At the Edge

Commentary on the Big Issues

Month: March 2017

Understanding Feminism

I’m a feminist. And I’m tired of people coming up with criticisms of feminism that don’t even rise to the level of idiocy. To be sure, there are legitimate criticisms of the modern movement. That doesn’t change the reality: sexism exists today, and needs to be fought. Feminism is the movement that challenges that sexism.

I’m a feminist because, throughout the world, individuals face the denial of social, political, and economic opportunities just as a result of their gender. I’m a feminist because I want to resist this system of oppression which defines the lives of multiple individuals: the lives of soldiers who are denied the ability to serve because they are trans men or trans women, the lives of same-sex couples merely seeking the right to marry and live their lives together, the lives of adolescents being abused in cruel “gay conversion” camps, the lives of men who defy gender roles imposed on them, the lives of women who are denied the right to equal pay and to employment, and who are shunned as “impure” during their menstrual cycles, the lives of nonbinary folks who’re simply trying to resist social impositions that confine them to certain standards they don’t want to meet.

Mary Frith scandalized British society by wearing “male” clothes and behaving in a way that society perceived to be masculine. Photo Credit: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

In this post, I’m going to help readers understand feminism, and give you my views on it (i.e. why am I a feminist?). I’m also going to redefine patriarchy. 

Defining ‘Feminism’

The definition of feminism I’m going to use is an ideology which resists discrimination or the violation of individual rights based on gender, and the movement that advances the ideology through actionable social and political change.

To understand that definition, we first need to understand what “gender” means. It’s difficult to come up with a definition because different people mean different things when they say “gender.” However, gender does not mean having XX or XY chromosomes. There’s a distinction between biological sex and gender that we should not blur. Gender is understood as being a social construct corresponding to biological sex. Specifically, gender is the expectations of a community placed on individuals belonging to a certain biological sex. It restricts the freedom of individuals of certain biological sexes and places expectations on them.

Gender is often framed as a binary. In the gender binary, there are two ideal groups of characteristics, the masculine and the feminine, which are expectations placed on members of the two biological sexes. Intersex individuals are excluded. All individuals who defy the group of expectations placed on them are excluded and shunned. This means folks who ascribe to the opposite role to the one placed on them, and those who don’t ascribe to either of the two overly restrictive roles.

Why did these roles arise? Insignificant neurological features that cause behavioral differences in infants, e.g. in the preference of toys, which dissipate later on. These have primarily been observed in chimpanzees. These neurological differences correlate with the biological sex of individuals. While they’re too mild to have a real impact, when families notice behavioral differences in infants and observe that these correlate with sex, they ascribe gender roles to their children. Since then, cultures have emerged ascribing various gender roles, in most cases in the form of a binary.

In general, feminism argues that gender roles are harmful, and disproportionately affect women and nonbinary individuals.

The Case for Feminism

The system of gender roles that is followed in much of the world today is a patriarchal system. This isn’t the traditional definition of patriarchy (i.e. a “world of male domination”). It’s more nuanced than that. Patriarchy is a specific kind of gender role in which people who belong to the “male” gender are expected to be the breadwinners of stable families, and are given a notion of “masculinity” to fulfill wherein they should be dominant/aggressive emotionally, professionally, and sexually (in the latter case, feminists often call it “toxic masculinity,” an expectation of sexual dominance which has probably led to the majority of rapists being men). Similarly, people who belong to the “female” gender are forced into being homemakers, and are expected to be passive and demure emotionally and professionally, and they lack any sexual freedom given to them.

The notion that patriarchy — as defined above — doesn’t exist in most of the world today is indefensible. Because patriarchy exists, and is the predominant system of gender. It’s why “homosexuality” is seen as weak. It’s also why women are often not allowed to be in the military or to pursue free professional lives. Feminism suggests that patriarchy is disproportionately harmful to women. There are multiple examples to prove this. I’m going to use the examples of female genital mutilation, sexual assault, and workplace discrimination.

Female Genital Mutilation. In efforts to constrain the sexual freedom of women, families practice female genital mutilation, the ritual removal of parts of the external female genitalia, a dangerous and often painful process. In a study of merely 30 key countries, UNICEF found that thirty million women and girls had undergone such processes. Harms include chronic pain, fatal bleeding, and the development of cysts.

Sexual Assault. I’m going to mainly talk about rape, i.e. sexual penetration without a person’s consent. With the sole possible exception of the United States [see note], rape is disproportionately suffered by women. This is because of a culture of sexual dominance, in which masculinity often requires male sexual domination, whereas women are expected to be “passive” and docile. Note: In the U.S., when considering in-prison rape, men are raped more often, but the rapists are still males over 90% of the time. This is also an unclear statistic because, in many cases, people?—?both males and females?—?don’t report rapes.

Workplace Discrimination. I’ll talk about this more in later posts, but, in short, women are often not paid equally compared to men, they’re not hired due to fears of pregnancy, they’re denied paid parental leave, and they face sexual harassment in the workplace disproportionately, especially in workplaces with insufficient sexual harassment policies.

