Speaking of Feminism(s) from the Perspective of Freedom

It’s not difficult to notice how short-tempered a discussion can get when arguing with people who claim to fight for the same ideals we do but who being, in fact, far from values and principles we believe in still claim to own the one and only “correct” way of bringing those ideals about. To me it’s the case with feminism and people who question the actions of individuals representing a different view on the matter, even those anti-democratic, radical, misandrist, self-proclaimed feminists.

However, my belief that feminism can help reduce gender-based inequalities and violence isn’t shattered by that, and I still believe that a fight to combat those problems reinforces the freedom of choice for both men and women, and helps maintain the equilibrium of human relationships. And the most important thing: it enhances a chance to lead a better and a more complete life.

As a liberal, I keep in mind personal liberties, rights and opportunities, first and foremost when I’m talking about feminism, or when I try to actively participate in making the most of it. I consider individual learning, work and responsibility to be the basis of a positive social change. For me, one of the most important aspects of feminism is to create accepting and supporting communities. Where men and women are treated equally, where no one is discriminated on the basis of their gender, nationality, religion, sexual identity or orientation, or financial situation. Where people stand up against any form of discrimination. Where those in need are supported and get inspiration from others, because they are open to the same way of thinking, but due to their circumstances, they can’t fully discover their freedoms, their rights and opportunities.

The other important thing is to find and support individual or community initiatives with like-minded people, to make a better use of experience, resources and networking – in order to help these principles to be accepted in the whole society. We can take the examples of feminist campaigns launched or supported by celebrities, Facebook pages for sharing experiences and thoughts, volunteer groups helping the abused, civil organizations, researchers and institutes from academic world with experience coming from the decades of working in the field, or actions of politicians with regard to this matter. It makes me glad that so many examples of good practices could be mentioned above – and they take place even in Hungary.

I believe that more and more people have their own versions of feminism, and shape competitive strategies to convince the environment, attractive enough also for the majority of the society, that can bring the expected changes towards equal chances. I respect those who demand rapid and radical changes from the current economic and social system – claiming to speak in the name of justice – but only if they operate within the framework of democracy. However, judging by my experience, most of the times their version includes increasing state intervention. For me this solution is not the right option (e.g.: quotas based on positive discrimination in parliament, education or private companies). However, I do believe that we need serious improvement in terms of legislation to protect the victims of violence and to punish the perpetrators. But also in this case the most relevant factor is assistance, activity and implementation of legislation by the police, forensic service providers, detectives, lawyers and the judges during the process. We can not force anybody to be aware of their rights and to use their individual potential more efficiently. But with support, education, positive examples and motivations there can be an integral, long-lasting change based on individual decisions.

I admit that quotas and other top-down measures aiming at social changes can also lead to positive results. However, there are many girls and women who are willingly choosing a field and a position considered traditionally feminine and underpaid (like teacher, nurse, assistant). There are many who choose family and raising children instead of working, many who do not want to hold leading positions or be political decision makers and many who are not fighting for the higher wages which they, nonetheless, wish for. I presume that they are aware of the results of these decisions. Perhaps they do not know that they could decide differently, but I think it it is more possible that for many of them it seems to be much more rational to behave according to the traditional roles and stereotypes of women and to choose corresponding careers, education and life. Including staying in the background, displaying low-risk behavior, accepting the current situation instead of constant struggle and even financial dependence. Many women do not want and could not decide differently even if the state or anyone tells them what should they do to reduce the financial, political and social differences between the sexes and to equalize the power relations. I definitely do not want the state to tell them that. I do not like state intervention or pressure when it comes to individuals’ privacy and decisions – even if it is for a good cause. This is what I personally value the most. (It is, however, important to stress that violence and aggression inside a family or a relationship is not the victim’s decision and the state’s most important role is to maintain an effective system to recognize and handle these situations and to support the victims.)

I am not satisfied with the current state of affairs, not at all. But after indignation I always try to collect and make use of the best practices. Examples proving that an environment supporting men and women to make their decisions based on their desires and skills can be created by individual or community initiatives and not by state intervention. Where girls studying computer sciences, aiming at being company leaders or politicians, boys who want to be teachers or to take up family and household management, or the victims of violence (no matter what sexes they are) receive support from society. Where companies take into consideration the aspects of gender equality and thus they become more successful.

I would like to live in a society with more balanced power relations between men and women. Nevertheless, I expect it would be free individuals who will create it. People who are equipped in proper knowledge and who make use their rights, and who are able and willing to shape the world. Because I believe they can do it. And the state itself can’t.

Reka Csaba