2012/07/17 by admin
“Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.”
This is the definition of feminism, according to the motto of women’s rights journal The Revolution, founded in the mid-19th century by American civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony.
Read it again.
It is not really all that controversial. I’m fairly confident that most reasonable people would agree, and if you don’t, you’re probably here by accident. Assuming you think equality for women is a good idea, turn to the person next to you and announce that you are a feminist. Tell the room. Stand on a chair and sing it. Shout it to the train carriage or at your bewildered colleagues. No? My guess is if you are a guy, doing this probably feels a tad uncomfortable.
My boyfriend is a far better feminist than I am. He passionately hates discrimination, inequality and prejudice. He has this quiet appreciation of people for just being people, which is part of what attracted him to me when we first met (that and the shoulders). He would vehemently agree with the statement above. However, the first time I asked him if he was a feminist, he balked a bit at the word. Similarly my father, who regularly gets angry about the gender pay gap, inequality in the workplace and women’s rights violations, still looks vaguely uncomfortable when I tell him I’m proud to have a feminist dad.
Perhaps it is the connotations of the word ‘feminist’ that make you feel uncomfortable; the straw women of feminism (angry misandrist feminazis burning their bras, claiming all sex is rape and announcing emancipation from the patriarchy)? Maybe these women make you feel emasculated, redundant, threatened.
They don’t need you to rule or guide them, to allow them to have bank accounts or even to reproduce. It’s pretty threatening. It must be offensive sometimes too, to be blamed for the actions of other men or for erstwhile prejudices long since outdated.
Or perhaps the discomfort with the word goes further than just the association – maybe the prejudice is also buried in the word itself, ‘feminist’. Feminism. Does it sound too much like ‘feminine’? Does associating yourself with it make you feel female? Oh, you’re a man but you’re a feminist? You girl, you.
It seems to me that what most men fear deep down is feeling weak and emasculated. If you
want to hit a man where it hurts, you know that telling him that he’s weak is the jugular to aim for.
In western society, male strength is celebrated, even fetishised. Evolutionarily speaking, strength was presumably a pretty useful asset to have when hunting down a woolly mammoth while simultaneously fighting off a sabre-toothed tiger. It is built within your DNA, cultivated from childhood, and a quick glance at male-targeted advertising will show you how celebrated the ideal, strong heterosexual male is within popular culture. Just as women fight our battles with our, arguably stronger and more narrow, cultural gender stereotyping, you fight yours.
So where exactly has all this misogyny come from, how has weakness come to be associated with femaleness?
In his 1978 book Orientalism, which highlights false assumptions underlying Western attitudes to the East, Edward Said’s chief argument is that there is a fundamental juxtaposition in contemporary ideology between the white, male, strong, sane, western, heterosexual, logical, wealthy – and the eastern, non-white, female, emotional, mentally unstable, emotional, poor, homosexual, weak.
The West is the norm or the ideal, and the Other is the binary opposite of this. This antithesis is buried so deep within our psyche that all our deepest beliefs are based on this assumption, argues Said.
Spend any time hanging around outside a secondary school (I don’t advise such
behaviour) and you will come across groups of would-be macho teenage boys insulting each other. Standard. You’re such a girl. You’re so gay, you pussy. Weakness is seen as a female attribute.
Femaleness remains associated with the frailty, mental instability and emotional hysteria of
the ‘Orient’. This is what lies at the heart of a patriarchal society, the belief that to be female equals to be lesser, fragile and emotionally unstable. This pervades our ideologies to such a degree that we barely notice it. I occasionally catch myself saying I throw like a girl, or some such sexist crap. It’s everywhere.
We must move away from the assumption that female equals fragile. There is no natural weakness that comes with having a vagina.
Think of all the women you admire – perhaps our foremothers, Emmeline, Germaine or Susan B. Or maybe it’s the women who make the media a bit more bearable, Caitlin Moran, or Polly Toynbee. Perhaps its Aung San Suu Kyi. Or your mum.
Feminism is not weak, it isn’t just for girls, and it needs you chaps to get on board. It is not a dirty word.