Today I became aware of an anti-feminist tag doing the rounds online: #womenagainstfeminism.
I am a feminist, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Why should I be? If I was, that would directly counter the reason I’m a feminist in the first place. I’m very proud of my beliefs. In fact, my feminism means that I respect the right of these “anti-feminists” to their opinion and I’m glad they’re standing up for what they believe in, even if such beliefs are based on misinterpretation and a lack of understanding of what feminism is. Ironically, if it wasn’t for feminism they probably wouldn’t be in a position to air their opinions publicly in the first place. They conveniently ignore, or are not aware of, that fact. Before I continue, I came across this article today which is a fantastic counter to the anti-feminist argument (and much more succinct than mine!).
Until a couple of years ago, I wasn’t fussed by feminism. I just didn’t see difficulties I had experienced in the past in the context of my sex. I wouldn’t say I was anti-feminist, but I certainly wouldn’t have defined myself as a feminist. Sure, I believed in equal rights for women but I thought we already had fairly equal rights and I didn’t want to define myself as some sort of victim when I didn’t feel like one.
I actually thought that in defining oneself as a feminist, you were implying that women should have more rights than men, and that it was an attempt to gain some sort of moral highground on the false pretence that we are somehow oppressed because we are women. I thought it was just an excuse to pander to female stereotypes and abuse the victim label. I thought it was about campaigning for the equality of women above and beyond any other oppressed groups. I thought it was insulting to men because it seemed to involve denouncing them and presuming that they are idiots just because they have a penis. And I firmly believe in treating others how you would like to be treated: I thought the point of feminism was to argue that we should not be judged negatively because of our gender, and there women are judging men negatively for their gender. It seemed unfair and like feminists were missing the point.
In fact, a quote from Amanda Palmer (when I saw her live last year) sums up my previous feelings quite nicely: “Am I a feminist? Hell no I’m not a fucking feminist. I’m a HUMANIST. I believe in equal rights for everyone.”
At one time I would have completely agreed with that statement and I do agree with the latter part – I do believe in equal rights for everyone.
But the thing is, and the crux of the reason I now define myself as a feminist (alongside ‘humanist’ and ‘someone passionate about equal rights for everyone’) is that ‘everyone’ includes women. And if you believe in equal rights for women, you are essentially a feminist. Feminist does not mean “against men”. Feminist means “for women”. The two are not mutually exclusive. Sure, you can be against men and for women – but that’s reserved for the rare extremist feminists who do not represent the majority of us. You can also be for men and for women, i.e. equality, which is what most feminists are. Because feminism is about believing that women are entitled to equal rights to men. Not greater than, not less than. Most feminists feel passionately that everyone else deserves equal rights, too (and if there are feminists who believe that we as women deserve equal rights but other groups don’t, they are in the minority and quite frankly they’re arseholes. They do not represent the majority of feminists).
The tag #womenagainstfeminism is essentially the same as saying #womenagainstequalrightsforourselves. Because equal rights for women is what feminism is about – that is all it is. It is not a bra-burning, non-armpit-shaving, men-hating cult as it is often made out to be. It is not about viewing women as superior to anyone else either individually or as a group – it is simply about viewing women as EQUAL TO anyone else rather than LESS THAN.
I want to explain how I came to change my mind on feminism and the realisations I had which led me to start labelling myself as a feminist. I’ll also give some examples of things that have happened to me that I didn’t originally associate with gender issues but do now.
I have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist when I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.
– Rebecca West
The first thing that I think contributed to my change in opinion on feminism was studying Sociology in sixth form. That gave me a basic understanding of how groups of people behave, their place in society and how they interact with each other. I don’t think we ever looked at gender specifically, but we did look at crime, the media and social phenomenons like suicide. From that I developed the skills to look at social discourses and paradigms from a more critical perspective.
Then, there was my history degree. That taught me to analyse and evaluate like never before. We were taught to thoroughly research and look at all possible sides of an argument to reach the most informed conclusion possible based on the evidence available. I started to look at everything more deeply, including the behaviour of individuals, groups and society as a whole. The more I developed these skills the more angry I would get at the things I saw around me and the way we behave as a society. The media, given how pervasive it is in our everyday lives, came to annoy me more and more with its disgusting treatment of women.
