Tag Archives: Feminism

On multiple feminisms and the insistent guarding of the boundaries between different types of feminism

Standard

English: One of the symbols of German Women's ...

I’ve been thinking a bit about -isms.

There are constant discussions about whether we should reject the term feminism, and this post isn’t about that, because I think a ‘rebranding’ (thanks for that nonsense, Cosmo) would only be a capitulation to patriarchal oppression. The term feminism makes people uncomfortable because it sounds ‘militant’ or has been historically and purposefully denigrated by male-dominated media? Well, then, the uncomfortable will have to live with that, as we feminists live, daily, with a society built on oppressive gender stereotypes and arbitrary segregation along the lines of sex. We will honour the history of our movement by not insulting it with these kinds of discussion.

However, what has been bothering me recently, on an individual level, is the different splintering feminisms. We hear a lot of talk about intersectionality – that is, recognising that individuals are oppressed along multiple axes at the same (gender, race, class, sexuality, disability etc) – and yet, each sect of feminism setting itself against past waves of feminism or current, alternate forms of feminism, is that not achieving the exact opposite of the spirit of intersectionality? Intersectionality is supposed to bring different types of women together to share an appreciation of their different oppressions. It is not supposed to create a hierarchy of those oppressions, but to take account of how each group may need different legal approaches (Crenshaw, who coined intersectionality, is a law professor) – and subsequently, people have applied this to political approaches. But surely all these different sects of feminism divide us further and achieve the opposite of intersectionality? Not only are we at loggerheads with mainstream patriarchal, capitalist, racist society, but with each other. Despite the shared experience of oppression.

Now, I’m not naive – we’re not going to fix this anytime soon. But, to veer off into my personal experience for a moment, all my recent feminist experiences are hugely coloured by a divide, not a solidarity. The media talks a lot about misogynisitic attacks on women daring to air their views online. Most of my attacks come not from men, or non-feminist women, but feminist women. And why? Because I’m not ‘doing feminism right’ according to their particular sect’s definition of it. I’ve been told (and I’m sure plenty of people reading will have had this experience) that I’m not a feminist because I hold xyz view. It doesn’t even matter so much what that view is, because I could hold the opposite view and someone may tell me it’s ‘not feminist.’ I have just done a degree in Gender Studies, I spent most of my free time campaigning or attending events about gender / feminism, I self-define as a feminist, and, you know, I really care. But apparently none of that matters if I disagree strongly with another feminist on how best to alter a certain law to help a certain group of marginalised women. I have been to events recently where feminists have purposefully disrupted events other feminists have worked tirelessly to arrange for the purpose of feminist discussion and, to be honest, all the shouting and attempts to talk over other women just came off as a perfect emulation of how patriarchal spaces treat women who try to speak. Blimey.

This isn’t actually about me, I’m just giving examples to paint a picture for those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of feminist politics. To back away from individuals and their behaviour for a moment, and to think about these different collective feminisms, what I see is individuals being forced to choose one feminism or another, when they might not fully fit into one, because, let’s face it – one approach to a political problem is probably never going to hold all the answers. And again, we’re splintering, instead of pooling resources, energy, and methodologies. What people don’t understand is that this is the very paradox of intersectionality: the more we split people into different groups – those racially oppressed, those oppressed by sex, those oppressed by disablism and then those oppressed by more than one, we have split ourselves into groups that have different, often incompatible needs. It’s not simple. It’s not just, ‘feminism is too white, invite some black feminists along to our next event, done!’ This is why it has its origins in legal theory, and not political theory: it was a contextual, specific response to the US legal system, not necessarily applicable – or certainly not without immense struggle and forethought – to every situation worldwide in feminist politics. But suddenly, people think they can tick a few boxes and achieve it. And they seem to think claiming one feminist label as a riposte to another, ‘evil’ type is achieving something positive too. By my god, talk about simplified!

