support – by which I mean they don’t have access to information on breastfeeding and its rewards and challenges, and so they either never start or they only continue for a little while. Or they have a relationship/family/life in which breastfeeding is actively discouraged. Some women have to go back to work soon after baby is born and pumping is inconvenient or impossible with their job, so they stop sooner than they would like. Not many babies are breastfed past two or three months. I wasn’t able to nurse my oldest because my (abusive) ex would physically prevent me from doing it – that child had to be formula fed because within five weeks I was unable to make milk. My youngest (different father) was breastfed until she was just over a year old and she decided to stop on her own. I personally haven’t experienced any sagging, but I do know it varies a lot. I know women who have nursed four of rive babies and don’t have sagging issues, and I know women whose breasts sag quite a bit after only nursing one baby.

          • Ambaa

            I’ve always heard the sagging isn’t actually related to feeding but just age, gravity, and maybe pregnancy itself that causes it. That’s the rumor, anyway.

            I’m so sorry to hear about the situation with your ex. That is horrible.

          • Sarah

            Genetics and hormones can play a big part.

            And thanks. It’s one of the many reasons he’s an ex (and oh, how I had to fight to get out of that relationship) and no longer in our lives at all. He signed away his rights to my son and hasn’t seen him in a decade. Single parenting isn’t a walk in the park, but better no father than *that* father.

  • Patricia E. Montemayor

    Your article was refreshing. I have been a feminist since the late ’60’s and have actively fought for girls and women’s rights for decades, and have struggled for my own rights. However, when the term “political correctness” became a way of discounting real oppression, it diluted the struggle. Personally, I see nothing wrong in smiling and accepting compliments.

    • Katie

      I agree! A nice compliment is a good healthy way of keeping charisma alive in our lives. Men and women are a precious link in the chain of life, and this is how it ought to be. It is one of the great treasures of life and should be handled with care forever. Britain has more than it’s fair share of lovely decent, hard working, family men, whose support throughout life is cherished by all. Let’s keep it that way.

  • You should never feet that you “made a big mis-step in writing out [or otherwise expressing your] thoughts.” If no one expresses his or her thoughts, we will never have dialogue. Without dialogue, we will never have understanding. Without understanding, we will have chaos.

  • Magnolia

    Good heavens! All you’re advocating is being positive, and perhaps a little less touchy –yes, I’m an anti-patriarchal feminist, who thinks the motives and underpinnings of things should be carefully examined — and your comments didn’t bother me one little bit.

    Dismissing your comments is a kind of intellectual fascism: discuss, yes. Disagree, maybe. But dismiss as retrograde or unacceptable to express? NEVAH!

  • Tanya Bridgewater

    People got upset about this article? I didn’t see anything remotely offensive. Some people are just extremists who explode whenever someone even slightly disagrees with them. This is why I consider myself kind of a lite-feminist; feminist within reason. More likely to be upset by, say, women being treated like slaves in Saudi Arabia than someone man-spreading on the subway.

  • Donald M

    Maybe you got some anger about this posting, but considering it was on the Patheos main page and a lot of people probably saw and read it there, the small number of negative comments shouldn’t be taken out of context. Most readers must have liked it or not been very upset about it. I wonder if there are people who read and liked it but were afraid to say so. That to me is a more serious matter as far as free discussion is concerned.

    • Ambaa

      Yeah, getting on the main page is usually exciting, but this time it exposed my writing to a bunch of people who have no context for who I am and how I write!

  • GordonWillis

    I like the general tenor of your article, which is fundamentally kind-hearted, but I feel that I ought to point out certain difficulties which may be contributory to the criticisms which have upset you. I think that you are wrong to despair, and I hope that you are not becoming depressed, which I know from my own experience to be appalling.

    Given your title, “When I disagree with Feminism”, the reader must infer that you assume that people who consider themselves feminists (which is what I mean here when I use the word) are for one reason or another at war with any man who tells a woman how he reacts to her. It is a blanket statement about what Feminism is, and, as it is not what all feminists think, it is unjust and therefore provocative. And if it is not what all feminists think, your calling it Feminism is arbitrary: to my mind, it suggests an internal and possibly unexamined dichotomy of your own.

