Today I’m taking on a very serious topic, one I’m not altogether sure I have the authority (or time) to discuss properly. Please bear with me – this is my first ‘serious’ (i.e. not about cupcakes or baby animals) post in a while, so I’m a little rusty. I have a confession to make – I am conflicted. I profess my feminism to the world when I see pillocks like Julie Burchill stick their foot in it with their hate speech, but when I hear the words of a more activist nature (oftentimes hearing ‘fight for equality’, ‘women’s suffrage’ and ‘women-only event’ in one sentence is more than enough) I instinctively roll my eyes and change to a more ‘friendly’ conversation topic.
Sitting on the fence
So what is it that makes feminism ‘unfriendly’? I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I can’t seem to find a solid answer that I’m happy with. Surely the fight for gender equality is a global, unanimous movement, designed to benefit our entire society? The fact that I am using the word ‘unfriendly’ (synonymous in this instance to the infamous phrase, ‘not PC’) makes me want to kick myself. Perhaps it is the fact that I see flaws in both sides of the big debate which makes me the biggest On-The-Fence-Sitter there ever was. What is it about feminism that makes it ‘not appropriate’ dinner-time conversation?
All women are de facto feminists
Although there is definitely a line I personally will not cross in the pursuit of gender equality (google search Amina Tyler), it always shocks and disappoints me to hear women – many of my friends, in fact – say that they wouldn’t consider themselves ‘feminists’. When probed to explain their decision, most say something along the lines of, “I’m happy with the way we are now, I don’t see what the problem is”, or worse still, “because…I’m not some weird bra-burning freak.” I’m paraphrasing of course, but the message behind the quotes rings clear: that Ignorance, and alas – Other Women are the some of the biggest enemies of the Feminist movement in the 21st century, but sadly we are not allowed to see them as such.
I don’t want to delve into lengthy explanations of the nuances of the feminist movement, women’s’ rights, and what exactly may be wrong with a response of “I don’t see what the problem with the current situation is.” If interested, I would direct you to the read up on works of Germaine Greer, or even the more accessible Caitlin Moran, or failing that – give ‘Lad Culture’ a google. Or just read some of this. I will leave all this here, with a simple reminder that the ‘problem’ highlighted, is one experienced in a Western, democratic country – it doesn’t take an idiot to know that concerns of equality are much stronger in other parts of the world, where suffering is such more promiment (middle East, FGM-practising countries in North Africa, etc.).
Rules of the playground: 5 year olds have so much to teach us
Remember that mantra we lived by back in our nursery days? Remember seeing some kid teasing another in the playground (or worse yet, being teased yourself, you adorable underdog), only to have the teacher come up and say: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Seemingly such a simple and important rule to follow and yet, as evident in most human interactions – one that is abandoned all too soon.
Why is it that women often turn against each other? Theorists and psychologists who’ve dedicated their lives to studying human behaviour probably won’t be able to give a straight answer to this. I will therefore rephrase the question – why is it that women look down on feminists so much? How can we resolve the gender inequality within society if there is no agreement within the gender as a group? Why is it that the majority of the female Russian population condemns Pussy Riot not for the act of ‘vandalising a sacred place of worship’ but rather for their ‘disorderly and unladylike behaviour’? The struggle for feminism and equality has somehow morphed into a struggle of good and ‘bad behaviour’ – the latter exhibited mainly by a conjured stereotype of ‘unwound, boisterous and violent women’, all inevitably set out to destroy any facade of eloquence and grace our community tries so hard to achieve, and values above anything else – mutual respect and equality included.
UNITE and conquer
This is probably the best explanation for my confusion over the issue. It’s not that I’m NOT a feminist, but it’s more that I can’t justify some of the reasoning for supporting the movement. As with many other minority rights’ campaigns (shocking that feminism is described as a ‘minority’ right, no?), the fight for gender equality is led by extremist individuals. ‘He who shouts the loudest (or ‘she’ in this case) has the floor’ plays to the disadvantage of the rest. The message becomes garbled in a game of Chinese whispers as the media is reporting it – that it’s not equality for ALL, it’s a battle of sexes, a battle of social class and sexual orientation and gender identity. In the climb to the top of the pyramid, other people are trampled on, other underrepresented parts of society are pushed even further out on to the periphery.
No matter how hard we try, we’re easily put off by vocal extremists front-lining the movement. Being a big fan of her writing and personal achievements, I’ve tried very hard to explain the methodology used by the likes of Laurie Penny, who although extremely passionate and knowledgeable, also groups feminism with socialism, and skirts away from recognising the issues faced by feminist men in society [free podcast of a lecture she did at LSE earlier last year available here]. Whichever way I’ve tried to spin this, I just can’t seem to find the logic in her statement that ‘to be a true feminist, you must also be a socialist’, and thus personally happen to disagree with that line of thought. The aforementioned Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill headline story is merely another example of established women ostracizing other minorities ‘in the name of Feminism.’ Whereas Penny refuses to recognise that it is not only female feminists who struggle to be heard, Burchill’s direct attack on the transgender community is made worse by the fact that the editors of a national newspaper (The Observer) thought it passed the test for publication. I’m a strong advocate for the freedom of press and have great respect for polemic journalism, and although in most instances I completely support the Guardian/Observer’s approach to Comment pieces, this is a clear example where Opinion crosses the line and swiftly turns into Hate Speech. Instances like this have a crushing effect on the feminist cause, and ultimately leave me frustrated beyond belief, wondering – why is criticising so much easier than befriending? What is wrong with uniting under a single cause, and why is that so much harder to achieve than the judging and the bitching that goes on everywhere, on a daily basis? When something good happens for feminism (e.g. the rising international fame of award-winning US hit show, Girls), why is there always something, or someone, who decides to crap all over it (Lena Dunham, creator of said show heavily criticised for writing her characters as ‘too white’)? For instance why can’t we appreciate the fact that one of the most talked about shows in 2012 has been a show about women and their honest and yet imperfect views, interactions and activities, thus personifying the stripped-back approach to feminism? It’s the first time a big network has chosen to air a show with a lead female cast (not just one role, mind you) who luckily for us don’t embody the tired and vapid Manic Pixie Dream Girl mould – one most frequently used for female leading character in TV and film alike. It seems like there’s always an ongoing battle holding back any sort of progress – one of religion, race (previously mentioned Lena Dunham furor), or sexual identity as in the case of the Julie Burchill/trans community debacle. Granted this is a very one-sided argument, but one vehement enough to cast doubt in my understanding of the ‘united’ feminist front.
Hopeful for the future
My pessimistic outlook in this article doesn’t fully reflect my actual position on the issue in real life, but I wouldn’t want to inspire a false sense of comfort. I AM a feminist. I don’t burn bras or hate men or any other people identifying themselves under the LGBT slogan. Most importantly, I don’t hate other women for thinking X, Y or Z. In reality, I find it sad that the activists at the forefront of the feminist movement are either misconstrued as these abhorrent beacons of vigilante misdemeanor, or do in fact stretch into that category of their own accord, perhaps fueled by personal vendettas or extremist political views. I find it even sadder that the feminist movement, historically a cause for great inspiration and communal pride is in this rut, all largely because of the damage caused by women judging each other [again, for thinking X, Y or Z.] In short, I hope to see great things, but find it hard to believe that they can be achieved without a change of mindset first.
On a brighter note, albeit all the flagrant misogyny in the world, it is things like THIS (scroll for the Reviews section) that truly make me smile, and instill a glimmer of hope for the ‘feminist movement’.