I’ll give you an example. Radical feminism, for instance, has a brilliant approach to being really hands-on in tackling violence against women, in stepping back from looking solely at individuals and their choices and whether those are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and looking at the bigger picture. Where do those ‘choices’ come from in the first place? How do they come to be seen as ‘choices’? For instance, women do not ‘choose’ freely, with no outside influences, to shave. It is socially conditioned. And ultimately, it is, in most instances, likely to be about the male gaze. However, because radical feminism names gender – here, femininity – as an oppressive means / norm by which that impulse to shave is imposed upon women rather than men, it struggles to agree with trans* / queer politics, which sees gender as an identity to be claimed, not an oppressive force. And yet, you can find radical feminists, of course, who are not opposed to trans* rights (even to women-only space). And they are definitely on board with all the other problems queer feminism claims to fight:

  • Racism, imperialism, genocide, and violence
  • Strict rules about gender and sexuality that hurt everyone whether male, female, both, or neither
  • Blaming and shaming of […] anyone who does not fit a narrow and arbitrary body standard
  • Rape culture
  • A tendency to claim that democracy and liberal politics fixes all ills, rather than addressing society’s problems

(Definition from queer feminism.com)

So, in fact, we see there is no ‘radical feminism’either, but radical feminisms, which is why people use the term ‘TERF’ (trans-exclusive radical feminism) when they argue against women-only spaces that define ‘woman’ as ‘biological woman’. Essentially, all of it comes down to a disagreement over what gender is. And yes, that is about subjectivity and theory. There isn’t a straightforward answer to what gender is, people have been fighting over that question for decades. So let’s not simplify and pretend our version, and therefore, our feminism, is ‘correct’.

I have no solutions, I’m just one person struggling with being pulled into one part of feminism by certain interests and finding I disagree with other parts of that feminism. Yet having been ‘claimed’ by one section, just the very act of associating with them, leaves me rejected by other parts. I’d quite like to dip between types and expand my views, actually, but that is being withheld from me to a certain degree (I can go to certain events but will have to keep quiet on some of my views so as not to be attacked / potentially thrown out). And I think that says a lot about our politics. Not only is it diluted by not trying to work together, even if we then still feel the need to define ourselves differently, but the politics is defining us, not the other way round.

I went to an event recently and a woman read a poem about rejecting all -isms: socialism, feminism etc. I listened with interest because she was saying that we must go our own way and not feel coerced into joining into pre-defined political spaces. And yet, that is exactly what happens – we try to create our own politics, but the -isms suck us in and define what is and isn’t possible before we know it. Next thing you know it, I am a ‘sex-critical’ feminist and therefore cannot be a ‘queer’ feminist. Really? But I hate body-shaming too, I hate racism, I hate imperialism, ‘free speech’ to defend hate speech, rape culture and violence and pre-determined gender roles and so on. These are not exclusive to queer politics – in fact, it has a renowned history of racism and whiteness. And yet, it is absolutely the case that the divide between these types of feminism feels insurmountable. But, despite its imperfections and arguments, I cannot let go of this movement and stop trying to improve it. It has given me – and us all – too much.

So, yes, I am a proud feminist; feminism should never rebrand. But I want to be free to bridge types of feminism. I will not claim any single label without caveat.

Advertisements

Objectification: it’s no small thing

Standard

I am frustrated. I’ve had yet another conversation with men full of rape apologism and no remorse. It all started, as it always does, with objectification.

Candidate number one is a repeat offender on this front – you could set a timer from the point he walks into a room and when the talk about women’s body parts. I’d estimate it’s about two minutes (max.) before something is said, and then he goes for it, full steam ahead. Today it was because of the Olympics, which is ironic, because I had just managed to sort of, maybe, get over the commercial capitalist machinery of it all and had been enjoying seeing women given an equal platform to men in something. (Ok, it’s been riddled with sexism – with women flying economy and men first class, and commentators getting carried away talking about women’s hair or over-masculine appearances – but I was trying to see some positives.) I will admit that this is the first time I have experienced a competition where the general public seem to be equally encouraging towards the women as they are to men, so that’s pleasing. And then the talk started about how you can Google Jessica Ennis’ bum, how she’s ‘really fit’ (British slang for attractive) except her shoulders are ‘just a bit too broad’ and her husband just isn’t ‘fit enough’ for her. People are ridiculous. This escalated to evaluating every athlete in the line-up on the basis of her appearance (‘oh yeh, she’d get it’). When I pulled him up on it, he said he probably spent 96% of his time talking about his perceptions of women’s sexual attractiveness. What a sad life. (Knowing him, this probably isn’t far off, either.) Funnily enough, I’m not interested in the minutiae of who he finds attractive (the list is endless, it seems) and why (this never involves evaluating their faces). Now, I could just write him off as an arsehole. But that isn’t helpful for anyone.

