A minor anxiety: Feminism

A dirty word?

“Feminism isn’t a dirty word. It’s not like we’re a deranged group who think women should take over the planet, raise our young on our own and eliminate men from the picture.” Lena Dunham

A confused controversy?

The word women everywhere have grown to hate. ‘Feminism’ has become one of the world’s most controversial topics as people everywhere struggle to understand what a ‘feminist’ actually is. The Collins English dictionary presents a succinct definition, describing a feminist as a ‘person who advocates equal rights for women’. Note the definition says ‘person’ and not ‘woman’, confirming the notion that male feminists are very much a thing. So whilst we’re in cahoots with the Collins Dictionary, the other definitions seem somewhat inferior. Feminism has caused a unique sense of social anxiety, an anxiety that we should be ashamed to identify as a feminist. A frequent reaction to the dreaded ‘are you a feminist?’ question is one of defence, a declaration of love for men and equality. I’m not sure when ‘equal rights’ began to mean anything other than equality but there has been a conflation of messaging somewhere along the line. This misunderstanding is in part due to a prevalent confusion between the term ‘feminist’ and ‘female chauvinist’. We seem to have two camps active in the discussion. In the blue corner we have the female chauvinists, these are the kind that genuinely dislike men and believe women to be superior. This corner believe a rejection of all things ‘feminine’ is the way to get ahead in life, crushing as many men as possible throughout the journey -  these people are stupid. Conversely, in the red corner we have those who reject the notion in fear of being associated with the chauvinists. In this fight, no one wins.

The social anxiety around the label ‘feminist’ is somewhat regressive. Women are afraid to identify as a ‘feminist’ in fear of ostracisation from men, or worse, other women. These women are ultimately rejecting those fighting for equality - what chance do we have if society’s women are against their own gender? We’ve come a long way from chaining ourselves to Parliament in plight of the vote, but we are still trailing behind the guys. The issue has developed from one of great political, economic or legal significance, and now largely manifests in social discrimination. The most unsettling aspect of the feminist debate is its rejection by women.  Male figures often speak out about the topic more freely. US President Barack Obama frequently addresses the issue of inequality, another man chairing the campaign against inequality that so many women are fighting against.

“Too often women can’t access the information they need to fight the pay discrimination... Women can’t wait for equal pay. And I won’t stop fighting to address this inequality.” Barack Obama

Breeding hypocrisy? 

Ironically, the majority of female chauvinists hating on men, reject any form of feminine aesthetic. In 2016 we have female leaders across companies of differing scale and industries, yet the majority of women in power feel the need to act like a man in order to be successful. Not content with just acting like their male role models, these women often reject a feminine appearance in order to assert dominance in the workplace. We then have the women who continue to ruin any form of progress on the sexualisation with attempt to flirt their way up the career ladder. It’s as if women in business feel the need to sexualise their appearance to attract attention or androgynise to eliminate sexuality and be considered ‘one of the guys.’ Playing either game is a rejection of equal rights, suggesting that women must place their desire for career progression over presenting a feminine aesthetic - since when was that a reasonable choice?

The women shunning feminism

Believe it or not (and trust me, i'd rather not), there is a new group of anarchists on the scene. Devoid of safety pins and Dr Martens, this group are rioting against the idea of feminism. The site encourages women to write their reasons for shunning the movement and publicises their photos online. There are event t-shirts (a la girl on the right). Really not sure what the point in that is but each to their own...

Yes, this is a thing.... [womenagainstfeminism]

Yes, this is a thing.... [womenagainstfeminism]

The anti-feminists hot off the press from womenagainstfeminism.com

On the topic of women in the workplace, there will always be some clinging on to patriarchy. Few families can afford to have a parent at home, however, those women who chose to remain in the home are just as entitled to identify as a feminist as the female CEO.

‘Men ruled the roost and women played a subservient role [in the 1960s]. Working wives were a rarity, because their place was in the home, bringing up the kids. The women who did work were treated as second class citizens, because it was a male-dominated society. That was a fact of life then. But it wouldn’t be tolerated today, and that’s quite right in my book’. Jon Hamm

I consider myself a privileged women, I have the same access to healthcare, a right to vote and to the same education system as my male colleagues. People think that the feminist debate extends as far as voting and equal pay, they’re wrong. I am one of the lucky ones. Born in a first world country I was able to go to school, get a job and have the same opportunities as my younger brother. Elsewhere it is a very different story. The issue isn’t about me, it’s not necessarily about you, it is about the global treatment of women. We need feminism because we are still focusing on the importance of rape prevention, not teaching that women should not be viewed as sexualised objects. Because women are told that they should not be dressing provocatively or that walking alone at night requires more vigilance for a woman than it would a man. We need to look at the treatment of women globally because Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is the prevention of pleasurable sex for women by cutting off and restitching genitalia, is still practiced in at least 29 countries worldwide. Similarly, women are still objectified within marriage, with 120 countries not accepting rape within a marriage as a criminal offence. This is not just about women ‘being greedy’ and looking for a resolution to the glass ceiling debate, the issue extends to health, happiness and torture.

Women in the spotlight are doing both a brilliant and awful job of publicising the debate. Jennifer Lawrence’s passion for equal pay highlighted that people in the public eye are continuing to talk about ‘taboo topics’. Emma Watson’s work with the UN was also greatly beneficial for the publicity of feminism; however, there are always some looking to ruin it. This ‘some’ takes form of the women publically rejecting ‘feminism’. Whenever I see these ‘disastrous attempts at ‘normalisation’ if makes my insides cry. These women have an audience and there they are on their soapbox, rejecting the hard work that the normal folk on the ground are doing.

On the topic of men, there are very few who actively speak out against feminism and you’d have your own special label of ‘misogynist’ to be one of those.

“I’m a believer that if everyone has a fair chance to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, it’s better for everyone. It benefits society as a whole.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Despite this, the entertainment has certainly come a long way. Female authors are now celebrated in the same way as male, and they’re even free to use their own first name without threat of dismal sales. Only a small percentage of women in the spotlight use the word ‘feminist’ freely, with the rest looking down on us as we burn our bras in cat-filled spinster pads. Female comedians have had a huge role in the acceptance of feminism. Amy Schumer’s ability to discuss female issues and some form of humour from them, is a huge step in the conversation. The activities we’re talking about would have been concealed from the public eye a decade ago; and here we are today, making a joke of sex, periods and body hair. The fact that we are now not only able to speak about former ‘taboos’ but speak of them in jest, awards some serious points to feminism.

So how about we reclaim the term and bring it back to it’s roots as a ‘person who advocates equal rights for women’? Let’s get rid of the association with female chauvinists and haters of men. The term ‘feminist’ should not cause a social anxiety and a desperation for women to reject a term that was engineered to promote their rights. The idea that people are declaring that we don’t need feminism is worrying, but it is the rejection by women that is the most concerning of all. Maybe one day ‘feminism’ will be archived and we will all be living as sexless people; however, I feel we’re a few period jokes away from that.