No, That’s Not It

You know the saying “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people“? It’s often conflated with the inadequate and ultimately damaging statement “Feminism is just about women being treated equally to men.”

I’ll give you a beat to see if you can spot the difference between the two sentences.

Here, take another second.

In the first notion women are people. In the second, they are reflective of men. Accepting feminism as the idea of women as people first and women later requires conceptualizing humanity as something that does not have “man” or “male” or “that guy” as the standard. In the concept of feminism as a radical notion that women are people, there is an implicit rejection that you measure the respect for, or the value of, a given woman by the respect for (or value of) a comparable man.

In the second statement, you are implicitly accepting that “Man” is universal, aspirational, preferable.

That’s why “feminism” is a radical notion. That’s not a snarky, sarcastic epigram; it’s a linguistically, metaphysically accurate one. It takes a massive effort to change one’s thinking to a place where “male” is not the default imagery. It’s a drastic alteration of context, even for women or feminist philosophers or agitators.

Making it more difficult is that in some arenas–equal pay for equal work, for instance–feminist arguments appear to shake down to egalitarian ones. Right now, men are paid more for comparable work; so the feminist goal is appears to be raising women’s pay to match men’s because the work should be compensated at the same rate whether it’s performed by a woman or a man.

But the radical assessment of the situation requires us to value the work by the value of the work itself, not by the value we’ve been assigning to it when it’s accomplished by men, rather then women. Put simply, maybe we overpay men because they are men. Perhaps the feminist notion (equal pay for equal work, regardless of the sex, gender or identity of the person doing it) in this case is a lowering of compensation in some sectors, while raising it in others.

As humans, we like to believe that someone somewhere can eventually decide which came first: the chicken or the egg. The reality is that social constructs are just not that clean. They are ourobouros. Determining how to value something or someone based on Human as default, instead of Man as default, will put you in impenetrable thickets of why and how and lead you to places where women don’t come out ahead.

As a doctrine, a philosophy, a radical notion, feminism accepts that changing the default from “Man” to “Person” will mean, sometimes, not entitling everyone but creating a more modest expectation. The modest expectation comes not from an inclusion of an inferior person (e.g., the woman) in the creation of the standard, but from recognizing that the standard has been artificially or unsustainably inflated in order to lock out a majority.

It’s not comfortable or easy; it’s radical.

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