Because his opinions don’t exist in a vacuum, he isn’t a one-off and his attitudes have wider repercussions – especially when we live in a culture that fosters rape and does not punish it when it occurs. (You all know the pitiful conviction rates and stories about juries being biased by the fact the woman was wearing a skirt, and therefore ‘invited it’ – or whichever particular rape myth they rolled out on that particular day. For the Truth About Rape, see here.) I tried to explain how viewing women as objects, and therefore dehumanised, is one of the major reasons why perpetrators of sexual violence are able to commit their crimes. Because if you saw that woman as a well-rounded human, equal to you, considered them as someone you had respect for, you wouldn’t be abusing her or touching her without consent. I tried to explain about the normalising of sexualised attitudes to women in society (at least partially) accounting for the prevalence in rape. Objectification is by no means a small thing, happening in the private sphere without wider implications. Your attitude is heard and absorbed by the next person, and if it’s horrifically damaging, you might want to think about that. He wasn’t bothered, as long as he was unaffected (this is a similar argument that men who buy sex tend to make), and claimed not ‘to understand me correctly’. Basically, me telling him he held similar atttidues to a rapist slid off him like melted butter. So I’m afraid I have to come to the conclusion, sir, that you are not overly intelligent. It’s a no-brainer that women presented as sex objects, existing for the male gaze and not for themselves – with a life beyond men, relationships and sex – and the acceptance of this sexualisation as normal, is not going to result in a healthy societal attitude towards women. Because we are bombarded with thousands and thousands of adverts using this tactic daily – the estimated number we see in a day is astounding. We are also very susceptible to implicit cultural rules and norms, as Cordelia Fine explores in her book Delusions of Gender – even people who report progressive opinions, when their implicit attitudes are tested, are very affected by basic black and white stereotypes such as women = weak, men = powerful, women = empathisers, men = strategisers. We carry gender stereotypes around with us in our subconscious, even if we don’t consciously subscribe to these beliefs. What a silly world.

Anyway, candidate number two chipped in with his tuppence about how girls must like it when men comment on their appearance and how they can’t hear us anyway – they’re on tv. Hate to break it to you, but being constantly evaluated on the basis of your appearance is a poor existence. It’s pressure many constantly fight against, for fear of being found lacking when held up to society’s unforgiving standards of what is ‘beautiful’. Being scrutinised on the basis of appearance is a fundamental cause of many women’s insecurities with their body, resulting in multifarious psychological problems including eating disorders, self-harm, body shame and depression – it has all sorts of adverse effects. Women are trained to see beauty as success, but with beauty being so elusive and ever-changing according to fashion, we can never win this war. So we are constantly assessing ourselves as not good enough. This can also lead to us undernourishing our other areas for potential: by spending all that time, effort and money on the upkeep of our exterior, rather than our interior. In addition, I, and women in general, do not exist for the purpose of your visual titillation. So to answer that astute rebuttal to my points about rape culture, no – I don’t want your opinion on my appearance, I’m not flattered, and well, give me some credit, for Christ’s sake! It is conceivable that I don’t care what you think. To be fair, this is the man who told me that he went into a department store for the sole purpose of perving on the women behind the make-up counters, adding that he knew that’s why they’re at the store front, and felt it was the store’s fault for using that tactic to draw him in. (Funny, I’d just go with you needing to change your attitude to women, rather than it being their fault; although aggressive marketing using women is two a penny.) To add insult to the injury of him telling me this perverse story as if it were appealing conversation, he added that he had gone on the escalators for the sole purpose of getting an aerial view of said women on the make-up counters. He also mentioned their awareness of him looking. And he’d ended up buying two shirts because the escalators had landed him in menswear – this also the store’s fault. Now, the storeplanners are good, they may use the women to draw you in, potentially, but they’re not THAT good – they didn’t know about your debased aerial view technique. So again, I’d come back to you having the problem.

