Thursday, 17 March 2011

The F Word

Firstly, apologies for lack of posting in the past week, I've had some (well deserved!) time away, and been busy since I got home. This post was inspired by something that happened while I was away though...

(N.B. This post will not discuss any finer points or broader definitions of 'feminism' other than the definition of "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.")

On Sunday, I retweeted @MediocreDave, who had said "Being a feminist is fun and all, but it does rather make you angry all the time.". After I did this, I ended up spending the day trying to defend feminism from the most base stereotype - that feminism = misandry.

This is just one example of the many times that I've had to do this.

It seems that people these days are still far too willing to accept, and even promote, the forty-odd year old stereotype of feminists as humourless, sexless, unattractive man-haters. This goes not just for men, but for women as well, and tackling this seems to be the main problem that feminists have today.

For all the debate about ideologies and stances between those of us who ascribe to the the notion of feminism (i.e. those of us who describe ourselves as feminists), we must realise that although we wish to represent the majority, until the majority also wish to be represented by feminism, we are fighting a losing battle.

What I mean by this is that, although we feminists speak for the rights of all women, there are far too many women (and men), who recoil from the label of 'feminism', even though they agree with the central notion of equality - and this is because of the stereotypes that are bandied about.

There is no doubt that the feminists I know are privileged. We are (mostly) educated to degree-level and sometimes beyond, and will, by virtue of this, not bear the worst brunts of sexism experienced by those who are not as privileged. This is why we must fight for their rights. However, something must be done about the disenfranchisement of those for whom we speak.

I do not blame feminists for this disenfranchisement. I blame the sullying of the word 'feminism' for this. MRAs, and misogynists in general, have systematically turned the word 'feminist' into an insult to be bandied about when they feel that their position at the top of the table is being threatened. It is much easier for them to invoke a harmful stereotype and refuse to engage in rational discussion than it is for them to explain their position, or to baldly admit that they do not think women should have the same equality of rights, opportunity and consequence as men. How are we to advance our movement when every question we ask, or debate we try to provoke is met with derision and a refusal to engage?

In a sense, this stereotype is perfect for misogynists - they have both achieved a (in their eyes) legitimate excuse not to engage in discussion, and have also managed to turn the very people who should be most interested in feminism against it, for fear of ridicule.

Before we can achieve anything, we must combat this stereotyping, and show people what it means to be a feminist. If people are scared to label themselves as a feminist, it makes our movement look a lot more intimidating and a lot less inclusive than it is. It also makes it appear that we have much less popular support for the aims of equality than we do.

The main problem with this is that once anything we try to achieve is tarred with the 'feminist' brush, it loses popular support from those who do not understand feminism because of the stereotype, and just see us as angry, sanctimonious bitches who never want to let anyone have any fun. Think, for example, about soft pornography (i.e. 'men's magazines' and page 3) - women may feel uncomfortable with their partner's consumption of such products, as they promote unrealistic and unethical body ideals and encourage the view of women as interchangeable objects with no higher value than how pert their tits are, but feel unable to articulate their feelings for fear of being labelled as 'boring'. This is just one example of how the popular conception of feminism harms women.

So, how can we achieve change? Obviously, there has been the This Is What A Feminist Looks Like movement, but my problem with this is that it offers nothing to really dispel the myths that are pushed about, nor does it offer any education. People who do not understand feminism do not learn anything from this movement other than to not stereotype feminists by looks. They may still believe that to be a feminist is akin to wanting to advance women's rights over those of men, or that to be a feminist is tantamount to being a misandrist. It says nothing of the equality which is central to the feminist cause in general.

So... any ideas?


  1. As a young man in the seventies I was deeply involved in Socialist politics, and I believed passionately in 'Equality'. However, in my innocence I unwittingly excluded 50%+ of the population, because I simply failed to address equality of the sexes. I was educated on these matters by the burgeoning Womens Movement in all its varieties- Radical, Separatist, Socialist, Liberal, and so on. Their vital contribution was to bring together the personal and the political in both theory, and action.
    So today a vibrant, diverse, and active Womens Movement is essential for the drive to achieve Equality for all women and men- I, rationally optimistic as ever, do not see a conflict, simply the common goal of authentic liberation for everyone.

  2. One silver lining of the struggles feminists have is that it seems to make them twice as determined and passionate to keep fighting the fight.

