I’m new to writing about women’s issues, but I’m not new to feeling like I should have the same rights, opportunity and respect as every other person on the planet, male or female. And in light of this, the Netmum’s FeMEnist survey made me angry.
The survey says that 39% of respondents felt ‘old-fashioned feminism’ was too divisive, and they didn’t want to be equal to men, but live in a society that realises that women in the main have different lives to men. Seventy percent felt that too much was expected of women today, and placed this at the door at the success of feminism which has raised everyone’s expectations of women and left women under pressure to be ‘red hot lovers, domestic goddesses, climb the career ladder and look like supermodels.’ Over half said that their teenage daughters weren’t aware of feminism.
Instead of aggressive, divisive, expectation-laden feminism, the respondents want to see equal pay, an acknowledgement of the unpaid work of being a mother or carer, affordable childcare, longer and better recompensed maternity leave, an end to the objectification of women in the media, an end to workplace discrimination, and greater numbers of women active and visible in all areas of public life.
Here’s the thing Netmums. This is exactly what feminism has been saying and fighting for, for years. You all clearly are feminists. I could spend the next few hours detailing how and where everything that you say has been written about and fought for by feminist groups, individuals and organisations over the past few decades. But I’m not going to.
Instead, I’m going to call you out and say that the problem isn’t with feminism, but with your own objectification of yourself. You aren’t at odds with the causes and aims of feminism, but with the stereotypical image of what a feminist acts like and looks like. In short you worry about how unattractive calling yourself a feminist would make you feel.
You cringe at the idea of people thinking that you might be a ball breaker, and a hairy, ugly, not-very-much-fun to be around ball-breaker at that.
If you changed every question in the survey to say ‘equal human being’ instead of ‘feminist’ you would be more than happy to place yourself firmly and vocally in that camp. Add in the spectre of feminism and you’re running a mile, and joining the legions of famous or successful women who have benefitted from the work of feminism, who collude in presenting it as a byword for women who want to be men, or who don‘t just want equality for women, but want men to suffer into the bargain.
If you believe that every women should have a fair crack of the whip in whatever they choose to do; That a society that does not have women represented equally in all areas of governance and public life is not a fair or truly representative society; If you think that the unpaid role of caring for children, the sick and the old should be recognised as ‘real’ work and factored into our work and pension systems; That women and girls should not be judged by their appearance or objectified by the media, then you believe in equality for women.
A shorthand term for believing in equality for women is feminism. If you feel uncomfortable with this label, ask yourself what exactly do you feel uncomfortable with?