The Truth about Feminism.

I was told not long ago that it was never against the law for women to vote, and whilst this is technically true when phrased that way (in Britain, that is, I don’t know about American voting rights), it is not true as the statement might imply that voting rights did not discriminate based on gender. In lieu of learning more about voting rights, it got me thinking about feminism as an ideology, and so I decided to lay out some of my arguments on paper.

We’ll get back to voting rights later on, but first I want to raise a flag at the notion of ‘equal rights’, or at least the phrasing of it that way. I used to tell a joke that goes down poorly, which is that if I was running for office I’d absolutely fight for equal rights, in that nobody has any rights, but equally. Maybe not very funny, but there is a point to be made on that, which is that it seems like people who use the term “equal” to qualify “rights” are making a statement that instead of “we deserve”, “we deserve as much”. It seems like a meaningless distinction except when applied to real examples. By dictionary definition, which is descriptive not prescriptive, feminism is “the advocation of women rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. If of course they advocated men’s rights as well it would read “the advocation of equal rights between the sexes”, so by this definition at least it stands on the simple advocation of women’s rights where they have not rights equal.

Obviously this is a pedantic point, so let’s use an example. Consider the right to protect your child’s birth. I don’t think there are many that wouldn’t say abortion is a feminist issue, and ignoring the debate of whether and when an unborn foetus has rights of its own, if a man does not want the woman to have the child, but the woman does, does she have the right to have it anyway? And if so, does the man have the right to abandon her? And would you fight against that man being stigmatised for leaving his child with the same ferocity that you would fight against a woman being stigmatised for aborting her child? If reversed, where the woman does not want it but the man does most feminists would say it’s up to her, “her body, her choice”. This is where the “we deserve as much” becomes important, if the woman has the right to choose whether a child that is mutually hers is born, but the man doesn’t, it is not on the ground of equality of the sexes, and is therefore not a feminist issue, contrary to feminism, it is rather a “we deserve” argument, an argument of women’s rights, not equal rights.

To pair that down, the point is this: feminism either advocates equality in so far as women have fewer rights, beyond that, they advocate only for women’s rights which may even go beyond the rights of men, or it does not advocate abortion (and abortion is not a feminist issue). You decide. I like to think feminists probably do advocate abortion largely, they just don’t advocate equality in areas concerning inequality for men, which outlines my main criticism of the ideology; it is one sided. An egalitarian however would seek to give rights to either gender where they are not equal to the other because an egalitarian advocates equal rights between the sexes, or actually the protection of rights and equality under law.

Let’s go back then to voting rights. So I said at the start that the phrase “it was never against the law in the UK for women to vote” is technically true, this is because it was only a law for about 80 years and even then never explicitly banned women from voting. The argument from feminists that women were not legally allowed to vote is an interpretation of the law, a common one, but still an interpretation. Voting rights were based originally on property, land owners who owned property beyond a certain amount (which was mostly men) were eligible to vote. Before the woman’s suffrage movement, there was a male suffrage movement looking to extend the vote to more people, but even before the first world war some 40% of men still could not vote.

Whilst it wasn’t in law that women could not vote, it was custom, women didn’t vote not technically because they couldn’t but because it wasn’t what women did, however the Reform Act of 1832 did explicitly widen voting only for “male persons” which has often been interpreted as the first actual exclusion of women from voting, but there was still never an explicit ban. This is where most of this notion that women couldn’t vote comes from – the Interpretation Act of 1850 clarified certain laws saying that the masculine would include the feminine unless stated otherwise, however in the case of Regina vs Harrald [1872], there was a ruling against married women voting. So the statement “it was never against the law for women to vote” is true, but misleading and debatable.

