Monday, 29 August 2011

Just a Feminist

I was over catching up with Trick Mirror when I saw she posted this fabulous comic:

A couple of years ago, Vini asked if I was a feminist. At the time, I hadn't even asked the question of myself, and so was a little taken aback by it - because it forced me to think, and consider my views on the topic, and how I wanted to label myself. It's a question that forced be to define my beliefs, and it's something I've been thinking about ever since. (I'm sure Vini thought it was a harmless question I already had the answer to, considering the strong views I voiced in the aforementioned blog post, but really it's a question I've been mulling over for two years now!) 

Honestly? I was reluctant to call myself a feminist, I felt it was extreme and not a set of beliefs I fully subscribed to - because, let's face it, at that stage I was woefully ignornant of what it meant to be a feminist. I knew only the grossly exaggerated and misinterpreted media stereotypes, and Bitch magazine had lead me to believe that to the feminist criteria was: lesbian, man-hating, alternative, mainstream-rejecting, (now I love Bitch magazine and continue to read it out of interest, but damn if they're not extreme feminists!) and outspoken. Mainly though I lacked the confidence to declare myself a feminist. 

But over time, as I read The First Stone, by Helen Garner, and talked more with my friends from college - N, E and S - not to mention my wonderful (and delightfully opinionated) TAD/OT friend G (whose knowledge of everything inspires equal parts awe and envy - our dinner dates often descend into passionate raging against the patriarchy, Republicans and Tony Abbott), and watched Made in Dagenham, and started seeing debates on whether there should be quotas for women on corporate boards, I realised that dammit, I am a feminist, and proud of it (really, you might as guessed as much from this post. I'm very subtle about it). 

Scratch most feminists and underneath there is a woman who longs to be a sex object. The difference is that is not all she wants to be.
- Betty Rollin 

As the comic above so wittily depicts, being a feminst does not mean you hate men; it means you're pro-women. It means you believe that women are equal to men, and should therefore receive the same rights. By this simple definition, more women are feminists than they may think because - as I alluded to two years ago - the image of a feminist has been horribly transfigured to the point of scaring women aware from the label rather than embracing it, creating infuriating, inaccurate, frustrating, extremist, fear-mongering but no doubt influential and iconic characteristics like this: 

I listen to feminist and all these radical gals - most of them are failures. They've blown it. Some of them have married, but they married some Casper Milquetoast who asked permission to go to the bathroom. These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them wheat time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're made at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men - that's their problem.
Jerry Falwell

[Feminism is] a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.
Pat Robertson

OK, yes, admittedly these are two of the most radical anti-feminist men I could find but you see my point: feminists became the butt of all jokes in society about man-hating lesbians. 

I had a discussion with A about this last year, in which I declared myself a feminist, and she said she wouldn't, because she didn't think she needed it; she didn't the rights of women needed to be advanced further, and she felt we'd reached a fairly equal point in society. Granted, we've come a long way, but I will not be satisfied until women earn the same as men (I believe they currently only earn about 75% to the dollar of what a man earns); until there are as many women on corporate boards as there are men; until they allow women to fight on the front line (and I'm happy for them to have to meet the same requirements as men); until rape is an issue that blames and condemns the culprit, not the victim; until forced prostitution is a thing of the past; until girls around the world are recognised for the power and value they can contribute to society. "How good does a female athlete have to be before we just call her an athlete?" 

After all, "feminism is the radical notion that women are people" - Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler.



bhavini said...

Wow. :)

Just read the post in which I asked you if you were a feminist, and it brought back so many memories. I don't use tags because I can't really think of them for my writing but I'm glad you have them because they must have helped in digging out that post!

When I read that comment, I remembered my days of not wanting to commit myself to identifying myself as a feminist. As you said, it felt too.. extreme. I was more in sync with the second person in this comic, the 'equalist'.

I think the word feminism and feminist have been made to sound belligerent, anti-men and negative as a part of the patriarchal conspiracy to subvert any attempt made by women and men to make this world a gender-friendly, -sensitive and -encouraging place to live and be in. After the crazed frenzy of the second wave, the box which crams the definitions and connotations surrounding a feminist got stuck there, and has been deliberately kept there.

Now there are so many contexts, so many cultures, issues, angsts and hopes within feminism. I am still struggling to come up with a working prototype of feminism, a sort of manual with which I can keep testing and applying the theories and concerns of feminism relevant to me, to my life. But life and living is a breathing, dynamic, moving, restless, changing, moody thing and there are no how-to books for anything.

This is my current frustration. How do I apply feminism in my life in a way that real results are obtained? How do I develop ways to battle everyday-leering, sexual harassment, put-downs, stereotypes, fears, etc. in a way that is productive, that doesn't draw enemy lines and that constantly challenges my own prejudices too?

There's a long way to go, but we're holding hands and searching for the light together, JA(F)G. :)

bhavini said...

And that last quote, about the "radical notion" of feminism? I crracked up when I first read it on Fuck Yeah! Feminism. So much so that I translated it for my granny and she (+ my mamma) crracked up too! :)

Nikki said...

Wise words JAG - I vaguely remember the conversation in college (then again we had a lot of those!)

I think feminism is more relevant than ever today. Sex inequality is no longer as obvious as it was previously (Read: Mad Men) but it is its covert nature that makes it even more crucial I think.

That being said though have you noticed it's becoming less of a dirty word lately? Is it just me who's noticing that?