Why Feminism?

Recently I have had an interesting question put to me, first in terms of trying to understand the origins of feminism or an overlook of feminism, and now more specifically ‘why feminism?’ Bean offered the suggestion of a book called ‘Feminism is for Everybody’ by Bell Hooks, which I in turn offered to the young man questioning me. He has since directed this question at me, and I’m curious to hear others reactions and opinions to this question.

So besides the obvious answer of valuing equality as a societal virtue, what are some good solid answers for this question?

I picked up that book you said I should, Kim. I am on page 50. It is not answering my questions. It is discussing problems with the advancement of feminism, but it is not discussing why feminism is right.

My question:
Why not domination by men?

It’s true that not all societies have had this kind of domination, but in almost every society I have read about, including primitive hunter-gatherer ones, ones allegedly “egalitarian,” there tends to be greater access of men for power positions and the like. I’ve had feminist friends point this out. They despair of this. One friend said something like, “It’s like it’s human for men to dominate. It really makes me depressed.”

So why not domination? Why is feminism right in putting forth its agenda?

THAT is what I would like to understand. And if anyone can point me in the right direction of this, I would be grateful, but this book has done nothing to really grapple with a deeper philosophical problem. It said, “egalitarianism is good; feminism promotes egalitarianism.” But why is egalitarianism good? Why is it right? I need this question answered.

I am completely open-minded, but I am simply very skeptical. I really want to see all points of view, but I am having difficulty. This makes me think I am missing something. Feminism is one of the few political positions that I cannot personally identify with, and I want to change that. Not because I want to be a feminist, but I want to feel what it’s like to be a feminist. I hope this makes sense.

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72 Responses to Why Feminism?

  1. 1
    Les says:

    I have many responses:

    #1, Indeed, why not male domination? Why not christian, white heterosexual domination? Why not classism too?

    #2, If he spent any significant amount of time being read as female, he wouldn’t be asking that question.

    #3, Feminism means gender equality. Limiting the ways that it is acceptable to be female also limits the ways it is acceptable to be male. Feminism means more freedom for him as well as for women.

    #4, Sexism creates downward wage pressure. Male domination means smaller paychecks for the working class, which means smaller paychecks for him unless he owns his own company. If he does own his own company, then he’s still losing because downward wage pressure means fewer people have money to buy what he’s selling.

    #5, Male domination is linked with hierarchy. If he’s opposed to racism, he should be also opposed to sexism as they’re very often linked. It’s not enough for men to dominate, only certain men can be allowed to do so. “Those people” including, but not limited to, women, must know their places.

    #6, What ever happened to the golden rule?

    #7, I remember reading a book in highschool called _The Chalice and the Blade_ which argued for more egalitarian societies, but I don’t know if it addresses his question. His question may not be answered in any recent feminist literature because it is such a show-stopper. If you think that women don’t deserve to be equals, it’s hard to have a conversation. It may be better to look for literature from suffragettes.

    I saw a lecture last semester where a scholar addressed some of the arguments made by suffragettes. They claimed that feminism advanced other social causes. The weakness of this argument is that it makes equality of secondary importance to these other causes. Women deserve to be treated fairly for the sake of fairness, not for the sake of anything else.

    Response #8 is a string of expletives and has been cut.

  2. 2
    Elena says:

    Why feminism? Because peaceful, stable societies are linked to higher status of females.

  3. 3
    Jesurgislac says:

    Why feminism?

    Be grateful for feminism. Without the feminist movement demanding equality, he might be looking at a womanist movement demanding that since for at least the past ten thousand years it’s been men dominating women, it’s time for the next ten thousand years of women dominating men. That would be fair.

    Fortunately for him, the aim of the world’s most successful revolution is equality, not domination.

  4. 4
    Kevin Q says:

    Let me throw my two cents in here.

    Why feminism? In modern workforce theory, it is believed that access to the largest quantity of possible workers will yield a better workforce. If I cut off access to a group, then I lose the possibility that a member of that group might be perfect for the work I have.

    Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings (as a wise woman once said). If we deny access to any job to women (either through outright blocking, or subtler means such as discouraging our female children from seeking such employment), then we lose the possibility that we might get the best person for the job (whether that job is professor of mathematics, or President of the United States).

    At certain times in history, a valid and important leadership value was the capacity for personal physical violence. Whether it was tribal warfare or the ability to provide food, warrior skills were a necessary part of a leader’s skillset. And since men are often physically stronger than women, men naturally gravitated to those roles.

    Over time, things shifted, as they are wont to do, from “Men are leaders because they have the skills we need,” to “Men are leaders because that’s just the way that it is.” We lost the need to hit people with swords, but we haven’t yet shaken the notion that men are natural leaders.

    We live in a day and age where mental prowess is more important in our leaders that physical prowess. (In fact, if a person seeking a leadership job claimed to be able to kill a buffalo with his bare hands, we might (rightly) question exactly how he came across that knowledge. And take a slow step away.)

    If we, as a society, are to have the best people possible in all jobs, then we need to embrace the radical notion that women are people too, and treat men and women as the equal human beings they are. That, is “why feminism.”


  5. 5
    Dan Jacobson says:

    I would think that egalitarianism should be the default setting, no? I mean, in an egalitarian system, nobody loses anything, whereas in a system of dominance, most people do. But aside from that, it seems to me that the burden should be on the person arguing against egalitarianism…why not? In other words, how do people benefit by being dominated? And if it harms rather than benefits people, then doesn’t it have to go?

  6. 6
    Q Grrl says:

    “Why not domination by men? ”

    Because we don’t like it.

  7. Why feminism?

    Because a society simply does better when all the potentials of all it’s members are tapped to their utmost, allowing them freedom to do what they are best at. Keeping over half the population in tightly bound roles or constraining freedom of expression simply doesn’t promote this; it hinders it.

    Further, and specific to America; because if you have a society that is supposedly founded on the principles of the equality and freedom of all, you can’t pick and chose which arbitary social groupings have what rights and which doesn’t. You either have that society, or you don’t.

    And finally, on a personal note; because I don’t want to be dominated and ruled by men. I don’t want to be considered and legally positioned as less than fully human. It’s a quirk of mine.

