Wednesday, 30 May 2012

So you're 'not one of those feminists'?

Today I saw a blogpost written by someone who was clearly just getting into feminism, and something in it made me very mad for a bit. It doesn't matter what the post was or who said it, because this isn't a call-out or a rage piece. You see, after a few hours I started thinking about it again, and yes what the blogger had said was wrong and yes it directly insulted me and lots of people I know and yes it played into big stupid patriarchy-holes and blah blah blah, but I kind of realised that (on this occasion) anger wasn't the answer. Explaining was.

Because I too was once like that blogger. Well, not that blogger, but we all have to start somewhere and we all have to learn things and no one gets it right first time, and this is why the internet is so great. We can read pieces written for people like us by people like us instead of dreary academic tomes on the nature of kyriarchy or whatever. YAY INTERNETZ.

A lot of my beliefs are so far from the mainstream that it's hard to even explain them to newbies, and it's bloody frustrating to try for the eight-hundredth time why CAPITALISM IS BAD M'KAY and so on, so I kind of rarely bother. Most of my readership by now know me and know what I mean when I talk about the kind of weighty issues surrounding feminism, intersectionality, anarchism or whatever I'm rambling about on a given day and so I don't have the impetus to word my posts in ways everyone can understand, and that is not cool of me. I've always tried to link to definitions when I first use a word from the social justice lexicon that people might not have come across, but I shouldn't get mad that not everyone can understand me immediately, I should be more accessible.

Which is why I am not shouting at this blogger or any other blogger who says similar things.

I've always advocated giving people a chance to show their true colours in potential call-out situations. You know, asking them to not, e.g. say the word 'retard' and explain why, then go full on RAGE if they object. I'm usually pleasantly surprised, and I'm not surprised by the people I'm not surprised by, if that makes sense? *side-eyes Vagenda and Jezebel*

Anyway, introductions aside, I'd like to do a bit of a Feminism 101 today. Maybe that blogger will see this, probably she won't, but other people who were about to say or have said the same thing (it's shockingly common) will see it and think 'Yeah actually, Nat has a fair point there and also she likes cats so I'll trust her on this and stop saying it'.

Here is a picture of a cat to prove I mean SRS BSNS:

So today we will be discussing why it's wrong to say things like 
"Yeah, I'm a feminist, but I'm not like, a shaven-headed, hairy legged lesbian bra-burning one."
This is wrong for several reasons, and I'll try to address them as best I can. Firstly, there's the glaring historical inaccuracy - the burning bra thing is a lie. If you are going to smear the more radical actions of a group, at least make them historically accurate please. Also, you had better have a good definition of what is 'too radical' because that vote you have? Won by suffragettes who smashed windowswent on hunger strike and taught themselves ju-fucking-jitsu in order to fight the police. So, you know, radicalism isn't half bad sometimes, especially when it comes to winning basic human rights.

So now that we have our short feminist history lesson out of the way, let's address the rest of the statement...

When you say 'I'm not a shaven-headed, hairy legged lesbian', what you're doing is two things that roll into one big bad thing. Thing one is that you're implying that those of us who shave our hair (or bits of it), or don't shave our legs or are fond of shagging other women don't have legitimate viewpoints and shouldn't be listened to. That what we have to say isn't valid because we're just big weirdos who are probably wearing silly trousers and everything. This is where Thing two comes in, and just like in the Doctor Seuss novel they work together to mess everything up and leave before your parents come home. Like gits. Anyway, torturous metaphors aside, this is also bad because you're buying into an INCREDIBLY patriarchal and misogynist idea which is doing feminism, and so YOU SPECIFICALLY, no favours whatsoever.

Because what you are doing is reducing women - all women, yourself included - into People Who Men (And Patriarchal Society At Large) Deem Fuckable and People They Do Not. What this does is implies that a) this is a correct and good legitimate thing to do and b) only people in the first group deserve to be treated like human beings.

This is a BAD THING.

To start with, who gets to say who's fuckable? Dominant trends and concepts of desirability vary wildly through history and different cultures - hell, even in a matter of decades tastes and concepts change. Still think this is the definitive level of hot?

