Are Women Oppressed? Part 1…

By definition, a political movement needs a shared set of political goals. By that measure, there have been two feminist movements in history: first wave, which fought primarily for the women’s right to vote, and second wave (aka Women’s Lib) which fought primarily on issues of sexual liberation (abortion, contraception, recognition of rape within marriage) and equality under law.

Although there are still plenty of people calling themselves feminists, and one hears of third and fourth wave feminism (anyone raise me to fifth?), political feminism fizzled out in the mid-1970s, having achieved its goals. From that point on, we’ve been landed with cultural feminism, putting forward a vague, often contradictory set of values and beliefs, but no coherent political movement. I’ve often asked “feminist” friends what feminism is, and the answer generally goes something like: “I believe in women’s rights. Well, I guess I believe in human rights really. So…”

The basic problem is that feminism requires a set of goals that apply to all women. Unfortunately, it can’t seem to find any that weren’t already addressed 40 or more years ago. This doesn’t stop feminists claiming they know what women want or need; and in turn, this explains why most women have no interest in defining themselves as feminists any more. There are no identifiable political objectives that unite all, or even most, women, any more than there are issues that unite all men.

In place of political demands, which can be fulfilled, today’s feminists instead claim that women are “oppressed” or suffer from “structural misogyny” or similar. And thus, unlike the short-lived first and second wave feminist movements, today’s “movement” has no goals, and so can live forever. Feminism has morphed from a political movement to a quasi-religious one, railing against its own demon, The Patriarchy. Today’s feminism claims it wants to bring down The Patriarchy and end Female Oppression. Since The Patriarchy is imaginary, this movement can live on forever.

But what about female oppression? Given the widespread belief in this phenomenon, one would expect it to be easy to define and quantify. Once quantified, a political programme could be drawn up to end it, and feminism can be victorious once and for all. But it turns out that the idea of systemic female oppression has little or no solid evidence to back it. Indeed, it is based on a series of myths that, over the decades, have become cemented into articles of religious faith. Try to question these beliefs, and believers will respond like the disciples of any other religion: with anger and abuse. Blasphemy against this faith will make you a Misogynist, a Rape Apologist or a tool of the Patriarchy. You will be burned at the virtual stake.

In the following two articles, I will look at the evidence for female oppression: firstly, the economic case, and second the issue of gender violence.

Parts 2 and 3 are coming soon: to ensure you don’t miss any MoronWatch articles, please join my mailing list.

26 thoughts on “Are Women Oppressed? Part 1…”

    1. Do you know what reactionary means?

      How about a decaying left that is trying to destroy the legacy of feminism by claiming women as weaker, and making false claims of oppression? That would be pretty reactionary, no?

  1. I am a man …. my world views (political, legal, cultural, ethical, economic, religious, ethnic, scientific, spiritual, esoteric etc etc) are formed & reformed by my place in society as a fella.

    I do of course insist on my right (& yours) to have an opinion on what being a woman on planet earth in the early 21st century means …. and that includes having an opinion on whether women are oppressed or otherwise undervalued …. or elevated & otherwise overvalued in our world.

    My opinion (& hence my contribution to ensuring fairness across genders) is flawed. Only in part because I’m male….. my behaviour towards women & how I ‘oppress’ or ‘repress’ or ‘depress’ or otherwise compromise their equality with men is without doubt real ….. a compounding set of factors are at play…..

    My masculinity & heterosexual tendencies motivate my emotional and physical (verbal & nob-verbal) responses to females interacting with me……

    I am the sole brother of four sisters in an Irish catholic family …. only a fool would deny the powerful benefits & deficits of such a family backdrop as an influence on my social competencies …..

    I work in emergency care …. which influences my opinion in so many dimensions I find it hard to quantify – not least my views on the influence gender plays during sudden &/or catastrophic ill health …. (but my professional experiences are soley limited to western europe & the middle east).

    I am the father of a daughter ….. I have no son…… this circumstance perhaps has the greatest influence on my views of womens place in our society… I wonder why frequently….. it’s a great priviledge & a beautiful challenge……

    I look forward to your blogs ….. I’m going to be entertained & I’m going to learn something…..

