Monday, July 13, 2009

Feminism as Realism

Recently, I saw the movie Fucking Amal (aka Show Me Love in the US). It was an enjoyable film, as a whole. It even includes an overt feminist moment: one of the main characters breaks up with her boyfriend - permanently - after he fails to disagree with his friend's hatred of women! But the most interesting feature of the movie was its realism. There's no trite plot, and the characters are remarkably flawed. Not in the theatrical, 'tragic hero' way, mind you - they just do things which are wrong. No more, no less. Early in the film, the main character (who we are supposed to sympathize with) says some insensitive and horrible things to a wheelchair-bound friend. Later she apologizes, but it's too late. There's no Hollywood reconcile-for-free card. She simply did something wrong, learned (or not) and moved on.

It was all rather interesting, and considering the feminist overtones, I found the movie to be a metaphor for modern feminism.

Now, the debate over what feminism is, what feminists believe, and what feminists do wrong has been raging for as long as the movement itself. Perhaps the oldest argument is about race - and as so many feminists were white privileged women, mistakes were made. Serious, important mistakes, in fact. And it continues to the present. In the world of online feminism, it sometimes threatens to overwhelm everything else. (As an example: the recent discussion, and lack thereof, about the rights of trans individuals sparked by the New Orleans Women's Health Clinic issue). It seems that whatever the merits of each individual discussion - which are many - they keep repeating themselves forever. So now, there no consensus, no agreement, and lots and lots of anger. People get alienated. It's difficult for non-feminists to see what it's all even about, so they are reluctant to join and thus do nothing.

So, I want to suggest a new, or rather and additional, definition for feminism: Feminism is realism.

Whatever the faults of this continuous debate, I think there is an explanation. Feminism, at some level, is about trying to find out what the world is really like, what really goes on. It is called 'feminism' only because what really is, is the patriarchy. And when we find out what the world is really like in more detail, we try and challenge it, try to change it. That's what makes it different from most other movements - so many *isms (think of Populism or Marxism or Religious Rightism and so on) start with an agenda, an ideal world, a goal. They try and work toward that goal at all costs. When the world changes, they either die out, or change their goals - and keep pushing, often at the cost of destroying so many other worthwhile goals, and certainly without really considering their actions.

Feminism, then, is far more based on reality, setting goals and agenda solely based on actual, observed inequalities. Hence the near-obsession with point even the littlest things out, from an obvious bias in a politician's speech, to a little detail in a car commercial. And also (for good or ill) the debate of defining feminism. Not because there's a question of what to do, but more a question of what the world is really like. Mistakes are made, to be sure. Real life is just like that.

And perhaps when we're done, even if it's not called feminism anymore, the concept will still remain: Finding out what is, realizing what is wrong with it, and challenging those wrongs.

Just a thought.

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