English: The Austrian feminist Marie Lang, 1858-1934 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You know it never ceases to amaze me who often I am called a ‘feminist’ when I talk about human rights and gender equality. I find it particularly interesting that most often it is young women (35 and under) who say things like, “oh you must be a feminist” when talking to me about equality and women’s issues. Basically they say the word like I am from a different planet, or some different species of animal not yet fully researched, but feared and despised none the less. I usually hear this statement when I get into a conversation with someone and I might ask these women if they think they are equal in our society. Or I might ask them why they have just said what they did and then give them some examples of inequalities to expand the context of what they have just said, like “I am waiting for my boyfriend to ask me to marry them” To which I might ask, why don’t you just ask him to marry you? To which they are often shocked as often times I don’t think they have even thought about the alternative so fixed into the traditional roles expected of them that they don’t see any issue with what they have said. Sure its fine to wait to be asked if you know you are traditional and that is your choice, but very often after a discussion, the person will tell me that they have actually never even thought about what they say and believe and why they do. Conversely, I get two different responses from men when I question their behaviour or views, or I simply talk about current human rights issues like violence against women. The first, and I would say the one that is gaining ground is where the man wants to know more about inequalities and inequities because they know that these inequalities also affect them. Second, and I am well used to this one by now, is hostile where the man might (try to) speak over the top of me and try to belittle me in front of other men. Only the other day I was de-friended by a long term acquaintance when I questioned a post on his Facebook page that had an image that said something like “punch a bitch a day”. He thought it funny, I thought it completely inappropriate and promoting violence against women. However he accused me of being a man hater, of not seeing the funny side, of being ‘juvenile, sexist and racist’. That last one is a little funny, but apparently in the US the saying “punch a bitch a day” is acceptable if you are a person of colour, which this person is not, but he didn’t think of that I guess. Having questioned his values and calling him on the post, he then proceeded to accuse me of being a FEMINIST, like it was the worst word he could call me. He then told me that it was no wonder I was no longer married, and when I said that was a low blow considering he knew my situation, he said “it wasn’t personal”. Charming! Whilst I was working in Thailand (2003), this same man said to me that he didn’t know why men bothered to rape women in the US when they could just come to Thailand and buy one for sex when they liked. Hmm, and I thought he had changed since, but then old habits….
I actually don’t think of myself as a feminist, merely someone who believes in equality and I wonder why being a feminist is so terrible? Has the population been brainwashed into believing that the old 60’s bra burning stereotype of feminists is still current? Feminism has evolved a couple of times since then, but we rarely hear about the new forms and instead continue to focus on the hot buttons of pro-choice and militancy, instead of understanding that we have moved on from and new ideologies like the Pussy Riots and Slut Marches exist.
“In my own view, Feminism is organic rather than something that needs to be defined or performed in a certain way. Prior to my study of Sociology, I would not have recognised a feminist, and certainly did not realise that there were many different types of feminisms. Many younger women do not class themselves as, or even identify with being a feminist. Instead, historical female behavioural models are collected, compared and consolidated, recycled depending on which role the actor chooses to play. These models come in different forms such as the ‘post feminist’, the post feminist lesbian, the black feminist, the old feminist or the young feminist. There are established models for each different type of category, easily recognised by other feminists and the wider community.” (Moore 2012)
There are also different waves of feminism, like the early suffragette who wanted the vote for women, known as 1st wave feminism – 1960-1920. One of the most wide ranging political campaigns in history, the suffragette battled for access to the vote for women and chastity for men. The chastity for men was an issue because there was very little access to birth control and it was acceptable for men to frequent prostitutes or have mistresses which spread the disease to their wives, and yes before you say ooooohhhhheeee, some women did have extramarital sex as well they had few rights. The point is that women didn’t have the vote, couldn’t own property and could be chucked out and divorced by their husband just like that if they were found to be adulteress. In short there was a double standard. As well as the inability for women to control pregnancy, venereal disease was rife and women wanted to curb the practice of sex outside marriage.
The bra burning feminists, known as 2nd Wave Feminism of the 1960’s were primarily concerned with sexism and highlighted an awareness of systemic discrimination against women. This period is now recognised as being ‘Eurocentric’ (focusing on white women) and is also sometimes called Captial F feminsism because it viewed all women as sisters simply because they were women. This wave took on patriarchy and fought for a women’s right to choose and so we continue to hear the pro-choice argument being synonymous with pro abortion, but this is only one aspect of this movement. The right to choose was about a women’s right to choose what happens to her body, including the right to contraception and abortion. Unfortunately the wider issues sometimes get lost on pro lifers who like to focus on the abortion and pro-choice aspect as it helps to further their cause and demonise women, mostly mothers.
3rd wave feminism recognises differences in women’s environments, cultures, political and choices so it can be discussed in a broader context and instead becomes known as ‘feminisms’. 3rd wave feminists believe that feminism is outdated and is now ‘being lived rather than theorised’. Hence many women under 35 think that there is no need for feminsim at all because they are already equal. However there are many who know that there are still significant issues and in current times we have seen the rise of raunch culture and girl power in the form of Pussy Riots, Slut Marches and other grass-roots organisations that aim to ‘reclaim’ a women’s sexuality. Feminism is still evolving and will continue to evolve as more issues come to light to be addressed, like the current issue of ‘rape culture’.
So I don’t mind being called a feminist, I just find it funny that people need to ask me if I am one.
MOORE, Susanne (2012), “Feminism, Difference and Identity”, form Macquarie University SGY220 Assignment 3, White paper
Enough Already – http://onebillionrising.org/blog/entry/enough-already
Griffith University. (2011/12). Defining Women: Social Institutions and cultural diversity. Study Guide , 1-101.