The F-word: a plethora of personal feminisms

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I fear I have been thinking as an extremist. Not just thinking, but acting in an ‘if you don’t identify as a feminist then you’re a bellend’ way (as asexblogofonesown put it). Alas, I tend to behave as though everyone believes what I believe and that my beliefs are pretty close to being ‘right’. Doesn’t everyone?

That enjoying baking doesn’t compromise my stance as a feminist any more than my wearing whatever the hell I want or deciding not to shave my legs. But there’s me assuming that my brand of feminism is THE brand of feminism. Frankly, it isn’t.

If I learned anything in 2014, it’s that fourth wave feminism comes in as many shapes, sizes and colours as women themselves.

How do I know? By reading.

I started with Caitlin Moran (who got me shouting ‘I am a Feminist!‘ at the top of my voice) and spiralled from there. I read Greer; I read Butler. I read Everyday Sexism, The Vagenda, and was given Vagina: A New Biography for my birthday (thanks Mum). I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech We Should All Be Feminists on my kindle, wondering where Beyonce had got that quote and how she had suddenly become a feminist icon overnight. I argued endlessly about whether ‘Queen Bey’ could or should be seen as such a thing, taking a different stance depending on who I was arguing with.

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As I argued, I felt my own views shift and change. As I widened by horizons I opened my mind to different perspectives, to different variations on the same theme. I never strayed from feminism, but I saw value in and let myself be influenced by the abundance of opinions around me.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure what THE definition of feminism was. Realistically, I found, no amount of reading, researching, writing or even living could tell me that, because feminism has become something large, fluid and out of reach.

I simply held fast to the values that have been with me for as long as I can remember, essentially: pro-women and pro-equality, underscored with a feeling that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

I read fifty extremely varied accounts of what feminism means to fifty individual women, all of whom are successful in their field but have had to call upon feminist backgrounds to negotiate their way through the world. Reading Fifty Shades of Feminism was a crystalline moment for me. It did the opposite of define. The anthology embraced difference. It showed me fifty widely varying personal feminisms.

This plethora of feminisms is wonderful – women from all kinds of backgrounds, all over the world, giving their two cents, making a contribution and getting heard (at last)! Inspired, I said plenty of things in my own way – about hair, periods, contraception, education, marriage… Suddenly I had a real channel for my writing – why had it taken me so long to get going?!

IMG_0961Briefly though, I have feel double-crossed by fourth wave feminism. No – not feminism, but “feminists”. The label is important. The label is what’s been misused, not the values.

I was very worried when confronted by an old acquaintance for whom feminism is an cultural theory that, in his words, has ‘failed us’. He assured my entire Facebook world that the label “feminism” was used for more evil than good in 2014 – to shame, blame and scare people.

As a label, “feminism” has a long history of social stigma. Being a “feminist” has meant militancy, anger, and hatred of any human without a vulva. Being a “feminist” has meant bra burning and unusual amounts of body hair. Being a feminist has been a social faux pas for far too long. People have long felt uncomfortable about expressing their opinions, uncomfortable about labelling themselves as feminists.

I was relieved at the prospect that those ideas might finally be lifting, that humorous and intelligent contemporary writers like Caitlin Moran might actually be changing the way Feminism is viewed. With it came an onslaught of newfound and reborn feminists. ‘Fantastic!’ I thought, ‘Maybe something will really get done!

With them, though, came the extremists. Bra burners became slut shamers… and far worse. There have been accusations of rape with little or no evidence. There have been claims that feminism has the answers to all social problems. And, something I did not know until yesterday: there have been positive statements about the male suicide rate being higher than the female suicide rate. From feminists.

In its growth, feminism has become like any major social organisation, whether religious or political: the extremists get the attention or are most memorable and create a (new) stereotype. People are using the label as if to justify their evil actions, thus rebuilding a (much worse) stigma around the label. (‘Why now?’ my heart cries. ‘We’d only just reclaimed it for ourselves!’)

IMG_0966There’s a problem in the need to claim everyone. Like a political movement or a religious group, feminists want to enlighten those around them. The cost of an all-welcoming, all-encompassing, all-consuming social movement is that not all of its followers will agree on everything. Far too easily, the few can become the stereotype.

