Peter Espeut | Feminists have captured 'gender'
We used to call it 'women's studies' - as legitimate a branch of sociological investigation as 'black studies' or 'poverty studies'. Or 'men's studies'. There is no segment of society that is unworthy of special study to explore its specific problems and challenges, threats and opportunities.
Some time in the 1980s, women's studies morphed into gender studies for a very plausible reason: it really is not possible to scientifically study the issues facing women without considering the situation of the men in their lives who affect them - positively and/or negatively.
Parallel to this scientific endeavour was the important political struggle of women for social and economic equality in the movement dedicated to the liberation of women. It was essential that the political struggle should draw on the findings of scientific research to make their case, which does have a sound basis in history and in fact.
The struggle for gender equality is legitimate, as is the struggle to right the racial wrongs which are the legacy of slavery, and the struggle for the empowerment and liberation of the poor.
But along the way, gender studies itself became less of an objective scientific discipline and part of the feminist political struggle. Today, there is no difference between gender studies and the women's studies of old; it is as if there is only one gender, or at least, only one gender that matters. Women have captured the word 'gender' to refer only to themselves. It is but another way in which males are marginalised.
No longer is the liberation of women viewed as tied to the liberation of men from their patriarchy, such that both genders can - together - enjoy their new freedom. The tone of feminism is that the liberation of the one must imply the 'downpression' of the other, as if the new normal must somehow be women without men, i.e. women enjoying their own company.
Take, for example, the term 'gender activist'. On the face of it, it should mean a person who advocates for the rights of all persons because of their gender. However, common usage has it as a synonym for a feminist - a person who advocates for the rights of women and girls. And if a male person is described as a gender activist, he is a male feminist.
Take, for example, the term 'gender-based violence'. On the face of it, it should mean violence against persons because of their gender. In reality, as used by so-called gender activists, it is a synonym for all violence against women. In truth, much of the violence against women is because of their gender, e.g., sexual violence perpetrated by heterosexual men.
It may be argued that women may more often be targets of robbery because of their perceived weakness and vulnerability, although some men may be robbed for the same reason.
How often have we seen (or heard of) two heterosexual women fighting over a man, punching and scratching each other, and tearing off each other's clothes? Isn't this gender-based violence? Or love-triangle murders? I don't hear the gender activists ranting against woman-on-woman gender-based vio-lence. Is gender-based vio-lence perpetrated by a woman less evil than when it is perpetrated by a man?
Isn't violence against men by homosexual men just as truly gender-based violence?
We must be careful how we use familiar words given new political meanings in today's culture wars. Please do not misunderstand me: Violence against females is not just to be condemned, but is to be reported, if known and investigated if unknown, and is to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
No man - not politician, nor pastor, nor policeman, nor patrician - is to be given a 'bly' when it comes to sexual abuse. It is a good thing that Jamaican society - at last - is up in arms about this blatant abuse of power. But let us be even-handed and work hard for the liberation of all genders from evil.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.