John Stuart Mill believed that until conditions of equality exist, no one can possibly assess the natural differences between women and men. Mill spoke about human rights in general with focus on voting rights for women. Mary Wollstonecraft encouraged women to use their voices to make decisions separately from decisions previously made for them. Wollstonecraft denied the weak nature of women and reasoned that only social conditions make women more sensitive and emotional than men. What Wollstonecraft wanted most for women was personhood. These were the days of the real oppression of women, when there was a need for female emancipation. In the past, feminism made progress, because the women who were discriminated went on the streets and claimed their rights; they did not fight for an obscure third instance, but for themselves.
Now I want to ask some questions concerning the modern feminism and gender equality movements. Are women a minority nowadays? Are they indeed discriminated? Can we argue that there is a need for gender equality in a narrow sense in a modern western society? And what is the sense of fighting for gender equality focusing on the issues of one of the sexes in the end? Feminists operate with terms such as “social equality”, “basic human rights”, “justice”, “equal opportunities”, “personal autonomy”, “personal freedom” and others, which deal with human rights in general, projecting them on the issues of an imaginary group, divided by gender belonging. The category women’s rights is controversial itself, because human rights provide equal rights for both genders and are gender neutral.
Modern feminism does not correspond to the challenges of the modern world. The ideas of women’s emancipation of 19th century are not relevant anymore; instead contemporary feminist discourse narrows to hash tags, political lobbying and gathering for seminars under the topic “What are the new issues for feminism in Europe”. Second‐wave feminism, which displays women as victims, is sexually judgmental, even anti-sexual. It is stuck in the modern discourse. There was an attempt of third‐wavers to encourage women to feel entitled to interact with men as equals, claim sexual pleasure as they desire, actively play with femininity. Still, the victimized women keep on exercising the picture of a deprived woman who needs to protect her rights.
There are several arguments that might come to the defense of the feminist side.
There must be discrimination on the labor market, because women earn less money than men for the same work done, they are discriminated because of certain differences. I would not dispute about discrimination on the labor market, but about the choices men and women make about their education and carrier. Men prefer technical and IT specializations, women humanities instead, where they have less opportunities for a high salary and need a longer time for education. Women tend to work part time, they also work 0,7hrs a month less than men in general, have longer vacations and usually don’t work over time. A feminist might say choices women make are not free but predefined by normative settings; women are convinced to make certain choices as part time job, a less qualified position, stay home with children or to work on average less than men, to tend to the lack of self-confidence because of invisible barriers and cultural settings. For me, how much money a person earns, is always more an issue of self-consciousness, and not of gender. If I consider not to be paid enough for the work done, I will find the solution to change the situation acting not as a women or but as an individual who is interested in his own well being and profit. I don’t need to belong to any social group to defend my interests.
Feminists speculate with the fact that women often become subjects to violence, they say every 5th European women was violated physically once in her, life under different circumstances. But this is only half of the truth. Men, as well as women suffer from domestic and interpersonal violence, but determining the rate of interpersonal violence against males can be difficult, as men are often more reluctant than women to report their abuse or seek help. Furthermore, some studies have shown that women who assault their male partners are more likely to avoid arrest than men who attack their female partners. The American study found that men receive sentences that are 63 percent higher on average, than their female counterparts.
Feminists argue, there are not enough women in politics and in leading positions because at the time when women stay at home with children, men take care of their career and have much more opportunities for personal development. Let’s say, if the women decides to have a child she knows all the challenges she will face in advance, and has to count with them adequately. Anyways, a family and children is another way of personal self-realization, not worse, not better than reaching the highest positions on the career ladder, just depending on person’s priorities.
There are serious issues with women’s rights in Africa or in the Middle East, feminists say. If the discussion comes away from Europe, to the cultures and civilizations where women are physically and mentally oppressed, this is an important issue, but again, within the human rights discourse. Thinking in the category of gender is not helpful to any side. UN human rights charter grants equal rights for everyone, there is indeed no special rights for genders.
Liberalism’s refusal to accept hierarchy and its focus on freedom and equality of individuals is crucial to feminism. I believe that it is not a priority of liberals to allow preferences to a certain social group (I put gender in this case in the category of social groups because of the socially constructed nature). Whether you are a man or a woman, European or African, transgender, straight… this list can be continued further, you have the right to enjoy the rights and freedoms in a way other individuals do.
Julia Rudenko, IFLRY Belarus and Ukraine Programme team member, has been active in IFLRY since 2009. She studied Political Science in Kiev and Jena. Since March 2015 Julia is involved in the EVS Project in Germany which deals with cultural and social integration of immigrants from Eastern Europe