    Keep going you rogue!

  2. What a load of utter crap. Which planet do you live on?No evidence of systemic female oppression really ? What about the systemic rape / fgm of girls in Africa. The controlling of every aspect of women’s lives in Afganistan and in Europe there’s a massive gender pay gap. I could go on but I’d rather not wast my time on a dick brained Moron.

    1. Siobhan ….
      MoronWatch isn’t trying to contrive a pro/con feminist stance…. but share one.

      The thinking is everything……. lateralising ppl like MW are important…… there’s comfort in polarising oneself…… but it’s intelectually lazy….

    2. Siobhan. Firstly I think he’s talking about here in the West, not globally. Secondly, perhaps you should wait to read Parts 2 and 3 before commenting.

      1. I am currently inclined to agree with Siobhan, as I am not sure that I am getting a coherent or compelling position from this first blog. But I await parts 2 and 3 with interest.

    3. All to-ge-th-er now, “What-a-load-of utt-er crap!” – nice opener! :-/

      You then go on to try to conflate the conditions of women in the developing world with those in the developed world – a classic (and, it must be said, unimaginative) piece of rhetorical dishonesty, commonly employed whenever contemporary First World feminism is critiqued unfavourably. As for the ‘pay gap’, the basis of that claim has largely been debunked.

      “I could go on but I’d rather not wast [sic] my time on a dick brained Moron.”

      Or could it be that you’re simply short on relevant facts and data, so have decided to go cheap ‘n’ dirty by resorting to personal insults?

      Perhaps you’d do better to examine the current state of a political movement which is largely dominated by white, middle class, cis-gendered women, ‘debating’ in an ideological closed loop and fighting battles which have largely been won already.

  3. “Although there are still plenty of people calling themselves feminists, and one hears of third and fourth wave feminism (anyone raise me to fifth?)”

    Here you go.

    As for the rest of the article: Siobhan’s response will be typical of an attitude that argues that (a) as long as one woman anywhere, anytime suffers from discrimination or violence there will be a ‘need for feminism’ (in other words ‘this movement can live on forever’) or (b) any and all criticism of feminism is wrong and proves the ‘need for feminism’ (in other words ‘this movement can live on forever’ because some people disagree). ‘Context’ is just another tool of the patriarchy.

    However the precise form of that ‘feminism’ is unclear because the movement is both broad and diverse (because women are people) and yet united as one (‘women’ are a definable and unified category) . Which of these two positions is foregrounded depends on how a writer wants to make their case/win an argument/smackdown a critic.

    Thirdly, it also depends on the kind of feminism being espoused. It’s hard to reconcile radical feminist ‘Terfs’ with transgender feminists, or social purity campaigners with sex workers. Socialist feminists with an intersectional analysis of class and gender appear to be thin on the ground.

    Lastly, it would be unfair to say the current movement has no current ‘identifiable political objectives.’ The obvious one is ‘equality’, but it’s unclear whether that is equality of opportunity (which UK law recognised by the end of the 1970s) or equality of outcome (i.e. ‘nature’ produces males and females in roughly equal numbers, so why can’t everything else be like that?). But equality was the idea of the previous 2-3 waves, it’s not clear what the fourth wave’s ‘big idea’ is by comparison. In the meantime, there’s always a Twitter campaign for a female Doctor Who.

    I suspect you asking the wrong question (and inevitably getting answers like Siobhan’s). Ros Coward’s ‘Sacred Cows’ entered into a similar debate at the turn of the century. It’s well worth a read.

  4. I’d basically agree that political equality has been reached, but I believe cultural equality is a real issue and still has a ways to go. Namely:-
    – Equality of pay and opportunity in the business world. This is getting better, and may well just be a generational thing where we just need to wait for the old school to die out, but it’s still a pretty big issue.
    – Equality of representation: most films & tv shows have men as the lead character. Women are usually a ‘side-chick’ at best. When films *do* star a woman, they’re usually a rom com. When media (film/videogames/comics) does feature women in a main role, they’re usually hyper-sexualised – skin tight outfits, skinny & lots of cleavage.
    – Equality of basic politeness: women get cat-called when they’re good looking, and get insults hurled at them when they’re fat or masculine-looking. In the street. Usually by men leaning out of car windows. Men very rarely (if ever) have to put up with this.

