Feminism Shouldn’t be a Dirty Word!

Well fuck me, my best friend, who I assumed would be a feminist, and in fact is, if you ask her about her beliefs, refuses to use the word.

She’s all for “equality” but not for “feminism”, apparently.

Because women's representation text

‘We are still part of the women’s liberation movement’ – Katharine Terrell 2009 (C)

To me, feminism is about gender equality, about fighting the systematic oppression enacted through social structures that have been in place for centuries. It’s about fighting the attitude that women and femininity are lesser than men and masculinity these social structures use as justification for their treatment of women. It’s about women having: political representation, equal pay for equal work, the right to do meaningful work outside the home and to have their contributions within the home recognised – financially, if at all possible. It’s the right to be educated to the same degree as men, and to reach the upper echelons of our chosen fields without undue hindrance. It’s the right to control our own bodies, particularly in regards to who we choose to have sex with, how we prevent pregnancy and how we deal with unwanted pregnancies. It’s in the fight to be able to walk down the street without fear of harassment, assault, abduction or rape. It’s in making society aware that most rapes occur within the home by people we know, and that we can still be raped even if we are not sober paragons of virtue. It’s in the struggle to dress and act how we want without someone calling us a bitch or a skank or a prude. It’s about having our sexual agency recognised and respected – whether that’s in making or watching porn, participating in non-coerced sex work, or just not judging us for how many people we’ve slept with. It’s in our desire to dress as femininely as we want, or not, without consequences for our reputations. It’s about being able to watch mainstream films and TV where the lead is a woman, supported by her female friends, who doesn’t have to be rescued or fall in love at the end. It’s about wanting to watch media that doesn’t shame us for not meeting some unrealistic beauty standard, so that eating disorders don’t continue to rise. And this list? Is just the tip of the iceberg.

Feminism about these things alone however is bullshit. White, middle-class, straight, abled bullshit. Feminism needs to account for the effects of racism, poverty, homophobia, and disability amongst other things, because being affected by any one of these things in addition to existing while female makes life a hundred times more difficult. Go read Flavia Dzodan’s post on intersectionality at Tiger BeatDown for more on why this is vital. In fact, go read everything by her.

Back to the problem as far as my friend is concerned? To too many people, feminism equals man-hating, hairy dyke. Also, apparently the pendulum has swung too far the other way, such that men are disadvantaged in certain areas because women’s rights have progressed “too far”. Her example was that it’s easy for a woman to prosecute a man for sexual harassment at work but not for a man to prosecute a woman for sexual harassment at work.

I call bullshit. In the example of it being easier for a woman to prosecute for sexual harassment, which, if this is even the case, I would argue that this is hardly a failing of feminism. If anything, feminism hasn’t gone far enough. Why? Because the reason why it’s harder for the bloke to prosecute is because society in general still doesn’t believe women are capable of being sexual agents, which is a consequence of our society believing that women are weak and are in general incapable of instigating sex and that men, as men, should be up for sex and flirting all the damn time. They’re red-blooded men so the female boss at work pinching their bum is doing them a favour, right? Also, I bet if we looked at the actual statistics, the number of sexual harassment cases that are successfully prosecuted would still be but a fraction of cases brought before the courts. And the number that make it to court in the first place are again like to be but a fraction of the number of instances of sexual harassment. As with the reporting of rape, the police recording of rape and the continuation to trial, many events will go unreported or will not be acted upon if they are because the culture in those workplaces is one that minimises and hides the scale of the problem and protects the perpetrators.

Going back slightly, for the love of all that’s holy, can the stereotype of the radfem, man-hating, hairy dyke please be put to rest? This caricature has not been generally applicable since the 80’s with the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer. Most women nowadays who consider themselves feminist like their razors and their make-up and their men. Hell, I even like wearing make-up some times and I love men. Certain men anyway (I’m allowed to be choosy!). I’m still ambivalent about razors. So, for fuck’s sake, please, please, please can this out-dated stereotype go and die in a fire? The usual argument is that this stereotype is only propagated because it allows the status quo to distract from the central issue and to discredit those who bring it up, which makes me furious!

The other thing people forget is that feminism is a broad church. There are as many types of feminism as there are branches of Christianity, and as in Christianity, they don’t all agree. Some are actively antagonistic and some hold absolutely hateful ideas (though of course which ideas are considered hateful depends on where you stand!). All of them are in the business of in-fighting and going their own way. And yet, I’d argue these features are characteristics of many human endeavours, for where there are people, there are politics. If anything, it’s a good sign because it shows that people are thinking and arguing and not just accepting things the way they are. If they weren’t, nothing would ever change, and that would definitely be bad. Which is just as well, because as events in the last couple of years show (Caitlin Moran and her “I literally couldn’t give a shit” attitude about racism,  for example, or the “divisiveness” of the SlutWalks), contemporary mainstream feminism has it’s problems too.

So to round off this rambling rant manifesto, I want to say that we still don’t have gender parity and anyone who thinks so has their head in the clouds. We are not “post-feminism”. Things aren’t going to get any better if those who care about the issue refuse to call it for what it is (sexism) and refuse to use the label for the movement that has more than two centuries of history behind it (feminism). The infuriating, inaccurate stereotypes of “feminist” aren’t going to go away just because you refuse to use the word. And furthermore, if everyone whose ideals align with its general principle refuse to use it but fail to come up with a word that captures its essence, then it will be all the simpler for our oppressors to discredit and dismiss us because we won’t have a core identity to rally round. Just because the media and general social attitudes haven’t caught up with the last two decades of feminist thought and activism, doesn’t mean things haven’t changed where it counts. Onwards and upwards, yeah?

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