Saturday, 3 January 2015

Are You A Feminist?

WHAT? We thought this week's topic was human preferences.......


I frequently write about feminism, and I doubt there will be anything new in this post, so feel free to skip it if I've overdone you today. It's written for a friend of mine as a follow-up to a kitchen table conversation we had one night when I was too tired to do it justice.

Firstly it's the question of who is and who isn't a feminist. 

If you have never had any major problems with men or inequality, it's quite possible that you feel feminism is unnecessary, at least these days, or just something that's got too extreme or whatever. You're not actually anti-feminist, you just don't relate to it. Here's an example of that.

She's a happy-go-lucky sorta gal, life's been good to her, and she's happily married. Feminism just isn't a big issue for her. I totally understand why she said what she said. She's also an intelligent woman, she understood the criticism, and I believe her explanation was sincere.

I've been there.

When I was young I clued in very quickly to ALL of the ideals feminists talk about. After all, I went through my formative teen years in an all-female environment - just me and a widowed mother. I was a tomboy, a rebel, and a free thinker. I didn't even need to have the basics of it all explained to me. It was instinctive.

Did I experience inequality. Yes, and how, but in those days it was normal. Did I fight it, object and protest? Yes, but at the same time.......

I married young. And it worked.

Somehow I got hold of the idea that despite all of my attitude and my successes in dealing with inequality I couldn't possibly be a feminist because a) I liked men, and b) I was perfectly happy barefoot and pregnant, growing vegetables and baking pies. You know? I absolutely loved all that stuff. I thought I was the very opposite to a feminist.

Well, I was misled. Fortunately in my late 30s I was introduced to the internet and a whole world of other ideas, and people who had really suffered. You don't always have to suffer to "get it", but it helps to at least learn of suffering from a sufferer, rather than as an example in a text book. I met women who had been raped, who had been abused by fathers, in any or all of the 3 ways, who had lost jobs/missed promotions/been cheated of money, who had experienced severe, harmful inequality. I listened to their stories, asked questions, cared, and learned.

I say cared. I'm not suggesting that those who disagree with me on this topic don't care. I know from talking to people on other topics that very sincere caring people can simply see a problem very differently. It's not that they don't care, they just have a totally different approach and solution to an issue.

Anyway, I found myself caring very much. Injustice bites at me, and I hate it because I feel helpless. I'm solutions oriented, and I want to do something. Often, I can't. I can't save the world, I can't fight all battles, I am very limited in what I can do, but I have to do something. I'm a good writer, so I choose to do my bit by writing. I educate and provoke by sharing information, and by trying to get people to consider things from another angle. I can't force anyone to change their mind, but I'm pretty good at getting their attention and helping them understand. What they do after that is their own affair.

After I understood, after I realised that, actually, I was a feminist, and that I had just heard some very biased ideas of what feminism is, I set out to make that enlightenment available to others.

And please note, in all of this I don't say other women. Men can be feminists, and many are.

So why is it called feminism? Well, frankly it's because of the starting point.

Inequality works both ways. Of course it does. But, like it or not, it can be easily demonstrated that the inequality women face is greater, even today. We have made HUGE strides (alas, some have been backwards) but we're not there yet. Until we are, until equality is reached, it has to be called feminism as it is females who are on the losing side.

If you don't like the term, OK, don't use it, call it equality instead. It's the same thing. What's in a name? If that's important to you, whatever. I call it feminism because most people do and we know what it means. Or do we?

Therein lies the problem, it has been said that if you ask for 12 definitions of feminism you'll get 13 answers. Everyone thinks their definition is correct. Are all feminists in agreement? BWAHAHA! No. They fight and argue all the time. It's like any group with a common agenda, nobody really knows what that agenda includes or excludes, it's not written in stone, there's no "gospel". Democracy is dynamic. It's better that way.

But that can mean that the feminist you meet isn't exactly representative, even if she/he is in the majority.

For example, there ARE feminists who reject the concept of marriage. I've had them tear me apart for taking my husband's name. Oh yes. I've heard it all. And I can well imagine that if you were meek they could scare or sway you. I'm not meek. (You may have noticed.) Still, at first I took notice of what they said, I thought about it.

There ARE feminists who are so opposed to gender differences, that they take gender-free names and identities. This has led some people to associate feminist with transgendered, and so on. I've actually heard some ignorant people say that all feminists are lesbians, and that male feminists are "obviously" gay. I've not seen a link myself, but I suppose it's probably fair to say that most people who are not 100% "mainstream" (define that word, smartypants) with regard to gender are probably sympathetic to feminists. Not all of course. Just because you've suffered one form of inequality doesn't necessarily follow that you are sympathetic to others. We've all met racist homosexuals and homophobic ethnic minorities. It boggles the mind, but it happens regularly enough.

