Feminism, the box I don’t feel brave enough to tick.
I read about everyday sexism, the gender pay gap, FGM, sexual assault, gender stereotypes… and I feel. I truly feel. I am inspired by a multitude of strong women, Emma Watson, Michelle Obama, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Malala Yousefzai, as they provide a voice for women across the globe. I have committed to raising my daughter with an understanding that boys can wear whatever the hell they want and girls can play football, with an expectation to be treated as her male peers are. I feel saddened, angry and motivated by the current state of affairs regarding the difference in opportunities between men and women and I am strong in my belief in the equality of all genders, yet, for some reason I can’t identify as a feminist.
Feminism as I understand it, is based upon the idea that men and women are equal and should be treated accordingly. Surely, it is near-impossible for anyone who has spent time thinking about this, to disagree that men and women have a right to equal opportunities. Men and women should be treated equally, I’d bet that if you’re reading this now, you agree. And, if the majority of people, excluding those with extreme beliefs at either end of this thinking, understand that equality is positive, why do we need the label feminism? When I hear the word feminist, I think of more than a shared understanding, rather a club that you’re either in or you’re not. Is there something I need to do to join in? I’m not a very active activist (see The Middle Mama; i’m a sit-on-the-fence kind of girl.) Do I need to post a picture of myself without make-up on or with my nipple showing? Because I can, but I don’t know what it would achieve. Do I need to learn about the history of feminism, the suffragettes? I know I should, but again I don’t know how much it will help. The truth is, I don’t feel confident enough to talk about myself as a feminist because I don’t feel worthy of being in the club. I know how I feel but I don’t feel like I ‘act’ or ‘know’ like a feminist should.
I recently read an article which addressed the connotations of the ‘-ist’, which follows the word feminist. It suggested that ‘-ist’ words are generally used for describing those against something, for example, racist, sexist, terrorist. But, what are feminists against? Are they against men? I think that most self-proclaimed feminists would argue that they are not against anything but that they are for something. When I read ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I was not surprised to read that she calls herself a ”Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men.” It seems like such an outdated way of thinking to suggest that being a feminist might mean that you are anti-men but I too sometimes feel like the middle finger, underwear selfies that I’ve seen on social media can give off a slight ‘fuck men’ kind of vibe. I worry that by calling myself a feminist someone could interpret it as that. I pride myself on being inclusive and I worry what people think of me.
Recently, I was out for dinner with some friends and the conversation turned to the Daily Mail ‘legsit’ story. I was quietly shocked when a friend said that she found it comical. She began to explain ”I am a feminist, but I do think that it’s quite funny.” Initially, I was confused. I felt the complete opposite ( not-so-much a feminist and disgusted) and I couldn’t sympathise with her way of thinking. But, she is a feminist, she just told me so.What does that make me? This conversation got me thinking of the huge disparity of thinking within feminism. You are a feminist by self-admission and this allows for a variety of thinkers to identify as members of the club. There are some feminists who really do hate men when they stick their middle finger up towards the camera and this offends other feminists. But, how can there be such a contrast between ‘stereotypical’ feminist and ‘real’ feminists? It’s confusing, probably due to the fact that there are lots of different, specific types of feminism. Something that I had never known until now (Just google and you’ll see!) I don’t know what type I would be, but I do know that it is confusing to hear another feminist have an opinion that is different to your own.
Whether it is lack of knowledge, worry of exclusion or just pure misunderstanding as to what a feminist really looks like, there is something that has prevented me from ever really committing to feminism. Instead, I’ve always told myself that I believe in people, in human rights as opposed to women’s rights. Adiche would argue that this is doing a disservice to the cause, that it ignores the huge injustice that woman have faced historically and still face now, that we should acknowledge the feminine in feminism if we want to solve the problem. And perhaps, she is right. I should be braver with my thoughts. For now however, until I understand what being a feminist really means, I will take advice from Emma Watson’s brilliant UN speech: ‘’If you still hate the word, it is not the word that is important. It’s the idea and the ambition behind it.’’