Homo Consumericus

The nature and nurture of consumption

The Pros and Cons of Feminism

Some of you might remember earlier posts wherein I discussed benevolent and hostile sexism. In honor of this nomenclature, in today's post I shall discuss what I coin hostile versus benevolent feminism. Specifically, benevolent feminism has been exemplary in redressing the myriad of injustices that women have faced in all walks of life. On the other hand, hostile feminism consists of ideological narratives, masquerading as academic content, that are irrational, false, and at times grossly offensive to all clear-thinking individuals (men and women alike). Bottom line: Feminism is laudable as a social movement, and minimally relevant as an academic discipline.

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Well Said!

I agree 100% with your article! I would also like to note that academic feminism may actually harm the ideals put forth by women continue to fight for change in genuine inequalities. We tend to dismiss entire concepts when things start to look like nonsense. After my freshman year at a University, I declared that I would never be a feminist. It took me many years out of college to redefine feminism for what it really is and align myself with women who truely make a difference. I almost denied myself this fufilling opportunity to stand up for human rights due to the number of professors shoving nonsensical mantra down my throat for 4+ years.

Out of the feminist articles

Out of the feminist articles that have been posted lately this is my favorite. I consider myself a feminist but I could never stand it when I was told the only thing that is diffrent in women and men is the way they are raised. I always like to point out that my breasts are purely a social construction, and so my brain must develop due to social construction alone as well!

I appreciate your supportive comments.

Dear Becky and Julia,

I was delighted to read your honest outlooks on the matter. As you might imagine, it is always tricky to write such an article, as one is likely to receive many hateful (if not irrational) responses. Accordingly, I am thankful for your supportive messages.

Thank you for reading. I wish you both a great day.

Warm Regards,

GS

Math

Your example is too biased, I would suggest:

"Yerachmiel is a fireperson who makes 40,000 Rupees a year. His boss, Fire Chief Atifah has advised him that he will be receiving a 5% salary increase next year..."

You've uncovered a new branch of mathematics.

Thank you for the colorful example!

GS

"Bad" feminism and the moralistic fallacy: Ought implies what is

(Good) Feminism is about what "ought" to be... it is not a scientific theory about what "is" and how it got to be that way. It is "good" if you think its basic philosophical/political goals are "good." (Generally, I agree with those goals.) For example, men may be taller than women in general, but, both should be given equal opportunity to prove their skills in trying out for a mixed-sex basketball team.

(Bad) Feminism is about trying to explain what "is" using reference to "what ought" (as well as reliance on non-scientific methodologies). It commits the moralistic fallacy by suggesting that what "ought" implies what "is." Example: men and women ought to be the same height, therefore, there can be no biological basis for the average height difference between the sexes. The best basketball teams (once we get rid of... er, ...something that is purely "socially constructed") will always have an equal representation of males and females, because that is what is moral, and "what is" is always what is moral.

Thanks, Dr. Saad, for helping to further explore these distinctions.

Well said.

Hi Dr. Mills,

It's good to hear from you. Many thanks for your insights. Thank you for reading.

GS

Where's the good

It is clear what your intention in writing this article was, so why did you bother making it "the pros and cons". Instead, the title should be "Mostly cons and some pros to shut them feminazis up'.

Not to mention that your cons are clearly strawmen. The feminist issue with the sciences is pretty simple and you do not address it. It is that the academic sciences are portrayed as being objective, but nothing can be objective so that statement is false.

On to your nature vs. nurture question. Feminist (generally speaking) agree that there are innate differences between the sexes, but the differences are small when you compare them differences created due to socialisation.

Your statements support my points. Many thanks.

Let's look at two of your quotes:

(1) "Not to mention that your cons are clearly strawmen. The feminist issue with the sciences is pretty simple and you do not address it. It is that the academic sciences are portrayed as being objective, but nothing can be objective so that statement is false."

I am afraid that you are making my point in the latter quote. Mathematical axioms are indeed perfectly objective, as are endless other scientific laws. Hence, the postmodernist/feminist tenet that "all is relative" and hence that the natural sciences are suspect is weak drivel. This is why scientists, both men and women alike, do not take such anti-science talk very seriously. This might impress undergraduate students in Women's Studies classes but it fails within the greater pantheon of intellectual thought.