Now, there was a movement pushing for women’s suffrage, for women’s votes to be ensured under law, but it was overshadowed by the first world war, after which, with the Representation of the People Act (1918) all women who helped in factories etc. and all men who fought in the war were allowed to vote; all men above the age of 21 and all women above the age of 30 were given the right to vote also. Eventually after that, women fought for universal suffrage above the age of 21 in 1921 with no property restrictions – now, obviously the difference in what age women had to be versus men was a feminist issue, an issue in which women did not have the same rights as men, and universal suffrage was a great achievement from feminists, I’m not taking that away, but they were the last in a series of fights for universal suffrage, which began with male suffrage.

As an egalitarian I value universal suffrage greatly, I do believe that for as long as there is a government, and the right to choose is replaced by the right to choose out of what is allowed, being able to decide what is allowed is an inalienable right. I believe people have a positive and a negative right to vote (and therefore not vote if they so choose). People think of feminism as a series of events and to be against the ideology is to be against those events, but it is an ideology, where to be anti-feminist is to be anti- the premise or argument that it is built on and to be critical is to be critical of anything it does or proposes, not everything it does or proposes. I can acknowledge and credit an ideology without subscribing to the ideology as a whole if there are overlapping issues. But as an egalitarian, there are sides to the first wave feminists that I am critical of. One of which was The Order of the White Feather. Many early feminists and suffragettes engaged in the organisation, in which a white feather would be given as a symbol of cowardice to shame men who were not wearing a military uniform into enlisting in the army, this also often extended to men who had been injured and discharged. Also, we should not excuse burning down buildings like the Tea Pavilion for political purposes.

I have always said that there are at least three great achievements that feminists should be credited for, the first is universal suffrage (although not wholly credited), the second equal pay, and the third sexual liberation. Unfortunately modern day feminism, or third wave feminism, seems to forget the second, and actively tries to repeal the third. You will often hear grand statistics about the wage gap, that women earn x amount on the pound as compared to men, but this is largely untrue. Many institutions in both Britain and America have debunked the statistic, because it is only based on a broad range of people, it does not take into account profession, hours worked, holidays taken, competition in salary versus fixed rate, or the different choices people make. When all of this is taken into account, the gap closes significantly and it even seems to be that women under 30 actually earn more than men. Now, the feminist might say, only when challenged on this of course, that this is because women are not encouraged to take higher paying jobs or commit to working. Well first of all, it might help if you didn’t tell them they wouldn’t earn the same as a man for the same work, but also if you look at societies that are most free,  the more encouraged women are to make their own choices, not the choices feminists want them to make, the wider the gap becomes. This is because feminism, largely as a leftist ideology, conflates inequality with inequity.

I don’t believe that a woman should be rewarded for working over say, staying at home and raising children, nor do I believe she should be punished for it. I believe that women have the choice to do either, and should have as much opportunity to do either as men – which they largely do. Feminists often focus on under-representation, and seek to solve that problem by incentivising businesses to discriminate against men, or by shaming businesses (like a white feather) for not hiring enough women to the point where they are forced to discriminate against men, and of course show no concern for businesses that are dominated by women, or by the under-representation of men in universities, for example. Another example of feminism being one sided. On top of that, of course, rather than fighting for a right which does not extend to women, because they are women, the feminist now seems to fight for an entitlement to something which is not a right, because they are women. Not only is this collectivist, but incredibly sexist. It is the belief that being female is a virtue in and of itself. It isn’t.

On this, I will also say the following (although let me finish): Women do not deserve respect. They do not deserve kindness, charity, or even prosperity. I don’t respect women, because I respect people individually. Some women deserve respect, or kindness, individually if they have earned it, individually, and women do not deserve to be disrespected either, women deserve nothing just because they are women. The same extends to any group of people. This is another reason why the argument on representation is sexist, to assume that all women are as such that any woman would do for the cause, is to believe that the only merit women have is that they are women. But this isn’t something held by all feminists either, of course.

