A Pint with Bob: Feminism is confusing

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As I’m sure you are aware, ‘feminist’ has become a bit of a dirty word. So, I would like to address two common misconceptions people immediately fire at me when triggered by the F word.

To do this, I will use Bob, a fictional interlocutor, who will ask me questions I have been asked many times before. There is no particular reason for me to be choosing the name Bob, other than I quite like the sound of the name Bob.

Bob: Equality is nice and all that, and I agree women should have the same rights as men, but come on, you have to admit, there are things that are fundamentally different between men and women; we’re just wired differently ya know?

Now, Bob here is jumping to a conclusion without properly thinking through all the options. Bob has observed the world, and cleverly picked up on the fact that most women he knows like to shop, and to talk about shopping, a lot more than most of the men he knows.

Bob wants the women he knows to be able to vote and be allowed to do whatever job they want; Bob is no monster after all. At the same time, Bob sees that, clearly, since so many women like shopping so much, it must be because they are women, and thus they would definitely be much happier working in the fashion industry rather than as a mechanic.

Bob’s world is divided into two distinct groups, composed of two fundamentally different types of people, and he, as a rational being, will not ignore this fact. Hence, any feminist that tells Bob that women and men aren’t that different must be blind or in denial.

The issue with Bob’s reasoning comes at the penultimate step. I do not think feminism denies the current existence of differences in attitudes, preferences and activities based on gender,rather, it suggests that those differences are taught, rather than innate.

To me, the essence of feminism is to question the causal link between sex and individuality: are we sure that having a vagina makes you innately caring and make you dislike sports? Or is it that, since you have a vagina, people have led you to believe that you need to be caring and you shouldn’t like sports in order to fit in?

Considering the oodles of evidence that we behave differently towards not only women and men, but towards boys and girls, and even  babies, depending on their sex, is it possible that we might not be born with all these differences? That perhaps we learn what our place is in society, and obligingly stick to it so as to make our way through life with minimal hassle?

Bob: So are you saying that women shouldn’t like shopping then? That doesn’t seem right. My wife’s favourite thing is buying shoes. It makes her happy. She likes cooking for me too. Should she stop doing that just cause feminists say so? 

Don’t you worry Bob, many people think this is the message of feminism. While I cannot speak for all feminists, there is nothing in the textbook definition of feminism (equality between the sexes) to suggest you cannot or should not do what makes you happy, as long as it does not hinder other people’s freedom to be themselves.

In other words, you can be a stay at home mum that loves pink, ‘chick flicks’ and all things girly, and still be a proud feminist. Why? Because gender equality is the idea that you are not assigned a role, a personality, or anything else based on your genitals. You could make the decisions you want to make based on your personal likes and dislikes, and nobody could tell you not to based on preconceived notions of gender. Feminism is about freedom of choice.

That means that while we have a chat, I can have a beer without being told it’s a man’s drink, and you can order that appletini you’re dying to have without me making fun of you. Isn’t that lovely?

Images courtesy of xkcd and Rebecca Cohen Art.



Gabrielle Blackburn is one of our fantastic blogging network members. As a cognitive scientist and a feminist activist, she is interested in exploring the roots and consequences of prejudice and bias, especially those relating to gender. She also enjoys good beer, pole dancing, and confusing people with her unidentifiable accent.

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