Saturday, June 11, 2016

Lessons from Philosophical Issues in Feminism

Before beginning this post, I wanted to give my readers a quick notice about some things that are upcoming on this blog. On June 16th I will be giving a short biography of my life because that is my 25th birthday. The following Saturday I will be writing about whether a moral conservative can cast a vote for Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. After that, I will be analyzing all 5 arguments that St. Thomas Aquinas gives for the existence of God, and showing whether or not they are compatible with the LDS concept of God. Following that, I will do a series called "Are Mormons Christian?" which will be a compare and contrast with LDS views of God, Jesus, Man, and the Sacraments against the more traditional views of these things (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant). Suffice it to say it will be very busy here on the blog in the coming weeks. But more on that later.

As many of my readers know due to my post on bell hooks and Beyonce (which can be read here), during the past spring semester at Utah Valley University I took a course titled Philosophical Issues in Feminism, which was taught by Shannon Mussett. While I signed up for the class initially because I am friends with the aforementioned Mussett, I had a few misgivings and concerns. First, I am a male and figured that by definition I would be the subject of hatred in the class. Second, I am a conservative so I agree with traditional values, which some of my feminist friends refer to as "patriarchal". Third, while I had feminist friends and had heard the name several times I had no idea what feminism ultimately was (I admit I still am not entirely sure.) However, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and give the class a try.

On day one, Professor Mussett asked us what we, meaning the class, thought feminism was (I cynically wanted to raise my hand and say "I thought I was paying you to tell me what it is, but I kept my peace.) The traditional answers came out "Equality for women", "Angry women", "Women with nothing else to do", "Rebellion",etc. Then Professor Mussett dropped some knowledge: Feminism has no one definition. To quote her "One of the strengths and weaknesses of feminism is that is has no formal definition and is always available to critique and criticism." This shocked me, but over the course of the semester I began to see that she was quite right.

Simone de Beauvoir, French existentialist philosopher and feminist. Mussett's idol 
The class, like most philosophy classes, was reading intensive with selections from books such as The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (pictured above), Women as Weapons of War by Kelly Oliver, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, and several others. We discussed them in depth in class, which was never boring and always enlightening. In addition to the readings, we had presentations from a transgender woman, a cross-dresser, and several guest lecturers; all of whom brought new perspectives I had never thought of before. Margaret Toscano, an excommunicated Mormon feminist, was my favorite of the them all due to her being the most intellectual and researched of the group, but all of them were fantastic. The class ended with Erin Donahoe-Rankin (philosophy academic advisor), showing us the film Ex Machina (if there is a creepier film in existence.... I shudder at the thought.)

Now that I have given a brief overview, allow me to list three things I learned in the class. I am limiting it to three things, but I learned much more during my time in the class.

1) Feminism is not limited to women. While I thought that feminism was a women only club, I see now that this is not the case. How so? Because men can intellectually understand different strands of thought in the feminist movement and can embrace them. Therefore, a man can be a feminist just as much as a woman can.

2) Feminism has many different strands of thought. At first glance, I expected that all the authors we read would just agree with each other, but this is not the case. While thinkers like Beauvoir thought that the object of feminism was for women to overcome their "Other" status, thinkers like bell hooks seem to think the point of feminism is for women to be united. Then there are thinkers like Toscano who think that feminism needs to be recognized in the religious world as well as in the secular world. Oliver would go one to talk about how women have been used more like weapons than like people over the past centuries. Again, there is no one feminist definition, and there is more than one issue in the discourse among feminist thinkers.

3) Feminism is a humanism. I wrote my term paper on this, but it was linked to Beauvoir's thought on what feminism is. While feminism has many different definitions and problems and agendas, a common core it shares is the objective value of humans, while women over the centuries have not been treated as fully human in a number of ways. It could be said that feminism is humanism with a feminine face. Of course, that definition, like all feminism definitions, is open to critique.

Philosophical Issues in Feminsm changed my life because I had never heard women really discuss feminism in a sophisticated way, and after reading about it for months on end I could see where the anger and frustration came from. I hope to be part of the solution rather than the problem in the future. 

I believe that Professor Mussett teaches this course every two years in the spring, so in 2018 it will be offered again if I am correct. I encourage all to take it if they are able. If nothing else, take the class to listen to Professor Mussett; she is intense, engaging, and never boring.


  1. Here is what feminism is: the claim that males and females should compete for property, money, and popularity.

    Thus stated, it entails the end of the human race.

    1. No idea where you got that definition,but it is something I am beneath answering.

  2. Well, why not rise up to the challenge? "No, Log, you're wrong; feminism is not merely a narrative of justification for pitting women against men in competition for resources, social status, and reproduction, thus entailing the end of the human race," or "No, Log, you're wrong; your observation of the sole functional outcome of feminism - justifying conflict between women and men as classes - doesn't have solely bad effects for the human race, regardless that in any conflict there must be a winner and a loser, and if women win, men lose; if men win, women lose; in neither case will they cooperate except under duress, because feminism is about competition between women and men?"

    Like racism, feminism is just another way of pitting people against each other as classes. "My class was oppressed by your class long ago! I require restitution, and I will appeal to the rulers to give it to us from you, who have unfairly benefitted from your privilege as members of the former oppressor class!" Only since men and women must cooperate to reproduce the human race, feminism breaks the race. Competitors don't cooperate except under duress, right? Might feminism be a massive contributor to the sky-high divorce rate? What philosopher worth his salt would not jump at the opportunity to see what practical effects his philosophy has when adopted?

    Yay. Such fun. Nevermind that we believe men shall be punished for their own sins, and not Adam's transgression. Nevermind that blood guilt leaves a dead world, for whose ancestors didn't do something bad?