There’s just as many different kinds of feminism as there are women in the world.
– Kathleen Hanna
Once upon a time I would baulk at the thought of being referred to as a feminist. The word itself seemed so divisive and woman-centric that I always proclaimed myself an “equalist” (no doubt annoying all my feminist friends in the process). My mental image of a feminist (don’t laugh) was a very angry woman who wanted a matriarchal society which saw women having more rights than men. Positive discrimination towards women would be rife (more about that later) and, well, there would still be an inequality between the sexes. Countering that image was one of the all singing, all dancing, slightly barmy, slightly drippy Winifred Banks. Given that I probably first watched Mary Poppins when I was a toddler, Winifred’s song and dance would the first time I was introduced to the concept that society hadn’t been treating men and women the same and her character was written in such a way that I did not find her at all engaging.
As I got older and I saw men seemingly having less rights than women when it came to child custody I became firmer in my resolve that I would not call myself a feminist because feminism only sought to fight for women to have more rights, not to make sure men had the same rights as women. Right?
Erm, yeah, so maybe not.
I admit it, I was wrong and I am shocked and totally appalled with myself that I managed to miss the point so spectacularly, like the women on that tumblr site.
So what changed? A little while back, I read a quote which basically give me a rather hefty kick up the backside, shaking up my views on the term “feminist”. I can’t remember who wrote it, where I read it or even exactly what it said but the important thing is that it set me off on a bit of a mission to actually use my noggin and do some reading. Here’s what the dictionary says
the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
~ Oxford English Dictionary (British English version) “definition of feminism”
So internet searches turned up articles about feminist art exhibitions and research looking at what feminists believe and how women perceive a feminist to be. There were the blog articles which suggest reasons why the negative stereotypes of feminists may exist, accessible and understated posts about what a feminist is (and why it’s important to know what you are choosing if you say you aren’t!) and mothers writing to their daughters about what feminism means to them. I trawled the websites and ‘zines of various feminist organisations and some of them really weren’t as aggressive as I originally feared. I even went back to basics and reminded myself about the women’s suffrage movement, including what the UK government has to say about it and how bicycles had helped women’s emancipation.
I also came across people branding feminists as terrorists and/or man-haters who were either trying to pressurise women into going to work (rather than choose to be a stay-at-home mother) or portray women as victims and/or all men as rapists. I’m not even going to link to the article which spawned that slanging match in the comments, they have already had enough air time in my head.
I read the brilliant We Should All Be Feminists, an essay by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, based on her now infamous TEDx speech. It’s a short but perfectly powerful text that I highly recommend. It’s about what feminism means, that traditional gender roles and stereotypes must be challenged/overturned and cannot be excused based on biology because “..we are not apes. Apes also live in trees and eat earthworms. We do not.”
She also discusses how the definition of masculinity is defined so narrowly that boys are taught to mask their true selves and so have fragile egos. That in turn leads to us to raise girls who cater to that fragile ego. She asks the reader to consider the mindset we have when raising/interacting with children: “What if, in raising children, we focus on ability instead of gender? What if we focus on interest instead of gender?”
I’m slowly increasing my library of feminist literature and have moved on to All the Rebel Women: The rise of the fourth wave of feminism (Guardian Shorts) which is (so far as I am into it) focusing on the UK (incidentally: if anyone out there has any other recommendations then stick them in the comments).
So, after all that, I have come to the following conclusions:
- A photo of me shows just one version of what a feminist looks like.
- If you consider yourself a feminist we probably won’t agree on some of the detail but that’s ok.
Oh and the only problem with feminism is the baggage that the word comes with.
Now I’m off to curl up with a poetry anthology.