Tag Archives: Equality

Aung San Suu Kyi wins Burma (Myanmar)’s landmark election with overwhelming majority

I can barely believe this is true!! I had hardly dared hope this would really happen, but Aung San Suu Kyi has won a huge majority in Burma’s elections held last Sunday.

Election commission says National League for Democracy has won staggering majority in parliament, ending decades of military dominance

Announcements of the results have been eeked out over the past five days, slowly allowing a positive picture to emerge but preventing outright celebration of the NLD win. Despite speculation that the slow release of results might foreshadow some kind of trick played by the ruling party, the final result is undeniable. The NLD successfully won more than 329 seats of the 491 contested seats (67%), thereby holding a majority (the Burmese military or Tatmadaw automatically hold 25% in accordance with a constitutional amendment). Unless these numbers are wrong, that means only 8% of the vote went to the USDP and minority parties combined.

Image via theguardian.com © Mark Baker/AP
Image via theguardian.com © Mark Baker/AP

Although Aung San Suu Kyi is banned from the presidency under an army-drafted constitution, her party will now be able to push through legislation, form a government and handpick a president. 

The ruling party have given every indication that they accept these results and will facilitate the hand-over to NLD gracefully. The President’s spokesperson announced on Wednesday that the USDP intend to “obey the results”, and Min Aung Hlaing, Burma’s commander-in-chief, sent congratulations.

US President Barack Obama called Aung San Suu Kyi to congratulate her earlier today.

This is really happening!

Read on

Open Mouths: Free Speech in Burma

Other sources:

The Guardian: Aung San Suu Kyi wins Myanmar’s landmark election

The Guardian: Aung San Suu Kyi plans to lead Burma (Myanmar) if her party wins election

Burma (Myanmar) elections: The day after

The positive news this afternoon came early: some say
The positive news this afternoon came early: some say this was a misinterpretation of the ruling party chief conceding his own seat.

At five past three (China time) today, I saw some fantastic news, via the Guardian’s breaking news app:

Myanmar elections: ruling party concedes defeat to Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party

This was the best news I could possibly imagine. I shared it. But I knew it was too good, or at least too fast, to be true. Many sources said there may be no finalised results for weeks after yesterday’s elections. Unless the USDP, the ruling party that seized power in 1962 in a previous incarnation, had decided to throw in the towel and simply hand the reigns to the NLD? For some reason, I had doubts about that.

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NLD voter’s finger dyed with indelible ink © Chit Mwaye (via Facebook)

Since this announcement, many have speculated that this was a misinterpretation. The ruling party chief may have simply conceded his own seat. Although perhaps this reinterpretation is one way of saving face for the party as a whole? Reuters reported that acting chairman Htay Oo literally said “We lost” in an interview today. The Guardian later reported him saying, that the USDP ‘has more losses than wins’.

By the time I write, initial results have begun to come in. Every single one of the first 12 seats to be announced went to the opposition party, Suu Kyi’s NLD. By five thirty China time, 16 of the 17 announced seats have gone to the NLD. This is excellent news for the Burmese people, who have not experienced a truly free and fair democratic election in 25 years.

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The Union Election Commission’s Election agenda for today’s results

Three of the first fifteen successfully elected NLD candidates are women.

However, Burma (Myanmar) is a big country. The first constituencies to be announced are in Yangon and surrounding districts. Yangon is the country’s largest city and the area predicted to concede most seats to NLD. There is a high likelihood that other areas of the country will not yield such positive results for the NLD.

Nonetheless, the NLD are expected to will a large majority of the 498 available seats. Burma has a first-past-the-post electoral system (like the UK), which means the NLD must win a majority, but will probably have to share power with (several) other represented parties. 

Suu Kyi has warned her supporters against gloating over NLD successes, trying to encourage NLD celebrations without increasing existing tensions between the NLD and other parties (particularly the USDP).

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Three voters show their ink-stained pinkies. This prevents voters from voting more than once, an effort to ensure free and fair elections. ©Hlaphyo Tun (via Facebook)

Celebrations began outside the NLD headquarters in Yangon hours ago.

Supporters have been singing songs dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi in anticipation of a potential election victory. They sang a song titled ‘The Strong Peacock’, which is a reference to the NLD party logo that shows a golden peacock and star on a red background.

They sang: “She is the people’s leader that the whole world knows… Write your own history in your hearts for our future, so the dictatorship will end. Go, go, go (away) dictatorship…”

So, although the USDP have not entirely conceded power to the NLD (as perhaps many were led to believe), the Burmese people are in high spirits (despite the reported downpour dampening outdoor celebrations) as the initial election results are revealed.