(2) "On to your nature vs. nurture question. Feminist (generally speaking) agree that there are innate differences between the sexes, but the differences are small when you compare them differences created due to socialisation."

The innate differences that most feminists "concede" are of the extraordinarily trivial and obvious variety. There is well over four decades of feminist literature that abdicates the importance of biology in explaining sex differences. Hence, your desire to revise the feminist doctrine crumbles against endless published feminist writings wherein biology is largely rejected as relevant in explaining the great majority of sex differences.

Your opening sentence seems to hint at a "hidden agenda" I had in writing my post. Are you referring to the conspiratorial patriarchal agenda by any chance? If so, I can assure you that I have never attended any of the patriarchy's secret meetings. :)

Many thanks for your thoughts. Have a good day.

GS

On what Dworkin and MacKinnon allegedly said, but never did...

The rumor, the lie, that Andrea Dworkin and Catharine A. MacKinnon said all sex is rape and all men are rapists is spuriously and consistently promoted on the Internet to discredit and malign them and their important work on behalf of humanity and human rights for women. For the truth about what they did and didn't say, see this at Snopes.com, called "Rape Seeded":

http://www.snopes.com/quotes/mackinnon.asp

And please acknowledge here, and anywhere else you have spread this rumor, that the statements that you attribute to them were never said or written (or believed) by them. Thank you.

Your own words on your blog (today) are quite telling.

In your reply to a post that was put up on your blog earlier today, you state:

"Tragically, men enjoy harming and exploiting women and call that harm and exploitation "sex"."

The quote can be found here:

http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.com/2009/08/health-club-shooting-reve...

It would seem that whereas you are arguing that the position of Dworkin and MacKinnon on rape have been misconstrued by everyone (including many staunch academic feminists), you are perfectly capable of uttering words to that effect on your own!

Nice job Julian.

Words of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon are quite clear.

Dear Julian,

I have referenced Drs. Patai and Koertge's book in my post. You can follow their reference(s) for additional details. There are countless other sources wherein the words of Dworkin and MacKinnon are quite explicitly clear. Now, many of their stated positions are so outrageous, that the backlash has forced them (and their supporters) to argue that the patriarchy has created a concerted effort to malign them. I will not rehash all of the sources that highlight their views. It is abundantly available to anyone who wishes to pursue this endeavor.

On a different note, I am happy that you identified yourself (although I suspect that Julian Real is a pseudonym). To quote from your blog titled Radical Profeminist: "THIS BLOG EXISTS TO CHALLENGE WHITE HETEROSEXUAL MALE SUPREMACY AS AN INSTITUTIONALIZED IDEOLOGY AND A SYSTEMATIZED SET OF PRACTICES WHICH ARE MISOGYNISTIC, HETEROSEXIST, GENOCIDAL, AND ECOCIDAL."

Sounds to me that you have a rather harsh ideological bent. I wonder if this might taint your perspective.

Incidentally, the systematic rapes of thousands of women that are currently being committed in Congo...are white heterosexual males responsible for these atrocities? What about female circumcision in some Islamic societies? What about the genocide in Darfur? Finally, as an Arab-Jew, do I get lumped in with the "evil white males" or do I get a free pass given that I am semitic and possess olive skin? I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

I think that your blog's raison d'etre speaks volume. I'll leave it to the sophisticated readers of this blog to decide for themselves.

I wish you a good day.

Regards,

GS

I wonder about Dr. Gaad's

I wonder about Dr. Gaad's ability to speak as a truly informed writer on the subject of feminism, given that he teaches Marketing at a Business School. Afterall, I certainly wouldn't take medical advice from someone with a Ph.D in Fine Arts.

Dr. Gaad, have you taken any courses in feminist theory or conducted any peer reviewed research that would contribute to your ability to provide an empirical and unbiased opinion from a feminist vantage point? Or is this based more on anecdotal observations? Being a research scientist myself, I would like to see the "data" that substantiate your viewpoint on the cons of feminism beyond stereotypes that we read in the media.

