When it comes to –isms, I have a sneaking suspicion that they are mostly negative.
Take, for example: racism, terrorism, totalitarianism, ageism, homophobism.
Ok, ok, well spotted: the last one is better known as homophobia (yeah – no one remembers the film arachnophobism either).
And there are hundreds more – someone has even kindly compiled a list. Whoever knew thermoperiodism was a thing?
… As, of course, is feminism.
(that was smooth, even by my standards, don’t you think?)
Feminism, then, dear readers: negative or positive?
There’s probably not much point in my pretending to be neutral about it (this being a blog about gender equality ‘n all). Clearly feminism, for me, is a good thing. However, I am at least objective enough to recognise other people think differently.
Which is intriguing. We don’t generally ponder the merits of racism, for example; we either instinctively know (even if we’ll have to agree to disagree with Ku Klux Klan members) or have come to understand that it is ridiculous, hurtful and counter-productive to discriminate on the basis of skin colour.
Why, then, does taking the same principle and applying it to women’s rights cause so much suspicion-slash-sighing-slash-eyerolling?
And not just from my husband.
For example, would you describe yourself as a feminist?
Well, hang on, before you answer – it’s always wise to read the small print first. Let me give you the Oxford English Dictionary definition, and then you can decide whether you’re in or out.
(In case you were wondering, definitions 1) and 2) were, respectively, femininity/feminine traits (so that would be, you remember, multitasking and getting lost) and the appearance of female sexual characteristics in a male.)
So feminism (or ‘womanism’ did you spot that one in the cf. section?) = “advocacy of the equality of the sexes”.
Well, what is there not to like about that? Do women who say they aren’t feminist disagree with their own equality?
I don’t think they do: rather, either they think they don’t need a label, or a movement, or don’t want to be seen as under-dog in the first place; or they have a fundamental issue with what they think feminism actually entails.
What does gender equality entail, justement?
Quick multiple choice question for you (prize for the winner).
a) about rejecting men?
b) about women’s political empowerment?
c) about access to birth control?
Well – at various points since the Suffragettes’ brave movement in the early 20th century, it has been d) all of the above, and much more (sorry, trick question: no prizes). The history of feminism has its own detailed wikipedia entry so I don’t intend to reproduce (ho) one here, but in the last two centuries feminism has often been focused either on specific issues (e.g. the battle for the right to vote) or specific reasoning for action (e.g. economic productivity v. ethics or equity).
So it’s a bit like saying: feminists all agree on equality, but we don’t agree on whose fault is it that we’re not equal in the first place, and nor do we agree on the best way to fix it.
This internal debate has spilled over, with the unfortunate consequence of the more extreme forms of feminism – such as blanket hostility (hostilism?) towards men – coming to symbolise what it’s all about.
This, in turn, has led to the kind of head-shaking I get from some of my friends when I talk to them. Nah, they say; all that bra-burning – not for me, mate.
I get that. I like my M+S matching sets: I have no urge to take to the street and burn my lingerie in the name of equal rights.
*slight identity crisis* does that, then, make me an anti-feminist?
Because there is an anti-feminist movement. I was curious about what that could be about (“let’s promote a crappy time for women, everyone!”), but thankfully I stumbled across Women Against Feminism and their members’ brightly-penned messages/selfies decrying why they did not need feminism, and all became clear.
So: on one level, a rejection of feminism is (at least superficially) a misunderstanding of what it means, and how people then interpret that meaning in relation to their own individual lives.
But on a much deeper level, there is no misunderstanding at all, and the opposition comes precisely from what feminism wants to achieve (and what it takes to achieve it).
What I mean is this. Since equality logically implies readjusting unbalanced access to resources, opportunities, and autonomy, feminism will always be perceived as wanting to change (or at least challenge) existing power structures (and all the tradition, culture, etc that goes with/supports them).
So we’re looking at a best-case scenario of muttered frustration (think quotas) but more likely systematic rejection and resistance (nothing like a good acid attack or honour-killing to nip things in the bud).
This is partly why campaigns making feminism relevant to men are so important, such as This is What a Feminist Looks Like (hurrah for Benedict)
or #HeForShe, launched by British actress Emma Watson (yes, yes, Hermione Granger, but also UN Women Goodwill Ambassador) last September.
Video below – watch it over your morning cornflakes, and see if you get that tingly feeling with the “if not now…” conclusion, like I did.
A propos: the Daily Mail largely (deliberately?) missed the point of Watson’s speech, covering the launch of the campaign with an article which spent more time describing what Watson was wearing than what she was saying.
Thankfully they were ridiculed with a great parody article from Underground Magazine;
excellently done, but in itself a reminder of why things need to change (the parody is only funny because it is a parody).
So, yes, I’m a feminist. So are you: you can’t not be, I’m afraid. Because feminism is simply about equal access, equal merit, equal treatment. If you don’t have that, you must want it, I suppose. And if you think you’ve got it already, good for you, but remember most of the world’s women still don’t.
Feminism, womanism: or how about just plain humanism?
That one, I think, definitely has a positive ring to it.