|Posted on February 23, 2014 at 9:40 AM|
Written by Emma Wood
Why is it that the subtlest utterance of the word ‘feminism’ evokes the dirtiest of looks from my friends, who act as though I have just smacked them in the face? I find it sad that my friends only recognise they might be a teeny weeny bit feminist when I say to them, “you are not a feminist - so you won’t help women to defeat domestic violence?”
It seems people have become afraid of feminism and I can understand why. Type ‘feminism’ into Google and what emerges is a mismatch of manly-looking women in wartime propaganda posters, some slightly feminine men, and a torrent of protest banners…
The heart of the concept has been buried in the taboos of feminism’s history. Although I know there are people who are sure of their opinion on the matter, what worries me is the misconception of feminism and feminist ideas amongst my peers. When I say ‘feminism’, they think Malala Yusefzai, Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison. A woman who was shot for going to school; one who instigated active protests, was tormented, and horribly force-fed on hunger strike; another who threw herself under a racehorse and died. Too often do people only think about women chaining themselves to gates, smashing windows, or attempting to kill themselves. Because my friends do not associate with these kinds of actions, feminism is slipping from their grasp. They no longer perceive feminism as standing for the rights of women, but rather as a kind of forbidden extremist movement!
Feminism has also been lost in the stormy surges of social media. How can I expect my friends to be feminist when every time they see their newsfeed they are assaulted with videos or photos captioned, ‘Mum! Make me a bacon sandwich! #hilarious’? It is normal for us to see women being treated like this and normal to see them called ‘dramatic’ or ‘sensitive’ or deficient of a sense of humour, if they think this treatment is unfair. Every day girls and boys of my generation are bombarded with sexism, racism, homophobia and pretty much every stereotype that ever existed – which we are forced to ignore. And therein lies the problem: we are too used to not making a fuss, seeing it every day, scrolling past it. The rights and morals that people fought so hard to preserve have now become issues which cannot be tackled in the way they once were – I cannot chain myself to the internet!
I also find it difficult to blame people for their distance from feminism because the unavoidable fact is that historically women have done less than men. Think important people: who do you see? Sports personalities, politicians, comedians, professional chefs, inventors, scientists… The fact is, men have more titles and men are more famous for having them. Whether this is because women have not had the same opportunities, or by complete fluke, or perhaps it is because men just better fulfil our stereotype of a successful person – it does not matter. Young girls need to see women being creative, successful, speaking out for equal treatment and behaving just like normal people, just like them. This is not because the younger generation is unambitious but because to them, seeing a feminist is unusual and standing for feminism is something that people don’t really do. Not because they don’t care; I’m sure some of them are concerned about inequality issues like domestic violence and seemingly innocuous lewd comments. But it is not their priority, not their purpose for getting up in the morning, not their job description, not something they have even given much thought to…
So feminism needs a facelift. But are women allowed one too? Even if people are sure they stand for women’s rights are they ready to give up their life for it? Apparently women are not just expected to jump in front of a horse, but also to stop wearing makeup, or stop dying their hair, or stop getting hair removed! Perhaps feminism is not about giving these things up – you would not say that a man who shaved couldn’t stand for equality. Feminism needs to be reconsidered; women should have the right to decide how they look AND not be mocked on social networking sites AND be able to speak out without shame.
However, I do think things have moved on. It seems there is no longer a place for placards reading, ‘feminism is the radical notion that women are people’ because society already knows that. In most countries, the issue of feminism is no longer surrounding the need to gain basic rights like the vote or maternity leave or equal pay. It is instead about our attitude towards women; the small things like everyday jokes about blondes and barmaids and the division of domestic labour. It is not wrong for you to say this treatment is unequal and as feminism is ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes’, it is also not wrong for you to stand on your chair and tell the world, “I am a strident feminist!”