Election results will likely not be clear until Tuesday (tomorrow) at the earliest. And what the potential NLD victory actually means for the country may be a long time coming. But now is definitely a time of change in Burma, as the NLD slogan “Time For Change” has been promising for decades.

Read on:

The Guardian’s live election results: Myanmar elections: ruling party ‘has more losses than wins’ says chairman – live | World news | The Guardian.

Reuters report: Myanmar ruling party concedes poll defeat as Suu Kyi heads for landslide

Aung San Suu Kyi resolved to form reconciliation government, to lead Burma from ‘above the president’

Tomorrow, Sunday 8th November 2015, is election day. Burma (Myanmar) is in desperate need of change, and, if democratic process is adhered to, the people of Burma will soon have the change they deserve. This is a huge moment for the Burmese people who have fought for freedom and democracy on many fronts for many many years. They have got so close to success countless times.

Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of their national hero, freedom fighter General Aung San, is now (and has long been) the country’s best hope for a truly democratic future. In 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy (NLD), which is the main opposition party fighting for freedom of speech and other basic human rights for the people of Burma. The military government seized power in 1962 and has ruled ever since (first as State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) later as State Law and Order Restoration (SLORC) and now as the Union of Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), headed by Sein Thein.

Campaigning begins, in Mandalay, two months before the November election
Campaigning begins, in Mandalay, two months before the November election

Aung San Suu Kyi is the nation’s favourite politician, fondly referred to as Daw Suu, or The Lady. Unlike other Burmese leaders, who seem only to care about maintaining and increasing their power over their people, Daw Suu tours the country to meet the electorate at every opportunity. Which has been tough, mainly because the military government kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for vast stretches of time, to prevent her from rousing the masses and inciting protests.

This is not the first election to have raised hope for the people of Burma, but is perhaps the first in 25 years that NLD have any chance of winning. The NLD won an overwhelming majority of votes in 1990, but the military junta refused to relinquish power. At that time, SLORC amended the constitution stating that anyone with foreign children cannot be President. This ammendment was designed specifically to keep Aung San Suu Kyi out of power – she and her late British husband, Michael Aris, had two children, Kim and Alexander. They were 15 and 13 on her return to Burma in 1988, shortly before house arrest began. So, whatever happens, Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become Burma’s President.

Despite appearances of democracy, subsequent elections have been rigged in various ways. NLD boycotted the October 2010 general election, as Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. Since the 2012 by-elections, Aung San Suu Kyi has held a (largely nominal) seat in the Parliament. But, according to the constitution, 25 per cent of the Burmese Parliament must be made up of unelected military representatives.

To an outsider, the situation looks bleak. But Burma is full of hope. Burmese residents have been campaigning all over the country since early September, blasting NLD themed songs, displaying posters, parading the streets and generally being vocal about using their right to vote. Burmese nationals who are resident elsewhere have also been exercising that right, coming out in droves to vote in the Burmese election from Singapore last month.

Plus, for the first time, the European Union will observe the elections, sending 150 monitors from all 28 member states to the country of 51 million.

Aung San Suu Kyi is hopeful too. Her unwavering determination has buoyed the Burmese people for over 26 years. She is resolved to lead Burma if the NLD wins the election tomorrow, and that maintaining democracy is essential no matter what the result. Rising above the constitutional amendment preventing her from leading as president, she vowed to rule Burma in a role ‘above the President’. Rather than exorcising the military governing bodies from Burma completely, she has stated that she would lead a reconciliatory government. Aung San Suu Kyi has told journalists at her house in Yangon:

“Even if we win 100% [of the vote], we would like to make it a government of national reconciliation,” she said. “National reconciliation is the foundation of our democracy.”

Of course reconciliation can only occur if there is national recognition of the will of the majority. Tomorrow is the key to Burma’s future.

Read on

Open Mouths: Free Speech in Burma

Other sources:

The Guardian: Aung San Suu Kyi plans to rule Burma in a role ‘above the president’ 

The Guardian: Aung San Suu Kyi plans to lead Burma (Myanmar) if her party wins election

The Guardian: What is happening in the Burma (Myanmar) elections?

Does having leg hair make me less of a woman?

Last week I shaved my legs for the first time in 9 months. Why? I wanted to see if it made me feel like more or less of a woman.

It began last summer (duh), during a bikini/beach/beer holiday with a gorgeous blonde and a beautiful Asian – the two women I lived with at the time. Our week in Croatia brought back a recurring issue for me. The pale hairy legs of the winter had to come out and face the summer sun. I have long felt required to shave/wax/epilate waaaaaaaay up to the top of my thighs because my hair grows thick and dark. (Look at that “because” – where does it place the blame? On the hair.) Ever since I have felt the presence of this obligation, I have felt uncomfortable with everything it stands for.

