Let’s Talk Feminism…

Feminism

“Oh no, I’m not a feminist.” My friend said this whilst looking at me as if I had accused of accused her of a throwing a cat into a wheelie bin. Just to back up her point she muttered ‘oh no, no’ a few more times before turning back to the website she had been wanting to show me.

After a bit of digging, and a good few cups of tea, I got her to clarify her stance on women’s rights. She was definitely not a feminist – but she wanted equal rights, respect and pay. Glad we cleared that up.

Women’s rights, god forbid we call it feminism, has been having a moment lately. We’ve had #EqualPayDay trending on Twitter to highlight inequalities, we’ve had a viral videos raising the issue of street-harassment from dedicated websites such as Everyday Sexism to mainstream sites including your Facebook newsfeed. Even as I type this Channel 4 is discussing the feminist triumph of the cancelling of ‘comedian’ – and I use that word in its loosest definition- Dapper Laugh’s ITV show.

So why do people still fear the words ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’? Why are they still labels that nobody wants? Most labels people avoid like the plague have reasons. Rascist. Prejudice. Nobody wants to be known as that, completely understandable when you consider their meanings. Yet feminism is defined as:

Feminist

And just in case you aren’t sure, feminism is defined as:

Feminism

So nobody wants to advocate women’s rights? I don’t believe that, yes there are still problems women face, yet society’s view on women is almost always improving. The odd time it slips back into objectifying or degrading women, people speak up, point it out and the whole thing is dammed (remember Robin Thicke?)

I think one of the problems is the connotations of the word. If you claim to be a feminist, people –inexplicitly- imagine you as hairy. Its’ weird, depressing, but true. You also probably hate men and are secretly gay. Because you obviously cannot want to be equal with a man, without hating him, right? And don’t forget the bitchiness. A feminist is nothing if not a bitch.

I’m sorry but what?

Yes, there are arguments and sects within feminism, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bitchy area. Some believe wearing make-up is demeaning, some think that red lipstick and killer heels are the ultimate empowering outfit. But people need to stop making a big deal over these factions; they all agree on the main point; equal rights should be enjoyed by all. It’s just like some people enjoy reality TV, while other reach for the remote as soon as the Geordie guy announces “Its day four in the Big Brother House.” They have different likes, but they all watch TV.

Another disturbing term that has erupted into the English language is ‘Feminazi’ it’s become so well used, even Google has decided to add it to its list of definitions.

Feminism, feminazi

If a women makes a vaguely feminist reference, she can be easily dismissed as a Feminazi, especially on social media sites. As soon as that name is spoken, her point, any future points and herself is robbed of validity.

So what can we do about these words? How can we reclaim them?

There have seem been small advances. Until the sweatshop scandal broke, the ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like T-shirts were a success. Rizzle Kicks have tweeted to show their dislike of degrading words for women, and called out the music industry.

I honestly don’t know how to reclaim these words. And I don’t believe it is something that can be done overnight, over a few months, or even a year.

Perhaps though, if more people use the words for their correct meaning, the tide will eventually turn.

So let’s start now.

My names Rebecca, and I’m a feminist.

 

 

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7 Comments

  1. November 11, 2014 / 8:43 pm

    Hi Rebecca, I’m Ian. I’m not a feminist.

    You see, for the last 35 years or so I’ve watched feminism go from the movement toward women’s rights to a vicious gender-based ideology that sees all men as inherently oppressive. I’m not a conservative, I’m not a Christian, I’m not a radical, but the objective fact of the matter is that feminism does not, in fact, mean what you think it does to the majority of people in the world (most men and quite a few more women than you’d be comfortable with).

    You see, Rebecca, back in the 1980s the 3rd Wave Radicals of feminism decided to torpedo your movement by announcing “All Men Are Rapists”, and while I think we can all agree that this is a ludicrous position, the fact is that it deeply wounded men in our culture. Further, it made any reconciliation with feminism problematic, at best, particularly considering the very deeply anti-male policies feminist organizations such as NOW and others pursued over the years. Worse, when feminist theorists propose things like male genocide (reducing the population of men by 90%), taking feminism seriously is hard – and taking it as anything but a direct assault on men, masculinity, and male sexuality is difficult.

