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Thoughts On Feminism

February 23, 2009

More of a question than an idea.

How to keep molding useful definitions of feminism?

In light of S. N. Goenka’s vipassana meditation course that I just finished, here’s one idea that came to mind yesterday.

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1) All beings, including all human beings, of every sex and gender, deserve to be happy.

2) Most beings are unhappy and filled with negativity, which often leads them to harm others.

3) Sexism is an umbrella term for patterns of harm based on sex and gender.  People use gender, and its historical norms and conventions, to direct negativity toward each other in particular ways, both physical and psychological.

4) Harm may be intentional or unintentional, but generates negativity either way.  So as a form of harm, sexism may be intentional or unintentional.

5) Harm may be personal or impersonal, structural or individual.  So sexism may also be personal or impersonal, structural or individual.

6) Again, harm implies negativity.  In whatever form it takes, negativity creates misery for both its subject and its object.  Thus, sexism creates misery in both the person generating negativity and the person toward whom the negativity is directed.

Okay, so now we’ve got a couple of basic elements.  One, everyone deserves happiness.  Two, sexism impedes happiness because it involves harming others.  But here things get hazy.  Which gender norms, or patterns of gendered behavior, are harmful, and which ones aren’t?  How can we tell the difference between positive gender and negative gender — gender that leads to happiness, and gender that leads to misery?

For example, one gendered convention is that society generally expects physically (suit)able women to bear and raise children.  Is this sexist or not?

How do we answer that question?

If sexism is a pattern of doing harm, then we might ask, Is this harmful or not?

And if harm is a manifestation of negativity that people generate, then we might ask, Does this action generate negativity or not?

Well, that’s a tough one to answer.  Because it’s a tough one to measure.  How do you know whether or not an thought or action has generated negativity?  Others may hide their negativity, and even if it’s evident, you can’t control it: you can’t stop them from generating it.  Even if you put them in prison; even if you torture them; even if you kill them.  And doing those things will only generate *more* negativity in *you,* which worsens the whole situation.  The only sure way we can stop the production of negativity is by studying, reducing, and eradicating it in ourselves.

This is very, very hard.  It takes work and action.  Over a long time — maybe our entire lives.  And in my experience, and in the experience of a whole lot of folks, the work is sometimes really, really fucking painful.

But it’s worth it.

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Feminism: reducing and ceasing patterns of harm that are based on conventions of sex and gender.

If feminism looks only at patterns and ignores harm, it becomes dogma.  If feminism looks only at harm and ignores negativity, it becomes superficial.  It will never reach and eradicate the source of the problem.

This makes many feminists nervous.  Because it seems to mean that we can sideline gender and just focus on ‘larger’ harms, which is certainly an excuse that’s been used a ton — in movements around ableism, sexism, labor, racism, and on and on.  And it also seems to mean that we lose the ability to quantify, to measure progress.  How do we really quantify and measure the negativity people generate in their consciousness?

These concerns are super valid.  But, importantly, the logic also goes the other way.

In order to reach and eradicate negativity, we must be conscious of all forms of harm.  Or else we’ll continue to do harm unintentionally. If we work to reduce some forms of harm and ignore others, then the eradication will be incomplete.  And in order to be conscious of all forms of harm, we need to observe all patterns of harm.  Sexism is one very important type of pattern.  And feminism, or whatever name we want to call it, simply means a commitment to reducing and ending this particular type of pattern.  Which, at its deep root, depends on making ourselves more positive people, and helping others in their efforts for positivity, too.

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What do you think about a definition like this?  Could it be useful for you?  Does it feel harmful to you? What are your own thoughts and ideas about how to continue redefining feminism?  Could we come up with another, better word to fit with this general train of thought? Does one already exist that I just don’t know about? I’d love to hear.  Again, even though definitions sound, by their nature, um, definitive…hehe…in the sense that I make it sound like I know what I’m talking about,  I only know what I experience (and even that’s only when I pay attention), not what you experience.  So I’d be very grateful if you shared.

You are wonderful.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.  :->)

Now it’s back to writing some letters on my day off — tomorrow I start serving the next meditation course at Dhamma Neru.  Yay!

wishing you happiness,

katie

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*to clarify, since one of my friends was like “WHAT???!!!” Goenka wasn’t actually there at Dhamma Neru: we just hear his instructions and discourses every day through tapes and videos administered by assistant teachers.  hehe.

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