The other day, the Philosophy Society and Feminist Society collaborated for a panel discussion on campus: ‘Is Feminism Too Politically Correct?’
I was on the panel.
Let me story you, critically.
I’m a feminist. But lately I’ve had to define my position, not by ‘what I support’, but by ‘what I don’t support’.
To begin with, my personal idea of feminism is to strive for equality for women socially, economically, and politically. I’m talking about not hindering girls from pursuing what they want, wearing what they want, acting the way they want, simply due to gender expectations. It means valuing a girl as much as a boy. That is all.
Today, however, this all sounds like a cliché, repeated so often it has become meaningless drivel.
Today when non-feminists think of what feminists want, they think of the trivial ‘specifics’. ‘The feminists’ want to ban the word ‘bossy’. ‘They’ want to walk topless in the streets without consequence.
I think it’s high time we reiterate what feminism is (about).
The rest of the panellists and the moderator were lecturers, highly intelligent people, beside whom I felt honoured sitting.
At first, the talk went a little too smoothly. I say this because we were all agreeing on everything, which is never interesting. And we were losing people to their phones.
Halfway, however, it became apparent that the moderator didn’t sympathise with feminism. He began testing the panellists’ statements.
And when I looked at the prepared questions for the second time, I realised they all sounded very similar.
Things along those lines: “Could inequality be a self-fulfilled prophecy?”
And one that flat out asked: “Are feminists snowflakes?”
Of course, given the title of the talk, these questions were 100% the right questions. However, the moderator was beginning to defend the questions, and debate with us. The audience was now listening intently—some even reacted out loud.
During the talk, I found myself disagreeing with many of the moderator’s points.
The problem was trying to get him to see: to understand feminist issues, you just had to be a woman. Or, to listen to a woman when she’s sharing her experience. That’s pretty much the essence of feminism.
There is no need to know the right ‘feminist jargon’ or ‘feminist behaviour’—such thing is perhaps a construct by anti-feminist conservatives to denounce the movement.
Feminists never call for panic about random little courtesies: oh, holding or not holding doors for women, or whatever.
Feminism is not some anti-sex moralist doctrine.
Interestingly, the talk opened with a video of academics who created mock academic papers on overly-exaggerated politically correct issues (e.g. whether dog-humping was evidence of rape culture), to see if highly respected academic journals would accept.
When they did, instead of using this to denounce social justice, they used it to explain why we should defend it in the face of misunderstanding and misinformation. These exaggerating heroes sort of argue: ‘The irrational strictness of these feminist scholars, fearful as they were of being politically incorrect, has disillusioned many people from social justice movements!’
The moderator was one of these people. During the talk, he cherry-picked studies to disprove the existence of a patriarchy, of toxic masculinity, etc.
What these so-called ‘studies’ have neglected—although I understand the intention—is that feminism is not a random collection of positivist research that must be ‘proven’ or ‘disproved’ through some lab experiments.
Feminism is the very real, everyday experience of women: their struggles, the injustices, the daily exploitation.
The primary sources of critical feminist research are directly the stories of these women.
Feminists reject ‘political correctness’
However, the moderator wasn’t wrong. He was arguing against a very real problem.
Several of the panellists made the point that ‘political correctness’ as a term—itself—actually goes against feminism.
After all, ‘politically correct actions’ (avoiding derogatory terms, not sexualising women in the wrong contexts, to name a few) are basically about ‘being decent’.
Why can’t we call decent people as such: ‘nice’, ‘decent’, ‘okay’?
In fact, why are we even so eager to attribute adjectives to people who treat women well?
Why must there be a ‘special term’ for these specific human decencies ‘for’ women?
Even more, have we actually coded a specific set of plausible actions for treating women decently?
Do we need a trophy for everyone who treats women with basic respect?
Isn’t ‘political correctness’ clearly a way to put woman-related issues in a separate and ‘divine’ category, as if women are not as human, and equal, as men?
When we use these fancy terms to encode and fixate something, we alienate it.
On the other hand, feminism didn’t build itself on some ‘politically correct morality’.
Aftermath and beyond
When the talk ended, the room was still buzzing with remarks of disbelief, amusement, etc.
My heart lifted to see so many people with strong opinions on the subject, coming together to express it.
This exploratory ambience was something we should encourage, enhance, and spark: the talk was an excellent idea.
However, as I walked home, I still couldn’t wrap my head around the things the moderator tried to assert.
How illogical and unsympathetic a reaction to feminism it seemed, to me as a woman.
It just made me wonder, the louder its becomes: how far has ‘political correctness’, a social construct of the American right, damaged the feminist political agenda, which goes way far beyond simple moralisation, and which it pretends to represent?
Written by Natasha binti Nor Azmi
Featured image from Natasha binti Nor Azmi
Views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily represent the position of UNMC IGNITE.