The media is full of pictures of how we should look as women. The way women should behave. The Daily Mail, for example – they are constantly exclaiming how remarkable it is that X woman has gone out without any make up on (because heaven forbid. She might kill someone with the power of her bare-faced ugliness). They comment upon the unsightliness of Y’s cellulite. How woman Z is a size 12 when she used to be a size 8 and she should really get off her arse and exercise. The sidebar of shame is full of sexual innuendos, implications that a woman’s body is infinitely more important than her personality and mental capacity, and non-stories such as a woman going out to buy groceries which the DM report on simply to be able to use headlines such as “Abbey Clancy shows her svelte figure in tight gym gear as she enjoys girlie lunch before stocking up on groceries”. Great, because I really care. Not. Although unfortunately many women do and are convinced to click on the story due to the temptation to compare their own bodies to Clancy’s because that’s what society has taught us we must do as females. More headline excerpts: “she’s hungry for more!“, “Cameron Diaz shows off her athletic figure“, “Tamara Ecclestone looks slimmer than ever as she shows off her post-baby body“, “Nora Segura shows off her bikini body while frolicking in the ocean“, “Lily Allen turns up heat in watermelon print hotpants“, “Working up a sweat! Geri Haliwell displays her toned legs in tiny shorts“, etc etc etc. These are all headlines from the time of writing (24/07/14) and that’s by no means all of the disgustingly mysogynistic, sexist bullshit that fills the page. And there are some women say we don’t need feminism!? How do they not find this all unbearably insulting? I remember looking at these kinds of articles when I was younger and just assuming it was normal, that that was the role of women. And that’s the fucked up thing: thinking it’s normal.
I remember reading this article a year or two ago, which is utter vitriol and one of the most overtly insulting articles to have been written about a woman’s body that I can remember in recent times. In case you don’t want to provide the Metro and the awful author of this article with clickbait, I’ll summarise: it criticises singer Pixie Lott for having hairy armpits (FYI, their definition of “hairy” is the kind of stubble I get after not shaving for about 3 or 4 days). She is criticised for lacking the “self-respect” and “class” to shave her armpits before a red-carpet event. Her underarm hair (no more than stubble) is referred to as “oodles of hair”, “the garden [she’s] growing in the pit of [her] arm”, and a “significant amount of underarm hair”. The incident was described as “an unfortunate gaffe”, “a lack of grooming”, and “a major beauty faux pas”. Other phrases in the article include “shame”, “squirm”, “caught out”, “excuse” and “just really not acceptable”. What makes this worse is that the article is written by a woman. She is perpetuating the body standards that have become expected and which have given a lot of (in fact I’d go so far as to say most) women in western society a complex about how they look. Evidently, she is a casualty of this society and its values. She has come to believe that it is a mortal sin – indeed, Pixie is apparently breaking a “cardinal rule” – to not shave one’s armpits. Wow. Now I personally don’t like body hair on myself. I’m not going to grow my armpit hair out to prove a point, because I like how it feels to not have armpit hair. I like the feeling of smooth skin. But it’s also well within a woman’s rights to leave her armpit hair to grow naturally if that’s what she pleases. Why is it anyone else’s business and why has it become an expected thing for women to shave in order to be accepted into polite society?
So, on to my next example of sexism. I volunteer at a charity which works with homeless people. Some of these people are quite uneducated and ignorant on various issues (not necessarily through fault of their own, but it’s still frustrating). One man I spoke to today – let’s give him the pseudonym of Dave – was telling me that a girl recently told him that she was told off at work for wearing shorts that were too short, and was asked to go home and change. Dave later found out that the manager that ordered her to go home and change was gay. “Hah, I’m not surprised! You’d have to be gay to not want to look at a girl’s arse all day! What man wouldn’t want to take advantage of that opportunity?”
I find that insulting on three levels:
1) it’s insulting to men, because it implies that men are nothing more than robotic sex machines with no interests other than getting laid.
2) it’s insulting to gay men, implying that they are somehow alien to the rest of male society.
3) it implies that women are merely objects at which men can ogle freely; that our arses (or bodies in general) are their property and theirs to look at in whichever way they please; that it is completely fine for us to be sexualized and stared at for wearing something which shows certain parts of our bodies (even if she was just wearing these short shorts because the weather has been really hot lately).
Don’t get me wrong, I find short shorts quite annoying – I don’t want to be confronted with “underbutt” wherever I go during the summer. But the point is, it’s her choice. It’s her body. She has complete autonomy over that. And for it to be sexualized against her will? That’s not okay. Even if it is her will and she’s wearing short shorts for the purpose of making herself look sexually attractive, that’s still a choice made within the context of a patriarchal society, so to what extent is it really an informed choice she’s making? As a modern women I often feel almost obliged to make myself look sexually attractive – it’s a natural instinct for me, given the society in which I’ve grown up and the messages I’ve received my whole life. We’re constantly receiving the message that we should aim to be sexually attractive and that if we’re not we’ve somehow failed as women.
Think about the amount of adverts that feature women eating seductively (especially when it’s in slow motion). Why does this happen? Let’s be honest: for the purpose of subtly mimicking the act of fellatio. Yoghurt is a particularly bad one. I’m sure that a lot of directors and marketers aren’t even aware of the deeper reasons behind why they want women to eat things seductively, they just know it’s a technique that is frequently used and works. They don’t think about the whole blow-job/ cum-guzzling connotations. Oh, and if you’re a British reader, do you remember the Flake ads?