Can you imagine me, alone, in a room with these guys? This is how I find myself, no friendly boyfriend anywhere in sight to defend my side. I ended up, frankly, very angry and frustrated. Because I feel like I read so much sensible literature, I meet all these sensible feminists who know how badly sexual violence is dealt with in the legal system and by the police in this country (broadly), how we’re failing survivors of rape, sexual abuse, prostitution and so on. They know the stats, they know the facts, they know the reality – and often,  sadly, have the lived experience to boot. And then in an instant, a couple of flagrant misogynists can come along and make me feel impotent in the face of such huge societal attitudes and the mechanisms of capitalism clicking away and profiting off the mantra ‘sex sells’.

This is why it’s so important for us to all work together to say we’re not having it. I called these guys out, and I hope, despite their resistance, that something I said got through. We need to continue to do this in our personal lives, and we need to continue all the wonderful campaigning. Don’t let the objectifying bastards get you down! Objectification is a giant, massive, gargantuan issue feeding into so many others, it’s no small fry.

Gender norms are nonsense. Oh, and then there’s that hypersexualisation of women thing too.

Standard

I’ve said this before but I often get to thinking about society and what we perceive as ‘normal’ in the here and now. I always find it all a little bewildering. Take this, from Armpits4August re: female body hair, for instance.

This recent trend (insofar as it’s become normalised for the vast majority of women living in the west during the c20th) has become so quickly entrenched that it’s easy to find someone who will argue that it’s more ‘natural’ for women not to have body hair. Armpits4August isn’t trying to argue for the superiority of whatever being ‘natural’ actually means but, de facto, it cannot be more ‘natural’ to remove naturally occurring body hair. Yet, for many, it appears so.

We do this all the time in society – do something really illogical, tout it as ‘normal’ and then condemn those that don’t fit in with it. Now, I’ve never been much of a conformist, but I would find it hard to dangle a dyed, hairy armpit out and about in my everyday life without feeling self-conscious. (This is what Armpits4August plan to do for charity, if you haven’t heard. Check it out here.) But at least I can see the banality of what I am doing in order to be ‘normal’ – and in this case, hairless.

My point is that ‘normal’ is just nonsense. Be whoever you are and all that good stuff. As long as it doesn’t harm others. And this is where it all gets a bit crappy. Because ‘normal’ is often really horribly harmful to certain sections of society. I bet gay people get sick of all the heteronormative nonsense all around them. And transgender people? The sheer amount of abuse they get from all angles – largely unaccepted by either sexes – is unacceptable and based purely on these randomly ascribed gender norms. And yet, in terms of women’s rights in the UK (note: in the UK), we’re at this point where people think we’ve achieved it all, they think feminism is null and void. We’ve fought the battles, now we can reap the benefits. As I generally explore, this is not so at all – there’s a lot more to be done. But it makes me wonder how we will look back at this time, right here, right now, in decades to come. Where will we position ourselves in this great stretch of history in regards to feminism? Will this have been a time of great change, or one of those stagnant periods where feminism was ‘uncool’ and ‘abnormal’?

Because what I see being accepted as ‘normal’ and / or ‘harmless’ in the supposedly ‘progressive’ here and now is, frankly, horrific.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I really hope we can look back at this as a time where we made great strides against porn culture, rape culture, hypersexualisation, objectification – however you want to term it. That stuff, up there. Because it’s not doing anyone any good, whatever sex, whatever gender.

PS I really recommend reading Ms. Magazine’s 4 part series on sexual objectification  – what it is and how to respond to it.

It’s all in a look: vagenda, body hair and the rage against the beauty machine

Standard
Unshaven armpits

Julia Roberts dared to bare all in 1999

I recently read the article in Vagenda mag about female body hair, specifically about not removing it. I feel for the author. In the face of hegemonic gender norms, it’s hard to be the voice of dissent, crying foul play. We don’t like body hair in mainstream western society and I wouldn’t have the guts to fly in the face of that heavy, if ridiculous, disapproval. I am weak.