What I do hear often by modern feminists, is the argument on objectification. Now let’s be blunt here as well: you do not have the right not to be objectified. You cannot control how people think, or what they think of you, in the same way as I can think you’re a bad person, and you cannot stop me, I can see you only in a sexual way, and you cannot stop me. It is not “mind rape” to imagine having sex with someone else; to believe it to be, or to try to stop people from thinking whatever they will about you is fascism. Worse than trying to prevent freedom of speech, you’re trying to prevent freedom of thought. But here’s another thing, the argument on objectification is directly opposed to sexual liberation, and here’s why.

Take, for example, a poster of a woman half naked. Now, the woman did have the right to behave and to portray herself in a sexualised way (that’s sexual liberation). Of course, if she was being forced to, that would be different, worse it would be against the law. When this woman decides to do this, she is doing it in order to be objectified by men, and for the most part she probably is. So, as a feminist, if you are against this, you have to question what it is you are against. If you are against men seeing the poster, then you are against this woman being allowed to portray herself in this way by trying to eliminate the purpose of her doing so (her audience). If you are against a poster of this sort you are doing the same. Both of these are in direct opposition to sexual liberation and are a form of collectivist chastity. If you are against people seeing it in a sexual way, which is its intention, you are asking to control how people see things, which is not only impossible but incredibly fascistic. If you don’t want to see it yourself, you don’t have to, you can look away. If you even assume that people are seeing it in a sexual way, however obvious that assumption is, or assume that men are looking at it in a sexual way because they’re men, that is also extremely sexist. I don’t think most feminists who would have a problem with this believe in controlling how others think, so I would suggest it is probably that they are against sexual liberation; the same argument works with pornography as well.

If the issue is “unrealistic expectations of beauty”, assuming this woman doesn’t actually look the way she is portrayed, you are the one applying standards of beauty to all women by assuming that women will be affected by the advert just because they share the same gender as the person in the picture. To be offended by another person’s actions, or the display of another person, because they are a woman and it affects how “women” are seen is tribalistic. You’re creating a reservation for which women should not be allowed to step out of. This highlights my second biggest problem with feminism; it is collectivist, to hurt one is to hurt all.

As a believer in the freedom of women to reserve or express depending on their individual preferences, I am a believer in sexual liberation; therefore I am not a believer in the argument on objectification.

Another problem with feminism is that it attaches itself to causes little related to women at all, such as eco-feminism (basically summed up as “men are ruining the environment”), and also, as in the case of modern feminism, seems to find things to advocate in directly opposing ideologies. One such, is the trans-gender movement. Whilst again, this is really only a dig at feminists who conflate the two, which isn’t common, but I haven’t yet met a feminist that would condemn the trans movement despite it being in direct opposition to what feminists believe. First of all, the notion that gender is nothing biological (separate from sex) and that all one has to do really to be a different gender is identify as that gender (with no real measurability) it makes it impossible to treat any inequality of rights as an inequality of rights against women when figures are gathered collectively. What I mean by this is, looking at an under representation of women and saying that this is an example of inequity, and therefore a feminist issue, is to assume the genders of the group in question. This is something rallied against by the trans movement. Also, the core belief in gender as a social construct, is the direct opposite of the feminist approach to gender. Rather than “if you are a masculine female it doesn’t make you less of a female”, being masculine is what trans people do who are born female but identify as male. Rather than “wearing a dress does not make you a woman”, wearing a dress is what trans people often do who are born male but identify as women. And also, by the argument from the trans movement that trans is not a new phenomenon just not previously accepted, it makes it impossible for anyone really to claim a patriarchy or former male supremacy or male control or any form of inequality in the past without “assuming gender”. No? How do we know all of the men who were eligible to vote identified as men?

If you’re still reading this then either you’re an open minded feminist or someone like me saying the same things to yourself privately while biting your tongue when your feminist friend tells you the date for their next “slut walk” (although still crying out against objectification). So, to sum up, you can credit the achievements of an ideology without agreeing with its premise, and you can criticise any ideology, especially if you agree with its premise, and I disagree with the premise of feminism as one sided, tribalistic, and largely hypocritical; too hungry not to eat itself. I criticise its actions even if I agree with some overlapping issues. I am anti-feminism, not necessarily anti-feminist, because I believe in protecting everyone’s rights, as well as equality of rights for every person; race, gender, sexuality, whatever. I am an egalitarian.