    Ultimately, for feminism, there is no appeal to a higher authority for a reason, as we shouldn’t. If you think men should rule despite all the logic and reason thrown at you, then, honestly, you aren’t going to be convinced. I think a legally enshrined patriarachal (and, generally, theological, as the two seem to correspond) is my idea of being awfully close to hell, if not there … but personally I’m a woman, so perhaps I am biased in that preference.

  8. 8
    mythago says:

    Why anti-racism? All societies have had xenophobia. It’s almost like it’s human to be racist. Even in ‘primitive’ societies, people of the desired ‘racial group’ have more status and power. So why is racism wrong?

    (Sadly, I have a feeling that argument will not mean anything to your correspondent, either.)

    So here’s a shorter answer: It’s also “natural” and “common across all societies” for humans to have terrible personal hygiene, die from minor cuts due to tetanus or infection, and starve in the winter. Is your correspondent going to give up showering, refuse to use antibiotics, and eat only what he can find naturally growing?

  9. 9
    paul says:

    Why feminism? Because a male-dominated society sucks for the overwhelming majority of men. Maybe someone else wants the statistically earlier deaths, the extra ration of violence, and the stunted emotions; I know I don’t. Oh, and don’t forget the terrible feelings of inadequacy generated by the knowledge that you only got where you are because of affirmative action…

  10. 10
    Greta says:

    Why feminism? Because it’s the only movement out there standing in opposition to the patriarchal system we’re all a part of.

    That system has negative consequences for men as well as women. They are trapped in a cycle of fear and control that dictates what they should or shouldn’t do in order to be a “real man” and worthy of membership in the dominant group.

    Feminism works against that system and in so doing allows men as well as women to be free of those systemic constraints. (See the book The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan Johnson – A man! – for a more complete explanation)

  11. 11
    Pseudo-Adrienne says:

    Why feminism? Because I refuse to be a doormat and a cheerleader for sexism.

  12. 12
    Olive says:

    Because if you set up the notion that everyone is equal, when you go to pck engineers, you’ll actually get the best engineers, and when you decide who is watching the kids, you’ll get the best child-watchers, and so on through every skill set there is? Applicant pools for most professions are being artificially reduced- you might have a better plumber today if some girl wasn’t told that plumbers are gross and tool sets are weird toys for girls. There’s no way that men inherently dislike childcare work so much as to explain their underrepresentation in it.

    As it is, only exceptional women become electrical engineers, while relatively average men do so. Right there is one strictly practical reason to shoot for equal treatment.

    …Q Grrl’s response should be good enough, in my mind.

  13. 13
    ScottM says:

    Because if the situation were reversed, you’d be for equality too.

  14. 14
    Maureen says:

    Look, if you can’t understand that treating half of the world’s population like shit is WRONG, then either:
    1. You don’t believe women are fully human
    2. You are incapable of feeling empathy for anyone and/or have the psychological intelligence of a two-year-old.

    So either you’re a miserable excuse for a human being, or you need unimaginable amounts of psychiatric intervention.

    There, that felt good.

  15. 15
    Maureen says:

    Okay, perhaps that answer was hasty. You may have not had the moral education that I had; you may have grown up in a culture that taught that women were not fully human.

    Okay, grasshopper. Ask yourself why women aren’t fully human according to your culture. Meditate on that.

  16. 16
    Sydney says:

    why feminism? I think the real question is why the hell doss he have reservations about feminism?

    Kim, I’m not sure your correspondant really wants to understand feminism. This statement says it all to me:

    “Feminism is one of the few political positions that I cannot personally identify with, and I want to change that. Not because I want to be a feminist, but I want to feel what it’s like to be a feminist.”

    What is this shit about not wanting to be a feminist but wanting to “feel what’s its like to be a feminist? What, is he trying to feel what its like to believe that women should have equal rights? Is he trying to understand what its like to actually see the world & the way it oppresses women?

    And I cannot believe that by page 50 of bell hoooks’ book that the meaning of feminism hasn’t presented itself. If he really wants to know about feminism, telling him what its all about itsn’t going to help him. Determining why he dosen’t want to be a feminist, yet thinks its important to ‘understand’ us would be far more productive in helping him learn about feminism.

  17. I heard someone once say that a society that doesn’t treat women equally is like a bird with a broken wing. It can’t fly.

    I always liked that analogy.

  18. 18
    Floyd Flanders says:

    Why feminism? Why not male domination?

    It seems that the answer depends on what one thinks is the proper way to organize society. If one thinks that society should be a hierarchy with some privileged few in leadership roles (based on arbitrary classifications: sexism, racism, classism) then I guess the question would really be moot.

    But if one thinks that society should be organized in an egalitarian way–that is that all people have the same access, the same voice, the same opportunities–then the answer would be that male dominance is antithetical to making sure that women have the same access, the same voice, the same opportunities.

    So having done away with the question of “Why not male dominance?” by choosing a society organized in an egalitarian way we then have to decide how to organize our egalitarian society. Feminism offers ways in which to remain cognizant of problems that often arise when imperfect creatures (we humans) try to create a system as perfect as it can be. Thus we answer the other questionof “Why feminism?”

  19. 19
    Jay Sennett says:

    Why not Feminism?

    As a man feminism has shown me how my participation in a system that debases female human beings also will, in the long run, destroy me and other men.

    Domination is, whether we admit it or not, a lot more work and expense that striving for an egalitarian society.

    Feminism is cheaper, faster and better. Not to mention safer, cleaner, more respectful and fun.

  20. 20
    AB says:

    For a very highfalutin way of saying exactly what ScottM said, you could point him towards John Rawls and the idea of the “veil of ignorance.” It’d be a book to read (or a Wiki article, if he prefers). Basically, Rawls argues that the fairest way to set up society is to pretend that we’re setting up society before we have any idea of who we will be in this society: no idea about our gender, our race, our sickness/health/ability, our class standing, or our religion. What would you want the rules to be? This exercise tells you about what the “ideal” way to set up a just society would be, because you’re not acting out of self-interest.

    Of course, the alternative is to admit that you are OK being a person who acts solely out of craven self-interest. Most people aren’t, and if he doesn’t get that, then I’d ask him where his ideas of morality or ethics come from, ’cause I wouldn’t be able to figure it out.

  21. 21
    Q. Pheevr says:

    Is there any reason to take this guy’s question seriously?