IMG_2461When I was 12 I was bullied for not shaving my legs. Every other girls’ mother, it seemed, had bought them razors and given them lessons in leg-shaving. This seemed like not only a rite of passage in what seemed like an instant shift from girl to woman, but also a mother-daughter bonding exercise that my mother seemed loathe to opt into. She disliked the entire concept of shaving and didn’t use razors. I was so insistent though, that she promised I could have my legs waxed for my year 7 summer disco – the end of primary education, the beginning of grown-up-hood. (I had emerged from the same disco two years earlier flanked by my two best friends who eagerly betrayed my under-cover-of-darkness disco activities to my waiting mother by spelling out: “Catherine snogged, S-N-O-G-G-E-D A BOY!”)

I would spend that summer on a beach in Brittany reading Life of Pi, contemplating the size of my thighs and worrying about whether people at high school would think I was fat. The previous summer I had “borrowed” an older girl’s razor at camp and cut myself on my first attempt to shave my legs in the shower, then lied about it to my generously gullible (or so I thought) mother, telling her they had forced me to do it. The real impetus came from the bullying I got from the two sisters I shared a room with; it was all in their disgust at my downy 11-year-old legs. The summer after the Brittany beach I spent hours plucking my eyebrows in a tiny mirror and the half-light inside my tent. I returned to high school with chavvy, barely visible and too far apart eyebrows.

My life since puberty (perhaps before) has seemed like a constant battle between my mother’s and other girls’ (and thus their mothers’) opinions. The navigation of types of bras, deodorants, eyebrow plucking, underarm shaving, make-up wearing… everything was a contentious issue and I was stuck in no-man’s land. Short-term, other girls’ opinions (heavily dictated by advertising and celebrity culture) won out. My mother would love me whatever I did, so her opinion mattered less than the high school girls who would judge and exclude me for not following the crowd… But long-term, my mother’s talent for challenging the status quo has reigned supreme in me, and there are few opinions I value as much as hers.

These events are not simply part of the past and therefore to be brushed aside; they are cumulative experiences that affect my relationship with my body, and thus my bodily negotiation with the social, cultural and political world around me. They are part of my embodied knowledge of both my self and the other; that which governs me from within and which surrounds me from without.

In the midst of the fourth wave of feminism, women are reclaiming the female body in all kinds of ways. Australian actress Caitlin Stasey’s web project Herself, a space in which participating women’s bodies and words are openly displayed as they choose, is one inspiring model. Stasey states:

“Herself is a gesture to women for women by women; a chance to witness the female form in all its honesty without the burden of the male gaze, without the burden of appealing to anyone. Let us reclaim our bodies. Let us take them back from those who seek to profit from our insecurity.”

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Your body is all you’ve got (the mind/spirit/body division is redundant – its not as though the mind is some separate entity controlling the body from a remote location):

One is not simply a body, but, in some very key sense, one does one’s body and, indeed, one does one’s body differently from one’s contemporaries and from one’s embodied predecessors and successors”, states Judith Butler (521)

Whether we like it or not, the body is the only vehicle through which we experience the political, social and cultural framework we are intrinsically a part of, and this inherently affected by. As Butler states, everything we do is governed somehow by our surroundings: “the body is always an embodying of possibilities both conditioned and circumscribed by historical convention.” (521)

This is particularly potent when we think about gender. Butler points out that there is a “tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders” (522). We take it as a given that there are defining lines between ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and that these are clear and immutable. These “polar and discrete genders” divide along the biological lines of sex (male and female), and unite us within those two groups. If we think about the gendered body, ‘woman’ is expected to be significantly less hairy than ‘man’, regardless of genetic differences that actually affect the volume of hair that grows on the female body. (Where did this idea originate? It’s not as though women and men of the same racial background evolved with vastly different volumes of body hair.)

Butler asks her reader to “reconceive the gendered body as the legacy of sedimented acts” (523). Practices we consider normal, like what we do with the hair that grows on our bodies, accumulate over time to create our identity and thus our gendered identity. We begin by copying others and later reproduce these collective practices in order to create and sustain our gender. Women (particularly western women) are socialised to believe that the correct performance of their gender involves removal of visible hair all over the body.