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Lit-gap: Examining Gender Disparity in the Publishing Industry.

In 2014, an American organisation VIDA found that on average, when analysing the most popular publications in the US, women were under-represented not only in published works but in literature reviews. Equally, with only a few seconds’ Google search you can find countless examples of women who feel “passed over” by publishers in the US and UK because of their sex. However, what I’m going to ask in this essay, is a question where the answer is not often proven, but assumed until proven otherwise; is this sexism?

First, let’s just consider whether it is fair to claim that in an industry where the majority of readers are women, 64% to 45% in 2012, and the majority of publishers are women, that women are discriminated against. Imagine if it was the other way around, imagine if the majority of readers were men, and publishers, at the very least you would use these figures as a talking point about discrimination against women. So why then, in the reverse, is it still considered discrimination against women? And it’s true, that whilst yes, professional reviews see a somewhat disproportionate representation of men, the best-seller’s lists, and book awards are either equal or predominantly given to women; in the 2015 Costa Awards, 12 women were short-listed compared to only 8 men; in a study of major American literary prizes from 2000-2015, by Quartz, aimed at proving discrimination against women (which we’ll revisit later), found that the total awards won by women were 48 to 41 by men; The Man Booker Prize for 2016 (despite its name) shows an equal balance of male to female authors short-listed at 3 to 3.

Considering the VIDA count, which does appear troubling and has ceased not to have been used when arguing about the Lit-gap, there is a widely quoted mantra that appears at the top of VIDA 2010 which says that “numbers don’t lie.” And whilst this is true, numbers don’t lie, their interpreters certainly do. What the VIDA count fails to consider, when looking at how many men are reviewed, or even published, is both how many men submitted work versus how many women, and whether there may simply be a difference in quality or style as it appeals to readership between men and women. We’ll look at the differences in style later, but an important and overlooked factor, partly because it will be difficult to measure, is in submission representation. Assumptions have to be made for lack of numbers, but it is a fundamental area of concern, if the submission representation of women is higher than men, and men are published more often then it supplies evidence to the claim that women are “passed over” (although “why” would still be up for debate), and if representation was the opposite, and that men submit more work than women, then men being higher in published works or reviews would seem just an obvious side-effect. The answer to gender parity in the second case would be to encourage more women to write, or submit, their work. It should also be noted that according to VIDA in Young Adult and Children’s Books, it is women that dominate not men.

So let’s look then at the representation of men and women in English Literature or Creative Writing courses at University or A-level. A study from the English Subject Centre found that from the years 2004 to 2008, women studying English Literature courses at A-Level was almost or over double that of men in any given year, 36,552 female versus 15,214 male in 2008—and I picked these dates specifically because this would be the generation that would now have moved into the industry (if English Literature and Creative Writing is believed to be a path to a writing career, which, as a graduate of the latter I’m not so sure). For English and Creative Writing undergraduate and post graduate students, female students represented over 70% of the total. We also know, going back further than that to 2002, in a study by Wilhelm and Smith, that young boys were less prone to reading than girls, but are these sufficient enough to argue that more women than men will go into writing? Perhaps, but if there are more women than men submitting their work to these publishers, does “short supply” give men a competitive edge?

There is a glaring counter-argument; the advantage for publishers, from a business stand-point, would imply that female readers, of which are predominant, are more willing to read both men and women, whereas male readers are only willing to read men. I raise this because it is a common argument made to explain the gap. Laura Miller, from Salon, writes that “publishers can assume that a book written by a man will sell to both men and women, but a book by a woman is a less reliable bet.” However, in an analysis by Goodreads in 2014, titled A Look at Who’s Reading Whom, it was found when looking at a “sample size of 40,000 active members, 20,000 men and 20,000 women,” that of 50 books most read by men, 45 of them are written by men and that of the 50 that were most read by women, 45 of them were written by women. According to Goodreads, “we are still sticking to our own sex.”