It’s because I don’t agree with gender norms that sometimes I lack the conviction to say what I really want to, for fear of opposition. That opposition is so entrenched and so ignorantly accepted, without deference to gender ideology. So sometimes, when I catch a dirty look from another woman – and all women get those, no matter what – sometimes, it affects my ‘fuck gender stereotypes’ conviction. ‘The Look’ can bring you down from the giddy heights of happiness, or it can throw you over the edge just when you’re keeping it together. On a really good day, I can shake it off completely, but The Look is powerful, because it speaks to so much more than a nose-wrinkling distaste for your outfit choice.

For the author of the Vagenda article, it is probably down to her hair in places that are unacceptable for woman to show hair in public. (Which is pretty much anywhere but our heads.) I put the looks down to my dishevelled appearance in comparison to the onlooker’s attempt at airbrushed perfection, or my ‘quirky’ attire. At those moments, I crave a stamp on my forehead that says ‘Fuck you, I’m a feminist! I don’t subscribe to your value system!’ My value lies in more than the clothes I wear or the way I look. It’s hard to be defiant all the time though.

Defiance is hardest when those you’re defying are the majority and misunderstand your defiance. Beauty is so omnipresent and omnipotent in our society. But most people don’t analyse their beliefs for long enough to realise they may be indoctrinated by a dominant cultural mindset, reminiscent of the here and now, the particular zeitgeist of the moment. They don’t think about their treatment of beauty as political, cultural or historical.  To be curvaceous used to be considered beautiful. Now we favour the emaciated look. Most models have a BMI of 15-16, which counts as ‘starving’ by the World Health Organisation’s standards. To be hairy in places where you’re naturally hairy used to be ‘normal’. Now it’s not. And to go against this norm apparently warrants a torrid reaction nowadays. Just ask Vagenda.

For the moment, a mindset dominates. Female body hair is gross. Women must be beautiful to be worthwhile. That mindset sees women from the male gaze. It has made women see themselves from the male gaze. If our bodies were functional and not aesthetic, why would we remove hair? It’s costly, annoying and time-consuming. It’s also there for a reason and bites back hard when you try and remove it. Persistent bastard, it is. But my conviction that there is more to life than beauty is automatically trumped by prevailing messages running through all parts of society.

Advertising. Pornography. Fashion. Diets. Lapdancing. Music videos. Shop windows. Cosmetic counters. Magazines. Page 3. Girl talk.

Why do they win? Because I am an individual. I am fragile. The above are (almost) all connected to huge corporations. Mostly the same few corporations at that.

And all of this analysis I can get, yes, just from a casual caustic look. A throwaway bit of malice from a passerby. I am empathetic. I want to understand other perspectives. But it seems Aryan to me, the superiority complex of The Look. It’s screams ‘my idea of beauty is right because I say so, because I think so, because I feel so.’ I think, therefore it must be. This is alien to me, the unquestioning, unconscious decision-making process based on personal convictions. Because I am constantly questioning feminism as a whole, my feminism and feminism’s various forms. Because not all of it is right. Not all of it I agree with. This can make me feel like I lack conviction, but really it’s because I want my conviction to be genuine. I can’t assert something without thought it through properly, without research and bouncing off other people, without question.

The Look, however, is self-justifying. And The Look makes me wonder how we will look back at this time, right here, right now, in decades to come. You know when you look back at a photo of yourself from years ago and you look so different to how you perceived you looked at the time? The whole world around you looks a bit old-fashioned and like something you’d rather forget happened. It’s like the feeling we get when we look back at the treatment of women in the 1950s, where women were encouraged to find fulfilment only in domesticity and marriage. ‘How quaint’, we think. Or when we watch Mad Men and think how hilariously funny it is that men routinely went unchallenged when they treated women as inferior. How men felt they could talk to women as lesser beings and use them as objects for their sexual gratification, without any sense of wrongdoing.**

**I don’t think this is funny ha ha or funny strange, but I hear a whole lot of people do because we’re supposedly so far from the Mad Men model of gender now. If only.

