07 July 2012
What's wrong with the word 'feminist'?
I found this blog post I never published - it's part of a much longer piece which I will publish in due course. It's some of my preliminary thinking that led me to run the Hamleys campaign and to set up Breakthrough: The Gender Stereotypes Project. (By the way, also check out my article in the F-Word on Breakthrough which was published this week.) Thanks to my good friend Claudia Crawley who inspired me to dig out this post because she's been writing about the same topic.
I heard a senior female scientist speak at an event about the low numbers of women in the science profession. Afterwards, she told me about her blog, on which she discusses ideas for solutions to the problems. I said to her: “That’s brilliant you are writing a feminist blog.” “Oh no,” she said. “I wouldn’t like to call myself a feminist. I have to worry what my colleagues will think of me.”
This is not uncommon – I have heard many women say it. I have heard MPs say it. “Yes, I support equal rights for women, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist.” I want to say back: “But if you support equal rights, you are a feminist.”
When I started my own blog, people warned me about calling myself a feminist, thinking it was for my own good. “It gets people’s backs up,” they said. So I thought hard about this issue. I know about the hatred of feminists in society. I hear the politicians who blame feminism and feminists for society’s ills. But I have also noticed something else that’s interesting. I often evoke the same hostile reaction by talking about women’s rights without actually mentioning the word ‘feminism’.
My conclusion is that it’s not the word ‘feminist’ that people object to. It’s not even the facts – few people, even the most ‘anti-feminist’ I have come across, deny (when pressed) that women should not have equality. What people get riled about is the simple concept of a woman demanding equal rights, opportunities and treatment to men, because this upsets the deep-rooted patriarchy in our society.
The prejudice against feminism is an extension of the prejudice against women, therefore whatever we call ourselves – for example, equal rights seekers – there will always be disquiet. When I started the blog, a friend said: “I bet people don’t expect you to look like that.” He thought it was a compliment, telling me that I’m not ugly. It’s a very sad society in which the stereotype of a feminist is to be ugly. Is that the only way that people can justify us asking for equality? Another stereotype about feminists is that they are ‘angry’. This is a neat trick, because telling someone they are angry often has the result of making them angry, even if they weren’t angry in the first place.
I have had many conversations with people who declare that they are not feminists. A typical conversation will start with their protestation that women are already equal. When I contest this with evidence and examples, we agree that women and men are not equal. But now the line changes. Inequality is inevitable, they say. The problem is with women intrinsically, not society.
This view is echoed by high-profile writers and journalists, and is a common argument on my blog. “Oh but men and women are different.” And this is the crux of it. Stereotypes and the belief in differences between men and women. This is the pivot of sexism; and the nut and bolt that holds it all in place.
Posted by Delilah at 00:25