So if this is true, what incentive is there for publishers to publish more men than women if they receive more female submissions? Would they willingly lose money for the sake of gender discrimination, especially considering the majority of the publishers themselves are women? Unlikely. In the VIDA count, Tin House was the only publication where the reviews for women outweighed that of men, and the editor, Rob Spillman, told The Guardian that he received “more men than women” and “backed off soliciting men”. Either way you look at it, it becomes increasingly apparent that a true, and reliable, study on the amount of submissions from women and men, as well as how many go into writing, would be a necessary step to finding out if there is a bias against women in publishing.

Remember that Quartz article I mentioned? The study of major American literary prizes from 2000-2015. This is a classic example of a confirmation bias’ last resort. Imagine if you didn’t know the data I had just given you, learning that a media outlet like Quartz was investigating gender parity in literature awards, you would assume that they would find, or hope to portray, that men are dominating, and that women are being overlooked, but instead they found the opposite, and rather than write about how positive this looks for gender equality in publishing, what do they decide to do? They write a piece titled, There’s a gender gap in prize-winning literature—not between the authors, but the characters. Proving that the books that won awards, whether written by a woman or a man, were predominantly written with male protagonists and that this, therefore, was an example of sexism. Well the problem here is that would this be an issue, or even written about, if the awards were won predominantly by male authors? Probably not. I’ve also heard about as many claims that men don’t understand women enough to write about them, and discouraged to do so, than I have about this very debate; one such example from Cheryl Lange on Men and Women writing Women (nothing on women writing men, of course), states that “some believe that male authors are not able to write accurately from the female perspective or present feminist ideals because they have not experienced life as women.” You see this all the time, moving the goal post, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even if the industry was dominated by women, all the reviews were written by and about women, and all the main characters were women, outlets like Quartz would still be trying to claim that there was sexism in the industry because there were fewer women using book vouchers for Waterstones.

There is something else that should be added to the mix here, something quite likely to alter the pool with which reviewers and publishers have to work with. It is essential for a publication to represent in their reviews a broad spectrum of genres, and equally to publish a selection of genres as well, so the introduction, in the 1970s, of a “Woman’s Writing” category has since, I would argue, lessened a publisher’s ability to publish women. Let’s say you were told to select a certain number of Crime novels, Women’s Writing novels, and Fantasy. Since the Woman’s Writing category applies to anything which reflects what it’s like to be a woman, this will surely draw in the majority of female writers, especially those with female characters, and potentially all of feminist literature. Wouldn’t this severely cut the chances of women applying, if men apply to all categories, and a portion of women are drawn away into this dedicated woman’s category? The same goes also, and probably moreso, for dedicated woman’s magazines. There are countless examples of publications, MsLexia for example, and agents individually taking away the female writers from the general pool by offering an exclusive magazine solely for women. It is no wonder, then, that publications open to men and women would have a supply problem. I’ve heard people use the “no men allowed” genre as an example of sexism against women before, the idea that Women’s Writing isn’t “real writing”, but again I question the logic of calling those involved in the exclusion victims of discrimination, rather than those excluded.

Another interesting side to this, is does it really matter? If the purpose of a review is to promote personal preference, then how can you force people to review a different split of men versus women? If the reviewer prefers a male writer to a female writer is it sexist? If on average, reviewers prefer male writers to female writers, is the solution to force those reviewers to include writers they don’t prefer? Or should we fire these reviewers in favour of ones who do prefer women? Equally, perhaps women are not as dedicated to writing if it is perceived to be a “feminine” activity (and in my experience, as a male writer, it always has been) and so men might feel they have more to prove, and simply produce more “stand out” literature. Again, I’m not saying this is true, but there are far more possibilities than outright discrimination.

