Feminism: a beginner’s guide

feminist is not a dirty word

When I was at university the only thing I really understood about feminism was that it involved Germaine Greer and lots of “texts” like The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (which honed in on the unhappiness of American housewives of the 1950s) and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf which argued that society’s demands on women to conform to an almost unattainable standard of beauty had increased in line with women’s achievements. Then there was Andrea Dworkin – an unashamedly radical feminist who  focused on the subject of sex and pornography. To be honest these intellectual, academic women seemed like radicals or extremists at the time, synonymous with man-hating, hairy-legged, lentil-munching nutters.

But actually? They had a point. Now we see the launch of the UN’s “He for She” campaign for which actress Emma Watson recently delivered such a heartfelt speech attempting to address and redefine the true definition of feminism – one which simply argues for gender equality.

 

Trending on my Facebook news feed I saw that David Tenant was supporting the campaign which, essentially, is trying to get men on board and show that, in the final analysis, it’s all about human rights. There were a good 800 comments attached to his He for She selfie and I flicked through a few pages curious to the general reaction. Aside from many people commenting on how old he looks (and he’s only 42 so I can only assume the commentators are smug twenty-somethings) there is obviously still a misconception about feminism – the same misconception that led Katy Perry to reject the label whilst still embracing the ideology.

People seem to think that feminism seeks to discriminate against men – overlooking the abuse of men within relationships and all the other ways that men might suffer within society, but to me, that’s like saying Battersea Dogs Home is discriminating against cats (they’re not – I believe they take cats in too) – it seems like a way of undermining the end goal.

Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, recently argued that it is the term “feminism” itself which is the problem, claiming that if you stick “ism” or “ist” on the end of anything then it gives a negative connotation (see: racism). He suggested a new term, “genderist” which would be used to name and shame those who, either overtly or subtly undermine women. There’s been a lot of debate over that one too.

For me, the “He for She” campaign, whilst passionate and true, can never change the status quo because the men who will support it (see: David Tenant) are already enlightened and don’t have that niggling feeling of being threatened by change. The men I read about daily who threaten and control the women in their lives – the perpetrators of domestic violence – what will this campaign mean to them? They will laugh in its face.

And then there are those who would pay it lip service. I heard a snippet of a talk radio show a few days ago for which the question of the day (hour?) was ‘should men be expected to pay for dinner on a first date?’ and the male DJ was attempting to argue that, if women are truly seeking equality, then we should expect to go halves on such occasions. I have to admit that this made my blood boil a bit and I was desperate for someone to phone in and put my case for me. Unfortunately no-one did (not while I was listening anyway). My very first thought was, how extremely shallow for a man to be willing to take the first step to accept feminism by thinking of it as a money saving exercise for the average bloke. I wanted to tell him that this is an absolute nonsense in a world where women are still not treated equally in the workplace, still have lower salary expectations and where the traditionally female jobs like nurse, carer and teacher are valued (and paid) so much lower than their traditionally male equivalents.

Although this is rapidly descending into a message of doom, I do feel like all the recent debate and high profile over women’s rights and expectations can only be a good thing in helping to chip away at the male-dominated infrastructure. And as a mother of boys I feel some responsibility to show them that gender equality is a good and desirable thing.

What do you think about the UN campaign? Do you disagree with me about who should pay on the first date? Please leave a comment below.

 

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