It’s hard being a feminist in the current  climate, where women compete in a beauty war and feel pitted against each other in some sort of imaginary femininity stakes, even when ‘beautiful’ and loved. I put beautiful in inverted commas because beauty is subjective and cannot be stated as a fact. (Naomi Wolf captures this more astutely than I ever will in the excellent book The Beauty Myth.) Women are so often comparing their outward selves to other women, but only in relation to the discourse of mainstream society. Not in relation to their own version of ‘beauty’ or success’. But that’s the problem with continually checking yourself against the male gaze.

If I go against what is now the accepted norm of femininity and go to a party with hairy pits on show à la Julia Roberts and no attempt to cover up my various human imperfections, no attempt to airbrush myself into an idealised version of a woman, then I am made to feel I am less worthy, less ‘beautiful’, less valuable. Because I’m more me and less Barbie. And that’s hard to accept and hard to go brazenly go against. Especially when the company around you largely fails to understand just what it is you’re going against and brands you as ‘ugly’ or ‘lazy’ instead. How often do we hear things like she ‘could have made more of an effort’ or she’s ‘letting herself go? Too often.

Because opting out of beauty isn’t a choice. Just ask these guys:

It’s a slippery slope, this beauty war. But I am gradually finding strength in my ‘weakness’.

Caitlin Moran in 2012: my take on the darling of mainstream feminism

Standard

Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

I went to see Caitlin Moran speak at London Book Fair this week. I’m not sure I like her.

I wanted to, and kind of assumed I would. I enjoyed her book How To Be A Woman at the time as a light introduction to feminism. It came at a time when my feminism was just starting to take wispy form. At a point where I was still uncomfortable with the word feminist, but knew it described the feelings I’d had all my life – the constant questioning eye on mainstream pop culture, the extreme discomfort with pornography’s effect on my intimate relationships and a sick feeling in my stomach when faced with lapdancing clubs. None of which I’d pieced together as feminism, but rather saw as me being strange or immature. Whoopsy. Being encouraged to shout ‘I’m a feminist!’ in the street and get my boyfriend to join in (and he did – with gusto!) was form of liberation for the chrysalis stage of my feminism.

The book gave me a sense of belonging. It was like the things I raised with people, only to be dismissed or verbally bashed into submission, the things that had been repressed and internalised as my ‘weirdness’, were actually acceptable – normal even. That’s always a nice moment. The ‘it’s not me, it’s them’ revelation. But the book really left me thirsting for more, because it’s so light on the details. It doesn’t fully explore the issues it raises. It was criticised for being contradictory in its treatment of issues such as body hair – Moran stating that sometimes she feels it can be appropriately feminist to shave, other times she doesn’t. Moran defends herself against these criticisms by pointing out she never intended to write a consistent political manifesto; this is part rant, part memoir and therefore, like any human response, fallible. At the time, however, I was largely happy with the book. It gave me a feminist kickstart, and made me realise I could create my own brand of feminism – there’s no prescribed formula. I have since become feminist extraordinaire (ahem), attending between 1 and 3 ‘feminist’ events a week. Last night, I was at the House of Commons for a talk about women in politics, for instance. This gives me a different lens to look at How To Be A Woman with.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thoroughly grateful to Caitlin for introducing fourth wave feminism to a wider audience and for mainstreaming the discussion of feminism. It feels like you’re much more likely to see a discussion of feminism in the press now than you were a year ago. Feminism is gradually picking up pace, new groups springing up everywhere – with every age group represented, from the The Camden School For Girls’ Feminist Group to OAPs. UK Feminista recently put a call out for teenage feminists as they’d been contacted by the press for personal stories from a young woman’s perspective. There’s interest mounting and we can expect to see more of the same in 2012. Let’s not underestimate the commercial success of Caitlin’s book in that interest.