    I agree with Sydney; I think he’s being disingenuous. But if you really do want to answer him seriously, I think the first thing you would need to do is try to determine whether there are any assumptions that you and he share. He’s already said that he’s not willing to assume that treating people equally is desirable, or even that it is the default thing to do in the absence of compelling reasons to do otherwise. Well, what does he think the default is? What criteria would he use for determining whether a social order is good or bad? It sounds to me as if he’s trying to get you to play a game without telling you what the rules are.

  22. 22
    AB says:

    You know, I do think it’s important to take this guy’s question seriously. Not so much because I think his mind will be changed (“I see the LIGHT! And it is FEMINISM!!”)–I clearly don’t know him–but because I think it’s really useful for feminists, or progressives of any stripe, to dig down deep and think about *why* they believe in feminism.

    Not least because some of us feminists have been complicit in queer-baiting, or racism, or classism, or (fill in the blanks). Sometimes not explicitly even, but simply by focusing on our issue in such a way that our “solutions” perpetuate other oppressive systems. And I think really trying to formulate an answer to the question, “Why equality for women?” makes us grapple with our own blind spots, our own prejudices, our own assumptions.

  23. 23
    El Juno says:

    I can give my usual argument against…well, most forms of discrimination, really.

    If you assume what we’ve got no reason not to assume, namely that there’s a general level of ‘genius’ in the human species, (as in, brains as ‘good’ as Einstein’s) then by oppressing women, you’ve immediately excluded 50% of the possible ‘Einsteins’ in the world. If you say a woman can only do certain things (like, say, be a homemaker), you’ve just excluded 50% of the people who could do great things in any possible other field (and, by extension, if you say ONLY women can be homemakers and caretakers of children, you’ve excluded 50% of the people who could be amazing at that.)

  24. 24
    Q. Pheevr says:

    AB – I didn’t mean that we shouldn’t take the question “Why feminism?” seriously; on the contrary, I think that’s part of taking feminism seriously.

    What I meant was, is there any reason to spend the time and effort it would take to respond seriously to someone who asks “Why not domination by men?”?

  25. 25
    jessica from detroit says:

    Why not domination by men? he asks. The easy answer is that he may not be asking that question if he were the one being dominated. Although, someone who has never been dominated cannot really grasp the concept in the abstract, which is what it is to someone who does not experience it. Just as whites really cannot understand what it means to be Black in this country, men really cannot fully understand what it is to be a woman.

    This question also bears scrutiny of the question as to whether or not there are universal morals. Universal morals are sometimes seen as absolutes and would provide an easy answer to his question. One could say, “Yes, why not domination by men as that is the way it is supposed to be?”, or they might say “Domination by men? But it’s not supposed to be that way.”

    But is we look at a world without universal morals framing the position of women, then this question is somewhat different and needs a different response.

    The rise and progression of capitalism has required the subordination of woman and had defined and redefined the family. This is the reason for the oppression of women, much as it is responsible for the oppression of non-white racial and ethnic groups in the US. Racism in the US is attributable to the slave trade as the trade is what turned Africans into a commodity. Women are not a commodity in the sense that slaves were, but women hold a very particular position in the family due to capitalism. This is changing as capitalism progresses, and you can see how it is throwing somewhat of a wrench into the system in that no one really knows how to deal properly with women in the workforce. The fact that many women are now staying home once again may be attributable to this contradiction that the capitalists are finding themselves in. Who knows. Maybe not.

    Under this current system, women can hope for political equality, but social equality just isn’t possible. In my view anyway. Capitalism requires the oppression of certain peoples, and as long as it is here, we can only hope for reformism, and the powers that be know just how far they have to go to satisfy us, then they stop. Unfortunately, we usually stop there too.

  26. 26
    jessica from detroit says:

    forgot to add: you cannot overthrow capitalism without the aid of women and other oppressed groups. that is the main reason feminism is necessary.

  27. 27
    AB says:

    Q–I kinda figured, as you did lay out a nice way to address the issue right after you said that you didn’t see why he should be taken seriously :)

    I have enough misogynistic relatives to be *very* in tune with how pointless it can be to argue with someone who is just baiting you. I tend to not engage in those situations. I just thought pointing out that even feminists need to examine their beliefs was worth pointing out.

    And, if I may make another observations about this thread… I’m intrigued by the fact that the responses to “Why feminism?” seem to divide into two camps pretty cleanly. Camp #1 could be called the “for the greater good of society” camp: we shouldn’t oppress women because unleashing their talents through equal opportunities benefits all of society. Camp #2 could be called the “equality for the sake of equality” camp: women are inherently equal, and thus deserving of equality. (And they want it, now.)

    I don’t think this necessarily represents people’s beliefs–we all tend to tailor the message to what we think the listener is best able to hear–but it’s interesting to me that those two justifications could lead to some pretty divergent policy/movement goals.

  28. 28
    Kim (basement variety!) says:


    Thanks everyone for kind of going through this particularly bizarre question journey with me. When I first read his question, I was extremely perplexed – what sort of a question after all was that, as many of you have pointed out. I then realized that this very likely was a similar curiousity of many who haven’t come to the realization that systematic domination is nothing more than entitlement at it’s very worst. But I had no idea how to answer the question without coming off as both defensive and pithy, and the subject matter is important enough to me to not want to do that.

    The best I could come up with on the short-term while I waited to see what responses here would be was ‘For me, the most obvious answer doesn’t seem like it would quite fit your question, which is to say that equality promotes stability, peace and hopefully happiness among most people. In small ‘microcosms’ of egalitarion work-places we see this theory in action.’

    The question also drove the point home to me just how much opponents of eqalitarionism and feminism have made the word feminism a dirty word. Why on earth would someone -not- want to be associated with the word feminism? But the unfortunate truth of the matter is, tons of women I know even make the idiotic comments along these lines that come across as apologist for the uppity expectations of feminists.

    How does society actually conquer the problem of feminism being treated more like an epithet than a lofty goal?

  29. 29
    Radfem says:

    “Why on earth would someone -not- want to be associated with the word feminism? ”

    It’s not only the women who are anti-feminist who are reluctant to adopt this term, and it’s not always because of how it’s portrayed in the media either.

    Most of the women I know and am friends with, don’t identify as feminists, in either upper or lower case. Most of them hold “feminist” beliefs; some of them hold beliefs that probably would clash, particularly on abortion and how crimes against women are handled and how that handling impacts communities.