Thought not. But it illustrates my point. Actually, even if you DO think mid-1990s Nick Carter is still in full possession of the sexyum, it proves my point, because it's rare to see people with hair like that now, so even if your tastes haven't changed, you can see how our society's tastes have.

And why should any of us have to justify our rights because someone doesn't particularly want to stick their penis in us? I mean, there's plenty of men I wouldn't want to sex up, but I still support their right to a basic standard of living. No one thinks men are lesser people if they don't want to fuck them, yet here we still are having to make sure we're boner-ific before someone will deign to give us a job or listen to anything we have to say. Which is very much something feminism, and you as a feminist, should be concerned about.

Whether someone is hairy or smooth, pretty (according to your and society's subjective standards) or not, long head-haired or short head-haired or paints themselves bright fucking blue and wears ponchos on the weekends, they still have thoughts, opinions, feelings and rights which they deserve to have listened to.

So please stop apologising for being a feminist, and stop trying to justify being one by essentially saying 'I'm a feminist but you can still stick your penis in me!', because reducing women to objects who can be fucked never did us any favours.

I'm giving this about three comments before someone tells me they don't want to stick their penis in me so therefore I am a) wrong about everything and b) jealous and hate sex, thus proving my point perfectly.


  1. yeah, I've never understood that statement. It's like someone is saying "Yeah, I'm a feminist, but I still want you to objectify me sexually". Or to put it another way "I'm a feminist, but I'm not really a feminist".

  2. Hah, Advanced Feminist Zeitgeist(tm). I had almost the exact same conversation as the first half of this piece with my sister a few weeks ago; we both agreed that I could do with not writing every blog post like it's a damned PhD proposal.

    I've been thoroughly blocked ever since. ;)

  3. maybe you will evolve to 'post feminism 101'. I did.


  4. Needed to be said. That sort of perverted thinking is what prevents there ever being a true 'sisterhood' because regardless of politics people judge others first and foremost on appearance and women do this just as much as men I'm afraid

  5. I haven't even GOT a penis to stick in you, even if I wanted to... *feeble attempt at making your prediction come true*

  6. "No one thinks men are lesser people if they don't want to fuck them" I agree with literally everything else in this blogpost, but this last statement doesn't quite chime with reality. People don't tend to try and invalidate men's views on the basis of their looks so often as they do women's (Though looking at some of the comments that have been made about Ed Miliband, I don't know...), but that doesn't stop people from leveling the same variety of abuse at at men that they consider to be fat or ugly or not quite close enough to the norm as they do to women. Again, that's not to say that women don't have a rougher time of it with expectations of beauty and abuse/discrimination for not conforming, especially with the whole weird no-hair-except-on-your-head thing. But it does mean that to present the problem society has with attractiveness/beauty as purely a women's issue is somewhat misleading. The nature of the problem is the same, even if the scale is different.

    1. Yeah, sorry. I probably fucked up with that sentence. I was trying to write quickly so I could watch Iron Sky. Damn Moon Nazis ruin everything.

      I agree that men who are deemed 'unfuckable' for whatever reason do get shit. However, there is difference that I feel is important - men usually get the chance to say their piece without people really caring what they look like, then if people disagree they may have a pop at the man's appearance rather than his point.

      Which is silly and wrong and not something I advocate, of course. For an example of this, see Eric Pickles. He's managed to get to high political authority without compromising how he looks, and it's only now that people have realised he's an evil, idiotic sod that they feel they have free reign to make fat jokes. Contrast with a) Bill Bailey, who's also not 'conventionally' attractive, but doesn't get shit about his appearance because people like him and b) pretty much any female politician, who has to be safely 'attractive' (or non-ugly) to be taken seriously before they're allowed to say anything.

      Does that make sense? I just woke up.

      Basically, men (generally) get to say what they want and then if people want to lazily disagree with them they'll invoke physical characteristics, whereas with women, people will take physical characteristics as reasons for not listening to them in the first place.