However, arriving early for her scheduled interview with colleague and friend Sophie Heawood, and spending 20 minutes wildly over-gesticulating in a manner of self-importance, Caitlin Moran’s body language was alarmingly offputting for a person who wanted to like her. Her very mannerisms overdid themselves. Sometimes first impressions do count. But I’m not one to judge a book by its cover or a feminist by her appearance. She spoke well, and had many an amusing anecdote, which did make me smile – or at times, raise my maternal ‘time-to-be-concerned’ eyebrow – particularly the story about her daughter refashioning Barbie as if she were a real woman and giving her arm hair, because some (allegedly) hairy Venezuelan girls at her school shave their arms. Caitlin’s daughter is 8 years old. 8 years old and aware of the unacceptability of arm hair. But despite her articulate wittiness, Caitlin is one of those people who don’t quite answer the questions posed. When asked about party politics, she veered off into a discussion of why Slutwalks were right to use the word slut so polemically and back into the safe territory of a pre-formulated argument she had already written an article about. It was all a bit indulgent and wishy washy – lots of words, no substance. Lots of, ‘quick, an opportune time for this quip I prepared earlier!’ A lot of it seemed like an excuse to talk about ‘me, me, me’, with no feeling of needing to answer to anyone, or address the bigger picture of how it is if you’re not Caitlin Moran. And I think that’s the feeling I left with. Nothing is as interesting to Caitlin Moran as Caitlin Moran and her own unwieldy self-importance.

My main issue is the lack of substance to her arguments and her insistence on being humorous and light. She happily admits she’s no expert on feminism and hadn’t researched it to death first, despite feeling underqualified. I want to be an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. There’s nothing humorous about that for me. Rape is horrific and its causes extremely depressing. Caitlin Moran could not have known her book would be as successful as it was, and she certainly did not set out to write the mainstream feminist hit of 2011. But she now knows she has significant interest surrounding her. Her next steps are key. She could write something great, keeping her trademark comic ranting, but delving into serious topics a little more. You know, do something substantial. She did mention her next book, which is a collection of her Times articles, is coming out this year and will be called Moranthology. Maybe I should cut her a break – she hasn’t had time to write How To Be A Woman part two, and did encourage others to respond to her ideas with their own books, suggesting, partly tongue in cheek, partly self-indulgently, ‘No, This is How To Be A Woman’ as a title. But, a mish mash of her Times articles seems like a poor follow-up to such a successful first book.

Anna Van Heeswijk of Object, interviewed recently in The Observer, speaks about Caitlin’s misinterpretation of an Object-organised meeting which she gives prominence to in How To Be A Woman. Caitlin seems to think there can be some kind of happy, harmless porn and that Object want to ban all porn forever, starting now… and go! Anna details how much more complicated their approach is than that, how serious an issue pornography is and that it is largely a negative thing for everyone – men, women and children alike. I do believe that porn is predominantly shit for all parties, although many (including feminists) don’t. Even if you don’t believe porn has harmful effects, with a slapdash attitude to research and backing up your opinions like Caitlin Moran, I do feel victims of sexual violence come off worst. She propagates the ladette attitude of being okay with porn and lapdancing clubs, both of which have been disguised in the shroud of female ‘empowerment’ by the sex industry purely on the basis of profit. Women in lapdancing clubs struggle to pay back the club fees they have to pay to ‘dance’. They often rely on alcohol and drugs to get them through their performances. And because they’re in direct competition with the other dancers, they have to do more and more extreme things to get the punters to choose them over the plethora of girls around them. So ‘look but don’t touch’ goes out the window. Women who signed up to dance end up prostituting themselves. (And yes, selling any sexual act, no matter how small, does count as prostitution.) Anna from Object cites that 68% of women – pornstars, prostitutes etc. – who ‘undergo unwanted sex in exchange for money’ have post-traumatic stress disorder. I doubt lap dancers have much better statistics going for them. So, Caitlin – why not do a little bit more reading next time? It could go a long way.

Does feminism need rebranding? Generally pondering the swathe of anti-feminist resistance.

Standard
English: "Mind the Gap" goes feminist.

English: "Mind the Gap" goes feminist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had a frustrating couple of weeks.

It started gently, with a hugely intelligent PhD student telling me that he thinks it’s harder to be a man in this country than a woman.  And be genuinely baffled why I could think otherwise. It progressed to a man attacking my beliefs about the intricacies of gender-based violence. It seems I’m the evil one for discussing it instead of brushing it under the carpet. Finally, I waited nervously to see how the case of Tom Martin, probable crazed male supremacist and holder of dubious views, versus LSE Gender Institute, general do-gooders and academics, would go. He lost. But the support he garnered from men’s rights groups concerned me. He claimed the Gender Institute was anti-men and he was discriminated against. His reasons varied from ridiculous (hard chairs uncomfortable for men?!) to just about passable (course material containing anti-male views). I studied German at undergraduate level. Maybe I should have sued for anti-semitism because they showed me Nazi propaganda that advocates the extermination of Jews. No, clearly not. Not all course material reflects the view of the institution or lecturers – that’s not how studying works. Still, the bizarre nature of the case struck a chord, despite it being thrown out before it got to the courts and Mr Martin being ordered to pay LSE’s legal fees.