A frankly astonishing amount of adverts rely on females being sexual objects. Scarlett Johannson recently made one for Soda Stream – I think she did it to parody the sexual objectification of women in adverts, but ironically ended up being a parody of her own parody and being sexually objectified anyway. Nice one Scarlett.
In terms of the things I personally have experienced due to my gender, here are just a few examples:
1) I remember once when I was about 17, and I was walking down the high street of my home town one night. I don’t remember what I was wearing but I’ve never been one to dress provocatively, at least not intentionally (and even if I did, that’s no excuse for what this guy did). I might have been wearing a medium-length skirt and a nice top (and no, I don’t have big boobs). An old-ish man approached me and started rubbing his legs and came very close into my personal space and made a comment about how sexy I was. He was lecherous and repulsive and I was actually quite scared he was going to attack me. He may have been mentally ill, but I don’t see that as an excuse for such unnecessary and intimidating behaviour.
2) A few weeks ago I was walking through Bristol city centre on the way to a work do. A man came into my personal space – and I mean very close – and just intensely stared at me whilst I walked past. I have no idea why. On the way home from said work do, the same man walked past me and shouted “bitch!” at me for no apparent reason. Shocked, I turned around to check he was talking to me and he yelled “FUCKING WHORE!”. He was definitely talking to me and I have no idea why. Something tells me he probably wouldn’t have said this to a random man walking down the street. Again, he was probably mentally ill but I was still quite upset by the experience.
3) When I was about 7 or 8, I was walking down the street near my house on the way to the local shops. A teenage boy and some of his friends approached me, telling me that I should totally ‘shag’ them. They came up really close to me and started trying to touch me. They were laughing and joking amongst themselves whilst I froze.
4) At the age of 18 I went to a friend’s house party for New Year’s Eve. One guy there got quite drunk and seemed upset, so I tried to comfort him and calm him down. In the process he started hitting on me. I wasn’t sure what to do and given that I was quite vulnerable myself at the time, I just let him kiss me as I wasn’t sure how else to respond. That led to him attempting to have sex with me, me saying no, him not really getting the idea because he was wasted, me not wanting to cause drama and fight him off, so just letting him do it because I was too scared and ashamed to say no. “After all”, I thought, “it’s my fault for letting myself get into this situation”.
5) Generally for my entire teenage/ adult existence, I have often had men honking their car/ van horns at me and yelling comments such as “ALRIGHT SEXY” out of the window. A very frequent occurrence is seeing several men in a van at once (usually builders or construction workers I presume) who, in order to “prove” their masculinity to each other, feel the need to yell a comment to me about how I have nice tits or a great arse.
In terms of society as a whole:
1) Let’s look at this article about how many, many women have been masturbated at by men in public.
2) I would recommend watching this fantastic French short which depicts a role reversal between men and women. The women in this video treat men as many men treat women in everyday situations. It’s entirely weird to watch, because we’re not used to the dynamic being that way around.
3) Along those lines, this is a fantastic and utterly hilarious piss-take of the kind of behaviour and comments that men inflict upon women. It’s so funny because it’s so true and so many women can recognise the accuracy and ridiculousness of what is going on. It’s also funny for a more sinister reason: because none of us can imagine a woman doing that to a man. The idea is utterly ridiculous. Look how surprised people are that a woman is approaching them and saying those things. For women, it’s normal to have men make such comments to us.
4) Lastly, we get to a really serious and horrific example. I’m sure many people have heard by now of the #jadapose tag that went viral. If you haven’t, it essentially involved a group of guys drugging and gang-raping a 16 year old at a party, taking pictures of her while she was drugged and half naked, and posting them on Twitter with the tag #jadapose. If that wasn’t bad enough, IT WENT VIRAL and people JOINED IN with mocking her, doing their own “Jada poses” and posting them online. Honestly, words fail me. It is just incomprehensible that people can be so vile. There’s a chain of disgusting behaviour here. People raping her, people taking pictures of it, people putting those pictures on the internet, and then people thinking it’s okay to be amused by those pictures and create their own piss-take versions. I mean what the fuck is wrong with the world? Fortunately, there has been a lot of backlash to this and the tag #justiceforjada also went viral (and rightly so). Jada has come forward with her version of events, taking control of the situation and reclaiming her body as her own. She comments “everybody has already seen my face and body but that’s not what I am and who I am.” Kudos to her for such courage and for reminding us of such an important sentiment.
Does this mean that because of the actions of some, I hate all men? Of course not. I have a boyfriend. And guess what? He’s a feminist too, because he also believes in equal rights for women and can see through the misogynistic bullshit that is ingrained into our society. Not all men are bad. Just some. And even the ones who are sexist aren’t necessarily bad people, they’re just fucking ignorant.