I will walk on very dodgy ground here and say that the majority of feminists agree on two things:

1. Women are still not given the same opportunities as men, all other things being equal. So for example, in situations where physical size or strength isn't an issue, and yet a woman is still earning less while doing an identical job. This remains very, very common.

2. The objective of feminism is not to prescribe gender roles, old, new, different, or otherwise, but to enable choice in gender roles. So, a woman who wants to take her husband's name, and stay at home raising children and baking cakes is treated as a fully and equally valuable member of society. A woman who wishes to have her gender ignored and to rise to the top in any profession based on her skills can do so. AND any man who wishes to take his wife's (or husband's) name and stay at home raising children and baking cakes is treated as a fully and equally valuable member of society too. This is all part of feminism.

There is a fringe of feminism. There is a fringe of everything. Don't judge music by Throbbing Gristle, don't judge art by Tim Patch, don't judge religion by Fred Phelps, and don't judge feminism by the loonies either.

Then, somewhere along with all of this is an idea that feminism is essentially OK - but has gone too far.

Where? Which parts don't you like?

Perhaps you can just ignore or shrug off those parts.

Do you like TV? Yes? Do you like ALL of what's on TV? No. But you can still enjoy TV.

Perhaps you can work with others to find common ground on those parts.

Do you watch sport? Do you follow the same team as your neighbour? No, but you can discuss the game just the same.

Perhaps you can look deeper at those parts.

Do you like opera? No?

Have you actually been to the opera, seen it live, understood the story, the historic background to the artform, and so on. You may still not like it, but perhaps you develop a sympathy for those who do.

Ultimately, we will never have consensus, and that's OK. So long as we agree that there is injustice, and that everyone would benefit if we fixed it, we can work from that point.


If you think that the things that feminists do/say are still, maybe, a bit anti-men, here's an example of where you are wrong.

I am a mother of young men. I am well aware that there are problems they face due entirely to bad women. I try to educate them to lessen these risks. It is wise to do that.

But I AM offended by the idea that my boys are all would-be rapists that can't control themselves and behave like rutting sheep.

Many of the things we say about one gender simply reflect our attitude towards the other one. We've discussed how calling boys names that refer to women says far more about our attitude towards women. How when the greatest insult you can give a boy is to call him a girl, you are implicitly saying girls are lesser. And how women are guilty of this.

We also do no favours to a woman saying that she is "as good as any man". That speaks volumes. Our society has done this, our language keeps it going.

You don't solve these "accidental" slurs by having a "chairperson" instead of a chairman or chairwoman. You solve it by voting them in without treating their gender as a plus or minus.

The producers of QI, a British TV celebrity quiz show, learned that audiences saw shows with two female guests and two male guests as "female biased" or "heavily female". Despite the quizmaster being male. So, a cast 3-2 in favour of men is seen as having too many women. Yet 50% of survey respondents were women. Do women not want to watch other women? Or are they just so used to male dominated casts, that they notice when more women are around and find it odd?

Nintendo were careful to give Super Mario a female character for girls to play. One. One girl. And what sort of girl? An effing Princess. But what do most girls play? Not her. Do girls not want to play female characters, or is it more complex than that?

When ANY woman, young or old is asked about all of this, she usually realises what's going on pretty quickly, but it's so deeply ingrained, it takes a "push" to make us think about it.

If you don't know, you don't know. 

I went to an all girl school. Physics was simply NOT OFFERED. It was not considered suitable/necessary/wanted (take your pick). Did I object? No. Why? Because I had never heard of physics. Because you don't know what you don't know.

My daughter did very well in physics. The world changes slowly. Squeakily.

And every so often it takes a huge step back.

Do girls want this? Do they? Really?

Do girls want to be princesses or is it an idea foisted upon them by parents/advertisers/society.

Was my tomboy/rebel attitude an anomaly or the result of letting me be who I was?

I think we'll have to do a lot more research, but for now I invite you to see how this post fits in with my earlier one, and the rest of the week's topic, just fine, thank you.


  1. Great blog, considering we are talking about two different issues wrapped up in one--inequality and gender. It is a topic that deserves some really good looks, IMHO. It need not take direct experience to be compassionate toward others and understanding that we can do better.

    I consider that I am raising the next generation, who just happen to be living in the remnants of the past. Giving them the right tools...and if that means gender-neutral get them where they are going, is at least a small step in the right direction, especially when we think of all the bias that exists around gender alone. There is more to life than "this."

    Let each of us wear the mantle or banner we think fits us best...and the rest of us will have to get over it--unless we eschew labels themselves, and that is okay, too. ;)

  2. I take pride in having raised a feminist son. Daughter as well. I have always been one and never once thought that my own enjoyment of domesticity was a contradiction. What happened there is that some women denied part of their nature for fear of being reduced to it. At least that is my explanation. People are so wired for thinking in dichotomies, many if not most false.