Hedonism, Feminism, and Identity Minimalism

Must the decision to become a feminist be dependent on one’s moral outlook, and if so, should a hedonist also be a feminist? It is, of course, hard to say exactly what “feminism” means these days, but in some obvious senses the hedonist position seems to entail feminism. One could not, for instance, claim that men’s happiness would be more important than women’s happiness. And it would be hard to argue that men and women shouldn’t have the same political and social rights.

But this kind of “first wave” definition of feminism is usually not what is meant these days. There are some modern feminist theories that, I believe, should be rejected because they are built on moral theories that differ from hedonism (i.e., ethics of care) or because they are built on other kinds of dubious claims (i.e., “postmodern” feminism). But there are other kinds of “radical” feminism that are worth taking seriously.

The most interesting view, albeit controversial (even among self-proclaimed feminists), is that we should strive to abolish strict gender roles. This is a claim that goes beyond liberal (equal rights) feminism, and it is an open question whether hedonists should endorse it or not, since it is an empirical question whether a strict difference of gender roles increases or decreases happiness. But we have to keep in mind that your own acceptance of the gender role you have been assigned does not necessarily affect only yourself. To be, for instance, a woman who does not accept her traditional gender role can be difficult in a world where most other women do accept and live in accordance with it. It could, for instance, increase the risk that you become the victim of discrimination in your work life (since the employer may just accept the prejudice that you will behave like all other women).

So the question is how much both men and women would benefit themselves from having less strict gender roles and what effects they would have on other people if they continue with their strict gender roles. Personally I believe (and this is a provisional empirical conclusion) that, on the whole, we would benefit from less strict gender roles than what is common today, and if you share this conclusion then I believe you should strive less to be a “real man”, if you’re a man biologically, or a “real woman”, if you’re a woman biologically (incidentally, this does not mean that I think it’s a good idea to strive to be more of a “real woman” if you were born a biological man, and vice versa).

For me, this is actually a part of a bigger idea, which I have called identity minimalism. I believe we should all (or at least many of us) strive less to acquire “identities”, including gender identities. The labels that we give ourselves and each other mostly contribute to shut  people out from our own group, which results in unnecessary conflicts. And many people struggle in vain to find their “true” identity instead of focusing on doing more productive things (in terms of pleasure) in their lives. I believe that we should think harder about what we should do, rather than what we should be. People fight wars over ethnic labels, which have no basis in anything except the will to conform to and to perpetuate the traditions themselves.

Clearcut identities makes us predictable, which for some people feels safe and good. But the upshot of predictability is that it makes discrimination easier. It also makes the world a less interesting place, since you have fewer opportunities to be surprised about people.

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