Should we move away from the word feminist?

This question was posed by Henry in response to my last post, which got me thinking about the word feminist.  There are so many people that will say “I’m not a feminist but…”, and seek to distance themselves from the movement.   But I question how many people are really not feminists. Of course there are some people who do in all honesty believe that a woman’s place is in the home, but they are in a minority. So why are so few people happy to come out and declare themselves to be feminist? And maybe changing our name could help the movement gain additional supporters and make new advances.

And there are some negative connotations to the word feminist.  It seems to have become tied up with misandry and the extreme views of some feminists.  Somehow, by saying you’re a feminist people seem to assume that you’re hairy, with no sense of humour and have probably been dumped by men once too often.

But there’s also a lot of history behind the feminist movement, and figures that I’m proud to be associated with.  I’m proud of figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft, who argued in the 18th Century that women were capable of and would benefit from education.  From the work of feminists during the anti-slavery debates pointing out that the men arguing in parliament against keeping black men in slavery would happily prevent their wives’ from owning property or having a legal identity.  I identify with suffragists and with the women who brought about the equal pay act.  And I don’t see why I should give this up as some women in the feminist movement have made some arguments I disagree with.

When people today say that they aren’t feminists, and don’t agree with feminism, what do they really mean?  Are they wishing for a time when women didn’t get paid the same as men (we don’t).  Are they wishing for a time when women couldn’t work after marriage (look at women’s representation on boards of companies, or the even greater pay disparity that women with children suffer).  Are they wishing for a time when women didn’t have the vote (we make up a disproportionately small number of MPs and a shockingly small number of Ministers).   Are they wishing for a time when domestic violence was treated as a man appropriately governing his household (look up any VAW statistics to see that women still make up the overwhelming majority of victims of violence in the home, and that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence).

What are people really saying when they argue that feminism has achieved too much?  That some women are getting uppity and saying too much?  That some extremes from the movement are unhelpful?  That there are now a few women getting away with saying things that are anti-men?  Compare for a moment whichever of these criticisms you’d like to make against what women see every day.  Compare the number of women comics making misandrist jokes to the number of sexist jokes that are still said – on TV, or in everyday situations “I know we shouldn’t say things like this anymore, but this is really funny…”.    Compare the number of feminists making extreme comments to the articles we see every week in the Daily Mail (and on other mainstream sources) arguing that really women would be better off if they all stayed home, or trying to whip up sympathy for some poor men who were once misguided enough to rape someone.

As feminists, our aims are the same as they have been for hundreds of years – equality.  We have made some great advances, and I’m proud and grateful for the work that feminists have done.  But there is still a long way to go.  We still need to call ourselves feminists while we fight for equality.  And we should take pride in this label.


Why anti-men examples are usually anti-feminism

I started making notes for this post last week, but it has become even more relevant since @NatalieDzerins introduced me to the worrying world of MRA.  Men’s Rights Activists claim to defend the rights of men, and dismiss feminism as misandry.  Natalie wrote a great post explaining why she won’t support one particular MRA Rites of Manhood, and discussing why MRA groups are not helpful.  Natalie’s included my response in her post, so I won’t repeat that here, but I did want to look further at the idea that men are now discriminated against.

One of the things that is most likely to make any feminist start bashing their heads on their desk, is the battle cry “men are discriminated against now”.  They argue that feminism has gone too far and has not just achieved equality, but gone past it to a world where men are at a disadvantage.  But if you look at the oft-quoted examples of anti-men discrimination, they often turn out to be anti-feminist rather than post-feminist.

Lets take advertising as an example.  Advertising in the 1950s seemed to centre on the idea that for most women, a sparkly home was their upper-most ambition, and pleasing their man was their life’s work.  Now, we may have moved away from the overt statements of this, and I’m glad we’ve pretty much seen the back of the promotion of domestic violence as part of life (see this great post from The Wave with some brilliant images of ads).

But, advertising still seems to rely on stereotypes. And to argue that these stereotypes are anti-men is just disingenuous.  Every time we see a man failing to do some simple domestic task, and needing to be rescued by a woman, this reinforces the idea that women are better at domestic tasks.  When Dad is treated like a third child, needing to be looked after by a woman, this might be insulting to men, but it is also a feminist argument.  Men are just as capable as women as looking after a home.  Exactly as women are just as capable as men at doing things outside of the home.  So it always strikes me as incredibly un-thought-through to use these adverts as an example of how feminism is now over and has achieved all it needs to.  While it is still acceptable to suggest that a woman’s place is in the home, feminism is still needed.

