The Language-Game of Feminism.
As a feminist, one of the most common reactions I would get is, “But you’re a man, how can you be a feminist?” if not that, then at the very least there would be a rich exchange of puzzled glances and de-tuned “ohhhh okay” responses.
It’s generally assumed that feminism is indeed about women, or for women, because the term resides in the actual name itself. As there are very little male feminists or that, men exclaiming to be in favour of feminism is seen as an incongruent, rare thing, then we might then begin to understand the kind of lopsided, self-sabotaging semantic mechanism that is at work when we use the word “feminism.”
1 — One is Not Born As A Bigot
I first got a glimpse of this when I realised that girls around me (and later on, women) could not safely stay out late how the boys could.
I always used to wonder at first innocently, “well, isn’t that unfair?” in my own boyish way, but then it was only when I saw that they were being protected from “something.”
I did not know what that something was, only that it warranted girls being picked up in cars where I and the other boys deferred to walking.
And then later on, female friends would ask me to walk them to the station, and eventually paying quite a lot of money in taxis just so they could guarantee their own safety.
What is this “something” that women have to live in constant fear of?
It is simply, the looming spectre of the misogynistic world. Women who are lucky enough to live in places with clean water, houses over their heads and clitorises intact still have to embed an elementary level of protection against sexual assault.
It is one of the very first lessons that a girl learns in her act of “becoming” a woman.
The masculine world, in the meantime, knows and learns of nothing but privilege. Throughout their entire development, boys are reminded that they are stronger, faster and perhaps more interestingly, safer.
They are continually reified by rituals and practices that emphasises their physical strength that tacitly reinforces a disjointed power relation between the genders; an ace-in-the-hole that constantly reminds men that should they be on the losing side, they can always slap a bitch up.
One only has to look at the world to see how patriarchy is translated into the local cultures of the world. While more “developed” places of the world see the patriarchy work more as a tacit subtext, other countries see women fear for their safety.
The feminists of the 1920s and 1960s could only really start with the basics of political and human rights. They could not tackle the rest of the pyramid because the fundamentals had to be secured first. Women secured the right to work, the right to vote and could get paid for maternity leave.
There was a sense that a battle had be won. But if you are in a war, the first battle is hardly the battle that will secure your overall victory.
2— Feminism In Today’s World
So where are we now? There is a current rift within feminism in the western world that continually peeks its head over the boundaries of popular discourse.
It is my opinion that the pathways of power course through the structure(s) of the language-game.
Take my own position as a feminist as I alluded to in my opening sentence.
Unlike my taste for music, my personal philosophy or my professional opinion as a marketer, my discussion for feminism almost always opens on the defensive.
This behaviour happens because “feminism” contains the root word “female” in itself. Therefore, before we can even have a balanced discussion, we are using a one-sided term.
As a result, feminists are forced into a binary reaction, they either act apologetically or they are antagonistic.
There is no middle ground because they are trapped within the snares of the language-game.
There is an extreme irony here. The proto-feminists and first wave feminists believed they were fighting a cause for women, that is to say, that they fully accepted the totality of their gender. They accepted that they were women in the first place. They wrote this belief in the “one-ness” of their gender into the term that they used to fight their battles that no doubt, were important.
But their battles were (and are still) being fought on the battleground of the body. The terms in which they expressed their fury, having being caught in the language-game, put them into a perpetual battle stance.
Judith Butler essentially taught us how gender, like race, is a constructed category. If that is the case, are feminists forever doomed to be “feminists”?
How can feminism be advanced if a binary view of gender is written into the term itself?
As a result, feminists have to accept their own positions as provocateurs. What is the most common cliché that feminists have to contend with when they open a discussion about men? That they burn bras, hate men, that they shout and scream to get what they want.
The way modern patriarchy works now is through character assassination.
This comes as no surprise of course, the corporeal patriarchy has always infantilised women, so the intellectual patriarchy does the same, treating women as screaming, spoilt children who don’t have the patience to have a “civil” discussion.
There is of course, vital reason to scream and shout. In the cases mentioned earlier where women’s own safety and dignity as human beings is involved; there is quite simply no civility to be had.
Neither is it necessary.
But the war of the body cannot simply be won by brute force. Feminism as an approach has to understand that it is underwritten by a larger struggle against inequality itself (which many of them do) and that struggle can only be advanced by fighting patriarchy symmetrically in all of the spaces it operates.
3. Feminism As A Victim of Its Own Discourse
The queer feminists (Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldua) made a point to how feminism plays out in other scenarios. They understood that their position as women, as people of colour and of LGBT orientation meant that they were fighting a triple battle.
Feminists do not have time on broadcasted interviews to make a complicated point about the language-games that frame their discussions
Interviewers only look for “sound-bites” that sound appealing and accessible to a wide audience.
Interviewers also intuitively understand the language-game themselves, asking leading questions that seek only to reinforce the circular semantic movement that the language-game employs.
The platform itself is reductive.
The irony is that we must take a leaf out of the patriarchal book; the same channels and methods that is used to disseminate ideology must be used in order to transform people’s minds.
Feminists and other like-minded people are noble to use existing platforms to give a raw account of what their views are, but it is inevitably doomed to fall on deaf ears because it does not fit a sound bite, or that the platform does not allow the complexity and nuance that the discussion inherently commands.
We do live in a world of fictions and simulations.
Our knowledge is not memorised, but fantasised about.
The terms in which the language-game is beaten is using a method of communication that is not linguistic.
The work of feminist, black and queer activists must be pushed further into a deeper ambition of how to affect the modern condition.
We must not be complacent in thinking that our well thought out arguments will have significant impact in a world where patriarchal ideology has dominated film, marketing and business.
The communication of today takes places in those intangible spaces.
We must not be satisfied in our ivory towers; we must transcend the language-game.