I’m about to confirm everything you’ve suspected all along: Yes, there is a feminist agenda–in fact, more than one. Feminists rally around the idea of overturning social and cultural institutions and mores to establish a new kind of political hierarchy and redistribute power and it’s theoretical and there are college departments and journals dedicated to it, and people write books and manifestos trying wake women up to their oppression and they employ the language of philosophy and call for power and fight the system and they are very, very angry at how humans have been going about their business for the past several millennia and they are as mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore, and some of them would riot in the streets and take prisoners if they thought that was the only way to achieve their goals. And those are just the people with a regular feminist agenda. There is a radical feminist agenda, too, and they are even angrier and willing to make even fewer compromises and it is scary to think about what would happen if they got their way because society would function in a completely different way with a totally open future and we’d all feel pretty aimless and insecure for a while, and nobody likes that, especially when the billions of people around you are feeling the same way.
So it’s perfectly reasonable to get riled up a bit if you suspect that someone is trying to push a feminist agenda, because they are trying to rile people up; that is the goal. I mean, they are promoting a course of action that would result in civil unrest, and if you are getting defense about that person pushing the feminist agenda and feel like you should fight back it’s probably because the feminist agenda is just one fightin’ word after another. They are picking a fight. Your instincts are correct.
But you know what? The chances of you accidentally encountering someone actually pushing a real feminist agenda, much less a radical feminist agenda, are pretty small. Most people aren’t revolutionaries, even at the philosophical or theoretical level. Sure, feminists and radical feminists are easy enough to find online and in public spaces, but you have to seek them out, and they aren’t usually trying to lead you on until they find an opening and then suddenly infodump all over you. You’re not going to be having a conversation about dairy products or a television show and suddenly end up defending your way of life against a feminist agenda. It’s mostly the kind of topic that comes up formally, like at a lecture or in an article or at some conference or in some class.
Despite the infrequency, when women point out how the skeptical movement is structured–deliberately or out of inertia–to marginalize them, or how they are not treated with the same respect as men are (and we can go over all the ways that women are not treated with the same respect another time), it’s not long before someone accuses them of pushing their feminist agenda. This is unfair in two ways: 1) So what if they are pushing an agenda? They have ideas and plans for change. That’s what it’s called. 2) The accusation shows an ignorance about what a feminist agenda is. It’s a good word to phrase to use, though, linked as it is with extremism and emotionalism, and can efficiently deflect the conversation from what the women are actually talking about. Which is not a feminist agenda.
Noanodyne at the blog, No Anodyne, addresses the confusion about what constitutes a feminist agenda and what does not. (And all that business upstream in this post about rioting in the streets and taking prisoners is from me–it’s not something I picked up from that blog, at least not from the parts that I have read. Just an FYI.) The article, “Taking Back Feminism–A Manifesto,” addresses the difference between working towards equality and being a feminist. Consider this:
Noticing and calling attention to the fact that some men treat some women badly does not make you a feminist. That’s a mere baseline for being considered a decent human being. Living free of every type of abuse is a human right and all humans should have that right and support that right.
Understanding that the continuum from sex discrimination all the way through sexual harassment harms women’s access to economic equality does not make you a feminist. That’s a mere baseline for bring considered a decent human being. Economic fairness and justice are human rights and all humans should have them and support those rights.
Noticing instances of sexism, even calling them out, doesn’t make you a feminist. That’s a mere baseline for being considered a decent human being. Being free of being singled out for maltreatment, debasement, or dismissal because of a recognizable trait is a human right and all humans should have that right and support that right.
Sound like something you’ve heard skeptical women complain about? Like those numbers for women in science and technology fields? Or being hit on in elevators? Or enduring “chilly climates”? When women point them out, and demand outreach programs to balance representation between men and women? And insist that it’s a problem that needs fixing? That’s not pushing a feminist agenda. That’s claiming the right for full human treatment. They want the mere baseline of consideration as a decent human being. If it bothers you that women are demanding full status, you would probably benefit from spending some time with that reaction (as they like to say in the self-help books) instead of blaming the women for pushing a feminist agenda at you. It’s a point to ponder, not to protest.
If you are getting uncomfortable, it’s probably because you are embarrassed that things are as bad as they are, or maybe feeling a little ashamed for having contributed (or benefited)–even just as an enabler–to the inequity, or maybe you’re just angry because woman aren’t behaving the way you prefer them to behave (and that’s your call to make!), or you’re irritated by being confused and need some time to sort your thoughts out. It’s never fun to expose a seedy underbelly, and there’s enough anxiety already about how the general public views skepticism and which is multiplied when you think of the bad PR that the movement could garner if enough women make a stink about these things. There are a lot of reasons to not like it when women talk about their problems with the skeptical movement, but you’ve got to know why you don’t like it. Dismissing it as a feminist agenda and moving onto other topics is just sticking your head into the sand. It’s also just wrong.