    These women aren’t ignorant about the feminist movement or women’s lives, as many would think. They probably have done more reading and certainly know more about the lives of women, and more different types of women than I do. Through some of them, is how I learned that not everything about people, like Margaret Sanger was great. Eugenics is a hard sin to overlook, or dismiss. So much evil in this world including genocide has its roots in eugenics.

    That was hard to take at first. Hell, my great-grandmother and her sisters marched with Sanger. But people even sheros do not come in halves, or quarters, but as whole persons. But every different woman who comes into feminism, in its various forms, brings different backgrounds, experiences and differences of opinions. That should bring strength to the movement; instead it almost infalliblly tears it apart.

    So I found the Sanger thread a bit disappointing in that respect. It reflected one of the most difficult struggles I have with the feminist movement. Disagreement about its icons and the issues that they fought for, and against.

    Yes, she made birth control more accessible, through hard work with other women. Yes, Planned Parenthood exists today, because of their efforts and helps women from many different walks of life guard their health and their reproductive freedom. But the beliefs of Sanger and other women(and men) are cautionary tales of how even the tools that can free women, can imprison and control them as well, particularly if they belong to groups in society that are viewed as “undesirable” which historically have included Jews, Chicanas, Black women, American Indians, the physically, cognitively and developmently disabled, the deaf and the poor. That’s why imo, it’s very important to remember the truth about Margaret Sanger, all of it. And how the relationship between reproductive freedom and eugenics crossed paths.

    Just like I learned through the Deaf community in my city, that bestowing the virtues of people like Alexander Graham Bell is going to get you into trouble. He was another eugenics proponant. And yeah, maybe eugenics were accepted viewpoints historically, but even in the worst times, there were always female(feminist or not) and male individuals who battled against them.

    Sanger’s as important for what she represents in terms of what you don’t want, as well as her contributions to freeing women from involuntary motherhood.

    But that’s just part of the discussion of any political or social movement, to be honest about the transgressions of some of your heros or sheros.

    Sometimes feminism, seems so narrowly defined in what you can believe in. If you don’t toe the party line, you’re out like it’s an exclusive club and you’re violating the dress code. I have beliefs on certain issues, particularly choice that differ from many mainstream feminist organizations and movement, but I don’t think those positions are less feminist. Sometimes, the discussions on those differences are worth having, FTMP, they are not. Sometimes inside and outside criticisms are valid, but FTMP, we don’t like to address those either.
    “How does society actually conquer the problem of feminism being treated more like an epithet than a lofty goal? ”

    Being a hell of a lot more inclusive, would help this a lot.

  30. 30
    Rock says:

    Does anyone find irony in Feminism attempting to create equality, while the inverse, male model is for privilege and dominance? That is a profound concept, “feminism” favors equality, which really should mean that women seek advantage, but this is not the case. Also, from my Spiritual beliefs the understanding that the image of God is the two together, gives support to equality as well. On the same note, there is the law of love. While women suffer from discrimination all of humanity suffers as a result. How can it be otherwise?

    What kind of relationship is worth having when it is predicated on fear and discrimination? On a selfish note, do you want your wife, mother, friend, daughter, treated as a lower person because of gender? Then go and do unto others… Blessings.

  31. 31
    nolo says:

    I’d be terribly tempted to ask the guy to do the basic John Rawls version of the golden rule test: Ask him to consider whether male domination ought to be the rule, but to to so while first imagining that he does not know whether he will be male or female in the world that will result if male domination is applied. The response you get from him will help you determine whether he is really trying to understand feminism, or whether he’s just a male supremacist jackass who’s pulling your chain.

  32. 32
    Robert says:

    Sometimes feminism, seems so narrowly defined in what you can believe in. If you don’t toe the party line, you’re out like it’s an exclusive club and you’re violating the dress code.

    Aah, Radfem is making sense, it burns, it burns us, the precious.

    In a world where abortion doesn’t exist, my mother is a huge feminist. But she is adamantly pro-life, so much so that she was a big part of persuading me to become the same. Because of that, there are basically no feminists who will work with her, or even talk to her, other than to scream at her for being a tool of the patriarchy.

    Other women and men have similar stories, of agreeing with feminists on many things, but having some disagreement with the party line, and being made to feel so unwelcome that they say “fuck it” and give up that part of their political identity. Feminism isn’t a monolith, but there are these huge areas where disagreement is not allowed. It’s as though the idea(l)s are hothouse flowers, and the cold wind of dissent will kill them.

    As an outsider on these disputes, I regularly see things like the Sanger thread. PA is in a snit because other people – hardcore feminist people, not wicked penis-worshippers like myself – won’t play her game of whitewash-the-icon. It’s like a church with a million Popes, each one eager to hand out the anathemas and stamp “excommunicated” on anyone who crosses some invisible line.

    Over the long term, successful social movements seek converts. Feminism in the modern era appears a lot more focused on rooting out heretics.

  33. 33
    sennoma says:

    Add to the excellent suggestions above (in particular the Rawls ones, imo) the simple fact that male domination as a social strategy is just plain stupid. It cuts a society off from making optimal use of half of its talent pool.

  34. 34
    Robert says:

    There are certainly downsides to male dominance as a default social setting. Or female dominance, or white dominance, or right-handed dominance, or what have you.

    However, most posters are missing the one astute point made by Kim’s young acquaintance: how come all these historical societies ended up organizing themselves this way?

    Dominance ends up solving a large number of social problems. It causes its own problems in turn – in the same way that egalitarianism solves a large number of social problems, while creating new ones.

    Unfortunately, the problems that dominance solves are problems where, if they aren’t solved, everybody dies. The problems that egalitarianism solves are tend to be less urgent.

    I suspect that historically we find male dominance nearly universally because female empowerment leads directly to lower birth rates which makes a society, tribe or culture less able to compete for resources with its neighbors. Male empowerment leads to higher birth rates, which makes a society, tribe or culture more able to compete.

    To unpack that a little bit: There is always and everywhere economic scarcity; all that varies under different economic system is the nature of the scarcity. Even in “Star Trek”, not everyone who wants a starship, has a starship. In a precapitalist economy, the scarcity is generally of things like food and shelter. As capitalism and technological advance make societies richer, the scarcities start to move up the hierarchy of need. In 100 AD, not everyone can eat; in 1000 AD not everyone can have their own house; in 2000 AD not everyone has their own computer; in 3000 AD not everyone has their own spaceship. And so on.