But is there a difference in style? Is there something about the male writing style, or the male creative brain, that appeals to publishers (both male and female) more than women?

There have been studies that show men write more “to the point” than women, where women are more interested in developing setting and character; Simon Baron-Cohen described the male brain as “systemizing”, an example of “mechanistic thinking” whereas women typically possess more “empathizing tendencies”. The latter you would assume would make more interesting storytelling, but as a result, I would argue, of the over-saturation of Sci-fi and Fantasy, publishers and editors are looking for straightforward storytelling, they’re looking to be thrown in the deep end rather than having to study how the world works before they’re allowed to meet the main character. Fiction Editor, Beth Hill wrote that she prefers male writers because “by far—and not always, but most often—the male writers get to the point sooner. They jump into action and begin the story without hesitation. Their characters are people with character. The people in stories written by men don’t hold back.” However, whether it’s true or not, I wouldn’t argue that it had that much of an impact on publishability, after all, if the readership is predominantly women, and women tend to prefer reading women, and if publishers are largely women, then how can a woman’s style be that different from a man so absolutely if more men are published? I do think however that if there is a skill that both genders seek and would respect if written by a woman or a man, and if men by and large present this skill over women, it could explain why men may simply be more publishable. The best argument in this case, is risk-taking and innovation.

Trickey, of the British Psychological Society (as reported in The Telegraph), stated that, shaped by evolution, “it’s easy to see how the balance between prudent, cautious long term decision making of females would have marred up very effectively with the impulsive, carefree, adventurous approach of males.” In Judgement and Decision Making, Vol. 1 No.1, 2006, it was noted that men perceive “less risk” and have “a greater likelihood of engaging in risky behaviours.” Although another article by Drew Boyd in Psychology Today implied that really it is the perception that men are more innovative that is more significant; “men are perceived as more innovative and risk-taking, and women are perceived as more adaptive and risk-adverse.” In either scenario, it would explain a publisher’s likelihood to favour a male writer over a female writer, although if it is just perception then it may well be a perception that needs to change. More research into this, I think, is required to come to that conclusion.

As I think I have demonstrated, the issue is far more complex and there is far too little information to really draw the conclusion that result necessitates motive, and that fewer women equals sexism. I’m not denouncing the notion as a whole, but it does anger me that in cases of social inequality, we assume guilty until proven otherwise. We presume that if there are fewer women in a certain field that said field must be sexist against women, again ignoring the fields in which there are fewer men, and actually I find more and more articles celebrating the majority female representation and damning the majority male, as if inequality is dependant on who is being treated unequally. And all you really have to ask is “would this have the same amount of attention if women dominated the reviews, and if women were published more often than men? And would it be considered sexist against men?” And I just don’t believe it would be. There have been articles circling in the last few years about a “year of publishing only women”, to force equality over merit. And as disgusting, and fascistic as this idea is, people flock to it as some humanitarian goal. But the truth is that if you create a system where women are published regardless of quality, and where standards inevitably drop, as soon as men return to the pool, they will be so vastly superior to the women that it would only make things ten times worse, and then feminists will have to push for two years of only women, and then three, and eventually it will be a single-sex industry, unless it dies first. And this is a broad principle that can be applied to a number of these cases, whether it’s race, class, gender, sexuality, or any kind of disparity, the solution is never to order out the majority and fill the pool with a looser and lower standard, favouring only those because of their race, or because of their gender, rather than on individual merit. It does not help anybody, it only hurts everybody, especially if you have not yet proven the reason for that disparity.

As far as my personal opinion goes on the Lit-gap, I do not consider there to be sufficient enough evidence of sexism, nor do I buy that an industry where the majority of readers, publishers, and award-winners are women, and where there are magazines that men are not allowed to apply to, and agents who men are not allowed to apply to, and genres that do not apply to men, can be in any way discriminatory to women, or if it is, that it would take priority.