10 reasons not to be afraid of feminism

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“I call myself a feminist. Isn’t that what you call someone who fights for women’s rights?” – The Dalai Lama

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back” – Malala Yousafzai

Feminism seems to be something that sparks a lot of heated debate although I’m not really sure why as essentially it’s just about equality between men and women and I think that’s hard to argue against. But to help clarify things I thought I’d present ten reasons why people don’t need to be afraid of feminism.

1. Not all words ending in -ism are bad

Yes ‘Nazism’, ‘Stalinism’ and ‘terrorism’ are definitely some bad -isms but this doesn’t make all words ending in -ism are inherently evil. If you do google-search for words ending in ‘ism’ you will probably find more rubbish examples than good ones, but without ‘ism’ we couldn’t have ‘heroism’ or ‘idealism’. Heroism (art by B. Potts)

2. Feminism remains necessary as people are still treated differently because of their gender

Even just looking at things from a Western perspective although women may have equality in theory it doesn’t always amount to equality in practice. I could go on about female representation in public spheres like the government, legislature and judiciary but that would probably add another thousand words to this post so I’ll just invite you to check out Laura Bates’s everyday sexism project to get an idea of why feminism is still required in the so-called developed world. Every woman I’ve spoken to about this has at least one story of when they have been made to feel uncomfortable by a man in a way that wouldn’t have happened had they not been a woman.

Some men, and definitely not all, because most men I know wouldn’t dream of behaving in this way, but some men think it’s alright to objectify women, to grab their bottoms, to shout obscenities at them from moving vehicles, to comment on their tits and genuinely treat them as objects for their amusement. I suspect that some of the men that do this would actually be quite shocked by how much this sort of thing can really get under a person’s skin and make us feel uncomfortable. So a comment on our booty might be meant kindly but please forgive us if we react badly, from our experiences of this sort of thing happening quite frequently we are likely to be more sensitive about these things and, perhaps not wholly surprisingly, we will take personal comments well… personally.

This kind of unwanted attention is more likely to happen to women but yes this does also happen to men. Behaviour that intimidates, harasses or upsets anyone in this way, whatever gender they are, isn’t acceptable.

3. Feminism isn’t about hating-men

Being a feminist doesn’t mean you hate men. It’s not like racism (another bad -ism) where you want to assert the superiority of one kind of person over another, so being a feminist doesn’t mean you believe in female superiority and eagerly await the subjugation of all men to the complete domination of women.

Alright some people who call themselves feminists might want that but they have sort of missed the point and shouldn’t be considered representative of all feminists. Feminism is actually about wanting gender equality for both men and women.

Men hating (art by B Potts)

4. Feminism doesn’t mean all men are rapists

Feminism often focuses on rape because this is a problem, it happens far too frequently, often goes unreported or isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be. Feminists highlight the dangers of rape because it’s a terrible thing no-one should have to experience, it doesn’t mean feminists think every man is a rapist.

A bit of a tangent about the nail varnish thing…

There was a bit of fuss recently after some chaps invented a nail polish that changed colour when dipped in a drink that had been spiked. At first everyone thought this was great because helping people not be raped is surely a good thing. Then there was a bit of a backlash from some of the angry feminists types who tend to put people off the whole thing, who were getting up in the grill of the inventors faces and saying things like ‘how dare you assume rape is just women’ and ‘why should the onus be on women not to get raped, why not figure out how to stop people thinking rape is okay’.

I would like to respond to these two points. Firstly why assume men wouldn’t wear nail varnish and even if they don’t want to that doesn’t stop this being useful. If you discovered a cure for cancer that could only help ginger-haired people but couldn’t cure cancer for everyone it’d be pretty dastardly to say to ginger-haired people sorry you can’t have this until we’ve figured out a fix for everyone.

To the second argument it’s not like the inventors were saying ‘hey it’s okay to rape anyone who doesn’t use our nail varnish’ it’s simply that they thought they could do something to address a serious problem which sadly exists in the actual world we live in as opposed to the utopia we’d all like where rape doesn’t happen. Saying the inventors of rape-deterrent nail varnish are saying it’s up to women not to get raped is like saying I should be able to leave my bike unlocked in Geneva outside without anyone taking it. Yes I should be able to leave my bike unlocked because stealing my bike would be wrong. However as some people would steal my bike whether or not I think it’s wrong I’m grateful someone invented bike locks.