    For example, you say “I can certainly see street harassment being a problem but I wonder if promoting the idea that all women experience this is seeing more problems than actually exist.” This is the kind of thing which needs chapter and verse. The fact that it is a big issue doesn’t allow you to assume or suggest that ALL feminists (implied by your title) are saying that ALL women experience it. This idea must come from somewhere and you owe it to your readers to say where. Also, it is possible to take issue with your second clause, because “more problems than actually exist” will depend on whether you live in (for example) England or India: it is mistaken to imply that ongoing campaigns to protect women in the latter country are applied wholesale by all feminists to the general situation of women in the former.

    I think that, given your title, your subsequent expansion makes the kind of statement which confines people within boundaries that they must surely find objectionable. Also, it is important to bear in mind that none of us can think of all the possible ways in which others might view our statements, and there are always interpretations which one never remotely intends but which someone will discover nevertheless.

    Of course, there are also people who would adopt a cantankerous or a depressed view, like “How dare anyone criticise Feminism”, or “God, how I hate personal comments from mere men” or “God, how dare he…” or “God, I don’t know how to deal with…” or “Oh no, help!”. I personally doubt whether one can do very much about these because — I think — they are more to do with personal identification than with common sense. I see no point in worrying about this; this sort of problem is always there and if one were to stop talking because other people are selfish or arrogant or wrapped up in serious personal problems or simply shy (like me, as it happens) one might as well give in and kill oneself.

    My opinion, for what it is worth, is that you should not stop giving people your own considered opinions about matters which are important to you, but that you should also try to bear in mind (1) that tact is an annoying consideration which we tend to forget but is nevertheless something we owe to each other, (2) that every statement one wishes to publish to the world should be examined carefully, and (3) that, even after the best and most sincere efforts, none of us can ever get it perfectly right, and that learning is a necessary and most honourable lifetime commitment.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you. I appreciate the time and effort that you took to see all points of view

  • Danny

    dont be sorry you wrote it….just because people disagree doesnt make them right and you wrong……

  • Amar

    I’m anti-feminist because in my view women is no less than any man. This is a problem of West not East.
    Women on the other hand many more wit, wisdom,developed sixth sense, insight than male counterparts.
    physical power in the era of police is irrelevant.

  • Cindy Bird

    I don’t think you made a mistake in either writing or publishing this. In many ways you are right. We’ve forgotten what chivalry is. If a man opens a door for a woman, he’s only wanting to look at her behind. If he says she looks great in that outfit, he is making a sexual allusion. I have 2 grown sons and they never know when to compliment a woman and when not to. It’s time we brought back good manners and less political correctness police.

    • I have adult sons and male friends who I’ve had the same conversation with. There was a post about ‘if only people would take the time to compliment rather than criticise – tell someone they look great today!’ — one of those facebook meme things. Anyhow, the men were posting with that sort of confusion – how do we compliment without coming off as creeps? Many people, and apparently according to studies, are very ‘visually’ based and the easiest thing to offer a compliment on is one’s looks.
      What does it say about a person if they assume that every compliment they are given is rooted in sexual desire or critical judgement? I think that itself is a sad place to be in.

      • Cindy Bird

        I think your right. I have two adult sons and they were taught chivalry. Open a door for a woman, Offer to carry heavy packages, Give a compliment. But these things have gotten them put into the position that they have been accused of making sexual advances because one gave a compliment. My other son is a mechanic, and he had a customer complain that he made a sexual comment. He told her that her dress looked good. He was just trying to give a compliment. Lucky his manager is a woman and she knows he does that all the time.My youngest was at a store and a woman had a very heavy package she was trying to lift into her car. He offered to do it and she screamed that she was being accosted this man was trying to steal from her. He had to explain to the security guard he just offered to help with the package. I think the world has forgotten that men aren’t always looking for sex. Sometimes they are just trying to be nice.