    Do you think more men identifying themselves as feminists would be a help or a hindrance?

  3. @biondino A help! Definitely! In my opinion (and I appreciate that this isn't the case for everyone), all people who believe in gender equality should describe themselves as feminists. It is only when we have no need to push for further equality that this should not be the case.

  4. Hi, just found your blog after idly clicking on the Friends Connect panel at Minority Thought.

    I've always described myself as feminist, if the subject comes up (and, lordy has that got me some odd looks over the years — 'surely only women...') If I volunteer a label, other than atheist, though, I generally say 'equalitarian.' It has the rather neat advantages of being descriptive and inclusive of my thoughts about all groups treated as second-class.

  5. Hi,

    Feminism = misandry: I don't like the word misandry, and am not interested in making feminists out to be full of hatred (and no other feelings for men of any kind) as that is ridiculous.

    To my eye, the word 'misogynist' is a similar oversimplification btw. But you seem content to chuck the word around.

    I still, however, perceive there to be a mixed up attitude to men, to different degrees in different feminists. Sometimes you could call it 'resentment', sometimes just a fairly dedicated drive to getting a better deal for women only and not minding too much if it means a bad deal for men.

    It shouldn't take a massive leap of the imagination for you to see what a man might think and feel confronted with this - or with the numerous remarks/actions of Andrea Dworkin, Catherine McKinnon, Mary Daly etcetc, and what drunk feminists say when they get carried away :)

    Feminism making you angry: as it is a political movement that stays alive by rousing anger against perceived injustice, I wouldn't be too surprised by the anger.

    The sad fact is that you can annoy feminists solely by disagreeing with them and sticking to your guns the same way they do. If you can persuade me that you ARE rational you'll have countered some of the image problem you are worried about..

  6. I apologise if this comes through multiple times - it wouldn't let me post initially so refresh might cause multiple instances.

    Isn't the major problem that the dictionary definition is hard to argue against however is also unrepresentative of feminist views as a whole. In your prior article you noted four major categories of feminism of which only liberal feminism is really covered by the dictionary definition - that is to say that people are individuals and we should offer each individual the (equal) opportunity to achieve what they want to in society however that (equal) outcomes and (equal) consequences will vary by the choices of those individuals. I would say that there are very few people actively arguing against this definition.

    When we move into the other branches of feminism there is a large component of gender essentialism (women and men treated as homogeneous groups rather than intersecting axes of sex, gender, class etc) present which does start to dilute the overall concept of equality. it is unsurprising that people do not want to be tarred with the label of feminism when doing so opens them up to association with the worst aspects and commenters rather than the parts that they actually believe in. This does act to make it easy to shut down feminists as being misandric simply because some of them are and equality given limited funds is something like a zero sum game simply due to the finite resources. At the same time those who want to work with feminists outside the movement are often asked to take a back seat or check their privilege in areas where they are disadvantaged or want to move forward (domestic violence as an example - again something like a zero sum game in terms of absolute funding from the government).

    In areas such as the softcore pornography surely this is an individual choice and should be encouraged to be so? We should be encouraging people to speak up about their feelings and talk about the overall impact of this on their lives rather than simply attempting to shut if down so that those who feel they cannot speak can be represented. In shops etc moving this content to a higher shelf makes sense (out of the direct eyeline of children who cannot make an informed decision to look or not). In my relationship (anecdotes, data, pinches of salt) I enjoy this kind of entertainment though largely from an artistic point of view and I have talked to my SO about this and know her views. She isn't offended by the content (and is in fact more titilated by the sexual aspects than I am) and enjoys the breadth of outfits, poses, etc behind the performer. We both like the fact that the people in these type of content are not simply sex objects but people you can actually interact and learn about (online content, twitters, their blogs etc to actually learn about them as people). Softcore content (and even some hardcore) has a lot of options to learn about the performer as a person and to become attached to them rather than simply as sex objects. While it is easy to simply say that they are sex objects because they are posing or performing in a provocative manner there is generally a lot of information out there by and about them that makes them more interesting as people than simply as sex objects.

  7. I think I've said it before, but I'll say it again. As an anarchist I realize that the F word has the same impact as the A word.

    One problem is the many who speak of the evils. Feminism is this or that. Placing uneducated prejudices on something they do not comprehend.

    It can get frustrating.