Recently I have been asked what kind of books I would recommend to somebody who wanted to broaden his knowledge about feminism. It feels like a sensible question but after a while I don’t want to answer it. Here is why.
I think that men who ask me which book on feminism I would recommend recognize feminism as important and they want to find something that would explain the issues so they don’t feel ignorant. So the demand is for a kind of a guidebook. But you cannot recommend a guidebook on feminism as you could recommend a guidebook on psychoanalysis because feminism is not only an intellectual stream, and even as a stream it is too diverse for any book to be considered representative.
Feminism is based on the presumption that women are humans – and that is the only thing which is common for all of feminists. As women are diverse in different societies, ages, classes, races, cultures, life experiences and so on, it follows that – you have many different takes on feminism. Being a feminist means accepting that women’s experience matters and that they may express this experience from many different perspectives. It does not mean agreeing on any particular view of the world. Below I will try to sum the main differences in these perspectives from what I know:
1. Some say that feminism is about equality between men and women but in some places feminists fight for basic human rights not equality. For example: in one instance it is about a women who wants to be a director of a bank but somewhere else it is about a woman who wants access to a toilet. Feminism has no priority list and you may get a very different picture of feminism depending on who is explaining it.
2. Some women who are feminists struggle to be more like men but others prefer to embrace their femininity and at that point they differ on values. Some women enter the men’s world and enjoy “being better” by being like men. Other women put stress on changing the way we evaluate what is better so being female would not mean being worse.
3. Some feminists focus solely on women’s problems and see men as a kind of enemy. Other feminists care about men’s issues as much as they do about women’s issues.
4. Some feminists focus on the rights of women with careers – but others focus on women with children. There is also a type who try to argue that women can have both. This is a good example of a problem that divides women because women staying at home require benefits while the rest of the society (including all working women with and without children) must pay taxes to let them have these benefits. It shows how difficult equality is in practice when we consider not only men and women but also different groups of women.
5. There is also a huge range of attitudes to sex among feminists. Some of them behave like they want to ban it. Some of them want to appreciate a woman’s right to sexual pleasure and embrace sexual freedom. Somewhere in between you have women who want sex but only if it’s made more “female”. The last group stands behind a new kind of pornography targeted at women.
6. Some feminists fight for women to be treated as normal citizens but they don’t regard minorities as normal or deserving equality. In contrast, others see being a woman as a rationale for being different and root for all the “others”. So, there may be feminists supporting LGBT people but also women who are homophobic and regarding themselves feminists.
7. And last but not least: some feminists try to dominate public debate by presenting themselves as the only ones who are entitled to represent feminism. Others are OK with contradictions and while they disagree with a lot of opinions presented as feminism, they see the right to resist and do things their own way as the very core of feminism. I represent this last group.