Have a great weekend, Dr. Gaad!

So I need to be a professor of Women's Studies?

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for reading my post and for providing your input. Are you suggesting that I need to be a professor of Women's Studies to be able to analyze some of the central tenets of feminism? As a behavioral scientist, I am well aware of the feminist writings that have seeped into the social and behavioral sciences in general and into the marketing discipline in particular. Also, as an evolutionist, I have become quite attuned to the tension between those who believe that men and women do possess innate differences and those (e.g., feminists) who resist such notions.

As far as the "data" that you speak of, it is contained in the feminist writings. I have provided in my post several references to substantiate the various claims that I have put forth.

BTW, in an earlier post, I discussed a study that dealt with men's dancing ability. Should I first become a dancer, dance instructor, or professor of dance prior to providing an analysis of the study in question? What about when I discussed various issues dealing with religion. I suppose that I should keep my mouth shut about the topic since I am not a professor of theology. I also put up a post on food-related behaviors at a Chinese buffet. I am assuming that you do not think that I should have done so since I am neither a registered dietician nor a professor of nutrition. Nice!

Are you familiar with the notion of interdisciplinarity? You may wish to check out my personal website to see the various fields that I have published in.

By the way, why hide under the cloak of anonymity? Why not provide your full name when submitting comments?

Have a good weekend as well. Again, many thanks for your comments.

Regards,

GS

A Thought

I enjoyed your column; it touched on something I was talking to my husband about yesterday, while we were picking wild blackberries.

I always bag more blackberries than he does. I'm not faster than he is. I don't cover more area. I can SEE more edible blackberries than he can. I've read scientific articles (I'm a scientist myself) that infer brain differences re: how males and females perceive their environments -- the usual argument revolves around whether ancient environments themselves caused this male/female perceptual dichotomy, or whether it came about due to preferred food-gathering roles.

The upshot of it is that, while I was gathering more blackberries, it was my husband who noticed the movement of fish in the stream. Therefore, by working together, we not only had blackberry cobbler last night, we had broiled trout as well.

IMHO, rather than arguing about "different/same" as if it implied "better/worse" (which it emphatically does not,) our energies would be better spent honoring the differences and, thereby, making the world a better place through them.

Right on!

Dear RTP,

Many thanks for your insights. I am very familiar with the sex differences that you mentioned in your comments, as I have written on this topic in my book (The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption), as well as having published a recent paper dealing with this issue:

Stenstrom, E., Stenstrom, P., Saad, G., & Cheikhrouhou, S. (2008). Online hunting and gathering: An evolutionary perspective on sex differences in website preferences and navigation. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 51 (2), 155-168.

Thank you for reading.

GS

P.S. Your comments were posted in duplicate. As such, I have deleted one of the two postings.

If this story is true, it's

If this story is true, it's AWESOME. Where are you, that blackberry picking and trout catching is happening concurrently? I want to hang out with your family! :-)

Woooow.... y'all are idiots

Jesus f-ing Christ people! How could one possibly interpret a criticism of the wording of a math problem to be a criticism of the math itself! It seems to me that the author is really reaching to find something to give feminists a hard time about. The power of language is well documented.

Obviously, there are inborn biological differences between the sexes. One of the aims of feminism is to give woman (and men) who do not conform neatly to the accepted definitions of masculinity and femininity more acceptance in our society than they are given today. Saying that some women are more "masculine" than some men, and some men are more "feminine" than some women is not saying that men and women are identical, just that whatever one is should be acceptable.

In addition, I find it difficult to believe that it is a feminist standard that all heterosexual sex is rape, no matter how prominent the feminist who said so. To pass such an assertion along in this way is horribly irresponsible, as it might confirm stereotypes about feminism in the minds of people who are less knowledgeable and thus prevent them from sticking up for themselves in order to prevent being identified with the writers of such nonsense.

In conclusion, feminism is a good thing. Even when taken too far, it makes little difference in the status quo.