    So there’s a school of thought that holds that we can now afford to mellow out a little bit – so, we go egalitarian and we aren’t as competitive for resources as those patriarchal Canadians, big deal – they’ll have more Playstations than we do but we’ll be OK. And there is an element of truth to this viewpoint; it’s why feminism stalled out completely in Republican Rome (which couldn’t possibly afford its ideals) but made a lot of progress in Republican America (which could). (Roman feminism is a very interesting topic but the data is very limited – glimpses, palimpsests of what was going on. About all we know is that the feminists burrowed into the Christian church, where the ideal could be kept alive, if not usually implemented.)

    If you want more egalitarianism in a culture, it is first necessary to enrich that culture to the point that it can afford replacements for the social goods that a male-dominance model created (offhand, lower transaction costs for leadership decisions, natalism, lower transaction costs for family formation). Being anti-capitalist and being feminist are mutually contradictory, in practical terms.

  35. 35
    Jesurgislac says:

    Robert, when you lie about your mother, you go right to hell without even the chance to wash your mouth out with soap.

  36. 36
    Radfem says:


    I might only last a short while in the OTF crowd(which I’m all too aware of), but that’s probably five times longer than I’d last in the antifeminist group, LOL.

    I used to have an issue with women who opposed abortion, but I really don’t anymore unless they threaten my and other women’s ability to have the freedom to get or not get one. Some do it, as part of being pro-life on issues, including abortion, death penalty, euthenasia, vegetarianism. Sometimes, it’s religous reasons, to make that personal choice. What I do have an issue with, still, is that they and men act to control the decisions I and other women make by trying to take away the right to choose to have one and to be able to have one. I know many women who are antiabortion, who still respect another woman’s right to have one. So why not in that situation, return the favor and support those women’s choices?

    And if women who support and oppose abortions want to make them lessor in number through other means of “prevention” like increasing accessibility and choice in contraception, more economic choices and opportunities, safer neighborhoods to live in, better overall health of women, men, children in those families, then imo, that’s a really good thing.

    As for feminism….

    Fortunately, there is a broad spectrum of feminist thought out there. That’s what will save the movement and ensure that it continues to work towards liberating women and allowing them to liberate themselves and to have lively if conflicting opinions on all the issues. *shrug*

    btw, if it burns, burns, Robert, there’s medication for that you know….

  37. 37
    Sweaty_Monk says:

    There are a lot of notes here referencing primitive or tribal societies, and it is clear that people have a poor conception of these. I would suggest Riane Eisler’s international bestseller “The Chalice and the Blade” along with Daniel Quinn’s “Ishmael” to deal with this ignorance and, especially the first, to deal with the question of why should there be no male domination.
    How someone can identify with other movements but not understand how this one particular kind of domination is bad…this is beyond me. It is capitalism that currently fuels the domination of an elite over the masses, and it is this domination that is destroying the ecosystem we depend upon. The attitudes necessary to allow this class domination get their start not only in the family as sexism and “spare the rod…” child-raising theory but also popular media. In the cultural sphere we get rampant racism leading to the minute men militias on the Mexican border and staggeringly high proportions of black men on death row for killing white folks. Domination is bad whether the victims are women or japanese or coyotes, because there is no reasonable basis for it, and a lot of good reasons to reject it.

  38. 38
    Sweaty_Monk says:

    And Robert, while it is hard to argue on the 200,000 or so years of human existence (by this I mean folks as intelligent as you or I, humans have been around for some 3 million years) we do have good information on still existing tribes that are not supported by domination of any kind and yet have existed for a very long time. You might look up the Gebusi, the Kung!, the Yanomama, or any number of others.

  39. 39
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    Ergh, not to be arbitrary, but the Yanomamo tribe seems to be not necessarily a great example of non-dominance or egalitarian according to this link.

  40. 40
    Josh Jasper says:

    I suspect that historically we find male dominance nearly universally because female empowerment leads directly to lower birth rates which makes a society, tribe or culture less able to compete for resources with its neighbors.

    When competing with your enighbors meant beating Throg’s head in with a sharp rock, this was true. These days, we’ve had this thing called an industrial revolution. It’s not the society with the smartest people who can work together better who end up on top, and the knuckle draggers who think a sharp rock is the answer who end up on the bottom.

    Robert seems to be a sharp rock sort of guy.

    If you want more egalitarianism in a culture, it is first necessary to enrich that culture to the point that it can afford replacements for the social goods that a male-dominance model created (offhand, lower transaction costs for leadership decisions, natalism, lower transaction costs for family formation). Being anti-capitalist and being feminist are mutually contradictory, in practical terms.

    When you’re talking about ‘society’ here, you mean MEN. The other half of the population like it just fine when things are more egalitarian.

  41. 41
    emily1 says:

    yanomamo don’t have domination? the tribes live in a state of constant warfare, usually for the purpose of stealing goods and women. the women get gang-raped by the war party and later by any man from the attackers’ village who wishes to do so. at some point, she’s given to one of the men as a ‘wife.’

    but, the thing about primitive societies is that they aren’t all the same. they always have a division of labor by gender. i have yet to read of a primitive society that doesn’t. they do not always practice brutal oppression of women, nor do they always suppose that the masculine is superior to the feminine.

    despite the mountain of anthropological research on existing primitive societies, i think it would be unwise to make generalizations about human social practices over for the last 200,000 years. there are no written records (and only a very thin archeological record) of most of humanity’s history. in fact, we really don’t know jack shit about gender relations for the vast majority of the years that humans have been running around on this earth. the sheer diversity of primitive cultures alone should warn against making sweeping statements about how human beings ‘naturally’ express their gender. for one thing, maybe we should all agree on how many genders there are.

  42. 42
    Rock says:

    “make them lessor in number through other means of “prevention” like increasing accessibility and choice in contraception, more economic choices and opportunities, safer neighborhoods to live in, better overall health of women, men, children in those families, then imo, that’s a really good thing.”

    This is not theory. Studies show that where women can count on good healthcare and long term security for themselves and the children abortion goes down. Insecurity leads to abortion. Thanks for pointing this out. Blessings.

  43. 43
    mythago says:

    because female empowerment leads directly to lower birth rates

    Yes, in the modern world where contraception is available.

    It’s also silly to pretend that if Culture A breeds like bunnies, it will succeed over Culture B with lower birth rates. Frequent, uncontrolled births means less healthy babies and more deaths in childbirth.