Overall, these three events made me reflect on the fact that a lot of the world doesn’t understand feminism, or even take an interest – and those that do often take an interest in order to oppose it. It is hard to be a feminist and believe so passionately that what you’re doing is right, and yet come up against such persistent and unmitigated resistance. I have even felt strangely changed in relation to my friends. Not that anything in me has changed, but that my new ‘coming out’ as a feminist has changed the way they see me.  Suddenly, my charming eccentricity is political, and therefore threatening. Suddenly, I must be anti something they believe in, because that’s what feminism is, right? Generally anti everything? In addition, people often like to contrast the gravity of feminist issues with other issues. I was recently asked if I would abolish racism or sexism if I had the choice of just one. How helpful. Differences in feminism between countries are also viewed with scepticism. So trying to improve body confidence is often pooh-poohed in the face of, say, female genital mutilation. I find this highly unhelpful. Anything that works to improve anyone’s quality of life anywhere in the world is beneficial. If we constantly subordinated our needs and desires with the explanation that they are not as significant as an orphan’s in Africa, we’d never get anywhere. I’m all for first-world feminism, and I’m all for third-world feminism. I’m just all for feminism!

All of this general antipathy towards the label of feminism has left me tempted to rebrand myself as an anti-rape campaigner. In doing so, I suspect people would react positively, recognise I am doing something well-intentioned and potentially take a genuine interest in the hows and whys. And when it comes down to it, I am an anti-rape campaigner – of course. But you cannot be an anti-rape campaigner without being a feminist, and vice versa. A lot of the time, the problem is not actually with the issues that I raise as a feminist, but with the label. People perceive me as radical, different, and as Simone de Beauvoir would have it, ‘othered’, when I pronounce myself feminist. But as an anti-rape campaigner, I’m a humanitarian with the patience of a saint, surely?

I recognise, as Richard Dawkins points out, that human beings need to simplify the horribly over-complicated world. They need categories. Because from the perspective of human beings, with all our limitations, we can never fully understand the world. If could see things at cellular level, if we had better sight, smell, hearing, the world would look so different. Everything is about perspective. So I understand that feminism’s historical branding as a movement of hysterical, ugly, man-hating lesbians is hard to shake off. I understand that for some people the anti-feminist prejudice doesn’t even go that far. It’s just a vague sense of not knowing a lot about it, but feeling that anything they have heard is negative. Feminism unnerves. What it is? Why does it need to exist? Do feminists prioritise women over men or do they really want equality? The answers aren’t simple (except to the last one, where the answer is clearly that being pro-women does not mean being anti-men and that equality is for everyone)  – so I understand the confusion.

Yes, I understand the miscomprehension, and I can rise above it. Because it’s so hugely important to me. And I think it’s hugely important to the world for everyone to be treated with equal worth and have an equal say in how the world is run. And the fact is, women make up half the world, and how much say do we have around the world? So little. In many countries, women don’t even get to say that being repeatedly beaten and raped is wrong. At least in the UK, we can say it. But we’re still not being listened to enough. We’re not feeling supported enough to report it. The statistics of sexual violence are still too high. So there’s more to be done. And yes, I may be taken for a female supremacist when I ask for more women in UK parliament that may (or may not) bring more gender-based issues to the forefront.  I may be taken for radical when I try to change societal attitudes which are highly likely to contribute to an atmosphere that fosters rape, or rape apologism, of which we see so much. I may just be taken for a general loony. But I have to remind myself that other people’s ignorance is not my problem when it comes to labels.  Feminism can’t bow to ignorance.

So to answer my own question, no. A big, galloping, giant no. Equality would benefit everyone. So let’s keep the label and dismiss the doubters.