The preponderance of male nudity is also cited as an example of feminism now being over.  Feminists have won, and can now see male nudity whenever they want.  Not just after the watershed, but in pretty much any BBC drama.  Men are so discrimated against that it seems impossible for them to work without getting naked.  But again, lets look at this.  I haven’t seen the stats, but I’m willing to agree with the premise that male nudity is now seen on screen more than female.  But  I would disagree completely that this is proof that feminism has won.  Female nudity is still proscribed, at least before watershed, because of the sexual nature.  But female sexuality is still seen as passive, and so it’s acceptable to show male nudity at any point, as it’s not really sexual.   I don’t want to get into the obvious arguments here about the assumption that all viewers are heterosexual.  But I do want to emphasise that again, this argued anti-men discrimination is actually anti-feminist.

Which brings me to my point.  Feminism is about equality, not misandry.  Stereotyping women or men into particular roles in the home, or into particular ideologies of sexuality is anti-feminist.  It doesn’t matter whether a woman or a man is the butt of the joke, or the one being made to look stupid.

So next time the cry goes out that men are discriminated against so much nowadays, perhaps they should start counting themselves as feminists, and join in the fight together.

Is feminism all about choice?

There was a great post on Womanist Musings this week about turning the hijab into something sexy, that gives women power over their own appearance, rather than being a symbol of oppression (Pious Sexy Hijab).  I really enjoyed the post, and admired the moves that this feminist is making to push women’s rights as a Muslim.  But I did question whether actually the Hijab could ever be adopted by feminists, or whether it is too much a symbol of oppression, putting all the responsibility for modesty onto females, and so many women are bullied into wearing it (even if others chose to).  I haven’t kept the discussion on that post going, as I obviously upset people there, and really didn’t mean to be trolling on someone else’s blog.

But the responses have been really thought-provoking for me.  They argue that feminism is all about giving women choices.  And I’m not sure that I agree with this.

Oppression is all about having choice taken away from you.  That is why incarceration is used as a punishment – it not only prevents you harming wider society, but you are no longer able to make your own choices about how you live your life.  Similarly, poverty can so undermine people because they have no choice over their life, and so removing people from poverty is giving them control over their lives, and the ability to make their own decisions.

But is feminism the same thing as freedom from oppression?  Is it enough to want women living under extreme regimes the right to chose how they position their hijab?   While this is obviously an incredibly important right, to be free from oppression, it is a different argument to the feminist argument of equality.

Because although the hijab can be a choice that some women make, it will never be a symbol of equality.  Men are still not asked to cover up to preserve their modesty.

Sometimes, equality isn’t about choices.  To take a completely different example, some women choose to work in lap-dancing clubs, and say that they feel empowered by making this choice.  But as a feminist, I’m always going to argue against these clubs.  This is because of the wider implications about how women are viewed, for the safety records around lap-dancing clubs, and for the women who are exploited through the normalisation of the sex industry.   So although it is preventing a choice for some women, as a feminist I will argue against lap-dancing.

I’m not trying to equate wearing a Hijab with lap-dancing, as I know they are completely different issues.  But I do argue that feminism isn’t about giving women the right to choose anything they want.  It is about fighting for women to be treated equally to men.  To not be discriminated against, to not be judged by their sex, to not be treated differently because they are women.  And perhaps we have to give up some choices for that to happen.

I’m also not really saying that feminism is more important than freedom from oppression.  I’m lucky that I live in the privileged position I do, so that feminism can be so important to me.   And I am sure that @woodturtle_blog (the author of the Pious Sexy Hijab post) is having a much greater impact on the world than I am.  The issue of oppression and poverty is immediate and hugely important.  But I don’t think it’s the same as feminism.

For me, feminism isn’t about choice.  It’s about equality.

Moving from maternity leave to parental leave

Katie Hopkins caused outrage earlier this week by proclaiming proudly that she only took two or three weeks of maternity leave for each of her children.  She was arguing against the “Mumsnet mafia” that maternity rights are robbing women of power in the workplace.

Now, I’m not a fan of Hopkins, and I can’t help thinking that she deliberately picks a point to argue that she knows will be contentious to garner herself as much attention as she can.  But, I think it’s an interesting argument to be had.