      A couple of examples, I read something in the Graun last week about the homogenous-ness of the FHM 100 sexiest women (can't remember title, sorry) which was written by a bloke. It was really good, but I was dreading reading the comments because whenever I've seen other anti-lad's mags articles they're awful bile which can basically be reduced to 'WELL YOU'RE JUST JEALOUS NYER UGLYPANTS', whatever the actual article. But the comments were really good. Was a bit puzzled until I remembered that all the other similar articles I'd read were written by women.

      Secondly, I wrote a piece for the Indy a couple of weeks ago about Daughters of Eve and the hidden 24,000 girls at risk of FGM in the UK, and not only did men immediately start arguing with me because I hadn't mentioned male circumcision (apparently not mentioning something completely different means you support it), but a few only argued with me because they didn't like my byline picture. I mean, they clearly hadn't even read the piece. Just seen my picture, decided they didn't like me and HAD TO TELL ME THAT THEY DID NOT WANT TO PUT THEIR WINKIES NEAR ME AS A MATTER OF GREAT URGENCY. It's like, cool down bruv, who said I even wanted it near me in the first place? And regardless of whether or not you'd like to do me, FGM is still A Bad Thing.

      BASICALLY, in TL;DR - You don't see male activists going 'well I'm a lefty but I'm not one of those...' aaaand I've been sat here for five minutes having a ponder but can't actually finish this sentence because I can't think of a stereotype of lefty men which is about attractiveness and not something else (i.e. hygiene), which I think says it all.

  7. Yeah, good point well made, (I don't do TL;DR, length is good!) though I still reckon Ed Miliband might stand as a counter-example, in that he says some good stuff to which nobody listens because he looks a bit funny and sounds like a nerd, and (in my experience) they stop listening before rather than after he's said it. Although this might have something to do with certain sections of the media not wanting him to be heard (which sounds familiar with reference to women as well).

    In general though, you've hit the nail on the head there, with the female ad hom being used to silence totally, while men are just insulted to discredit them afterwards.

    The lack of stereotype is revealing, I can't think of one either, probably because of the FHM thing: male beauty is less uniformly constructed than female.

    But yeah, thanks for the response, and apologies for nitpicking! The last two paragraphs of OP in particular are a beautiful expression of equality and general being nice to each other.

  8. Great blog, totally valid statements. And no, wouldn't consider 90s Nick Carter desirable now. But he sure is NOW! lol

  9. great work Nat! totally agree. it's one of the things that really bugs me about a lot of the 'feminism's back!' articles in the Guardian.

  10. Ian: "yeah, I've never understood that statement. It's like someone is saying "Yeah, I'm a feminist, but I still want you to objectify me sexually". Or to put it another way "I'm a feminist, but I'm not really a feminist".

    What they are trying to do is say they are not the stereotypical "bad" kind of feminist, thus showing awareness of the negative portrayals of feminists, and assuring the viewer that they're not like that; they're "normal".

    It's a case of a good intention, horribly executed. The blogger wants feminism to appear approachable, but ends up doing the opposite by referring back to the old stereotypes. Nat's right on the mark by pointing out how counter-productive that ignorant remark is.

    One thing I do want to dispute in Nat's article though: If my state school GCSE education is anything to go by, radical suffragettes did a pretty lousy job of getting women the vote. I think it was a combination of the suffragist compaigns and the female contribution in WWI that won the day. back then, the suffragettes radical approach only reinforced the prevailing belief that women were too passionate and hysterical to deserve a say. Say what you will about radicalism, it's a double-edged sword.

  11. Basing your strategy on deliberately distancing oneself from "radicals" tends to lead only to muddled surrender and accomodation. I've lost track of the number of "socialist" parties that are barely social democrat at most, because they are too afraid to rock the boat.

    I have no doubts the same applies to any sort of civil rights question just the same.

    1. I totally agree with you - look at the state of trade unions in this country for a start.

  12. I love, love, love this blog post! I love it. Thank you for it!

    I am a woman. I am a feminist. I am an engineer. I even have a Ph.D. in engineering. And I work as an engineer, so my employment is right in my wheelhouse. So imagine my surprise when a man AT MY WORK told me that I'd be more successful if I lost some weight. He even said, "Everybody thinks you are very smart and a very good engineer. But sometimes that's not enough." So... to design shit I need to look hot in a miniskirt? The 'uniform' for an engineer out on the floor is khakis, a polo shirt, and safety gear. Is it really necessary to look sexy under my safety glasses and hairnet?