The choice to stop shaving my legs after that Croatia trip was my way of reclaiming my body. I drew inspiration from my two wonderful companions who, sexy ladies that they are, did not feel the need to shave above the knee. Neither did they feel they were defying social requirements. Had they never felt the heat of disapproving eyes on their hairy legs because people hadn’t noticed? Had they never received comments about it because they’d got finer, lighter, less visible hair or because this was not a body issue that played on their minds? Were they so unconcerned about hair removal because nobody had ever told them they should do it or because they’d always had the confidence to tell those people to back off?

IMG_2483For me, advertising and peer pressure had been equally vicious and haunting influences upon my body image. I’d had hairy legs before (usually for the few weeks between boyfriend visits), but never shown them off in shorts or a bikini. Being hairy was (and still is) an issue I have a complex and uncomfortable relationship with. This time though, I let it grow and wore my hairy legs proudly. I spent the summer running a mile a day through busy streets wearing tiny shorts and in a bikini by the pool with my family. My initial weeks in China were unbearably hot, so shorts were the only comfortable option. The only comments I received were declarations of admiration and support.

Over the winter, my legs inevitably got paler and the hair just kept growing. For the first time I noticed how the hair grew – where it was thicker, where finer and the places where it just didn’t grow. It began to really know my body in a way I hadn’t previously. Looking down at my muscly thighs covered in fine dark hair I was reminded of my physical strength (perhaps I enjoyed the ‘masculine’ element of it?) and took courage. It felt like the real me.

The brilliant thing is that it required zero effort. My skin took care of itself underneath the hair (whereas shaved skin gets much drier and needs a lot more attention). It felt 100% natural for me to let my body be. I stopped performing my gender (in this one small aspect), and could relax.

The problems began when I wanted to have sex. In the run up to dates that could potentially go further, I interrogated myself continually. Should I shave my legs, just in case the evening went in that direction…? Or should I not allow the evening to end in sex (even if it were on the cards) so as to avoid the awkward disgust my hair might bring? I decided that any guy worth my time would simply accept me as I am, hair and all. Unfortunately, acceptance doesn’t necessarily counteract disgust.

It’s only happened a few times, but I have actually been told that my choice of personal grooming renders me physically less sexy or completely unattractive to the guy I’m attempting some kind of physical relationship with (once while actually still naked in his bed). Many people are too kind to comment, but will nonetheless expect women to have virtually zero body hair. But different men are bothered by hair on different body parts, so perhaps there are no universal expectations as such?

The existing expectations emerge through socialisation; the more we see hairless women (in real life, on tv, in magazines, in porn) the more we understand this to be the normal, natural thing for a woman to be. Butler states: “[t]he authors of gender become entranced by their own fictions whereby the construction compels ones belief in its necessity and naturalness.” (522) By shaving their legs, individual women are perpetuating the idea that women as a gender have hairless legs, and are thereby reducing wider social acceptance of hairy legs.IMG_2457

What is more natural than NOT changing your body? Unfortunately, this line of argument seems to have been lost in some twist of logic, and thus the ‘natural’ way for a woman to look/feel/be is hairless in all the right places.

Do women actually feel / look more female when they shave their legs? Does hairlessness make a female more of a woman? I wanted to try it out for myself. So I shaved my legs for the first time since last June.

I enjoyed the process because it brought change. Difference is always a positive thing, newness is fun while it lasts. But ultimately it brought me little joy and no permanent feeling of difference. I keep thinking, “I bet [insert inspirational woman’s name] doesn’t bother to shave her legs everyday.” What effect should a woman’s personal grooming habits have upon her public image? It doesn’t affect her personality; it only marginally changes her appearance… So why does it have such an impact on identity?

I’d like to extend my little experiment to women around the world. Cultural, racial and generational differences taken into account, do women feel they ought to remove their body hair and why? How does hair removal correlate to the correct performance of a woman’s gender?

Please let me know your thoughts!

Read on:

Butler, Judith. ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.’ Theatre Journal 40.4 (1988): 519-531.

Herself.com (Caitlin Stasey)

To Shave or Not to Shave; Why is that the question? (Catherine and the Lion, 2014)

‘If You Got a Big Ol’ Butt? Shake It!’ Nicki Minaj’s abortion

‘If You Got a Big Ol’ Butt? Shake It!’… But You’ll Be Damned for Taking Charge of Your Own Body

News of Nicki Minaj’s abortion was used by the media as anti-choice propaganda

lyrics-nicki-minaj-superbass-1Nicki Minaj had a massive year in 2014. With everyone talking about her big ol’ butt (her words), which was in full view – literally – across the media, it was pretty hard to ignore her.

She’s been on my radar for several years now (that brilliant voice, those insane lyrics, y’know?), but until last year, I hadn’t given Minaj herself much thought – as a person, a woman, and an icon.