Women have been fighting for better rights in the workplace for generations now.  Some of these rights are about childcare and maternity leave, and it’s great that these women are being heard.  I don’t want to go back to the days where women automatically lost their jobs when they married as the next step would be babies.  I think that excluding working mothers from an organisation (either deliberately, or by not having family-friendly policies in place) is a huge mistake for any organisation.

But, not all women are going to be mothers.  And continually emphasising women’s rights as mothers in the workplace, could actually be working against equality.  Alan Sugar caused anger, quite rightly, when he declared himself to be suspicious of hiring women of child-bearing age as it could mean he’d have to pay for maternity leave.  He argued that he should be able to ask women about their plans.  And this is why Nick Clegg’s plans to share parental leave equally between parents is so important.  The arguments against this centred around causing more administration for small businesses.  But lets be honest, we’re only talking about an extra hour or two here to check with other companies and fill out a form.  What the concern is actually is that male employees are about to become as unreliable as female employees.  Employers won’t be able to protect themselves from parental leave by discriminating against women.

And this is possibly the argument that Hopkins was trying to make (or perhaps that Daybreak producers were hoping she would make).  There is a current expectation that women will take a year off, possibly more than once, at some point in their twenties or thirties.  And like all generalisations it is really dangerous and unhelpful.  Some women will want to take off less time, perhaps handing full time caring duties over to their partner.  Some women won’t want to (or of course can’t) become parents.  And the current legislation, offering women a lot of protection, is viewed as a hardship by employers.

Changing the legislation away from it’s emphasis on women, towards an emphasis on parents is a great thing for women in the workplace.

So often, parental leave is seen as a women’s issue, as an important part of the feminist movement.  And while it’s an important issue for a huge number of women, and I’m glad that organisations like Mumsnet are so influential, there are also a lot of women fighting hard to not be seen as mothers.  And so I think it’s great that Daybreak featured two strands of feminist thought.  It’s just a shame one of them was Hopkins.

Feminism and the Royal Wedding

Ok, this might seem a bit of a misnoma as a heading, but bear with me.

Glamour this month included a feature “The Royal Wedding has ruined my love life”.  In it, the writer describes how the fact that “Waity Katie” finally “got her man” has made his girlfriend of 8 years suddenly more demanding.  And you know what Glamour, I am really disappointed in you.

Glamour could be considered to be at the feminist end of the glossy spectrum.  It frequently covers pay disparity, is more likely to include CV tips than cleaning tips, and treats women as well-rounded people.  And yet, this coverage of the royal wedding is the same as the coverage everywhere.  Waity-Katie has finally waited long enough, she’s been good enough, and she’s finally been given a new life by Prince Charming.

Couldn’t just one magazine have thought of another side to this story?  Perhaps one like this.

Although Middleton has always loved the Prince, she realised how much she would have to give up to be with him.  Her career would be entirely determined by his birth, as his was.  She would have to marry young, and she couldn’t chose to be child free as heirs would be demanded.  She would, for the rest of her life be judged on her looks by the Daily Mail and others.

For all these reasons, it’s taken Middleton a long time to commit to the Prince.  Although they’ve been living together for a number of years, it wasn’t until this year that she decided she wanted to get married and accept these lifestyle choices.  She had even broken up with Windsor a few years ago, and while he tried to drown his sorrows with his friends, she somberly took the time to reflect on the choice she was making by pursuing a relationship with the heir to the throne.

Now she has finally taken the plunge, she is already carving a career as a Royal, arranging public events, and staking her claims to the fashion world.  We have high hopes for just how much Middleton can achieve – for under-represented people at home and abroad, as well as for British industry at such a difficult time.

Now, I’m not claiming any sort of insider knowledge that suggests this story is true in anyway.  Maybe Kate Middleton is Waity-Katy.  But wouldn’t it be nice if just one mainstream press had presented this view of the story?

Glamour, I expected more from you.

New lows in victim blaming

Victim Blaming seems to have been taking a disturbing new turn this month, with a few horrendous stories emerging of child victims being blamed.

A councillor in Scotland has recently been sacked for suggesting a 9 year old “wanted it to happen” when she was raped.    The New York Times this week seems to have more sympathy for the “boys” (aged between 18 and 27, hardly innocent children) who will “have to live with this for the rest of their lives” than the 11 year old girl they gang-raped.  She sometimes wore inappropriate clothes, and y’know, what was she doing outside her home anyway?