    I wasn't even overweight at the time (I am not, thanks to two pregnancies and, subsequently, two kids under age 2). Not that it would be appropriate to say even if I was. So he couldn't even disguise it as a health concern (I'm afraid that your weight might make it dangerous for you to work in harsh conditions or some bullshit like that).

    So, no, it's not okay to be reduced into the category of 'fuckable' or 'not fuckable.' Unless I am a professional sex worker, this does not matter.

    Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your story Malina, and I'm really sorry for what's happened to you, that's fucking inexcusable. Your story kind of reminded me of my sister's friend. She's ridiculously pretty, and fiercely intelligent. She's studying astronomical engineering at university (basically rocket science), but whenever she meets a guy at a club, none of them believe her when she says what she does, so now she just tells everyone she meets on nights out that she studies sociology because so many people have had a go at her for 'lying'.

  13. I wasn't aware the British feminists took on the army and "won" their suffrage on the battlefield the way men had to do over the centuries.

    Instead it looks like they handed out white feathers to young men in order to get them to go die in the trenches in a senseless war.

    You should be sooooo proud. Your whole movement has pretty much always been getting "daddy" to help you - all the whilst spitting on him and pretending he wasn't there. I spit on you.

    1. What a shame you've had to stoop to asking a woman to do research for you then.

      Men did not 'win suffrage on the battlefield'. They won universal suffrage after political campaigning, and not to the extent women had to go to. In fact, one of the reasons that men were given universal suffrage was to stop them supporting the Suffragettes and to divide and conquer. The White Feather Movement was founded by a man to get young men to die in the trenches in a senseless war conducted and started by men, using women as a tool. Why do you even assume I support this, you colossal shitwit?

      Feminism has never been about 'asking daddy to help you', it's about 'asking daddy to recognise you as an equal human being', you ignoramus. The MRM has always been (and will always be, as you have no real problems, or certainly none you ever actually campaign on) a 'movement' founded by disgruntled misogynist crybabies with a severe allergy to things like 'facts' and 'reality' who want to blame women for the fact that every single thing in life is not handed to them on a silver platter.

      Cry me a fucking river.

  14. I study history at Cardiff university, and last year I took a module entitled "The Dynamics of Witchcraft 1450-1750" and, while it sounds incredibly boring, we had one lecture where we covered the basics of feminism because we needed to understand where feminists writing history were coming from. The teacher asked "Hands up who's a feminist here." The teacher, myself (the only man in the class) and one other girl stuck their hand up. When quizzed about why she didn't stick her hand up, one girl said that while she believed in feminist ideals, i.e. equality for everyone, she didn't declare herself a feminist because, essentially, of that stereotype of shaven-heads, hairy legs and man-hating. You and I both know it's a ridiculous stereotype, my girlfriend (a more vehement feminist than myself) knows it and the teacher knew it.
    That was a bit rambly but essentially it's my own story of "people who are feminists but not really."

    I'd also like to point out (and please correct me if i'm wrong - i would rather be told i'm wrong from someone who knows and learn than labour under the delusion of being right) that it wasn't ONLY suffragettes who fought the government on the issue of female suffrage. The suffragists also did a fair bit to help out and, while they didn't throw themselves under horses or burn letterboxes and took a generally calmer (for want of a better word) approach to dealing with the situation, they were on the way to achieving female suffrage anyway. It was then WW1 that helped push the issue even further (even if it took another ten years). So it wasn't just suffragettes, but suffragists helped.

  15. A really good article. In fact, I've spent a lot of this evening going through your site & reading a lot of your writings, & discovering lots of new ideas.
    I only discovered this site today, and I am SO glad I did, as being a relative newcomer to computers & the internet, I'm still at that point of having to wade through the crap to find the gems.
    Hope you write more soon, as this site puts a big smile on my face.

    1. Thank you! I'm hoping to get back into writing soon, but I'm having to do lots of other work at the moment, which is disappointing, but keeps a roof over my head at least. Thanks for your comments :)