    1. ‘Cultural equality’ – the point where every debate ends up as a version of ‘Gamergate’ in an endless unwinnable culture war. Plus, ‘politeness’ doesn’t explain why men don’t get cat-called or abused for being fat (not least because in some contexts, men *do* get abuse for their size or shape: it’s just that it’s not framed as a gender issue).

      1. I don’t think it’s endless, or unwinnable, or a war. It’s a perfectly achievable goal, it just hasn’t yet been achieved. But it is being progressed, and needs intelligent rational people to aid it.

        And although ‘politeness’ is probably not the best word, do you not suppose it might be a cultural inequality of views of gender that *does* explain the phenomenon? Dickheads certainly exist in isolation from gender issues, and men are also the recipients of dickheadish comments, but women are the recipients of unsolicited dickheadish comments with a far greater frequency than men are. To be fair, a lot of this doesn’t necessarily apply to gender as much as it does to physical strength: it just happens that men are generally stronger than women, and so can get away with all sorts of dickheadish behavior towards women because physical retribution is unlikely. But social retribution is also a pretty powerful tool, and this is why it behooves all of us to condemn such behavior, regardless of gender. It’s in the interests of the weak to conspire against the strong: see also:- the legal system, the police, anti-fascist movements, reason.

        1. Nick:

          “And although ‘politeness’ is probably not the best word, do you not suppose it might be a cultural inequality of views of gender that *does* explain the phenomenon?”

          Sure, but it relies on a ‘default’ status of ‘men’ where their appearance or attractiveness is often a source of supreme indifference (as long as it conforms to mainstream ideas of masculinity in the first place). Condemning cat-calling (or not doing it in the first place) might be about ‘not being a dickhead’ rather than ‘supporting feminism’.

          “It’s a perfectly achievable goal, it just hasn’t yet been achieved.”

          One could respond with Wilde’s epigram that ‘a map of the world without utopia on it is not worth having’. On the other hand, there is the sheer scale of what achieving ‘cultural equality’ involves (not least because of the breadth of what is considered ‘culture’).

          It could also become a ‘forever war’ as long as there were some people who either disagreed or produced something that gets interpreted as sexist, even if a measurable ‘cultural equality’ was achieved. At best, it’s going to be a ‘process’ not a ‘destination’ or ‘goal,’ even if one was optimistic that the ‘progressive’ side was winning.

    2. “– Equality of pay and opportunity in the business world”

      As you will see (when I eventually write the next part to this!) the “gender pay gap” is basically mythical. An example of very bad science

      “– Equality of representation”

      I’m wincing – we’re edging towards justifying censorship of media here, and that’s never a good thing. Actually, we have already gone a long way down this road. Note how many strong female fighters, martial arts experts and soldiers appear in Hollywood films, and have done for at least 20 years; this is despite the fact that almost all people who fight and die in real wars are male. The need for “equal representation” has overcome the need for truth. Dangerous stuff

      “– Equality of basic politeness”

      Ouch ouch ouch… actually, both online abuse and real-world violence are disproportionately directed at men (plenty of stats on this but no time to go googling at present). You seem to be coming from a deeply patriarchal angle here: apparently suggesting that women are somehow more delicate and must be handled with greater care than men, the little flowers

      1. I’d be interested to see your version of calculating the gender pay gap: I’ve seen a couple of conflicting reports, but I know women who have been turned down for promotion despite being more experienced, because they were ‘a maternity risk’. Presumably, given just the raw figures of pay, there is no way of accounting for situations like that.

        “– Equality of representation”

        Not one feminist I know has ever called for any form of censorship. Cartoons featuring stupid, crazed, enormously red-lipped africans playing drums, like used to appear in TinTin and other comics, have died out – would you claim that was censorship?