These incidents are especially concerning, as they are happening in the mainstream, amongst people who really should know better.  A councillor, in a court room, on the record.  The New York Times.  Ok, not known for being liberal, but hardly extreme.

I blogged recently about the reporting of rape and the desire in the mainstream press to brand all women as liars.  But this additional step, that all females – even girls as young as 9 – are evil temptresses, and to blame even in cases of rape is truly alarming.  The phrase “Promiscuous behaviour” being used as a justification for assault – even in the case of children – is extremely worrying for all of us.

Not only is this 9 year old child being blamed based on her own behaviour (not fighting back hard enough) she’s also being judged on the behaviour of any girls vaguely in her age group.  “walk into any high school and observe girls in short skirts coupled with their promiscuous behaviour”.  Well, 9 year olds don’t often go to high school, but even if they did, this is not the point.
Women being able to wear short skirts, maybe to drink, or even <Shock / Horror> enjoy sex does not mean rape is justifiable.  In fact, the behaviour of other women and girls has nothing to do with one individual case of rape.  And y’know what, the previous behaviour of the 11 year old girl in Cleveland has nothing to do with her being gang-raped by a group of adults.

New York Times writers and public officials should learn what we’ve known for ages.  Victims aren’t to blame for rape.  Rapists are.

Why I want a civil partnership

I’m straight, and I’ve been with my boyfriend for coming up to 10 years.  We’ve been being asked when we’re going to get married for about 9 years.   And both of us have had our reasons for not wanting to.  Boyf’s are generally around not wanting to feel old, liking having a girlfriend, and that a mortgage is a bigger commitment anyway.  I’m generalising, but he can write his own blog if he wants to.  These are my reasons.

I am committed to my boyfriend.  I’m happy that we have joint ownership of our house, a joint mortgage and a joint bank account for our bills.  I like his family, and happily refer to his mum as my mother-in-law-almost/sort-of.    I’ll even answer to Mrs boyf’s-name when employment agencies call and ask for him.  So it’s not him that’s a problem, it’s marriage.

I don’t want to have a wedding.  I don’t want a white dress.  Why should it be the woman who’s proving / implying her virginity on the wedding day all done up in white, while the man where’s a dark suit?  I don’t want to be given away.  I don’t want to split our friends and family into “bride” and “groom”.  I don’t want to repeat vows that make people think “I notice they omitted the word obey…”.

But that’s easy, I could have a civil wedding, in a nice hotel or the registry office.  But I would still end up being a Wife.  All the words connected with wife I don’t want to be.  House-wife.  Little-wife.  Good-wife.  Wife&Mother.  Ex-wife.  First-wife.  Loving-wife.  Trophy-wife.  None of the words that sum up our relationship go with wife (except maybe “loving” I suppose, if I’m feeling soppy).  No equality, no partnership, no facing the world together.

So why don’t I just stay co-habiting?  Boyf is right, it frequently seems a lot harder to dissolve a mortgage than a marriage.  But last year, during an extended period of unemployment, we nearly lost the house.  So what would we have had then?  Co-habitation works when things are good, but the “better or worse” part of the marriage vows is one of the bits I actually like.  That whatever else we lose, even if we have nothing, we’re still a committed partnership.

Worse, at one point I nearly lost boyf.  What would I have been?  Doctors wouldn’t have spoken to me, police wouldn’t have confirmed his death with me.  I know his family would have involved me, as mine would him if anything ever were to happen.  But actually I want this responsibility, and I want him to have it for me.  All the time I’m conscious I make the most important decisions along side him.  So if I were ever not able to make decisions for myself, it’s him I’d want making them for me.

And then there’s what our families want.  Not just a chance to make a speech or wear a hat on a certain day.  But to have a chance to celebrate our relationship.  We already have an anniversary we mark, and I like that it’s private, a chance for us to celebrate our relationship.  But I know that my Mum would like a chance to send a card to both of us each year, saying “I’m pleased it’s working out”.   I know my Dad would like the chance to stand up and say he’s proud of me, and happy that together we’ve made a good life for ourselves.

I want the chance to publicly register our relationship.  I want everyone in every situation to know that he is the most important person in my life, and I in his.  I want to give our friends and family a chance to celebrate our relationship.  But I don’t want to be a wife.

So, if the law is changed, as suggested in the Guardian, and heterosexual couples could enter civil partnerships, I would want to be at the front of the queue.