Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Don't Think I'm Better Than You

Has anyone else come across this "women are morally superior to men" trope? I have heard it before, mainly in philosophy classes, but I came across it again in the Feministing Community, in an entry by Wendy_notsid about a book called Hating Women : America's Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex By Rabbi Schmuley Boteach. (Sorry, not linking to it.)

There was, of course, a lot of commentary in the book regarding the awful stereotypes presented of women in the popular media, how men are being groomed to view women, and the over-sexualization of young women in popular media and culture that I heartily agreed with, but there were passages of the book that annoyed me greatly, as a feminist and as a humanist in general. Not only was it his criticism of the feminist movement for concentrating too much on being like men and leaving behind their “natural feminine virtues” (I’m not taking this word for word), or his belief that women were respected more prior to the twentieth century (though that really got to me, but it’s a point to pick apart for another blog), but it was also his stressing of how men and women are not equal, but that women are superior beings.

I am sure that the Rabbi meant to help, seeing that he has daughters and seems to subscribe to certain beliefs that indicate that women are to be valued, which is a good thing. I take issue with what is intended to be valued from women, and how this is still limiting to us, as well as the implications for a feminist movement that were to be held to this standard. From the Feministing article:

...he stated the usual evidence of the so-called female superiority: more women do charitable work, more women attend religious services, women are more likely to be sympathetic to the troubles of others, more women excel academically… I know also that there is a belief in a number of Jewish denominations that women are the holier sex because we can bear children and are naturally more moral than men. Another idea is that man was God’s first try in creating a physical being in Its image, and that woman was God’s second, more successful, try.

The idea that any one group of people is morally superior to another is problematic.

First of all, it feeds into the exclusionary stereotype that follows liberation movements, and gives credence to those privileged whiners that are pissed that there is something in the world that doesn't include them. Seriously, why give them more ammo?

Second, it places more responsibility on the shoulders of women to behave "properly" and allows a pass for men to behave however they want with the excuse that they are just "naturally flawed." Women are already blamed for the violence and oppression they face, this just makes that idea even stronger.

Third, this can be used to silence those of us who still insist on pointing out inequality. If we can be placated with the head pat of being "morally superior" (which, by the way, doesn't prevent rape, murder, domestic violence, job discrimination, education discrimination, etc) then we don't need to be treated "like men" (translation: like people) because our needs aren't the same.

The false dichotomy of one group being better than the other prevents any real critical analysis of constructions of personhood and identity, and recreates double standards that are "impossible" to argue against.

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