I end up reading a fair bit about feminism. I am fascinated by the subject, by the myriad of little ways that gender differences continue to reverberate through my culture.
I am a feminist. To me, being a feminist means "men and women should have equal rights, opportunities, and choices". It means that gender should not be deterministic, should not be used as a stick to beat people into one role or away from another. This is not an especially controversial position any more.
But the topic of feminism remains touchy, because we don't really know how to get there from here any more, and to some it's not clear that there's a "there" to get to. Men can be stay-at-home dads, women can be CEOs, and pretty much no one over the age of twelve says "you can't do that because you're a GIRL" any more. So we're done, right? Gender roles are totally last century.
... Yeah, not so much.
One term that comes out of feminist theory that I dislike is "patriarchy". I have a strong distaste for most of the "privileged men vs oppressed women" rhetoric. For one, it makes it sound like gender roles are something perpetrated by men against women, for the explicit purpose of preserving male dominance and harming women. Like there is this vast conspiracy of men out there trying to keep the women down.
This is a beguiling notion, because human beings love nothing so much as a group to demonize, and it is entirely wrong-headed. Gender roles are perpetuated by our culture upon the members of our culture. It is all-pervasive. Women are not immune to enforcing stereotypes by virtue of being female. Men are not immune to being victimized by stereotypes by virtue of being male. It is not that simple.
In something of the same vein, I get very weary of articles talking about all the ways in which men are "privileged" and women are "victimized" and discounting the idea that there are any ways at all in which gender roles harm men. Yes, I get that men make more money and make up a much larger proportion at the top of the political and business class. Yes, this is a problem. But by portraying women as always victimized, always oppressed, they are saying "anyone who isn't at the top of this political/economic heap doesn't matter". They are saying that child-rearing, nurturing personal relationships, pursuing work-life balance, being a good follower, or seeking personal fulfillment are all trivial and irrelevant, because those things are not about ruling the world. The whole business is utterly galling. It buys into the very same notions of status and value that it's pretending to tear down. This isn't about equality: it's about deciding that A is good and B is bad and therefore if you do A you are good and if you don't you suck. That already the status quo, and it's mind-numbingly stupid. The problem with the world is not just that women don't get to be at the top of the heap: it's that we are all trained to think being at the top of the heap is so damn awesome. And it's not. Being at the top of the heap does not make people happier, smarter, or better human beings. I am not saying it's a crappy place to be, but pretending that achieving it should be the goal for every human being is just dumb. It is the way in which my culture has been making men miserable for hundreds of years. Making it the way to make women miserable is not, in point of fact, progress.
Now, if people want to ride this merry-go-round, that's cool. I am all for people of all genders becoming senators and CEOs and presidents and whatnot. But it is at least as important to recognize that this is not the highest and best use for every human being. That men need to be allowed out of the expectation that this is what they should want and strive for. Heaven knows it is not what I want for myself.