“Yeah I completely agree women should have equal rights and opportunities to men, but I’m not a feminist” – said by multiple friends on various different occasions.
As much as I seem opinionated and loud, I’m actually really bad at arguing my case, and this is one of those sentences that sends me into a heart-thumping, head-shaking frenzy of “but, but, but I don’t agree with you and you’re wrong” and I’m rendered completely incapable of expressing why.
It just angers me so much that people are so hung up on the word ‘feminist’, to such an extent that they will completely dismiss the whole movement as man-hating, discriminating and detrimental to society.
And this is so commonplace among my group of friends, including the girls – a load of intelligent Londoner millennials, who you’d assume would be the most liberal and forward-thinking of all groups in society. Even my dad will call himself a feminist, dammit.
So why are they all so reluctant to call themselves feminists? When, after all, the English dictionary definition of the word means ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes’, and many of these friends are ambitious, smart, caring women?
Partly, I think, it’s because of the prevailing stereotype of the Feminazi, the too-vocal socialist with bushy underarms carrying placards and screaming jibberish about the patriarchy. This image of the feminist is too alternative, loud and abrupt, making friends like mine want to put their fingers in their ears and sing ‘la la la’. They don’t want to associate with an angry mob, they just want to live their lives (but with equal pay and free from unwarranted groping, obvs).
Secondly – and this is the one that REALLY annoys me, and is mainly specific to the male friends – is they say feminism is too biased towards women. I try to explain, calmly and rationally, that it is indeed women suffering the brunt of gender inequality; they’re the ones being raped, beaten by their husbands, made to feel uncomfortable every day while walking down the street, being paid less for equal work, being disrespected or patronised in the workplace, being expected to fulfil their role as a mother and wife with an almost superhuman-like ease. Yes sure, men are having problems too, there’s no denying it. Custody rights and the shockingly high rates of male suicide are awful, but being a feminist doesn’t mean ignoring them. Because feminism is all about redressing the balance of power; for centuries, men have held this power – they have long been the policymakers, the CEOs, the rulers – and it’s time women shared this in equal measure. Indeed, you could even argue that all the problems men suffer in terms of gender are actually a result of women’s oppression – maybe men would feel better able to talk about their feelings, and thereby prevent suicide, if raw emotions weren’t perceived as feminine and weak and frowned upon in society. Maybe paternal rights would be equally valued if so much pressure wasn’t placed on the mother’s role. One of my friends tried telling me more men are raped than women in the world (“and no-one ever talks about that”), before realising this stat was actually about men in American prisons, is from 2012, and the study has been refuted (OBVIOUSLY). But yes, rape in prisons is certainly an issue, but maybe that could be prevented if those men were taught not to fucking rape. (Refrained from punching said friend, for anyone wondering).
I’m constantly trying to tell people that being a feminist, and admitting the problems of gender politics that still exist in this country (and even more so, the world), things will be better for everyone. Nothing can ever improve for others if you keep on screaming, “but me too! What about me? I’m suffering too!” Let’s address the bigger, scarier, overriding issues first – like the fact Rape Crisis receives 4000 calls a week, or that women’s salaries are still 20% lower than men’s, or the fact EVERY SINGLE WOMAN has a #MeToo story, with some having too many to pinpoint just one, or the fact predators and sexists are still being accepted in mainstream culture and politics (Donald Trump, Chris Brown, Woody Allen, etc. etc. etc.) Once we challenge socially-constructed and damaging notions of femininity and masculinity, and place women on an equal footing, we will be better placed to tackle the issues that affect all genders.
I understand why men feel threatened by the word ‘feminist’ – okay, I get it. ‘Fem’ is intrinsically associated with being a woman, and being called girly or feminine is the ultimate insult. But men, don’t you realise, by refusing to call yourself a feminist, you’re part of the problem? If you think that any label with the word ‘fem’ in it is so abhorrent, you’re perpetuating the exact everyday sexism that is making feminism such a big movement in the first place. And it’s okay, if not even honourable to say, “hey, I’m not a dickhead, none of my friends are dickheads, but there are a lot of dickheads out there and I want to try and stop them, and their ideologies, dominating society.” What’s so wrong with that, eh lads?
The girls, however, I still struggle to understand. I try to explain that not all feminists have ear plugs and mohawks and threaten to burn men at the stake; many (like me) obsess over lipstick and Topshop clothes and watch Gossip Girl (although they will likely hate Chuck Bass and feel guilty for the fact they also fancy him). Feminism isn’t all about trying to be more like men; on the contrary, it can actually be damaging if we deny the biological differences. I fucking LOVE women, and all the qualities that make them unique (being more sensitive, caring, having squishy boobies and so on). But all of this is futile because clearly, sometimes, there’s just too much weight connected to a word. The negative connotations are just too strong, and I’m starting to give up.
So, I’ve said my piece. I can’t be bothered to explain myself anymore. It’s over. But if you call yourself an egalitarian instead of a feminist ONE MORE TIME I will grow out my body hair in protest.