    Now for men (except a very small number of misguided men who don’t understand what they’re supporting) the question is becoming easy: why support a movement which perpetually will see you as an enemy to progress and an oppressor? There is no “winning situation” in this struggle for men, not one which takes our interests and issues to heart. Feminism certainly will not, and when it fights against every attempt for us to organize and pursue those interests and issues on our own, then it brands itself the ideological enemy not just of the “patriarchy” (an inherently misandrous term) but of all men, including gay men, in general.

    So I appreciate your confusion over what seems so obvious to you. I’m not chastising you or being rude, I’m simply pointing out that what you see as feminism from the inside isn’t what we see from the outside . . . and you should be aware of it, and why.

    • November 12, 2014 / 12:14 pm

      Hi Ian,

      Firstly can I thank you for taking the time to read my blog, and leave such a thought out comment.

      You say you have watched feminism change direction over the course of 35 years, I do not want to disagree with you on this point. For a start I have not been alive for 35 years, let alone nurturing an interest in feminism, and I do believe that there has been changing views etc within feminism during that length of time. After all, most ideologies or movements change and grow ‘branches’ with slightly different views over time and constantly have new schools of thoughts emerging.

      I do, as you have probably presumed do not agree that feminism is a ‘vicious gender-based ideology’.

      I agree with your statement that “feminism does not, in fact, mean what you think it does to the majority of people in the world” My interpretation of the ideology behind the movement is that both men and women should be afforded the same rights and respect regardless of gender. In my blog post I brought up the fact that many people do not view feminism, specifically it’s supporters, in this way due to the connotations and stereotypes associated with the word when I wrote:

      “If you claim to be a feminist, people –inexplicitly- imagine you as hairy. Its’ weird, depressing, but true. You also probably hate men and are secretly gay. Because you obviously cannot want to be equal with a man, without hating him, right?”

      I am sorry if I was not clear enough in showing that I understand that. I will endeavour to ensure my future posts have more clarity.

      You have cited some excellent examples of the more extreme views, and I agree that these did harm reputation of feminism. I do not agree with many of the extreme views, and can appreciate as a man that would feel like a personal attack. However I think it is important to remember that many of the major ideologies have extremists within their ranks. For example, many religious ideologies have given rise to extremist factions, from the crusades to the Islamic State in the present day.

      People who promote violence or inequality should never be commended, however I feel that it is a shame to write off a whole movement because of a wave of extremism (otherwise, as a society we would be forced to write off many of our institutions) that in the overall movement for women’s right’s only enjoyed a brief time in the limelight, or being considered mainstream.

      As you pointed out, some extremists do see men as the oppressor and enemy. Yet I refuse to believe that everybody who wants gender equality, views men in that way. It is undeniable that women were seen as worth less than a man in the past, so much so that a married women could legally be seen as a ‘subservient chattel.’ Though I doubt if you were to ask many men today, they would describe their wife as that. I believe that feminism and women’s rights will only grow stronger through unity with men, unless you are suggesting that most men do not support women’s rights regardless of the movement’s name? I am a feminist and I do not see men as ‘the enemy’ rather, I believe that men teaching others through setting examples of respect for women will do a lot for the world.

      You state that “There is no “winning situation” in this struggle for men, not one which takes our interests and issues to heart.” While many feminist do consider the impact on men, it does focuses mainly on the interests and issues surrounding women. Just as animal rights movements often do not focus mainly on the plight of child labour. I’m sorry if this leaves you feeling neglected, it is just the nature of causes in general.

      I do not believe the majority of feminists “brands itself the ideological enemy” of men’s rights. If a man is supporting a cause for equality, that does not negatively impact other sectors of society, I doubt many will complain. Forgive me if I am being ignorant of current events, but I must admit I have not seen any vast feminist outpouring damning the Fathers 4 Justice campaign or the debate over extending male paternity leave.

