Feminism Friday: What feminism means to me

It took me a while before I realised I was a feminist. In my mid-20s I discovered a new website called The F-Word and realised that I felt the same way as its writers did. I felt that women often got a rough deal in many aspects of their lives and clearly it wasn’t just me being a whiny little bitch, complaining about being hard done by, because others felt the same way. Perhaps I wasn’t imagining it after all. It wasn’t just the big stuff that bugged me – like the fact that, on average, women still earn considerably less than men – but also little things like female celebrities always having to be ‘sexy’ in photographs while their male counterparts get to be funny, interesting, business-like, intriguing, intelligent and fully clothed. Don’t even get me started on the pressure women have to stay looking young and slim. I can’t quite explain how happy it made me feel recently to see a poster on the Tube featuring a beautiful photo of Helen Mirren, wrinkles and all.

It’s not just how society behaves as a whole, either. Individual men and women can be spectacularly misogynist without even realising it. In her book How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran suggests a handy test for working out if you are being faced with sexism, or simply just someone being rude: Would they say/do that if you were male? Basically, would this happen to a man? If the answer is no, then you’re facing sexist bullshit. Men may be surprised to hear that this happens quite often to most women. In fact, some women might be surprised to hear that it happens. They’ve been brought up in a world where we’re told that this stuff is OK, so they just shrug it off to the point where they don’t even realise it’s bad any more. Well, guess what? It is definitely not OK. All the little comments that we are told are just ‘harmless fun’ and we apparently ‘have no sense of humour’ if we don’t laugh along… imagine life without that. Nicer, huh?

Being judged solely on your appearance, having work contacts assume you’re not the boss because of your gender, extremely low rape conviction rates, the erosion of women’s reproductive rights, kid’s toys being segregated by gender, casual sexism making a comeback, women taking their husband’s name without even thinking about it, pink gadgets for girls, porn culture being normalised… all this stuff is just as damaging to men as it is to women. As a society, we’re all just sucking it up and questioning nothing. Men are conditioned to believe they should be active and aggressive – just as women should be passive and meek – and so any supposed ‘weakness’ is seen as an un-masculine flaw. Men are entitled to very little paternity leave and so they can rarely afford to become the primary care-giver for their new baby, even if they want to be. How is all this gender-based nonsense good for anyone?

You don’t have to look a certain way to be a feminist. It doesn’t matter what clothes you wear, how much hair you have or what variety of genitals you possess. You don’t have to hate men, or porn, or cosmetics. You can be a stay-at-home parent who enjoys baking and still be a feminist. You just have to point out the bullshit and believe in a better world. To be honest, you don’t even have to like the word feminist! It’s just better if we all huddle together for warmth, support and getting our voices heard. Feminism to me means questioning things and, hopefully, making other people stop and think. Even though my feminism may be of the armchair variety, every movement needs talkers as well as do-ers so I’m just as welcome as anyone.

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? If so, what does it mean to you? If not, why not? Do share your stories in the comments section as I’d be very interested to hear them.

First image by lipsticklori, second via natashalcd‘s Flickr photostream.

10 thoughts on “Feminism Friday: What feminism means to me

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  1. At the risk of being incredibly cheeky and self serving, i recently published a book where women and two men share their stories about why and how they became feminists (you can buy it here: http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/the-light-bulb-moment-the-stories-of-why-we-are-feminists/12145912).

    I was amazed by the diversity of the experiences (whilst recognising that the contributors were from a privileged group due to limited ways of finding contributors).

    I always thought i was a feminist but i think there was a point where i stopped talking the talk and actually 'did'. A lot of this came to me from learning about sisterhood and working with other women to make feminist things happen – first with ladyfest and then with the Bristol Feminist Network. It also came from listening to women and valuing and hearing other women's experiences. It's hard to pin down but to me sisterhood is really important and really transformed how i saw my feminism…

  2. Sounds like an interesting book. I love hearing about what it was that led people to call themselves feminist. As you say, there are always a fascinatingly diverse list of reasons. Thanks for the link!