        “Note how many strong female fighters, martial arts experts and soldiers appear in Hollywood films, and have done for at least 20 years;” <– they are still by far the exception rather than the norm, but even if they weren't, I find it slightly fishy that – regardless of the gender of the person portraying the lead character – it's that they're given masculine traits which are valued as a progressive stance, while the 'bad guys' in such films are usually signified as bad because they have feminine traits. Hunger Games, 300, Gladiator (and, now I come to google it, many more as listed here http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SissyVillain).

        Besides, I'm not calling for equal representation of women in action films – I'm calling for equal representation in media as a whole: i.e., about 50% of lead characters in film, and about 50% of tv hosts, panellists, guests etc should be women. (I'm using 'should' as an ideal here, rather than an order).

        As for the last point, you said "both online abuse" and "real world violence" are generally directed at men. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt on the last point, but I'm talking about real-world verbal hassle, which is much more prevalent than either of the aboce. Maybe I'm on the receiving end of this less than the average man because I'm 6' 3, but I'd wager most of my male friends could count the number of times it's happened to them on their fingers.

        And no, I didn't intend to come across as talking about women needing to be protected, I'm meant that men needing to stop being dicks – or at least, direct half of their dickishness towards other men.

      2. I can’t comment on the UK, but the gender pay gap is alive and well in Australia. It is no myth, it is a reality that many women live with. As for online abuse, when it is name-calling, and expletives and dissing another’s ideology the stats are the same. When it comes to prominent females (such as journalists and politicians) the amount of sexualised threats of violence (eg rape, anal penetration, forced and degraded sexual acts) rises steeply and is far greater than anything that online males are experiencing. Rather than seeing women as little precious petals, this incidence suggests that it is men who are most threatened by powerful women and have the most fragile egos.

          1. For the EXACT same work, e.g. sitting at a production line putting together the same artefacts at the same rate: the gender *pay* gap has closed, but women are still less likely to be hired than men. Across industries, the Australian gender pay gap in 2015 is 18.8%

    3. – When media (film/videogames/comics) does feature women in a main role, they’re usually hyper-sexualised – skin tight outfits, skinny & lots of cleavage.

      Oh great. Another Socjust comrade who wants to make “sexist” interchangeable with “sexy” in their new edition of the Newspeak dictionary… Coming soon!

      Shaming people who like sexy fictional characters… Even if they are women themselves! Sounds real progressive!

      I think I’ll go watch “Aliens” again. Or maybe I’ll go play Tomb Raider or the first three Resident Evil games again. Or maybe even *shudders* Bayonetta! (Blasphemy! Burn him! Burn Him!).

      1. Sexy /= Sexist. Sexy is fine. The sexist part is the unwavering consistency with which women as portrayed as wank-fantasies. Videogames are a good start: Mario (short, fat), Guybrush Threepwoord (skinny nerd), Gordon Freeman (glasses-wearing nerd). Most fighting games you’d care to mention have fat/ugly/scarred playable characters. But the women? Consistently gorgeous usually to the point of caricature. At worst, they can transform into a demon or something.

        Now… again, I’d like to reiterate that, stand-alone, the odd game here and there, it’s not a problem. The problem is that it’s everywhere, and it has harmful societal effects: both on women’s self-image (leading from base-level neuroses, up to full-blown mental disorders and health problems) and it effects men’s image of women (i.e. objects to be fantasised about).

        I’d also like to pre-argue the point I feel coming (“what about the men? They’re mostly skinny muscle-bound hunks”) with the notion that, unlike the women are for men, they’re not there as a sexual fantasy for women – they’re there as a fantasy for what men would like to be. ‘Bigorexia’ is a disorder too – men who spend all their time down the gym because they feel they’re not yet muscly enough – but on the plus side, it’s at least physically if not mentally healthy.

    1. And here, as exposed by the above commenter, is the biggest thing of all: Sexism/Oppression is best written about by the people on the receiving end.
      White people have often argued why logically, syntactically, and historically, it’s fine to use the N-word. But white people are never on the receiving end of the effects of the word, so their arguments should really only be an ‘also-ran’ consideration. Men are rarely the victims of sexism – quite the opposite. So while you’re free to discuss issues of feminism & oppression – I really feel you should be asking women and reporting what they say. I really enjoyed your podcast on strippers & porn stars for that very reason.

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