5. Admitting a need for feminism doesn’t mean pretending there are no other problems in the world

Sexism happens. It’s not the only awful thing that happens in the world. However the existence of other terrible things doesn’t mean sexism doesn’t exist and that it isn’t a problem that shouldn’t be addressed. It’s not a competition, it’s just about trying to improve the world in whatever way we can.

Feminism is about addressing discrepancies between genders and achieving real gender equality will help some people. It won’t solve poverty, famine and disease. But we aren’t ranking these things. Otherwise we would all have to agree on the one most single awful thing in the world and say we can’t even consider other issues until this was resolved. It would be like saying the police shouldn’t investigate kidnap cases until all murder cases have been solved.

Sadly there are many bad things in the world, happily there are lots of good people that want to work in different ways to try and make things better.

6. Feminism doesn’t mean women can never wash, shave, put on nice clothes or make-up

Feminism means women are free to make a choice about whether they wash, choose to shave, what clothes they wear or whether they want to apply make-up, and that no-one should feel they have to do these things just for the benefit of someone else. Although, actually, all genders should try and wash occasionally, for the benefit of your fellow humans who otherwise have to smell you.

Just last night I was painting my nails whilst reading a book on women’s human rights. This doesn’t make me less of a woman or a rubbish feminist because first of all, it’s not an either/or situation and second of all, I believe it’s up to me to be a ‘woman’ in whatever way I choose. Sometimes that involves painting my nails, sometimes it involves bumming around in jogging bottoms all day. It’s my call.

Not washing (art by B Potts)

7. Feminism isn’t about denying bad things happen to men

Feminism is about levelling the current power imbalance between genders. It tends to focus on women because on the whole the power imbalance is against women. However it doesn’t mean denying that issues which more often affect women than men, also affect men and can be perpetrated by women.

For example there are serious issues about disbelief of male victims of rape or domestic abuse by people who don’t believe this could happen. This isn’t something to laugh off, it’s a serious issue and changing attitudes towards these victims is all part of feminism.

Someone suggested that feminism should be renamed equalism so as not to irritate people so much. I see their point in that feminism is really an issue of equality it’s just that if we don’t give it a gendered terminology then it wouldn’t necessarily be clear as to what feminism is about.

I’m a humanist in that I believe everyone should be treated equally regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or any other category you want to throw in there. I’m also a feminist because feminism is addressing one of these areas of discrimination and if I say feminist then we all, more or less, know what I’m talking about.

8. Feminism doesn’t turn all women into victims

Feminism isn’t about the victimisation of women, it’s not about saying women can’t do anything for themselves and that they will always be oppressed by men. It’s about acknowledging there is a problem, raising awareness of the problem in the hope that it might affect change and ultimately working together towards a world where we can say feminism isn’t necessary any more. Feminism can actually be quite empowering by helping people of all genders to realise they shouldn’t have to put up with gender biased behaviour that demoralises and demeans them.

9. You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist

As Emma Watson put it in her recent speech on feminism for the UN “Men – I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.” There are already a lot of pretty cool men who would identify themselves as feminists, including: Patrick Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Prince Harry and the Dalai Lama. 

As a lot of problems of the sort reported on everyday sexism stem from the way men treat women then actually we need more men to step up and make it clear that they think treating women as anything other than human beings is not okay. The more men there are acknowledging the need for gender equality the less feminism can be accused of being a vehicle for angry women to rant about pointless issues (which isn’t really what it’s about at all).

Equalism (art by B. Potts)

10. Feminists can take a joke

Some people think feminists can’t take a joke but that’s simply not true, provided your joke is funny. If your joke is highly sexualised about me and makes me and others in the vicinity uncomfortable, then it’s not really a joke. Jokes about rape are also never going to be funny, there’s a reason why people groan when such jokes are told and that’s because they are awful. Those telling them are going more for shock factor than comedic value and if that’s the best they’ve got in their comedic arsenal then maybe leave the joke telling to actually funny people or look up some new material online.