Many Christians have told me that they don’t believe someone can be a good person unless they believe in and serve God in their good deeds (perhaps not in quite those words). They couldn’t see that a young woman working herself into the ground for others’ benefit could be praise-worthy, because she was not religious (that woman was me).

Is determination that everyone who values gender equality should identify as a feminist is essentially the same thing?

Do really need to publicly ridicule people for not being feminists? Will we ever accept that not all people who value gender rights equality have to identify as feminists? Are we so desperate to get more fuel on the feminist fire that we don’t care how it burns?

No wonder people are uncomfortable about expressing their values as “feminism”. The label has been compromised. That doesn’t mean feminism has failed us. It’s not obsolete. The values are still relevant. It just means more work. Redefinition (for example, as intersectional feminists*) and reclamation.
We have already reclaimed feminism. A whole plethora of personal feminisms.
*Intersectionality concerns the way multiple oppressions intersect. Intersectional feminism is an attempt to elevate and make space for the voices and issues of those who are marginalised, and a framework for recognising how class, race, age, ability, sexuality, gender and other issues combine to affect women’s experience of discrimination.

More:

The fourth wave of feminism: meet the rebel women on The Guardian

An Open Letter to Kaley Cuoco, Who Has Been a Bit of a Bellend by asexblogofonesown

5 thoughts on “The F-word: a plethora of personal feminisms”

    1. Curiosetta
      I believe you’re right, many people – not only women, but men too – are struggling with what feminism means today. Many don’t believe it applies to them, or that the label is discriminatory, which is a result of their misunderstanding of basic feminist principles.
      Things like this video really don’t help. Trying to get a rise out of people by telling feminists that feminists don’t understand feminism does not benefit anyone.

    2. > many people – not only women, but men too – are struggling with what feminism means today

      Right. But feminists refuse to consider the possibility that this is because women have equal rights to men and quite a bit more on top.

      The people leading the feminist movement are, naturally, making a living out of it. Feminist authors, spokeswomen, academics, T-shirt sellers, professional bloggers and campaigners etc will all have to get a real job if they admit men and women are equal, so it’s no surprise they keep inventing new ways to portray women as oppressed – even though women are not oppressed. They invent new forms of oppression like being called bossy when you are bossy….. men sitting with their legs open ….. men wearing shirts with scantily clad women on it. If these are examples of the oppression women face then we can safely saw women have no real issues. This should be cause for celebration – and most normal women do indeed feel privileged and they just get on with life without claiming to be oppressed as women 🙂

      Being constantly told you are oppressed, while simultaneously being the most privileged demographic on the planet (save for royalty and the ruling classes), is very VERY confusing to most ordinary casual feminists.

      This is why feminism is now trying to define itself in terms of ‘equal rights for men as well as women’. Feminists can no longer deny that men suffer a whole range of social inequalities and gender specific challenges…. but despite this feminism won’t let go of the idea of systemic male privilege, and so they have to come up with the absurd notion that ‘patriarchy hurts men too’.

      The whole thing is a joke. Feminism is literally a minority position – although the media acts as if feminism was the default position. It is not. Only 25% of women consider themselves feminists and 80% consider themselves pro-gender equality.

      Feminism is an extreme position. It’s no longer acceptable to say backs are savages who are predisposed to rape or crime…… and yet feminists say exactly that about the group ‘men’.

      Feminists are in the same camp as racists and other groups who promote a ‘threat narrative’ about some ‘other’ group in society.

      Feminists are people with severe personality disorders (narcissism, victim complex, self entitlement complex, paranoia, fear of the opposite sex, self loathing etc). Ironically many of these personality disorders are the direct result of being brought up in single mother households, after feminism told the last generation men were unnecessary and eve a bad influence.

      Scientific studies actually show the opposite. Having a father figure in the house is essential during the critical early development for the proper development of empathy and self restraint and a healthy self/ sexual identity in bot boys and girls.

      The biggest single indicator of criminality, depression, suicide, unwanted pregnancy, gang involvement, drug abuse etc is a fatherless upbringing.

      Feminism is based on ‘patriarchy theory’ which defines men as sociopaths. ‘Patriarchy theory’ claims men have systematically oppressed women throughout history to create a society which benefits men at the expense of women. Only sociopathic men could systematically oppress those they have their most intimate relationships with (women).

