Should we move away from the word feminist?Posted: March 25, 2011
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.