In which I wonder if we get too hung up on the f-word

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I’m a feminist. I’ve described myself as such since I was about 14 and I’m not about to change now.

I think that girls across the world should have just as much right to go to school as boys. I think that women and men should be paid the same for comparable work. I think that on the three separate occasions during job interviews when I’ve been asked whether I felt I’d be taken seriously in the role I shouldn’t have just sucked it up and got on with the interview; I should have queried why the interviewers thought that might be an issue. I think that expecting the man to automatically pay on a first date is dumb. I think that a man holding a door open for a woman is fine, but I think a woman holding a door open for a man is fine too – generally letting doors slam in people’s faces is bad; that’s not actually a gender issue. I think that conviction rates for sexual violence against women are shockingly low. I think that the tendency in the media to describe women by their age and appearance first, and job or role second is depressing and damaging. For all those reasons I’m a feminist, but.

But, I also think that we need to accept that the term ‘feminist’ has become a bit tricksy of late. Various celebs have declared themselves ‘not a feminist’ and there was recently a spate of ‘I don’t need feminism’ selfies, where women held up signs explaining their reasons for rejecting feminism. This was followed, inevitably by a much bigger spate of ‘I need feminism’ selfies, which I absolutely support, but I worry that by simply responding with a chorus of ‘Oh yes, you do,’ we’re missing a point. If you do an images search for ‘I’m don’t need feminism because’ you’ll see that there are two repeated themes in the rejections of feminism. The first is that feminism is about supremacy over men, and the second is that feminism encourages a victim-mentality by defining a range of inconveniences as gender oppression.

The first of those perceptions is, in many ways, the easiest to reject. Feminism isn’t about saying that women are better than men. It is about rejecting the automatic reverse assumption. It is about rejecting the notion that an area of life/work has less value because it has historically been primarily undertaken by women. It is about rejecting the notion that gender should be a primary decider of your path in your life or career. And that works for men and women. Hurrah for the male nursery nurses, and dental nurses, and just plain nursing nurses.

The second problem is the perception that feminists see oppression everywhere and revel in the role of victim. Well, here’s the thing. Some people revel in the role of victim. Some of those people will be women. Some of those women will be feminists. Don’t confuse personality trait with wider philosophical message. Nonetheless, the perception that we are the girls who cry wolf, is damaging to the cause of equality. It legitimatizes the patting of women on their collective head, and the shuffling away of grievances onto the pile marked ‘women making a fuss.’

The saddest thing is that all those young women holding cards saying, ‘I don’t need feminism because… I’m not a victim’ or variations on that theme are making a feminist statement. They’re saying I’m not defined by oppression. They’re saying that they believe in their own ability to take life’s opportunities and make the most of them. But they’re rejecting the political and social force that got them to a place where posting a picture of themselves in a public forum making a political statement is permissible behaviour for a young lady.

Ultimately, ‘feminist’ is just a word, and maybe it’s a word that both sides of this argument need to be less hung up on. If you believe in equality of treatment, choice and opportunity for men and women, then what label you put on that should be secondary. Feminism has become a troublesome word because, at some point, the people who say ‘I am a feminist’, and the people who say they’re not, started using the same word to mean different things. If feminist meant man-hater, or eternal victim then I’d be lining up with the girls holding those ‘I don’t need feminism..’ cards myself, but to me it means something quite different. And that’s the problem. If we don’t agree about what it is that we’re embracing or rejecting how can we identify our disagreement and our common ground?

So a question for the comments section: Would you describe yourself as a feminist? And why or why not?

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5 thoughts on “In which I wonder if we get too hung up on the f-word

    mandyblogger said:
    August 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    A very good post. I always tend to agree with you on politics, well the posts you have written so far anyway, and today is no exception. I’d like to answer your last question. I am a feminist in that I believe in equality between the sexes in all walks of life. So if anyone asks, I would say yes of course I am a feminist.

    I would say overall I am a socialist though. I believe that the class system is alive and well and the divide between rich and poor nowadays is wider than it was in Victorian times. I know, hard to believe, but true. I think there is something like 5% of the world’s population own 60% of the wealth or some such. So, I feel that I have more in common with a working class man in real terms than I do with a ruling class woman. Just because we both have a vagina doesn’t mean that we have the same life experiences. I know I don’t own vast estates, islands and natural resources.Some may argue that in fact I am middle class because of my university education and the fact that I was a teacher for seventeen years or so. Objectively that might be the case, but I started life in a two up two down and left school at sixteen..Class identity is often a state of mind in my opinion, but it overall it is based in how we live day to day.I want equality for women, but mostly I want equality for everyone.

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    MarinaSofia said:
    August 19, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I have always described myself as a feminist. To quote the wonderful Rebecca West: ‘I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.’ And it’s not about man-hating or demanding that society make it all easy and cushy for us, and I do agree with Many above that very often the class differences far exceed gender differences. But I do think that people (men and women) who say they are not feminist or don’t need feminism are… a little blind.

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    johncliveharrison said:
    August 19, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Well, I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist. Not because I don’t think men and women are generally about as good and bad at the same things and should be paid equally and regarded equally. Of course I think there should be equality between the sexes. No, the reason I can’t describe myself as feminist is because there is a general election in Sweden next month and the hot topic is feminism. Most of the podgy middle aged male politicians and come out saying they are feminists (there are about 50% female politicians here but only 2.5 party-leaders of 9 significant parties). It’s kind of cringeworthy. Then the peoples party have the “feminism without socialism” slogan which has annoyed the feminist initiative (FI) party although it was really a dig at the left part (VP) who are ex-communists. Anyway- all this bandying around of the f-word has put me right off it.

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    Jane said:
    August 19, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Hmmm…….have never liked labels. I have opinions about many things but never take sides. Politics bore me but I think that’s because it’s a game that I don’t play. I do believe that if women/females had a more prominent position in societies there would be much less conflict. What’s the point of “it’s not cricket” when at war? War is war, get it over, done and sorted – is it non-PC to suggest that it’s men that cause the problems of the world? Does that make me a feminist? ……..

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    […] as has been discussed before on these very pages, I am a feminist. I’m also quite interested in politics, and I write romantic comedies for a living. This […]

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