  44. 44
    Robert says:

    Yes, in the modern world where contraception is available.

    Contraception has been available for thousands of years. Its availability has varied by culture, and the availability of relatively safe abortifacients/contraceptives, pennyroyal and the like, has depended on local herbology and lore – but most “primitive” cultures are/were pretty well versed in those areas.

  45. 45
    Sheelzebub says:

    I know many women who are antiabortion, who still respect another woman’s right to have one. So why not in that situation, return the favor and support those women’s choices?

    How is my being pro-choice–hell, how is my adamant desire to not have children–being unsupportive of someone’s choice to have them?

  46. 46
    alsis39 says:

    See, I don’t think of a woman who would never have an abortion as “anti-abortion,” unless she’s telling me that she will take away my own right to have one if she is given half a chance to. A personal opinion alone does not make her unsupportive of my choice to remain without children, unless she moves that choice into the political realm through activism.

    It’s important to distinguish between personal opinions and deeds in the public realm.

  47. 47
    AndiF says:

    A personal opinion alone does not make her unsupportive of my choice to remain without children, unless she moves that choice into the political realm through activism.

    I guess I’d go a bit further and say that if she insists that I have to accept her personal opinion as universal moral truth (as in “women who have abortions are evil, slutty baby killers but criminalizing abortion isn’t practical; let’s just treat them as societal pariahs”), then I can do without her “support”. But women who don’t like the idea of abortion for themselves and still support choice for others are absolutely welcome in my feminist clubhouse.

  48. 48
    mythago says:

    Pennyroyal is not a “safe” abortifacient. Most of them aren’t. Surgery has been available for thousands of years, too. Most “advanced” cultures were pretty hit-or-miss on contraception until the modern era.

    And, again, real life is not like a turn-based strategy game. Tribe A is not going to win out over Tribe B simply by breeding as fast as it can–humans can only have so many babies, and that whole big head vs. pelvis thing makes childbirth risky.

  49. 49
    Tata says:

    Kim, the poor boy in your blog entry isn’t looking for a reason to “feel feminist.” He’s confused and wants female attention. What he really wants is a girl he can easily dominate. The evidence for this conclusion is that at the very bottom he doesn’t embrace equality in a natural and easy way. He thinks nature shows him proof that he *should be* in charge.

    Give him five years and he’ll be voting Republican like he means it. Watch out. He’s bad news.

  50. 50
    Elena says:

    He’ll get some poor desperate woman from Russia or China to be his mail order bride because western women are so mean.

    I find posts about “natural human behavior” that purport to know all about pre-historic humans or else hold up some tiny pre- literate jungle society as evidence to be total red herrings. Irrelevant and useless.

  51. 51
    pervy_blakeney says:

    I’m with Q Grrl.

    If this correspondent assumes the authority of his will to be so inviolable that he might determine the fate of others with it, then I’ll feel free to assume the same of mine. I don’t like being dominated by men; therefore, it’s entirely unacceptable.

    In all lack of snarkiness, though, the only answer I find myself being able to give is that one can only believe in feminism if one accepts three basic premises: that all humans with the capacity to reason have the right to govern themselves; that women are as human as men; and that the right to govern oneself is more important than the goals (whatever those may be) of a government or a society, or that the goal of all governments and societies should be to provide their denizens with as many rights of self-government as possible.

    If you don’t believe the first two of these ideas, then . . .then what? I have no idea. I’ve never encountered (to my knoweldge, anyway) anyone so totally lacking in empathy; and that lack of empathy, that lack of ability to recognize other humans as being as human as you yourself are,when all evidence of the behavior of others suggests that conclusion; to not be able to make it, suggests a serious cognitive malfunction. It’s a bit along the line asking why a color is blue when you’ve just been shown that the substance in question reflects light in the blue spectrum and you can clearly see for yourself that the object is, in fact, blue. How do you answer that?

  52. 52
    Lee says:

    Pat Robertson in August 1992: Feminism “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

    The answer to “Why feminism?” has got to be “Because we’re not idiots.”

  53. 53
    acm says:

    just bumped across this on gendergeek:

    “A natural response is to change the word feminist to a word with fewer stigmas attached. But inevitably the same thing will happen to that magical word. Part of the radical connotation of feminism is not due to the word, but to the action. The act of a woman standing up for herself is radical, whether she calls herself a feminist or not.”
    Paula Kamen

  54. 54
    Radfem says:

    I agree with what you said bean and thanks for responding, from my experience, but some of my friends who oppose abortion for religious reasons(i.e. being Catholic for example), but wouldn’t do anything to harm a woman’s right to have one, have had a hard time with self-identified feminists(whether they really are or aren’t feminists is up for debate, but they call themselves such). They don’t feel welcome, because unfortunately, there is some blurring of the lines btwn not believing in them as a personal choice, and opposing anyone having one outright. We here FTMP can see that difference, but others out there, can’t.

    Enough to say, that you’re antifeminist, or antiwoman…which is unfair and ignorant because one of my friends is involved in increasing medical screening for breast and cervical cancer in her community, which saves women’s lives.

    Online, I’ve seen self-identified feminists who call themselves pro-life(against abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, etc.) who have been made to feel unwelcome in feminist discussions online, or have been called antifeminist or nonfeminist because of this. Even though they are not advocating the ban of abortion, they just don’t like it. OTOH, they are not activists protecting the right of women to have abortions so maybe that’s what causes some flak. They are not good enough soldiers. But maybe it’s just not their way of fighting for women, but some other arena is, i.e. if they are advocating for better working conditions for women, better prison conditions or safer neighborhoods.

    Then, there’s times when you have a prochoice person who calls themselves antifeminist. So the two aren’t always connected together as neatly as they might appear.


    “I know many women who are antiabortion, who still respect another woman’s right to have one. So why not in that situation, return the favor and support those women’s choices?

    How is my being pro-choice”“hell, how is my adamant desire to not have children”“being unsupportive of someone’s choice to have them? ”

    It’s not. Maybe you support them, but not all feminists do. And I’ve read enough arguments about whether or not to have children elsewhere and whether or not that’s a feminist act, to know that’s an issue of contention and conflict for many feminists as well.

    I just wrote something that seemed to make sense to me about “returning the favor”. I didn’t realize it would be so offensive.