As for women such as Amy Duncan, the idiot who wrote the article about Pixie Lott’s “hairy armpits”, well I don’t know what to say. Women like her are doing us ALL damage by perpetuating the unfair standards that are imposed upon modern women. As I’ve said, unfortunately such women are just so entrenched in societal values regarding women and what’s expected of us that they don’t know any better. They don’t question whether it is really imperative for the survival of the universe for us to wear bras or shave our armpits, they just assume that it must be because society says so and always has.
Here are some examples of pictures posted to the Women Against Feminism Tumblr page:
Let’s address some of these issues, shall we?
1) The woman in the first picture references how she doesn’t need other women to back her up, and that she can “hold her own”. She thinks feminism is about having a gang of “angry vaginas” behind you. NO! Feminism is feeling free and strong enough to hold your own as a woman! That’s the point! And referring to women as “angry vaginas” implies they are no more than their genitalia.
2) Woman two is just exemplifying exactly why feminism is so important. Because according to her, we should rely on our looks to control people, and if we’re stupid or weak we don’t deserve respect from men. Oh wow. Well guess what? Feminism is about not being judged on our looks, and the fact that we should always be respected by men regardless of intellectual capability or strength. Does she mean that if you’re a “weak” woman and you’re abused by a man it’s somehow justified? Do we need to assert our right to respect? If we can’t do that, does it mean we don’t deserve it?
3) Woman three says her sex life is not a political agenda. By that I presume she means she doesn’t want such open-discussion on abortion and so forth. To which I respond: okay, would you rather it not be talked about and for you to not be free to make the decision whether or not to keep the baby should you conceive one? It is YOUR sex life and YOUR child and that’s the point. That’s why it’s being talked about, because it’s YOUR choice and feminists want each woman to have the choice as to whether or not they bring a child into this world. If it wasn’t talked about and pro-choice wasn’t campaigned for, it wouldn’t be YOUR sex life.
4) Oh good god. Number 4. “Also, how the fuck am I supposed to open jars and lift heavy things without my husband!?”. Where do I even start with this? Guess what, some women are strong enough to open jars and lift heavy things. Yes, men and women are physiologically different and men tend to have more muscle mass and strength than women. Does that mean all women are weak? No. Does that mean all women can’t open jars and lift heavy things? No. Is it a good thing for a woman to rely on a man for anything? I don’t think so. Rely only on yourself. If you can’t open a jar or lift something, by all means ask your strong husband to do it. But don’t imply that all women are reliant on strong men to be able to carry out physical tasks or undertake basic daily activities.
5) Christ, this one even needs bullet points.
a) “There is no patriarchy” Yes there is.
b) “I’m pro equality! Men deserve rights too!” – yes, and they have them. A lot more than we as women do. Hence feminism. Sorry, but you’re not pro-equality if you’re anti-feminism.
c) By being a feminist you’re not discouraging male rape victims from speaking out. You’re encouraging female rape victims to speak out (that isn’t the same thing as saying men shouldn’t. It’s saying everyone should feel free to, including men). What is discouraging male rape victims to speak out is THE PATRIARCHY, and male victims’ inherent fear of being seen as weak and unmasculine. And what does weak and unmasculine make them? Effeminate (apparently). And therein lies the sexism.
d) She implies that feminists don’t respect other people’s opinions. Actually, feminism is all about respecting the fact that women are entitled to their own opinions. We’re still entitled to tell you if we disagree.
e) “Feminists scare me. A LOT”. Let me guess, because they’re all loud hairy bra-burning lesbians who argue with everyone?
Another frequent issue raised by some of the women “against feminism” is that they enjoy being stay-at-home mothers. They believe that feminism says that they can’t do that and have to go out and get a job and do what men do. NO. Feminism is about what you “CAN” do. Feminism is saying that guess what, you don’t HAVE to stick to a traditional stereotypical female role, you CAN go out and get a job if you wish. But you also CAN be a stay at home mother if you wish. It’s all about being free to do what we choose.
Lastly, I kept seeing the word “political agenda” pop up, in the context of feminists having a supposed “political agenda”. I’m sorry, I don’t understand – what is this presumed political agenda? Is it the same as the “political agenda” that ignorant and homophobic people think “gays” have? Are both gay people AND women planning to take over the world!?
I would be interested to hear other people’s opinions on this. I feel so strongly about it. I’m saddened by the spread of this tag and the fact that there are so many women misinterpreting feminism in the first place, thinking it’s something harmful enough that they should be “against” it.
Feminism is the reason they are able to express their opinions, dress how they do, act how they do, get an education, and basically just live the lives they are so privileged to. And they have no idea.
To quote Rebecca West again,
Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.