My younger brother (who admires Minaj but is too young to recognise the Sir Mix-a-lot sample she uses in Anaconda) watched our sister and I watch the Anaconda video, insisting he wanted our opinions. I wasn’t sure how to react. Should I be shocked? Why shouldn’t she show off her mindbendingly awesome (mostly plastic) body? Finally we agreed she’s pretty awesome – to feel able to rap about her sexual relationships in a way society normally associates with male artists is pretty out-there.

Thus began my ever-growing admiration for Nicki Minaj. She is honest, hilarious and bloody-minded. Where other celebrities are defensive about their appearance (particularly when it comes to plastic surgery), she is relentlessly loud and proud. Her laughter is infectious. Her songs are bold, unique and articulate.

“I stand for girls wanting to be sexy and dance, but also having a strong sense of themselves. If you got a big ol’ butt? Shake it! Who cares? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be graduating from college.” (Minaj in Rolling Stone interview)

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Her self-awareness and ownership of her mind and body makes her an inspirational role model for young women – she reassures us that we can be sexy and smart. She appears to have no guilt, no regrets, and no second thoughts.

That’s why I was shocked when the headlines reported Minaj was ‘haunted’ by a teenage abortion.

“Whaaaat?!”

Actually reading the Rolling Stone article, I soon discovered Minaj wasn’t ‘haunted’ by her abortion – she didn’t regret terminating the baby. She was 100% open about the difficulty of a teenage pregnancy for any young woman: “I thought I was going to die,” she stated. “I was a teenager. It was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through.” But that doesn’t mean she’s torn up about the abortion – not by far. Knowing she “didn’t have anything to offer a child”, Minaj still fully supports the decision she made then, and is still pro-choice.

She was – as always – refreshingly honest about her abortion. Despite – or perhaps because of – her honesty (it’s not like anyone need go looking for revealing images of her), her private life has not come into the public sphere very much before – which is absolutely her prerogative. Now though, with the recent break-up of her long-term relationship, her private life is becoming more and more public.

On the album she built up to for the entirety of 2014, The Pinkprint, her personal life is taking the main stage: “One of my goals was to give people a glimpse into my personal life, because it’s something I’ve kept very private,” she told Rolling Stone.

In line with her usual bolshy personality, she is unashamedly upfront about it all: “I struggled with ‘Do I express these feelings?’ And I decided there’s no reason for me to hide. I’m a vulnerable woman, and I’m proud of that.” Minaj is ever more the multi-faceted, open woman she has been to date.

-nicki-minaj-Even more admirable? She’s aware of the role she plays as a female icon, knows her influence and isn’t afraid to use it for greater good. She knows how much her records will get played, she’s aware of every move, every word: “Millions of people are gonna hear it. And you gotta watch everything you say — people find an issue with every fucking thing.”

Which is why she should be applauded for speaking out about her abortion, both in interview and in a song on The Pinkprint:

“It’d be contradictory if I said I wasn’t pro-choice. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have anything to offer a child.”

But how did the media react to Minaj’s open, honest admittance of having an abortion (and knowing it was the right decision for her)? ‘Nope, we can’t cope with that. We’ll have to make out like she wishes she’d chosen the delights of teen motherhood over her insanely successful career as Hip-Hop’s Killer Diva.’ Instead of Minaj’s statements being let alone to stand for themselves (as they well should), the headlines took all the autonomy out of her statements and twisted her words into anti-choice propaganda. Now, why would they want to do that?

The anti-choice movement will use any means possible to prove abortion is bad for women.

Minaj’s case, like many others, has been taken up by the anti-choice movement – with the mainstream media along for the ride – to demonstrate that women will not only feel reticent about the circumstances of their unwanted or accidental pregnancy (eg. Minaj was a teenage girl with an older boyfriend), but that they will feel genuine regret about aborting the baby and wish they had kept it.

I can’t say it any better than Ms. writer Amanda Marcotte already has:

The anti-choice movement’s relentless propaganda about “abortion regret” has done some real damage when it comes to women being able to tell their abortion stories in the public sphere… In this current political climate, talking about reproductive decisions in a nuanced, personal fashion seems impossible to do without feeding the machine that suggests that any feelings of regret whatsoever means that abortion is bad for women.

Too right. So, what can we do to stop this?

More:

On Choice, Contraception and Woman Power

Sources:

Amanda Marcotte for Ms Magazine: Nicki Minaj and the Inevitable Politicization of Celebrity Abortions

Rolling Stone: Nicki Minaj Is Hip-Hop’s Killer Diva: Inside Rolling Stone’s New Issue

(Originally published on Aliljoy.com on 12 January 2015)

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