Regardless, patriarchy is harmful to the freedom of men, women, and nonbinary folks. In fact, all forms of gender roles are harmful. If a biological male wants to pursue activities that are typically considered “feminine” in nature, they’re rejected and shunned, unless they undergo sex-reassignment surgery and change their gender identity (and then, they’re shunned as trans women). Similarly, when a biological female wants to pursue “masculine” activities, they’re excluded unless they change their gender identity, after which they’re discriminated against because they’re trans men. People who don’t fit into this rigid binary are discriminated against and rejected. Patriarchy exists everyday: standards of beauty and appearance (e.g. “clothes for men” and “clothes for women”), casual sexism (e.g. so-called “chivalry”), and so on. And the more dangerous forms are equally pervasive. Patriarchy is when men are scared to report their rape by women because they’ll be rejected; it’s when equal marriage isn’t granted; it’s when women face massive harms in terms of denying economic opportunities, social equality, or sexual liberation. Feminism is simply the quest to fight this patriarchy. That’s a good quest, without question, and one we should all support.


Unfortunately, society ascribes to — and accepts — a patriarchal system. A system which normalizes the sexual and professional repression of women, glorifies the ostracism of nonbinary individuals, and the emotional repression of men [though the latter are probably better off than the former two]. A system which rejects the LGBT community and parades the pervasive discrimination inherent within society.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. At any level plausible for us, it is our obligation to resist the structural injustice experienced by individuals—many of them our friends, family, and acquaintances—and to fight the patriarchal system, a system which infringes on equal protection and on freedom. The institution of gender, as a whole, is one built upon subjugation and oppression. It is exclusionary, both to those who conform to the binary, and to outliers. And the goal of feminism is equality and justice, so we all must fight the patriarchy.

American Health Care Act

I predicted that the Republican healthcare plan wouldn’t be good, here and here. My prediction was correct. The American Health Care Act is an utter failure. In this post, I’m going to talk about the specific characteristics that make the AHCA a failure, though I think John Oliver’s excellent piece on the subject sums it up.

The AHCA makes a few key changes to Obamacare. First, it slashes Medicaid substantially, by preventing registration for the ACA Medicaid expansion after 2020, defederalizing it and block granting it to the states, and, in the words of Speaker Paul Ryan, “capping its growth rate.” Second, it changes the income-based tax credits of Obamacare, and makes them age-based, while substantially reducing the amount of money given to people. Third, the individual mandate is repealed, and a different penalty is introduced. The bill has a lot of issues. I’m going to talk about (1) the harmful effects of the new penalty, (2) the structure of the new age-based tax credits, (3) higher premiums for the old, the poor, and the middle class, (4) the damage to Medicaid, and (5) as a result of all of these things, lower coverage.

Penalty. The new penalty for not buying insurance is especially punishing to the poor. In general, people in higher income brackets sometimes pay less than the poor, and the poor pay more in the mandate.

Tax Credits. The tax credits are structured in an especially bad way. Those who’re poor often get less than the rich. And the tax credits are substantially smaller. According to the Kaiser Foundation, low-income groups often obtain lower tax credits under the AHCA. Substantially lower than what the ACA gives them. To quote Vox:

[A] 40-year-old making $20,000 (or 160 percent of the poverty line) would get $4,143 in subsidies under the ACA but only $3,000 under the GOP plan. A higher-earning 40-year-old, making $75,000 annually, would get no tax subsidy under the ACA but $3,000 under the Republican plan.

Premiums. While estimates suggest a moderate reduction in healthcare premiums in the long term, the CBO suggests that, for older, poorer Americans, an increase in premiums by 750% is expected. The CBO’s own example is that of a 64-year-old individual earning $26,500 annually. That person would be forced to pay $14,600 for premiums, more than half their annual income, as opposed to the current $1700 in premiums. While there would be moderate reductions in premiums for younger individuals, there would be massive rise for older persons.

Medicaid. Curtailing Medicaid to this extent isn’t a good idea outside of the reasons already mentioned above. Simply, it portends a future in which the Republican Party might decide to stamp it out entirely and rely on the free market — which, as I’ve explained before, is a really bad idea; in short, because the private health insurance industry has a strong incentive to raise prices, and the free market doesn’t solve.

Coverage. The Congressional Budget Office estimates substantial difference in terms of the number of people insured. According to this estimate, by 2018, 14 million less people will be insured under this plan, 21 million lower in 2020, and 24 million in 2026, relative to the Affordable Care Act. The bill is especially hard on the middle class, because either there are people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but still can’t entirely afford premiums, who will eventually drop their health insurance, or the people who maintain their coverage but only require preventive care, who won’t meet their deductible under this plan at all (considering the effect on premiums) — both these kinds get frustrated and drop their insurance. Meanwhile, those who rely on Medicaid, i.e. the poor, lose out too, as I will explain below.

President Trump discussing a replacement for Obamacare with lawmakers. Photo Credit: Vice President Pence @ twitter, via Wikipedia. Public Domain image.

In summary, the healthcare plan harms both the poor and the middle class of the United States, causing so many people to opt out of health insurance in the long term that the industry itself may fall. While there is a moderate decrease in premiums for the upper middle-class youth and insubstantial difference for the wealthy, the remaining middle-class and the poor are hit hard, because of the penalty, the poorly structured tax credits, the harms to Medicaid, and higher premiums for the poor and the middle class, which, together, reduce insurance coverage.

I probably won’t post anything again this week, because I’m pretty busy, but I’ll try to post more in the upcoming weeks to keep up with my attempt at posting once a week.

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