Rethinking Feminism

Image via Affirmative Couch

***

Oftentimes, it can feel as though every aspect of our world is crumbling around us. It feels impossible to keep up with the number of ways in which our society is failing us, and the very idea of tackling any of them is incredibly overwhelming. But what may appear to be a never-ending series of complexly related crises may actually stem from a more shared root issue. If a method of tackling that issue rather than everything that’s born of it could be created, the task would seem less overwhelming. I argue for a re-imagined feminism. 

Throughout spiritual practices, masculine and feminine have been denoted as universal energies. It would seem that, at some point, the world lost its reverence for the feminine energy, trapping it at the beck and whim of the masculine. The masculine energy is typically thought of as active, striving, formed, exclusive, and producing, while the feminine is thought of as still, formless, inclusive, and passive. For the sake of this article, I use definitions of woman as feminine and man as masculine, as that’s how they are encoded societally.

Humans have the unique ability to build their own reality; for example, the Treaty of Westphalia created the modern idea of states and inter-state relations. This Treaty was born at the end of the Thirty Years War, and, seeing no ability to compromise or cooperate, it was decided that “cuius regio, eius religio,” or “whose realm, their religion.” Effectively, whichever king ruled the territory could determine what religion was practiced. This is a masculine idea based on form and exclusion. The antithesis of this is presented in pre-colonial matriarchal societies, where people of different cultural and religious backgrounds were documented sharing territory in harmony. 

The modern prevalence of the state has brought with it a belief that two viewpoints cannot coexist in harmony and that one must eventually be declared the better. One only has to look at the U.S. and China to see the intensity of competition. This has become known to be the way of the world, despite our own hand in creating that world, and little is thought of what must be sacrificed in order to achieve these grandiose dreams of state supremacy. This sacrifice is burdened by those holding the feminine position in society. This shows up in three main ways: the destruction of the planet, the inequality of genders, and the presence of global racial oppression. 

There’s a cultural understanding of the Earth as a feminine being and a symbol of fertility. Capitalist societies have become adept at extracting resources from the planet, but we do not seem to have nearly as much infrastructure to pour resources back into the earth. We haven’t even found sustainable ways of disposing of the waste we generate, which becomes what we pour back into the planet. While there is definitely progress being made against climate change, like President Biden finally signing the Paris Agreement, there is still a lack of noticeable and significant change. When ecological disasters are experienced, the general reaction is the preservation of human life and structure and recovering from the unpredictability of the planet, not considering how we should change our relationship with the earth to prevent future crises, for example, the relationship around rising sea levels

With a similar attitude of disrespect for the needs of others, a correlation can be seen as women begin to exercise their autonomy in more visible ways, and the restrictions placed on them increase. For example, as more women started to break the “glass ceiling” in increasingly vocal ways, the autonomy granted to them through the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade (1973) was stripped away by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022). The needs of the American state come above the needs of any American citizen. This dynamic is echoed in societies globally. In Japan, in response to a demographic crisis primarily driven by women not marrying, one company, Kobunsha, started a young women’s magazine called “JJ.” As the target demographic began to age, they released “Very,” which reimagined the role of the housewife from that of their parent’s generation to something that would appeal to them. They were fed the idea of self-fulfillment through hobbies and fashion, similar to white middle-class housewives in 1950s America. (This is not to diminish the importance and beauty of housewives; I simply argue for the right of the woman to choose her fulfillment.) Finally, the magazine transformed into “Story,” which focused on indoctrinating previously selfless housewives back into hedonistic consumers for the state. In both cases, there’s a necessity to ensure that a woman struggles to reach a point of fulfillment without having children, be it physically or mentally, as the state needs to ensure its continuation. 

Third, this dynamic is echoed in global systems of oppression. Today, we live in a world of exclusions aligned with the masculine energy. Political debates are dominated by ideas of what groups deserve rights and who gets to be citizens. This can be traced back to Ancient Athens, where modern Western democracy was born. The challenge of who was a citizen was pertinent because the Athenian people needed to maintain a slave population to run their societies at the level they did successfully. At the time, this differentiation was found through linguistic differences. Today, that difference is seen through concepts of race. In order to keep power in the United States, white people have constructed systems that have kept Black people in positions that are required for the everyday functioning of society so that white people may live the lives they dream of, worsening the dynamic between the successful man and his homebound wife. For example, 40.4% of postal service workers and 36.6% of bus drivers are Black, while only 10.5% of computer and mathematical science occupations and 6.9% of legal occupations are filled by Black people. The ability for one group to chase their dreams without concern requires another group to bear most of said concerns.

This can be seen globally as well. For example, cobalt is necessary for producing rechargeable batteries—necessary for smartphones—and mining takes place mainly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To mine this metal, the Congolese people, some of whom are young children, are forced into horrific conditions for next to no money. The mining of cobalt has also destroyed the environment of the DRC, and the toxic pollutants in the water and the air are causing further harm to the Congolese people. The existence of the iPhone means more to our current societal system than the safety of the Congolese people. No care is shown for the destruction done, as long as our society remains unchanged and safe. 

Further, this shows the connection between those experiencing racial oppression, women in society, and the planet. In the DRC, a look into the darkest heart of the current global order, you see societal and racial oppression, high rates of sexual violence against women, and the mass destruction of the environment. The three suffer in unison. It seems that a re-analysis of how global struggles are being fought is necessary. It’s noted that when women are targeted with sexual violence during cases of conflict, one of the goals is to destabilize communities by destroying the bonds within them. From that, it can be understood that one of the great powers of feminine energy is the ability to build community. It would seem that in a world order marked by the dominance of the masculine state and its exclusionist tendencies, this is the attitude of politics needed to remedy it, that of the pre-colonial matriarchal society. 

Vivienne Jabri refers to this idea as a post-structuralist feminism, a feminism that looks out for the rights of “women” while simply accepting the different subjectivities that go into making up different selves, no woman is ever a set being. She further argues that while the woman is born from the social matrices that surround her, she possesses the ability to transcend this given order. This requires a detox of ideas of white feminism prevalent in modern society, where the focus is on the suffering of different groups of women in various cultures to define what the ideal position of a woman is; this is still the sort of exclusionist ideology that backs the current order. Instead, there needs to be a return of autonomy to those who’ve had it stripped and an acknowledgment of the global power structures that disenfranchise all as the root problem. The sense of community born from the feminist movement needs to transcend any current conceptions of race, class, disability, sexuality, etc., and build a sense of community that can subvert the current power structures by creating equality amongst ourselves first.