I’m a Feminist!
Ooh, you just cringed, didn’t you? Or was it more of a flinch? Maybe it was a knowing smile – a “middle-class, white, university-educated, 20-something girl thinks she’s got all the answers” kind of smile? Then, my dear, you don’t know me at all. But, frankly, my many neuroses aren’t the focus of this piece – it’s something much bigger than that. Call it what you want – gender equality, equal opportunities, anti-discrimination, sanity… it all boils down to the same thing. But we need to address the label, and I need to tell you why I’m proud of having it.
Names are powerful things. Example: Having someone spell your name wrong on an important document is irritating. Further example: Calling a transgender person by the wrong pronoun is negating their true identity – it is an act of control and oppression. Likewise, telling someone that they cannot be a Feminist because they are a man or a model or a housewife or a Christian or because they wear make-up or are in a relationship or they like to be submissive in the bedroom or they are a man, is an act of control and oppression. If you believe in equality for everyone, regardless of gender, then you are a Feminist. Do not be shamed by your love of equality and tolerance.
If Feminism wasn’t a threat to what passes for ‘normal’, it wouldn’t sound scary, or be made to sound scary. Of course, there are people that go to extreme lengths with this belief system and, like any minority of extremists, their hatred comes to overshadow the essence of something which is based on love, tolerance and equality. One of the aims of Feminists is to remedy ingrained, fear-mongering ideas of women as having a multitude of negative characteristics. For example, the classic ‘hysterical’ woman is an argument long used by governments, husbands and employers in discrimination against women. It is easy to dismiss the anger or frustration of women, by citing ‘hormones’ or ‘hysteria’. For more on this, try this TED Talk by Robyn Stein DeLuca on for size. (PS: The 2011 film ‘Hysteria’ is just one of many reasons to love Maggie Gyllenhaal).
Likewise, the ‘angry Feminist’ trope is getting boring. Of course we are angry! Women are still not paid the same amount as men in equivalent jobs and still deal with sexual harassment as a normal part of their day. Don’t just take my word for it – read the @everydaysexism twitter feed or take a look at #everydaysexism or #wheniwas to see how our culture continues to undermine women’s freedoms and rights, starting when we are children. The most painful part of gender inequality is seeing people’s resignation to it; it is seen as a sad but hopelessly normalised ‘way things are done’. It’s time to kick that to the curb.
If we shy away from equality, we get in our own way. We should say what we mean and not trip over semantics. Don’t worry, shouting ‘I am a feminist’ won’t make a gang of death-eaters or snatchers come and drag you to the Voldemort. Besides, I find the prospect of Voldemort a lot more terrifying than people that want an end to inequality. We need to remove the fear from Feminist. Like Dumbledore and all-time-heroine Hermione say, ‘Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself’. And whilst Voldemort and his lack of hugging skills are deeply disturbing, he gets his comeuppance. If anything, the thing that should strike fear into us is socially ingrained sexism, but that is culturally gendered to be a ‘women’s problem’ so, why bother? Maybe it is because the word Feminist is also gendered female that people find it a threat. It’s an assertion of being ‘pro’ something – for women – which is misconstrued for being anti-men. And there it becomes a ‘man’s problem’.
Let us be straight – Feminism is the belief that those of all or no gender definition are and should be treated equally. It is a statement of human rights. It is a fight for an overhaul of a society which still teaches boys not to cry and girls not to be ambitious. It is the knowledge that physiologically we may differ, but that our rights and freedoms should not be impinged on because of these differences. It is the desire to put right centuries of oppression and dismissal based on something which is out of our control. It is everyone’s problem.
And trust me, Feminists do it better!