  55. I’d like to weigh in on the notion of the two different “reasons” that feminism is good. I think of the “bird” analogy I gave as one that covers both reasons:

    I’ll rephrase it:
    When women are oppressed then humanity is like a bird with a broken wing. Not only is the wing in pain, but then humanity cannot “fly”.

    Probably the way I phrased it originally, it sounded more like I care about helping women for the sake of the common good rather than simple fairness. But after considering that point, I decided that I really do care about both things – common good and fairness. In that sense, I would like to “fix the broken wing” even if it doesn’t help the bird to fly. I just happen to think that both might be accomplished.

    ** Finally, I apologize to whoever deserves and apology (the universe, perhaps?) for not having a clue about a) the wording of the orignal phrase and b) the person(s) who said it.

  56. 56
    jackson says:

    Why feminism?

    Because I do not want to have a fool like you tell me what to do.

  57. 57
    jfb says:

    I think Q. Pheevr had it right: You can’t answer “why feminism” for this questioner without understanding his assumptions. The question “why feminism” didn’t take me by surprise; lots of people oppose feminism (or something they call feminism). What floored me was that he understood that feminism is egalitarian, and just doesn’t think egalitarian is good. Okay, so, to him, what is good?

    Regarding AB’s comment on the two kinds of argument, I noticed it too, but was looking at it as pragmatic vs. moral (or something). It reminded me, at least in form, of Donald Johnson’s article on the cases against torture.

  58. 58
    Aegis says:

    Robert said:
    I suspect that historically we find male dominance nearly universally because female empowerment leads directly to lower birth rates which makes a society, tribe or culture less able to compete for resources with its neighbors. Male empowerment leads to higher birth rates, which makes a society, tribe or culture more able to compete.

    You may be correct, but for simpler reasons than birth rate. Male-dominated societies are likely to have more powerful and aggressive males, and those males are better able to compete with neighbors.

    Another reason operates at the level of individuals, not societies. Males who were more socially dominant and aggressive than females were likely to be selected for by females. When females select mates with higher status than them (or have such mates selected for them by parents or kin), the male will usually become the dominant one in the relationship. A society full of male-dominated family-units becomes a male-dominated society.

    Sweaty_Monk said:
    There are a lot of notes here referencing primitive or tribal societies, and it is clear that people have a poor conception of these. I would suggest Riane Eisler’s international bestseller “The Chalice and the Blade” along with Daniel Quinn’s “Ishmael” to deal with this ignorance and, especially the first, to deal with the question of why should there be no male domination.

    It is strange that you speak with so much confidence of work that is itself very sketchy:

    link one

    link two

    link three

    Admin Edit: Aegis, your links were creating a page scroll on IE that was breaking the continuity of the webpage. I’ve edited your links to be labled as links for now. If you wish to repost them, please do so in html with tags, rather than single line code. Thanks, Kim.

  59. 59
    Antigone says:

    I want to go back to one thing: why is it better to have a violent society? Why does everything seem to boil down to: “We’re better than you because we can cause you the highest amount of damage”.

  60. 60
    Robert says:

    Because when the inevitable conflict over a limited resource breaks out, those societies win.

  61. 61
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    I don’t know that such applies to gender though, in societies where the great equalizer of firepower has been introduced. If my 5’3 self has a gun that is pointed at some burly 6’2 unarmed man, and I’m prepared to use it, being a dominant male does him no good.

    My point being, society has evolved in many ways over time, and to expect that because for a few thousand years many societies have taken up patriarchal structures based on superior muscle power doesn’t really relate to today’s more modern capabilities. If in fact ‘might makes right’ were a better structure, then we’d forego equalizing laws against murder and violence. So clearly men value egalitarian systems as well when it comes to ‘the great equalizer’.

  62. It is better to see the world with clear eyes.

    If there is a woman who suffers, why should she suffer?

    If there is a woman who could contribute, wherefore should she not contribute?

    It is a fascinating game to play at sexism or racism or any other bigotry and construct reasons why we gain from them. But if you neglect a woman’s suffering because she is a woman then you are a trader in human suffering. If you neglect a woman’s capacities because she is a woman then you are not honest with yourself.

    Why feminism?

    Because it is easier.


    Your brain is a human brain, so it is going to pattern match and wind up with ideas about what women are like and what women should do and how women should be. In some situations those ideas will be right. In some situations those ideas will be wrong.

    Here is why it is easier to be feminist.

    Instead of figuring out how to justify those ideas, and how to make sure that women fit into the place that those ideas would suggest for them, just… don’t.

    Take those five minutes and have a soda or something.

    If that’s hard to do, then maybe the problem isn’t feminism but whatever it is that makes that hard to do.


  63. 63
    mythago says:

    Males who were more socially dominant and aggressive than females were likely to be selected for by females.

    Where did you get this? John Norman?

    Because when the inevitable conflict over a limited resource breaks out, those societies win.

    Assuming that “more aggressive” = “better at warfare,” and forgetting that “more” is a qualifier. A very aggressive, technologically and strategically poor society is going to fare rather badly against somewhat less aggressive, but clever and better-armed neighbors.

  64. 64
    BritGirlSF says:

    “What he really wants is a girl he can easily dominate. The evidence for this conclusion is that at the very bottom he doesn’t embrace equality in a natural and easy way. He thinks nature shows him proof that he *should be* in charge.”
    I’m not going to speculate about the validity of the first and last sentences here given that I don’t know this guy, but the middle one is spot on. Why would any decent and ethical person not embrace equality? Being anti-equality is like being anti-happiness, or anti-health, or anti-love. From a moral point of view it’s simply inexplicable.
    That being said, the only rational answer to “why not male dominance” is “because women don’t like it, and have been saying so for a very long time”, followed by “goodbye”. Feminism does indeed need more converts, but people who cannot grasp why it is unethical for one group to dominate another are not the people who we need to convert. Anyone expressing such a viewpoint is probably beyond reasoning with.

  65. 65
    clew says:

    This guy is cruisin’ for Ayn Rand, which makes John Rawls an excellent prescription.

  66. 66
    AndiF says:

    The biggest knuckle-dragger getting the wimmen and the goodies and the most successful nations being the ones with the most big knuckle-draggers are “facts” that have been going downhill at least since the invention of gunpowder. By the middle ages, the advantage clearly had moved to the nations with the healthiest, best educated, and most technological populations. And a high birth rate is a disadvantage when child mortality rates are falling and life expectancy is rising. The ever-increasing use of technology and improvements in medical science pretty much sounded the death knell for any rational justification of male domination.

