I’ve had an opportunity lately to speak to a lot of feminists about why so many young women are rejecting feminism, and one theme that has come up repeatedly is that feminism is interested in equal rights for everyone. I have yet to meet a single feminist who was not completely astonished to discover that not only do women have equal rights to men, they actually have more rights than men. Most feminists will backpedal when confronted with that reality and try to justify why they are deserving of more rights than men, but the stark fact remains that in 2014, women do indeed have more rights than men. Here are five legally enshrined rights that women have and men do not:
1. Women have the right to genital integrity
Regardless of how you personally feel about the practice of circumcision (I personally find it barbaric, cruel and completely unjustifiable), the legal fact is that infant girls are protected against any genital cutting of any kind and infant boys are not. Many feminists will argue that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a magnitude of brutality beyond male genital mutilation and while that may be true, I do not find the “it’s only a little bit brutal” argument to be very compelling. It’s like saying cutting off a toe is okay because cutting off a foot is much worse. Ultimately, the argument is immaterial to the fact that women have the legal right to be protected from having their body parts sliced off. Men do not.
2. Women have the right to vote without agreeing to die
In the US, citizens are free to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to democratically choose their own leaders through the process of casting a ballot in an election once they reach the age of 18. Women achieve this right by the simple act of surviving 18 years. Men may not actualize their basic rights as a citizen without first signing a Selective Service card, in which they agree that at the discretion of the democratically elected government, they will take up arms and die to defend their liberty and way of life. The draft. Men may vote if, and only if, they agree they will face death if required. Women have no such obligation, but they do get to vote for the governments that can potentially send men to meet death. Again, regardless of how you feel about the draft, women have the right to vote without agreeing to be drafted. Men don’t.
3. Women have the right to choose parenthood
I’ve written about this before, but it is worth repeating. Women have three options to absolve themselves of all legal, moral, financial and social responsibility for children they did not intend and do not want. Women may abort the child before it is born, they may surrender the child for adoption without notifying or identifying the father or they may surrender the infant under Safe Haven laws and walk away from all responsibility and obligation. Women cannot be forced or coerced into parenthood, but they are legally allowed to force men into financing their reproductive choices. In many states, men can be forced into financial responsibility for children whom they did not biologically father. As long as a particular man is identified as the father, he will be held accountable. Paternity fraud is legal. In no state is legal paternal surrender permitted without the express agreement of the mother.
Again, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with legal paternal surrender, the fact remains that women have the legal right to choose parenthood. Men do not.
4. Women have the right to be assumed caregivers for children
When parental relationships irretrievably break down, current custody laws assume one primary caregiver (almost always a woman) and one tertiary caregiver (almost always a man). In order to win equal or shared custody, the tertiary caregiver must litigate to prove they are worthy of equal parenting, a proposition that is not only very difficult to “prove”, it is also very expensive. The legal presumption of shared parenting upon divorce – that children have a legal right to an equal relationship with both their mother and their father following relationship breakdown – is strongly resisted by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other feminist organizations who know that women will almost always win custody of children under the default laws. In actual fact, men who can afford to purse legal remedies and challenge primary custody stand a good chance of winning, because women do not have the market cornered on loving or caring for children. So while the law does not specifically indicate that custody will be awarded to women, the defacto result of primary/tertiary caregiver custody law is that women have a legal right to be assumed caregivers for children. Men do not.
5. Women have the right to call unwanted, coerced sex rape
The original FBI definition of rape specifically identified women as the victims, excluding the possibility of male rape victims. When the FBI updated that, it did so in way that includes a small minority of male rape victims but excluded most male rape victims by retaining the “penetration” clause. Penetration of any orifice must occur for rape to have happened. The FBI does collect another set of statistics though, under the category of “other sexual assault” – it’s the awkwardly named “made to penetrate” category, which includes men who were coerced, tricked or bullied into penetrative sex with women they would otherwise not have had sex with. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey similarly considers the two types of assault separately, despite the fact that occurrences are virtually identical. 1.27M women report rape (p.18) and 1.26M men report “made to penetrate” (p.19). By collecting the information under separate categories, following the legal definitions, women have the right to have their rapes called “rape”. Men do not.
Why does any of this matter? Feminism is under attack in the popular media for failing to address real problems that have real consequences for real people. Despite insisting that feminism cares for everyone, and wants equality for everyone, the facts suggest the opposite is true. Women have more rights than men and those discrepancies need to be addressed. But more importantly, gender is just one thing that defines who a person is, what advantages and disadvantages they might have, what opportunities are in front of them, or foreclosed. Class, wealth, race, ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion – all of these things have a profound influence on individuals, and the only way to understand how a specific person can be helped or hindered is to see that person as a human being, first and foremost. Perhaps the reason I don’t need feminism is because what I really need is humanism. And maybe you do, too.