      > which is a result of their misunderstanding of basic feminist principles.

      Feminism has no principles. That is the problem and that is why those feminists in that video were so confused.

      Feminism is a festival of contradictions. Men and women should be equal, but we need men to serve women (he for she). Feminism does not hate men, even though many feminists call men pigs and rapists and advocate the genocide or sterilisation of males. We live in a rape culture, even though the rape of women and girls is the most despised crime in society. And so on….

  1. >we can safely say women have no real issues.
    Have you never heard of sexism? Harassment? Ever known someone who has been cat-called or whistled at in the street? Ever had a sexist boss? Been paid less than a colleague of the opposite sex (that’s called the gender pay gap if you hadn’t heard)? Ever been expected to behave a certain way because of your gender? If you’ve never experienced one of those things, you’re part of a lucky few. Unfortunately, ‘normal’, ‘ordinary’ women are used to and expect those things to happen to them. We brush them off because they are just ‘part of British culture’. And there’s the crux of it: sexism is normal. We don’t notice it because it is simply part of daily life. Women are socialised into submission, and into acceptance of others’ behaviour. In the same way, cultural factors combine to persuade men that their expected position is aggressive sexism.

    > most normal women do indeed feel privileged.
    Yes, many ‘normal women’ (by which, I can only assume you mean British and reasonably well-off) feel privileged. If they never encounter sexism, harassment, assault, rape, then they are indeed living a privileged, unusual life, in which they can be blissfully ignorant of such problems.
    The fact that there is any sense of ‘privilege’ highlights the fact there is inequality in the world. I do, indeed, feel very privileged – in comparison to women around the world who don’t have the rights and opportunities I have.
    I currently live in a country where an unmarried woman of 27 or older is considered an old maid. Young women in China have little value (to their parents) in their own right – they have to get married in order to be a success. Marriage is antithetical to a having a career – young couples expect that the woman will have a lower qualification to that of her partner, or it’s not a viable match. Women with a PhD are thus often considered unsuccessful because they cannot find a husband.
    Women in Korea are expected to quit their jobs upon getting married (or shortly after when – not if – they get pregnant). They are expected NEVER to work again, but to stay at home. The home is their domain (prison) and their only value after marriage is child- and husband-care. Their only relief comes in their 60s when they are finally free to divorce the guy who’s come home drunk 6 of 7 nights after work, expecting his dinner to be hot, on the table, on his arrival, and would likely beat her if it isn’t. But she can’t divorce him until the kids are grown and have moved out – her happiness doesn’t get a look in until then.
    Women in Uganda are required to KNEEL on the floor whenever they speak to their husband or any other adult male. Only very rarely can Ugandan women hold positions of social responsibility – as a teacher, perhaps.
    In Swaziland, Women’s lives are destroyed by ‘cultural norms’, such as the belief sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. Men rape female babies and small girls, who are abandoned to live a life of suffering from internal damage. Male teachers rape the teenage girls unfortunate enough to be stuck in primary school, and the court rules against them because their fathers testify against them.

    These are things I know from personal experience and testimonies from people I’ve known in these places. These are just four countries in the world. How can you say women have no real issues?

    >…feminists say exactly that about the group ‘men’
    I have never met ANYONE who believes men are predisposed to rape and criminality. I think you’ve got a very a) outdated and b) extremist view of what feminism is today. It’s 2015, we’re in the fourth wave of feminism!

    >Feminists are in the same camp as racists
    Right, because racists set out to empower people, bring about equality, and make peoples’ lives better worldwide.

    > Feminists are people with severe personality disorders
    Well, now you’re just being ridiculous. Feminists are people who feel strong enough about gender equality issues to act upon those feelings, and people who are not afraid of using a label that, in some cases, seems to offend people.

  2. > Only 25% of women consider themselves feminists and 80% consider themselves pro-gender equality.
    This has a lot to do with labelling and the stigma around the word ‘feminism’, as mentioned in the article, and little to do with an alignment of values. Being pro-gender equality is the same thing as being feminist – I believe most feminists would agree – but simply using another label as people feel uncomfortable associating themselves with stereotypical ideas of feminists, based on notions that are now long in the past.

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