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The radical idea that women are people

By Kenneth YoungPublished 2 months ago 3 min read

"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." - Marie Shear (1986)

As a white american cis-male from the middle class, my voice is probably not the one you most want to be hearing right now. In baseball terms, I've already got my three strikes, plus one, even if you're being generous. If that's the case, and you're not familiar with her, check out Marie's wiki page linked above, and run with it.

If you're still here, you probably are hoping for something that will reaffirm your beliefs, from either a Red Pill or apologist viewpoint. Please let me know if I disappointed you in the comments below.

Shear's definition of Feminism is one that's stuck with me since the first time I heard it, several decades ago. Taken on the face, it also seems to dovetail well with the fundamental premise of Black Lives Matter, that of course all lives matter, but we have not been acting like it. Women are people, but we have not been acting like it. LGBTQ+ people are people, but we have not been acting like it.

One of the common reactions to demands to be treated like people is to claim someone is requesting special privileges. One of the common reactions of cis-male white americans from the middle class is to talk about how they didn't experience overt benefits from their identifications by others, especially not of the sort that are being proposed to remedy decades+ of discrimination. Furthermore, the idea that they should have to give something up of any value to provide these remedies is threatening.

Equating "acting like we're people" with structural remedies for institutionalized discrimination, and reparations for ancestral wrongs, feels fraught with risk. Remedies and reparations will always be specific policy proposals, full of room for debate, and rocky shoals on which well-intentioned flotilla may founder. It's also certainly possible to agree that (black, trans, afab, paraplegic, etc.) people are people, and should be treated as such, without agreeing in principle with reparations or restructuring public safety and criminal justice.

Moving forward from the premise that (afab, intellectually disabled, melanin enhanced, non-English speaking) people are people requires getting to that point first, and, more importantly, agreeing on what it means to act like someone else is a person.

Treating someone as an equal is not necessarily the same thing as treating them as a person. Think back to stories of World War I, and of the Christmas Truces. On the Western Front recognizing the humanity of the person trying to kill you, while taking a break from trying to kill them, did not prevent a soldier from resuming trying to kill an enemy soldier the next day. This may certainly be a valid reason to question war, militarization, etc., but it reinforces the fact that some people can simultaneously believe that the person on the other end of their rifle is a person, and that it is the ethical course of action to seek to kill them as an extension of another group.

The inverse holds true, treating someone as a person is not necessarily the same thing as treating them as an equal. My youngest child is undeniably a person, and has been for many years. At the same time, we exist in relationships (financial dependency, etc.) wherein we are formally unequal, in addition to having differing capacities in creativity, logical abstraction, empathy for felines. My supervisor at my employer is a person, but we are in a relationship where they will tend to hold power over me.

So, should you find yourself around a table with people where you all seem to agree that women are people, but others seem to be questioning your shared belief, consider the question: what do we at this table mean when we say that women are people?

Shear, M. (1986). Media watch: Celebrating women's words. New Directions for Women 15(3) 6, May/June 1986.


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