Huffing and puffing will not make feminist writings go away.

Dear Twilight,

In your comments, you refer to "y'all" and "people" in calling "us" idiots. Who are you referring to specifically? The evil patriarchy? Men?

Your temper tantrum and corresponding insults will not make the feminist writings/positions on these issues go away. They are well documented in endless sources (a few of which I cited in my post).

I did not misconstrue anything in my post. You simply need to do a bit of reading and you'll be able to see that all of those items that I spoke of regarding feminism are available in innumerable references.

Thanks for reading.

GS

My Two Cents

Thanks for the article, it'll be good discussion material for later with my wife.

For what it's worth here is another example of harmful feminism that I've noticed in my own meandering experience.

I believe feminism has actually hindered women's advancement in the workplace due to over zealous HR policies relating to sexual harassment. In my career (Software Engineering) I've noticed women having a hard time getting help because the guys are scared to death of offending them and losing their job. Right or wrong guys now believe that they can lose their job for just about anything because sexual harassment has come to mean anything a man says that a woman doesn't like.

I'm speaking of the shades of gray areas here and not quid pro quo harassment which everyone should know is wrong.

Just a thought.

Thanks for the valuable example.

Dear Nathan,

Many thanks for your thoughts. Have a good day.

GS

My two cents

Thank you for your interesting article. I can see that you have several relevant and well thought out points, but I also have some concerns that I thought I would share. Sorry for the length!

Firstly, I have some concerns with the term "benevolent feminism" and “harmful feminism”. More obviously because you have not really outlined in your article what such benevolence looks like (except that it is the opposite of harmful) and seem to have treated such terms as self-evident rather than being categories that you have defined. Does benevolence mean not offending anyone, or not pushing anyone’s buttons? What happens if I do – does this get termed as “harmful” to women? I think that we sometimes forget that feminism is at heart a political movement - one which is primarily concerned with social change. Thus, feminism constantly strives to push boundaries, and part of this is about proposing radical ideas. Whilst these can sometimes be uncomfortable, distasteful and certainly disliked, at what point do they become actively harmful?

The arguments about sex differences is an interesting one, in so far as there are not many feminists (that I know) that would argue against the idea that sex is a biological category of difference. However, what is missing from your account is that sex is not the only biological category of difference, and yet we have invested it with such importance and it is so central to the way that we organise our society. We make huge claims about the essential nature of women and men based on biological difference alone. For example, that woman is more emotional than man because she carries children. Thus, feminists in general are not arguing the biological difference does not exist, but that the reduction of women and men to biology is insidious and allows wider forms of prejudice to exist. Similar arguments have been made about race difference.

Your arguments about feminists being anti-male are not new, and have been made many times over. In fact, it is a classic way to dismiss feminism as being prejudiced in and of itself. What is missing from your account is an analysis of power difference. Men and women do not occupy the same power positions in society and therefore you cannot equate claims that women make about men, and claims that men make about women because they do not carry the same consequences. Which does not make them okay – and I am not say that it does. Just that you cannot equate them and we need to be careful doing so.

Finally, I am not going to really get involved in the science arguments as the arguments and counter arguments have been fairly well documented. Suffice to say that it is true that women have not been fairly treated by science, and that science itself has been used to subjugate women for centuries. There are numerous examples of this, for example, experiments which have typically taken “male” to equal norm against which women are compared and found wanting – again similar arguments have been made about race and other categories of difference. Therefore, it does not seem unreasonable for these disciplines to begin to analyse themselves. I do actually think that it is a big deal that all of the language used in mathematics is male-dominated. What kind of message are we sending to young women who want to be scientists (the few that do)?

I realise that this might place me in the category of "harmful" feminist, which is I guess the power of that category. But, I can't believe that as feminists we should get to say nothing that shakes things up. Otherwise, we woudn't really be doing our jobs

Many thanks for your thoughtful insights. Some rebuttals.

Dear Dee,

Many thanks for having taken the time to read my post and for writing such an in-depth set of comments.