      I must admit that having you refer to my differing opinion as “confusion over what seems so obvious to you” does seem slightly patronising, however I appreciate you do not mean it in this way. I have enjoyed learning about your perspective on this issue, I wrote this article whilst considering whether it would be possible to reclaim the words ‘feminism’ and ‘feminists’ from its negative connotations and return it to its true meaning. It is fascinating to know that you believe that this cannot be done, perhaps it cannot be – I guess we will just have to see what happens in the future.

      It is clear that you and I are alike, in having strong feelings on the issue of feminism; that differ but respect one another. As such, I think it may be best to agree to disagree and leave it to that.

  2. November 12, 2014 / 4:00 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to craft a thoughtful reply. It is only through calm, reasonable discussion that any headway in this issue will be made.

    I’m not trying to convince you to dump feminism. Far from it. Nor did I want to sound patronizing, and I apologize if I came across that way. But I do think it is important for young women of intelligence, in particular, to closely examine the ramifications of the ideology, and what it means practically, both personally and professionally. The alternative is for your feminism to be a parroting of popular memes without real effect or impact – which is, I believe, not what you intend to do.

    When you are young, idealism is second nature. That’s why the ancient Chinese emperors chose young scholars fresh out of school to be their inspectors and regulators, because their idealism was difficult to corrupt. I’m not dismissing that idealism – it’s a powerful motivator that will color your perspectives for the rest of your life. But idealism inevitably fades as context and experience shade your perceptions. I say this, again, not to be patronizing, but to invite you to consider a broader perspective.

    The focus of the original Women’s Rights movement (beginning, say, with the Seneca Falls Conference) was to improve both the rights and the lives of women, a necessary adaptation of our social system to the transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy. While the pursuit of equal rights has been, by any objective standard, more or less achieved legally and (to a great extant) socially, feminism has “run into a wall” once it turned the corner into the Third Wave. Until the Third Wave, men were generally supportive of the pursuit of women’s rights, even if we articulated that support poorly.

    But the Third Wave messed everything up. It took a struggle for equal legal and social rights and conflated it with both Marxism (already severely discredited at the time) and misandry, in the form of establishment of “the Patriarchy” as a nebulous oppressive force. While I understand equity feminism means “The Patriarchy” to mean the system of traditional rules and social mores originating with marital/property rights in the agricultural age, the radicals transformed that into code meaning “all men”, and in particular “all white men”. Marxism is all about revolutionary fervor and fighting oppression, and when feminism bought into that meme it also bought into the Institutional Revolutionary Ideal of Marxism. That is, oppression will always exist, oppressors will always exist, and the only valid response is continual revolution.

    The problem with this theory is it bumps up against the very real fact that men are not vile oppressors supporting a corrupt and repressive social system, by and large, they’re just dudes pursuing their own interests and issues, including sex, entertainment, security, family, and work. While drawing attention to blatantly-unfair sexism is one thing, gender feminism has managed to paint them all with the broad brush. When most men encounter “feminism”, it is in an almost universally negative way that forces them to be defensive. As many feminists enjoy seeing men get defensive about their lives, they continued the “struggle against Patriarchy” in a variety of fronts for the last few decades.

    Feminism continuously demands that men step up and change their behaviors, both individually and as a class, but it offers no other incentive to do so than shame and ridicule. Not a big deal, right? Who cares if you annoy a bunch of dudebros, after all?

    Thing is, men talk. While we don’t have the same skill with collective resentment that feminism does (women are just better at forming a consensus) men talk amongst ourselves . . . and we’re not talking about how we all need to reform our personal behavior and check our collective privilege. We’re talking about how increasingly irrelevant feminism is. When we see a SJW or diehard feminist publicly savage one of our dumb-ass friends, our sympathies are rarely with the feminist. When we hear feminism tell us that our masculinity is toxic, and declared us all predators and rapists and privilege-wielding oppressors, our desire to assist the very women who are demonizing our gender evaporates. I say that not to be hateful, but to point out that the perceptions of the movement by the very people you are ostensibly supposed to be influencing.

