Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What constitutes a feminist issue?

There's been a lot of talk lately in the feminist blogosphere about how rising food costs, disaster relief, and climate change are all feminist issues. Yesterday I had a conversation about what makes certain issues "feminist." This is a surprisingly difficult topic, and a little exploration confirmed that I'm not the only one having these kinds of discussions.

Gender, in Western culture, encompasses a constellation of ideas, behaviors, and concepts. In varying degrees, it pervades every interaction and decision. This orientation toward gender makes it easy to brand all political and social issues as feminist.

There are a couple of problems with this. One, if all issues are feminist, then the term loses its meaning. Two, this perspective reflects a Western attitude toward gender and may not translate cross-culturally. There's unresolved tension between Western and non-Western* feminists as to different orientations and lived experiences. Three, the unfortunate baggage that accompanies the term feminist can detract attention from tasks at hand, such as disaster relief, or obscure economic and political forces that might be at the root of a particular problem. To paraphrase a recent commenter on feministing.com: if the patriarchy died tomorrow, poor people would still be poor.

As usual, I think the situation is far too complicated to be answered with a yes or no. I'm inclined to view all issues as potentially feminist. Viewing social, political, and economic problems using gender as a framework or lens is one way method of analysis. However, it's only one way to do so, and being quick to put the "feminist stamp" on any particular issue can be detrimental in some respects.

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