  3. Really good article. I have so many conflicting views on what feminism is that on analysis I end up seeing myself as a misogynist. The way you explain it makes me realise I agree with the fundamental principles of feminism, but have got bogged down in minute details and subjective views, which perhaps I don't need to agree with in order to be a feminist. Did you, for example, read the recent Guardian article about why Sherlock was sexist? I would hate to be so dogged that simple pleasures are destroyed through scrutiny.

  4. I like what feminism means to you. When I was in high school I felt like I couldn't identify as a feminist because I shaved my legs. I realized how ridiculous that was in my first women studies course. It's hard to define feminism. I don't think there is some sort of mold one has to fit. I guess I would define it as acknowledging inequalities and desiring equality.

  5. @LKeens – I haven't read the Guardian article on why Sherlock was sexist, but I did see an awful lot of whining about it on Twitter. I completely agree that analysing entertainment to that level simply ends up spoiling your own enjoyment of it. After all, if we wanted to see realistic character depictions on television, we wouldn't be watching a show about a fictional detective and his doctor 'sidekick', would we?

    @Jenna – I once went to a feminist book launch in a pretty dress and make-up, and spent the journey there worrying that everyone would hate me (they didn't), so I totally understand that. It is a really tricky thing to define, isn't it?

  6. Bloody hell, I'm a feminist?!

    Great post, and like @LKeens says, I agree with the fundamental principles completely. I will admit to fall back into 'expected character' at times but it's something I'm more and more aware of.

    I do wonder if the word feminism is now an issue in itself though, the dogma around it is what worries me, I much prefer the more general definitions (but that's a life preference of mine, I rarely see things in black & white).

  7. As you know from my blog, I had trouble using the term feminist in regards to my views because I felt the term was losing its real message these days. However, you made an excellent comment on that post, which made me see that I get to decide my own definition of feminism. And I now I am happy to say I am one.

    The things that frustrate me are ones you've mentioned here; how women must always be sexy, for one. Found myself watching the Golden Globes yesterday (can't remember why) and Elle McPhearson was asked by a red carpet interviewer what her favourite and least favourite body parts were. I was disgusted – would anyone ask George Clooney that question? Worse still that it was a woman asking, as if this is what makes sisterly solidarity: self loathing. It's certainly not just men who keep sexism alive. Big respect to Elle to refuse to answer that, and when pushed merely said, “My favourite body part is my heart”. The interviewer seemed thrown, unable to work with that kind of self contentment.

    That's one slightly more shallow example, I know, but there are plenty more. I read in the paper here yesterday that Speights, a major NZ beer company, was running a brewer competition but a female brewer was denied entry. The organisers said it would be like a man entering the Speights Perfect Woman contest. Really? Here we have men given the opportunity to put their skills and craft to the test, while women are left to be judged only on their appearance. It was just one of the many things I read which make me think, “This has got to stop”.

  8. I have no problem calling myself a feminist, though I'm almost tempted to use “post-feminist”. I'm halfway through Caitlin Moran's book & I keep finding myself wondering why things that are so blindingly obvious to me are written about as though they're unusual… and then I think again, and realise that yes, these points still do need to be made. I love the fact that she points out that it's fine for women to wear what they want as long as it's simply for fun – but I absolutely believe that's not just a women's issue, having seen my boyfriend make it to 32 before he felt comfortable in velvet.
    I think a lot of the problems humans face boil down to essentialism – “all women like shoes & shave their legs” vs “all men must be strong” – anything that denies someone a shade of grey is a problem. Women historically have the disadvantage in a lot of areas and I call myself a feminist because I believe in equality. However, I don't think it's really an adequate word. Like many labels it has been claimed by various extreme groups – the anti-porn, man hating, shaven headed stereotype looms large in the mind – when what we seem to be looking for these days is a term for those of us who want to live in a world where we are considered individuals rather than grouped together based on gender or class.

  9. @Gordon – Yes, you are a feminist. Even if the word itself doesn't seem relevant to you, the definition is.

    @Claire – Great news about you (yay for feminism!), but not so great news about the brewer competition. They really think that gender is important for making beer? Rather than knowledge and skill? Tsk.

    @Clarabelle – I have pondered coming up with a new word for feminism many times, but have always failed to find something that didn't sound shite. Perhaps if the rest of us just shout louder than the anti-porn types, we could improve feminism's image?

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