    That’s an ideological issue. Feminism needs to eschew Marxism (“state of the art 19th century science”) and find a more enlightened view, or it’s doomed to irrelevancy. The struggle for women’s rights will continue, but feminism, as such, is in the process of imploding, intellectually speaking. Twitter activism and sensationalistic demonstrations to “raise awareness” of . . . whatever the cause of the day is are symptoms of this irrelevancy. When feminism’s big scores this year include a dance number and Hermione asking the Patriarchy for help at the UN, there’s something seriously wrong with it . . . and us menfolk can see that.

    But that’s not even the big problem. The big problem is the other half of the original reason for the women’s movement: improving the lives of women. While it can’t be argued that women now enjoy greater freedoms, security, and economic prosperity in the West than at any point in history, the plain fact is that this has NOT led to the expected increase in over-all female happiness. Like it or not, feminism has crafted a cage of discontent for modern women whether they regard themselves as feminists or not. Women are unhappier now than in the past, by objective measurement, and that downward trend is likely to continue.

    So if women enjoy more rights and more freedoms, more security and more prosperity than ever before, why are they not measurably happier – quite the contrary?

    Part of the reason is that feminism encourages women to find fulfillment the same way that men do, through achievement and financial success, and that’s not where women usually find their fulfillment. In fact, women who do achieve financial and professional success rate as among the MOST unhappy. That’s not “the Patriarchy” undermining women. It’s women who have “made it” looking around at their lives and realizing that they are bitterly unhappy with them, after years of work. Check out any number of blogs of women in their 40s and see just how happy they are, if you like. This is what you have to look forward to.

    You may or may not want to get married in the future. I understand and respect that not everyone does, but if you are considering it, also consider that feminism has poisoned the well for you there. By encouraging you to work on career and enjoy life, feminism also encourages you to skip over the best chance you have for finding a meaningful, lasting relationship. Men know (and we’re doing our best to publicize it) that feminists are a poor risk for marriage, increasing a man’s chance of divorce by up to 20%, statistically speaking. Telling you that “there will be a nice guy waiting for you when you’ve gotten your career established” is a bold-faced lie. Men are marrying less, marrying later, and – increasingly, thanks to the internet – going outside the country to find wives.

    Why is that? You can assume that it’s because we’re a bunch of bitter misogynists who want to oppress women, which is the feminist standard, or you can assume its because in pursuing our own interests that we can see that a so-called “equal partnership” marriage with a college-educated American woman who identifies as a feminist has worse odds for actually finding happiness than a Vegas roulette wheel. Thousands of men who would ordinarily marry and devote themselves to their wives and their families are dropping out all together. At your age you don’t see this as a problem. Ask your peers in their late 20s how much fun it is to date these days, particularly if they are looking to settle down.

    That may not be important to you . . . but it is important to many of your female peers, even if they don’t voice it. Women have not given up on the idea of marriage, even if men have. And their struggle to attract a mate is going to be epic, thanks to feminism’s current public relations problem. Don’t think that won’t affect you. The ideal of an equal society, devoid of sexism, evaporates quickly when the very real nature of human biology comes into play in a serious way. Feminism is building a world where women will be working good professional jobs working sixty hour weeks and paying taxes so that other women can have babies . . . and men are scarce commodities that actively loathe a relationship with a professional woman. Even now, for every 100 women employed there are only 63 men employed. Meanwhile, I’m encouraging young men to drop out of college, travel the world, let corporate feminists have the “achievement” and the heart attacks that come with it . . . and avoid marriage (and I’m happily married). There’s just not much future in it for a young man. And he has feminism to thank for that.

    I trust you will at least consider what I’ve said. I don’t expect you to change your views, but perhaps you can be a more enlightened feminist. Thank you again for the calm, rational discussion.

    Ian

    • November 13, 2014 / 1:38 pm

      Thank you for leaving a final thought. After visiting your own blog, it is clear to see that this is a topic you are very passionate about. I agree that having calm and reasonable discussions is key to moving forward, and wish you well with your own blog/projects.

      Rebecca.