    So the answer to “why feminism” is obvious: for the men. Imagine how soul-destroying it is for a man to go through his entire life never being sure whether he earned any of his achievements or whether they were just the result of his not being held to the same standards as a majority of the population. Just think what it does to his self-esteem to know that, in effect, the door has been held open for him his entire life.

  67. 67
    AB says:


    It wasn’t just your post I was looking at… it seemed to run through quite a few of the threads in the beginning. I do think that people were trying to make a “pragmatic” vs. “moral” argument because they perceived it as more palatable to the guy; but I also think that a lot of people honestly take the “for the sake of society” argument as the best reason for feminism.

    To me, that creates a frame for what the goals of feminism are: to allow women (implicitly, middle-class or affluent white women) to enter into the white-collar labor market on the same terms as men. The way society is structured is removed from the list of things that we can consider changing; instead, it’s about allowing women access to everything guys have. An argument more along the lines of Rawl shifts the focus straight back to changing the way we set up society in the first place. It demands that we consider that the way men have it now isn’t really the goal for women, but rather we might want to change the way both men and women perform both paid and unpaid labor, interact with each other, and so forth.

    The “pragmatic” argument is easier, I think, both to try to convince men of the value of feminism (after all, it’s not asking them to change, only asking them to share their toys) and to follow in your own life (if you are on that white-collar career track). Hiring another women and paying her a salary too low to really live on is easier than negotiating with your husband about equal childcare responsibilities. And you might feel a little guilty for a bit, but it’s OK because it’s feminist for you to not give up your career!

    It’s interesting how the way we choose to present things can really have implications for our actions that are far more broad-reaching than we realize, that’s all.

  68. 68
    Tuomas says:

    Well, well. Isn’t it cute to actually see conservatives talking about competition for limited resources (after all the “Iraq wasn’t about oil!” and “What do you silly environmentalists mean – we should spare some non-renewable, limited resources? There are no limits!”). What is not cute is that the context needs to be why male domination is a must.

    Why feminism?
    Because anything less would be slavery of half of the population. And pragmatically, it needs to be said that eventually free and more equal societies do gain an edge economically, technologically etc. despite the initial boost that slavery gives.

  69. 69
    jane says:

    i obviously don’t know anything about this guy, but i’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he might be the way i was ten years ago, as an undergrad majoring in philosophy. i knew what i believed- in feminism, in environmentalism, the power of social justice. but because of the way my brain is, or because of all the philosophy classes i took, i wanted to make sure i had all the best arguments straight in my head before i went out into the world. it’s nice to be able to argue intelligently for your position, even if it might not change others’ minds. it helps clarify thought. i don’t like saying “i’m a feminist because it feels right.” i like to explain why it feels right. but i’m a biological determinist, and i like explanations for everything. anyway, maybe he does believe in feminism, but just wants others’ experience to help him formulate his arguments.

    and robert, yeah, there are herbs and other methods of contraception and abortion, but it is often very difficult to obtain these herbs and they are very very hard on the body. herbs- the way they’re used in the u.s., anyway, with the info we have- maybe have a 50% chance of working, at most, and i actually think that’s extremely generous. when it doesn’t work, or doesn’t completely work, the woman’s situation becomes increasingly desperate. even when they do work, they can be temporarily debilitating or worse (and by temporarily, i mean up to 2 months). i think women should educate themselves about herbs- they can be useful- but they should not be depended on.

  70. 70
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    i’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he might be the way i was ten years ago, as an undergrad majoring in philosophy

    Actually you’re spot on in this. He is an undergrad working towards a philosophy degree. He also has been a collasal asshole to me in the past, but if someone is reaching out of their assholery in search of a little light, far be it from me to deny that. Instead I figured I’d put the question to all of you and perhaps ignite a bit of conversation about it from a perspective that isn’t often seen here. It’s good practice for us, and if he’s open minded about what he reads, good learning tool for him.

  71. 71
    laertes says:

    Why feminism?

    Let’s look at the evidence. Discussion forums dominated by and moderated by men tend to degenerate into chronic flamewars. Discussion forums limited to women, or moderated by women, tend not to. Young males age 14 to 25 are overwhelmingly responsible for violent crime; 93% of all serial killers are male. The available evidence suggests that males have a great propensity toward violence than women, and logically this suggests that the more women we can put in charge, the better.

    Now let’s look at history. When I was a kid, divorced women couldn’t write checks in the supermarkets. SIngle women couldn’t get a bank account without a co-signer. Single mothers couldn’t get mortgages. Women were almost uniformly turned down whenever they applied for jobs dominated by men — in cases as seemingly inexplicable as symphony orchestra members. When I was a kid 90% of high-paying high-status high-value-added jobs, like lawyers or doctors or engineers, were men. When I was a kid, 90% of students in law school were men.

    Suddenly, after blind auditions were instituted and anti-discrimination laws got passed, a lot more women started getting hired to play in symphony orchestras. Turns out the (mostly male) concertmasters had been unconsciously discriminating against women. Ditto for many other professions like medicine, physics, engineering, etc. Now, 50% of the students in law school are women, single women can open checking accounts and bank accounts and get mortgages as long as they have the income, and thanks to aggressive anti-domestic violence laws, violence against women in marriages or long-term relationships has dropped as well. Instead of just giving the guy a warning, police now routinely arrest bullies who beat their wives with baseball bats. That didn’t happen when I was a kid.

    Lastly, let’s look at economics. America finds itself facing a world full of smart hard-working people with access to all the same knowledge (courtesy of the internet) we in the developed world have access to. We’re in for the economic fight of our life in the next few decades. Does it make sense for America to tie one hand behind its back by discriminating against the female 50% of our workforce and discouraging them through dscimrination from entering high-paying high-value-added professions that make us economically competitive with the rest of the world?

    Why feminism? Look at the evidence. Study recent history. Examine basic economics. Draw your own conclusions.

  72. 72
    pete kaplan says:

    Why feminisim?

    The question should be What is feminism? If so many people believe that feminism is the answer to all the worlds problems and will bring peace and prosperity to mankind, then I would like to know what exactly is feminism? Then if we knew that we could answer the question : Why feminism?