As per usual, the Society convened on Thursday to debate and for the second induction of the semester! It discussed Resolved: Feminism has no obligations to men. Affirming were Ms. Asha Thanki (SFS ’17) of Missouri with Ms. Taylor Oster (SFS ’17) of North Dakota making her induction! Negating the resolution were Ms. Abigail Grace (SFS ’16) of Mississippi and making his induction, Mr. Thomas Shuman (COL ’17) of Massachusetts.
Ms. Oster opened the debate by welcoming everyone and defining feminism as a movement aimed at achieving the “social, economic, and political equality of all genders”. This debate, she outlined, was not meant to be America-centered, nor should it address the merits of feminism or call it “man-hating.” Instead, Ms. Oster urged the floor to see feminism as a case study for the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed, proclaiming that a movement of the oppressed has no obligation to the oppressor. Furthermore, she astutely observed that if women are liberated from their oppression, men, as a side effect, will also be liberated because the male-female dichotomy will be gone. She then addressed two more components of the affirmation: how one cannot achieve a better life for all genders and sexes until women are equal to men, and that the success of feminism is directed at enhancing the total environment. She then cited the American Revolution, the LGBTQ movement, and the Civil Rights Movement as three examples where the oppressed had no obligation to their oppressors and where true allies sacrificed their personal advancement for that of the cause.
Mr. Shuman opened his speech with dutiful thanks, but then jumped straight to the facts: it’s obvious he was the most qualified person to speak on feminism, right? After all, he said, if the keynoters were being compensated, he would be paid 13% more than Ms. Thanki and 23% more than both Ms. Oster and Ms. Grace. Unfortunately, said Mr. Shuman, in our epoch such a difference in pay isn’t due to skill, but is instead rather arbitrary, with privilege creating two different worlds for men and women. That being said, Mr. Shuman asserted that “all of us are negatively affected by biases”, and that there are many more types of privileges in the world than just that of being male; after all, a black, gay man is much more disadvantaged than a wealthy, white female. Considering this and all the other discrimination that some men face—the rapes that occur in prisons, male pressure, and much more—feminism must, if it intends to maintain its integrity, at least one day stand for (some) men.
Ms. Thanki then picked up where Ms. Oster left off though, saying that it is not until achieving parity that we can free ourselves, together; feminism is the necessary step that will equal the playing field for men and women. She quoted Emma Watson’s now famous speech to the UN, and said that not only should men not be pressured to be dominant, but women should not be pressured to be submissive—only then can we see that we have achieved true parity. Ms. Thanki compared what feminism is trying to achieve to jumping off of a dock into the “lake of liberation”; men and women must jump off the dock of discrimination at the same time in order to land in the lake together. Moreover, Ms. Thanki affirmed that feminism is most about creating the environment of parity, and not forcing the action—feminism must ergo focus on women first, and then let men receive the side effects. The startling example she used was when Sweden tried to implement paternity leave to level the social playing field. It wasn’t until the pay gap between men and women was cut though, that fathers could realistically afford to take a leave of absence in lieu of mothers.
Last but not least, Ms. Grace finished the keynotes with a strong speech for the negation, saying that no movement claiming to prioritize equality could exclude half of the population of the world. Ms. Grace said that feminism cannot fault all men for involuntarily being in the category of “oppressor.” She claimed that oppression comes from one root source alone—institutionalized privilege—and feminism must carry every voice fighting that privilege if it hopes to be successful. She deftly argued that it isn’t practical to exclude men: there are men willing to actively fight female oppression, and they deserve a space to do so when they check their privilege. It’s very clear that being male doesn’t mean being the Patriarchy incarnate. Lastly, Ms. Grace made each of us examine ourselves when she said that privilege is a spectrum, and the fact that we are all at Georgetown should demonstrate that we too are on it.
The floor subsequently opened with Mr. Perez-Reyes who asked why feminism had to make concessions to men in order to be effective, citing the experience of democrats in Ukraine that tried to make a coalition with communists. But Ms. Weiner jumped in, saying that obligation could just mean not striking the opposition down, and if feminism isn’t misandry, then it has an inherent obligation not to do so. Mr. Schafer was quick to disagree though, saying that if you want to eliminate the Patriarchy, you will inherently be striking men down from their positions of power. In response, Mr. Eisen reminded Mr. Schafer that power can be relinquished as well, and that the oppressed-oppressor dynamic dehumanizes both sides.