  3. Yenny
    November 12, 2014 / 5:10 pm

    Hi, Rebecca!

    My name is Yenny, and I’m a feminist (and not the radical kind). Nice to meet you. Thank you for the blog post. I’d like to point out that while there are radical sects of feminists, in my experience, I have only had the misfortune of meeting a handful of such “Femenazis” (I dislike that term, but it does a great representing the ridiculousness of such radical thought). I have found that most women who embrace feminist ideologies do so proudly, but with an open mind and a calm demeanor. I also know many men who consider themselves either full on feminists or, at least, on the side of feminists. And many do so because 1) they don’t like “Femenazis” any more than reasonable feminists do and 2) because they already consider women of intellect to be equal to themselves as human beings.

    Also, if I may, my personal feminist ideology revolves predominately around 3 major practices/ concepts. The first, and most obvious, is equality under the law and fair treatment. The second is the right for women (and men!) to decide for themselves. To me, as long as your decisions don’t hurt others, you, as a woman, should decide for yourself. That means you decide which career to follow or not to follow, you choose who to marry and how to marry (whether you want a big white wedding or a small intimate ceremony), you choose whrtger or not to has children, how much make-up you want to wear, how you would like to dress, etc. This aspect of feminism may seem contradictory because many consider certain ways of dressing to only perpetuate gender stereotypes. While that may be true to specific modes of dress (and other a aspects of life), at the end of the day, if you look good and feel good, then you should be allowed to wear it. As feminists, I think we have to take personal taste into account. Finally, I think a good feminists should be kind, accepting, and supportive of other women. This last practice is probably one of the most difficult feminist ideologies to follow. Especially since I doubt every woman in the world (feminist or otherwise) holds such altruistic ideologies. I myself struggle with it, although I find myself refraining from resorting to insults when I disagree with someone. Again, not easy, especially if the other person has insulted me or someone I care about and/ or respect. That being said, if feminism is to take the altruistic, all encompassing framework that I believe most feminists embrace, we should make efforts to get along with most, if not all, members of the gender that we’re trying to advocate for. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t disagree with each other. It just means that when we do disagree, we should attempt to do it with a modicum of respect. Always remember: dislike the idea, not the person.

    Finally (and I do apologize for my lengthy response), I highly believe that for feminism to move forward, we have to start by changing the way we think. After all, of we can’t see people differently or under a different light, then how can we possibly expect to treat then any differently? Feminism should be seen as more of a frame of mind and a philosophy rather than a political movement (although there’s no denying the role politics play in the sobjugation of such modes of thinking).

    I think that’s all I have to say for the time being. Thank you again for opening up the discussion and I apologize for any misspellings or grammatical errors (I’m on my iPhone). Have a lovely day. 🙂

    • November 15, 2014 / 5:54 pm

      Hi Yenny!

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you! Thank you for reading my post 🙂

      I’m glad most of the women you meet embrace feminism in such an open and calm way. Many of the women I meet support equal rights yet seem horrified at the thought of being associated with feminism (which prompted me to write this post) which I think is a huge shame.

      My ideology tends to focus on the three concepts you’ve mentioned too. I believe that as long as everybody enjoys the same rights and respect, they should be able to behave/dress in a way that suits them and reflects their personality. I totally agree that there is a debate about the third point and I can see how dressing in a certain way/wearing make-up can be seen as perpetuating stereotypes. This said, wearing a bright lipstick makes me feel happy and gives me a boost in confidence. It also doesn’t alter my views on gender equality, so I don’t see a problem. Like you said, if it makes you feel good, I think people should be able to wear it.

      I agree that feminism needs to take an altruistic view, and women should try to support each other. However, as human beings, there are always going to be times when we fail to take the higher ground and just want to insult someone. One of the problems of this being that a lot of the ‘common’ tend to refer to gender or sexuality. I think we, both men and women, just need to try to make the effort to avoid these types of insults.

      “Always remember: dislike the idea, not the person.” – Very wise words.

      Thank you for sharing your views on this. It has been nice to meet someone who shares the same outlook. Hope you have a good weekend 🙂

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