Rather than repeating your comments here, I will address them in the order in which they appeared:

(1) By benevolent feminism, I am specifically referring to the social movement that has been at the forefront of redressing endemic sexist practices in society. By hostile sexism, I am referring to the strands of feminism that are hostile to reason, hostile to men, hostile to science, etc.

(2) Well, we must be reading different feminist sources, as one of the central tenets of the social constructivist movement (of which feminism is one of the strongest adherents) is the fact that much of human behavior (including sex differences) are socially constructed. The published evidence in support of the fact that most feminists deny the great majority of biological-based sex differences is unequivocal. This issue has been at the center of the nature-nurture debate, which most evolutionists recognize as a moot point (since we are all an inextricable mix of our biology and our environment).

(3) Sexist opinions of men, as espoused by many feminists, are offensive irrespective of the mental gymnastics that one engages in to try and justify them. The argument that women cannot be sexist because men are in power is ludicrous. This is akin to another classic justification namely that visible minorities cannot be racist because it is a white man's world. Sexism and racism are not under the monopoly of one group of individuals. It is morally wrong wherever it is found.

(4) Yes, women have been discriminated against in science. Yes, word problems in mathematics have been historically male-oriented. This in no way applies that there is a reality in mathematics, organic chemistry, or relativity theory that is uniquely "reachable" by a feminist perspective. These fields contain scientific truths that lie outside the feminist's social and political reality.

(5) Shaking things up in the social, economic, and political spheres is wonderful. Shaking things up in academia by espousing nonsense is not.

Have a good weekend.

Regards,

GS

Feminist mathematics would

Feminist mathematics would alter fireman to firewoman (or perhaps fireperson)

Try "firefighter." Oh, wait, that doesn't sound so silly.

This whole article is about setting up strawfeminists. No actual feminists are quoted; rather, the article relies on misquotes of Mackinnon and Dworkin (who aren't all that representative of contemporary feminisms anyway), the "research" of anti-feminists such as Patai and McElroy, and the nebulous nefariousness of "many radical feminists," "Women's Studies programs," "some forms of feminism," "liberatory feminists," "academic feminism," "the feminist movement," and "the great majority of feminist theorists."

Denials and accusations are the last line of defense, eh?

Here are quick rebuttals to your points:

(1) For each of the examples that I provided in my post, I included the relevant references so that the readers can judge for themselves. Hence, I did not misquote or misconstrue anything.

(2) The words of Dworkin and Mackinnon are so radical that they've come back to haunt them. Hence, feminists now proclaim that their words "were taken out of context," "were misquoted," "were misunderstood," etc. If all else fails then the "but they are not representative of contemporary feminists" kicks in. Nice!

If these feminists are no longer relevant, I wonder whether Women's Studies programs have ceased to assign their writings as required readings.

(3) You may wish to dismiss my anecdote about "feminist mathematics" as much as you'd like but feminists are indeed on record as saying that mathematics is inherently biased by virtue of it having been largely developed by men (same applies to Physics and Chemistry to name but two other sciences).

No strawmen here. I am reporting the feminist positions in complete accuracy. Now, you may be embarrassed by these positions in which case you deny, deny, deny. However, it will not change the published words of the feminists in question.

Have a good weekend.

GS

Show, not tell

(1) Your references aren't the relevant ones; they're to other anti-feminist hatchet jobs rather than to the feminists you're purportedly talking about.

(2) Physicists still study Newton, and psychologists still study Freud; that doesn't mean that they regard them as the pinnacle of their fields. Dworkin and Mackinnon are of interest from a historical perspective, and a philosophical one, but they're certainly not taught as Received Wisdom anywhere I'm familiar with.

(3) Once again, you're saying things like "feminists are indeed on record as saying" rather than providing a specific citation. Who are "the feminists in question"? You never say.

This is a lose-lose game.