Ms. Correia brought the first female insight to the debate, describing how many times the Suffrage Movement was hindered because it tried to help other movements—feminism needs to prioritize itself. Yet Mr. Mellon chided Ms. Correia, saying that it would be impossible for feminism to have the credibility and legitimacy that it needs to succeed, without including men. Ms. Hernick turned his point though, saying that even if feminism needs men, it doesn’t mean that it owes anything to them. Mr. Greco disagreed, positing that if equality is truly our goal, then both genders must have the same quality of rights, and not just the same quantity. But, Mr. Naft stepped in to say that no oppressed people want their oppressor dictating their actions and giving them advice.
The non-member speaking time then quickly fell upon us, with Ms. Annie Ludtke (MSB ’18) declaring that feminism has an obligation to all world issues, because it’s tied to so many problems. However, Mr. Anton Smaliak (COL ’18) invoked Kant and then posited that feminism has no obligation to men until men and women are both actually equal. Ms. Jayme Amann changed the discourse a bit, saying that violence against women is a male issue—one we cannot let men just “check out” from—and that issues of gender innately include men. Lastly, Mr. Ben Ellis latently responded to Mr. Eisen, proclaiming that no oppressors have “relinquished” their power since the Civil War, and even then the oppressors took the power back until African Americans demanded their rights.
Ms. Christensen restarted the member speaking time by saying we really need to debate if feminism should actively help men, and using that as our platform, we must think about boys who are being pressured by society to fit into the patriarchal mold—feminism should help them. But Mr. Edgar immediately contested that feminism can’t fix all problems in gender, and that it cannot rely on a party that could defect at any moment. Mr. Mouch followed Mr. Edgar by asking why we haven’t yet cited Foucault on power relations, and asserting that feminism is not all-consuming. President DiMisa clearly disagreed though, and clarified that an obligation entails feminists being compelled to go out of their way better men’s rights.
Vice President Wilson attempted to redirect the debate, suggesting that we should look to the actual feeling of an obligation; if feminists are called not to mistreat men, then they probably feel an obligation to them. Ms. Coccia ardently rebutted V.P Wilson, however, when she announced that women “need to claim their justice” in a Patriarchy that will not dismantle itself: feminism must solely advocate for women in order to crush the Patriarchy. For Mr. Young though, feminism is more about prioritizing women, while embracing an obligation to men. Yet Mr. Quinn went back to V.P Wilson’s ideas on experiential obligations, emphasizing that “isms” do not have the same obligations as people—“isms” are only obliged to fulfill their goals, and that does not imply an equal obligation to all men. For Mr. Willis, however, the problem with the affirmation is that there’s an inherent tension between feminism raising women up, or just having equality for all genders. Ms. Egan concluded the floor portion of the debate saying that the dynamics of oppressed and oppressor cannot be sustained and that the only obligation of the oppressed is to fight.
The keynoters then returned to the stand with Ms. Grace in the lead. She said that primary and secondary obligations can exist, but that the affirmation is advocating for absolutely no obligations to men. Moreover, if the obligation of “isms” is to reach their goals, everyone must participate. And finally, Ms. Grace mentioned once again that oppression occurs on a spectrum.
Ms. Thanki followed Ms. Grace, saying that individuals and “isms” have different obligations, but an obligation means that you are required to do something. While feminism doesn’t have to assist men, it does so without the obligation! Furthermore, feminism isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it will solve the largest scale systematic oppression in the world. Finally, Ms. Thanki declared that the best way to achieve equality is to focus on it first instead of forcing feminism to include men.
The penultimate and pithiest speech of the night was given by Mr. Shuman, who said that men who want to help feminism need it to show them how to fight. More importantly, “people are capable of listening to more than one voice”, and at the very least, feminism has the obligation to listen to and allow men’s voices to be heard.
To top off the night, Ms. Oster highlighted that men can be in the movement, and should be in the movement, without feminism fighting for them—in fact, a good ally will disregard the advancement of his or her rights for the greater good. Feminism, after all is said and done, is a female movement and while as human beings, women have obligations to men, as feminists they do not.
After an intense night of speaking and debating, the resolution was negated with a vote of 37-1-50. And, lest we forget, I want to extend a huge round of cyber applause to our inductees—Ms. Oster and Mr. Shuman are fantastic additions to the society.
Happy October and ELD,