The HuffPost UK Feminism Debate: Addendum

Lucy Sheriff, I must protest (but to limit your frustration, I promise I am not currently wielding a placard.)

Brogan Driscoll responded swiftly and concisely to your article with a number of good points, and I’m on board. However this debate is complex, and reducing it to simply whether or not we should ‘ditch the f-word’ while dismissing The Movement We All Agree is Called Feminism as a whole, gives a complete misrepresentation likely to impede the understanding of those who read it, regardless of gender. This is a real shame since within your article, hidden amongst your frustrations with feminism, you make some real, progressive, and, dare I say, feminist points.

Quite apart from the West’s cultural relegation of women to the status of ‘sexy human’ (a male-centric attribution of sexual difference, often internalised by women), rather than simply ‘human’, I am particularly moved to write this by the dismissal of feminism by accomplished, empowered women who thrive in the position that it has provided. While your article delineates your frustrations with sexual inequalities (you “hate to admit it’s still a man’s world”), and the difficulties of addressing/fighting them (see comment on Helen Pankhurst), you save your expression of this frustration for feminism: ‘the F word’. So, as an olive branch from one woman (and feminist) to another, I’d like to reassure you that feminism (and by that I mean simply women’s progression in society) is by no means dead, or unnecessary. We do not live in a Man’s World, but a human society; and still Man’s Society prevails via numerous forms of injustice.

The current climate of gender inequality is complex; awareness of feminism’s historically recent successes in tandem with contemporary culture’s persistent inequalities can make deciphering feminism’s place in our society confusing and frustrating. This is not a call to abandon ‘feminism’ in its entirety (I punctuate ‘feminism’ here due to the fact that we clearly don’t all agree on what ‘it’ is); this is a call to change and progress accordingly. The goalposts have indeed moved; feminism in the West has had some major legislative successes. Those who call themselves feminists are concerned with the leftover inequalities, of which there are many. Some are annoying and hypocritical, others painful and disgusting. They range from ‘women’s issues’ still being defined within the parameters of ‘diet’, ‘relationships’ and ‘babies’ (HuffPost’s women’s page is an unfortunate example), to the persisting wage gap, to horrifying contemporary rape statistics published by the Fawcett Society in 2007.

Stating that you don’t like being called a ‘feminist’, you define them as those who “march”, “shout rallying cries” or “pick up placards and protest” and are “in-your-face”. ‘Feminists’ are not one singular unit, and this prejudice directed at ‘them’ (as you experienced from the man who labeled you as such) is as unwarranted as any other. Unfortunately, this is how many of us see, and are shown, straw ‘feminists’, and is one of the many stereotypes of women that require addressing. Many who consider themselves feminists often actively hide their (understandable) anger and emotion concerning emotive issues, in order to avoid being stereotyped in this way. This is one of the reasons for the alienation of both genders from feminist causes; alongside those who engage in misandry and misrepresent it as feminism; a blatant hypocrisy.

Interestingly, your article promotes many ideals that could be understood as ‘feminist’. I agree that it is “statistically wrong” that only a quarter of MPs are women; but this growing number is a testament to the continuing progress of western women. And as women given the chance to progress by feminism, we should continue fighting inequalities, not only within our own society (e.g. rife sexual objectification), but also for the benefit of other societies in which gender equality is in need of radical progression.

A good friend of mine once wrote an impressive article, which was published in the letters page of the Times. It was well articulated, but what it essentially said was “Women of the West: feminism has happened, it could be a lot worse. Stop complaining.” On just one point I agree. Yes, it could be, and has been, worse. But effectual inequalities, large and small, and misogynistic attitudes, subtle and blatant, still exist, whether or not some want to believe it. Tell a woman who has been blamed for her own rape that it could be worse. Victim-blaming continues to happen – just one of a number of glaring inequalities in the collective consciousness.

As a feminist, I don’t often march. I would though. I prefer to read, write, laugh, discuss and debate in the name of feminism. The necessity to do this arises much more often than I feel it should. Contemporary feminism is hugely relevant and I’d like to see everyone promoting equality, rather than argue we needn’t bother, until we see an actually equal society emerge.

View the original HuffPost UK contemporary feminism debate

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