If I were to provide you with other citations, you would:

(1) Dismiss them as irrelevant as they do not represent contemporary feminism
(2) Argue that they are taken out of context
(3) Provide some silly mental gymnastics to explain the quote away
(4) Deny that the person in question ever espoused the quoted position

I have played this game before with other types of ideological fundamentalists (e.g., strongly religious folks), and apparently I have NEVER been able to provide them the "required" evidence. For example, I have spoken to rabbis who have asked the exact same thing of me but with regards to evolutionary theory: "Show me one piece of evidence in support of evolution. You can't." Hence, rather than waste my time and yours, let's both agree to move on.

As it stands, you can feel good at having "uncovered" a member of the evil patriarchal conspiracy, and I'll go about enjoying my weekend.

All that said, many thanks for having read my post. I appreciate your taking the time to write.

Ciao.

GS

1 vs. 0

I went to a talk by a "feminist mathematician" who wanted to argue that they way we write NUMBERS is sexist. This is so absurd you're going to laugh.

The symbol 1 is phallic. The symbol 0 is vaginal. And yet, 0 means nothing and 1 represents something. Hence, math is sexist.

I'm not making this up. I was an undergrad math major at Allegheny College and they had a visiting speaker.

Great example!

Thanks for the fantastic anecdote. If you can provide the name of the speaker in question, it would be helpful as otherwise you'll be accused of "making stuff up as part of the patriarchal conspiracy to demean feminist contributions to mathematics." ;)

Have a good Sunday.

GS

Many thanks for your insights. Some rebuttals

Dear GS,
Many thanks for your reply, just a few further thoughts on some of your points about social constructionism:

2) Well, we must be reading different feminist sources, as one of the central tenets of the social constructivist movement (of which feminism is one of the strongest adherents) is the fact that much of human behaviour (including sex differences) are socially constructed. The published evidence in support of the fact that most feminists deny the great majority of biological-based sex differences is unequivocal. This issue has been at the center of the nature-nurture debate, which most evolutionists recognize as a moot point (since we are all an inextricable mix of our biology and our environment).

I think that we are not only reading different feminists, but readings on social constructionism. SC is a very wide field of work with many different theoretical orientations and claims. While there are some radical anti-realist camps in this field, I do not think that we can claim these to be the central tenets of the movement, or feminism as a proponent of this movement. The feminist social constructionist argument is in the main, a subtler one I think. While many do not deny that there are biological differences between men and women, they argue against the biological determinism that claims an essentialised nature for men and women based on such biological difference – that is that men and women have a certain nature, predisposition, personality traits etc because they are biologically different. Instead, what it means to be a women or a man is said to be contingent on society, history and culture and therefore socially constructed. For some theorists this often expressed as a distinction between sex and gender, with sex being the physical, and gender the socially constructed meaning that is attributed to this biological difference. Although, some feminists also argue that such a distinction is not always useful, as clearly biological difference and the meaning that is given to such biological difference are always intertwined. However, across both camps is the argument that what it MEANS to be women or men is not a matter of biology but a matter of society.

Therefore, feminists and social constructionists do not deny that biologically based sex differences exist. To claim that something is socially constructed is never to deny that such things are “real” in the sense that they have real consequences and structure our society in very real ways. Instead, they question where such differences come from, and feminists have traditionally denied that such things can be simply reduced to biology. For example, claims that women are not suited to voting as they are not biologically capable of moral thinking. Or, the ongoing argument about working mothers, which research has shown is almost always based in biological arguments about the nature of women, and the nature of children. This questioning of biological reductionism has been very useful for feminists in helping them to move forward both politically and socially, and has led to a very important questioning for both men and women about what it means to be masculine or feminine.

Of course, these questions around meaning and identity are an ongoing project, with many debates and arguments. Not the least of which is that several theorists have recently argued that this ‘two-sex model’ isn't straightforward in that around 1.7% of population fail to neatly fall within the usual sex classifications possessing various combinations of different sex characteristics. Recognition of intersexes suggests that feminists (and society at large) are wrong to classify individuals only as female or male: there should be more than two sex categories. An issue which is often raised in world athletics you will note. Either way, however, I do think that the valuable work that has been done by feminists who have attacked the biological reductionism inherent in both academic circles and society needs to be acknowledged as one of the foundations of feminist progression.

Have a good week
D

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Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing at Concordia University and author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct.

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