And one for luck…

11. You can still open a door for a woman without being anti-feminist

There’s no reason for common courtesy to go out of the window just because women want equality with men. No feminist is going to get mad because a man opens a door for her, just don’t get upset if a woman also wants to open a door for a man. You can still be nice to someone without trampling all over them and there’s no need to make this a gender thing. Surely it’s nice if you hold the door open for whoever is behind you or struggling with an armful of books or whatever, regardless of gender.

Opening door (art by B Potts)

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15 thoughts on “10 reasons not to be afraid of feminism

    • My thoughts exactly. Some people just seem to want to get involved in any old argument to make sure as many people as possible get sight of just what a jerk they are!

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  1. Liblob

    Great blog. I completely agree however it seems that people who promote femanism in the media don’t help the stereotype! My favourite femanist is Jo brand, proving that some feminists haven’t lost their sense of humour!

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    • Jo Brand is a great example, I probably should have flagged up some positive female feminist role models rather than just shouting out the men.

      It’s definitely true that certain feminists really don’t do the rest of us any favours when they go on the attack about things like the nail varnish and I think the media love giving airtime to that kind of more extreme feminism, so they can pretend to be gender balanced but actually, by just showcasing the more extreme cases, do nothing to promote understanding or useful dialogue on the subject.

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      • Whoops – typo in her name! It’s actually Roxane Gay. She is a Haitian-American college professor, and she writes from a very personal standpoint. It had gotten very good reviews, and given her background and her reasoning about issues I’m finding it quite interesting.

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        • Haha, that explains why my initial amazon search proved fruitless. Yeah the book looks interesting and good reviews, shall definitely try to get hold of a copy. Let me know how you get on with it.

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      • I’m about 70% done with the book – it touches upon many different issues, including racism and the black American experience. She writes about pop culture quite a bit – some books and movies that I am not familiar with, and some that are very American (Sweet Valley High books, for example). Definitely a different perspective on issues than what one typically reads, but it’s so all over the place that I’m not yet certain how I feel about it!

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        • Thanks for the update, It still sounds like an interesting read but lack of clear direction through the book sounds like to would add an extra challenge to the read. I’ll keep looking out for it but will resist the urge to buy a full price copy for the time being. I am however heading to my parents this weekend where this is a pretty great second hand bookshop so fingers crossed I might even find it there!

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  2. This is a great post. As you say, it is good manners to hold a door open for people irrespective of their gender. Its worth making the point that Feminists are not a unified bunch. There are often strong disagreements within the Feminist movement. For example on the subject of prostitution I have read Feminist critiques arguing that all sex workers are exploited and that those who pay for sex should be criminilised as is the case in Sweden and other Nordic countries. This position is predicated on the belief that no one freely chooses to enter prostitution and accepting prostitution is to accept it is OK to treat women as sex objects. Other Feminists argue, with equal conviction that “my body, my choice”, no one has the right to curtail a woman’s right to do as she chooses with her body. Such Feminists also see attempts to criminilise clients and/or sex workers as iliberal. Do you have a view on the issue? Kevin

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    • Thanks for the comment Kevin, and you are right there are a lot of disagreements in the feminist movement. Prostitution is an interesting one and I don’t have a solution. I agree that women should have freedom to do what they want with their bodies and accept that there are a small number of women, and men for that matter, who freely enter the sex trade and are happy in the work that they do. But I think they are in the minority. Most people involved in the sex trade are being exploited and there are also huge issues with human trafficking that need to be addressed. Perhaps there is a need to balance these rights but right now I’d rather prioritise these issues for the vulnerable majority before addressing freedom of expression issues for the ‘liberal’ minority.

      The problem with taking a completely hard-line approach to prostitution is that in the current reality of the world we live in prostitution is going to take place, whether legal or not, and criminalising it only serves to push the practice underground and increases the risk to prostitutes. On the other hand not having any criminal sanctions normalises prostitution and is likely to fuel demand for this and increase acceptance of the sex trade without necessarily addressing any of the issues about exploitation. I do think that where there are criminal sanctions these should only be applied to clients and pimps and not to prostitutes.

      I think the long term solution should be trying to encourage openness about sexual practices and eliminating cultural double standards where it’s okay for men to have sex but not for women. I think this would ultimately do much more for human rights than simply rubber-stamping prostitution but it’s not going to happen overnight and is not without it’s own risks.

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