Women VS Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating From The Gender Wars by Joanna Williams is a brilliant, fact filled, critique of modern feminism and its incoherent, fallacy filled suppositions.
If you were to believe some of the constantly perpetuated myths portrayed in the mainstream media, you would be forgiven for thinking that we were living in a World designed to beat women down, rob them of their liberty and turn them into slaves to the patriarchy. The patriarchy, that slippery faceless enemy embodied in the heterosexual, white, middle class man. Against this backdrop Women VS Feminism is a breath of fresh air, full of incontrovertible truths. Williams brilliantly takes down a movement which once stood for liberty but has now morphed into an ideology underpinned by feelings of victimhood, fallacious thinking and narcissism.
Women’s Lives Today
The book is split into three parts. Part one examines the lives of women today. Williams starts the book by correctly highlighting the success of women in education. The battle to get women into the traditionally male dominated sphere of higher education was a hard-fought victory for women. And we see now women taken advantage of this freedom like never before. In almost all subjects the numbers of female graduates now outstrips men. In particular Williams highlights the success of women in the legal and medical fields. There are parts of the world where religious extremism prevents girls from receiving any sort of formal education. We should be proud of our civilisation and celebrating the success of our young girls, not talking down their achievements.
The “gender pay gap”, constantly portrayed by feminist activists as evidence of the continued subjugation of the female gender is given its own chapter, examined in detail. This is an area where I have a little knowledge having researched wage inequality for my postgraduate thesis in Economics. Williams however tears the gender pay gap myth apart more succinctly and eloquently then I ever could. The truth is wages are a very complex issue affected by a multitude of variables. Once one accounts for all of the different inputs in the wage equation, the pay gap between genders almost entirely disappears. Taking an average across all women and all men is junk statistics and would not stand up to any rigorous academic scrutiny. And Indeed even after conducting statistical analysis the researcher must remind themselves that correlation does not necessarily imply causality. I suppose therefore if I was being pedantic I would have liked to have seen some logical game theory type analysis on why the market does not care about identity, but I guess being an economist I probably would be the one reader who would have enjoyed this.
The challenges women face around motherhood get its own chapter. Williams is clearly a believer in freedom. Too often women who choose motherhood over work are chastised, as if motherhood was not something respectable and mums were not heroes. As Williams points out motherhood is often much more rewarding work than other options. If feminism were truly about freedom we would be welcoming the fact that women now have the ability to choose. It is also worth noting here that with the advent of the birth control pill in the last century, women now have the freedom to control when and in what circumstance they have children. Of course nature has put the burden of maternity on women, a source of inequality that no amount of activism can change, the modern world has eased this burden substantially.
Sex & Relationships
The second part of the book looks at sex and relationships. Williams points out the stark contrast between the feminism of her youth which was all about sexual liberation and the feminism of today which seeks to control sex, specifically castigating men for having sexual desires and painting women as helpless and weak.
Reading these chapters I could not help growing an admiration for Williams. She shows in her writing a total understanding, empathy and frankly a love for men. All men, particularly young men whether they be religiously pious or sexually liberal have at some point made a fool of themselves around women. Despite moves for equality in many areas, the responsibility of initiating conversation, approaching women, and seduction lies with men. Alas it may be the case that women will never be able to truly appreciate the risks men have to take and the insecurities and challenges that this puts on us.
Every time a man approaches a women he admires or attempts to initiate a sexual advance, he puts his self- esteem on the line and risks falling flat on his face. It is inevitable then that on occasion men get this wrong, we go in too soft sometimes, we go in too firmly sometimes, sometimes we bottle the whole thing and don’t even bother taking the risk at all. In all of these circumstances men kick themselves afterwards. Of course when men get these things wrong it is frustrating both for men and women, you may lament that creepy unattractive guy who had the audacity to think he had a shot with you or that overtly proud man who thinks too highly of himself to even come and give you some of his time, but often, no nearly always, men on the other end of the equation are kicking themselves for not playing these social interactions correctly.
I point these things not to lament that men are victims also, we are not. If young men use these experiences to become tough, continue developing and reject the expedient path of resentment after continuous knock backs (and by and large we do) then as we get older the belligerent, emotionally strong men of leadership are born. Indeed after around the age of twenty five a curious thing happens to men. Suddenly the number of women who find you interesting exponentially increases, every man and his dog wants to employ you and the world really does open up. Williams then is right when she rejects both the victimhood of the feminist movement and also the men’s rights movement. Williams is also spot on with her empathy for the male perspective. It is in the interests of women as well as men to take the path of empathy and understanding over the combative stance. Surely as women you do not wish to create barriers between the genders.
Of course I understand that from a women’s perspective, if you are young and attractive and having to deal with constantly being propositioned by hapless and clueless men it can wear you down. Of course I understand that sexual tension in a professional environment can sometimes be uncomfortable. Of course I understand how uncomfortable it is dealing with a friend who has feelings for you which you cannot reciprocate. These however are all challenges that come with liberation and allowing men and women to mix with each other freely. The alternative is to go backwards and start segregating men and women. Williams is spot on in observing that playing a battle of the sexes only serves to polarise us against each other and ultimately serves no one. The way forward is to try to understand each other’s points of view, talk to each other and act with compassion.
As I write this, I wonder, would Williams castigate me for my soft approach, preferring to tell women to toughen up and state clearly what you want from your relationships. Thinking about this, this most certainly would be the advice I would give to men who give in to resentment and claim victimhood. Why is it easier to tell men to toughen up, take responsibility, stop blaming the world for your problems and kick ass? I certainly think this is the correct approach, but would hesitate to give such advice to a woman (well unless she was my daughter, in which case I’m training her to be able to compete with anyone).
A History of Feminism
The final part of the book is a brilliant look at the evolution of the feminism, with an in depth examination of all of its branches. Williams’ has painstakingly built up a deep knowledge of the subject, beyond most of us mere mortals. She laboriously takes us through the history of the feminist movement and of feminist thought. Starting with the place of women in the 19th century, next moving on to discussing the difference in the political tactics of the suffragists and the militant suffragettes, before moving on to the gains women made in the 20th century as second wave feminism took off and then finishing off by going through the different strands of third wave feminism with its heavy focus on identity politics.
I must admit I did find the last few chapters to be a bit of a dry read. Williams’ style here is heavily academic in nature but upon pushing through certainly worth the effort. Williams really knows her stuff and these final chapters are a must read for anyone with an interest in anthropology, epistemology, feminist history, feminist theory, politics and of course history.
Women VS Feminism is a fact filled book, well written and meticulously researched. A highly recommended addition to your reading lists.