What is feminism anyway?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word feminist?

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Bra burning? {Maybe, if you’re old enough.}

Hairy armpits?

Man haters?

Women from the 1960’s?

It’s one of those hot topics that never really goes away and sees every generation of young women asking themselves the questions:

what is feminism and am I a feminist?

A comment thread on a post recently with a fellow blogger saw a really long exchange of thoughts which made it clear that, despite being from opposite sides of the world and with different lifestyles, backgrounds, and upbringings, we both felt strongly on the subject. Here are some of the comments that prompted this post:

The image I had of feminism was based off depictions in movies and they were not positive. I honestly thought it was about being “man haters” and anti-makeup…

For me feminism is just equality.

I hate that a women can be entirely defined by, or reduced by, her gender (and biology), boxed in by it or restricted.

-Susan

I decided to explore the topic further. I sent out a post on Facebook asking my friends to tell me what feminism means to them. The responses were brilliant {and shouldn’t come as a surprise because I do gravitate towards intelligent and forward thinking women}. Here are some of the responses:

•equal pay for equal work
•not living with the fear for your personal safety just because you are female
•aspiring towards a society where women aren’t pressured to change their name after marriage 
•social equality – not having to face street harassment among other things.
•political and economic equality

-Surekha

Equal pay for equal work is so obvious it’s like, how are we STILL fighting for this???

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Feminism is the freedom for women to live their lives however they choose, free from preconceived ideas about what a woman should and shouldn’t do.

-Cathy

Again, seemingly obvious but not always put into practice. There’s obviously a reason there is no opposite male equivalent of feminism.

• Equal pay for equal work. Pay gap is still at 18.8%.
• Work being judged on merit, and not trivialised or characterised by my gender (oversensitive, bossy, hysterical etc.)
• Not to be sexualized and objectified.
• Not to be judged by appearance first (I now stop myself from complimenting young girls on what they’re wearing and compliment them on their reading ability or if they kicked a ball really well).
• Not to adhere to ridiculous beauty standards (it makes me sad when young women talk of cosmetic surgery).
• For women to be safe from violence in their own home and in public
• For women to be safe online; it’s abhorrent that women are slut shamed or receives threats of rape, violence or murder when they share an opinion (god forbid we have one)
• For shared responsibility in keeping the home and in parenting. Much of what we learn is what we see in our home. Mutual respect starts there.

-Maryann

Where do I start here?! Equal pay for equal work comes up again. The sexualisation of women, being judged on gender alone, and terms like slut shaming {the ridiculous old notion you may have noticed growing up that went something like “well if she dresses like that what can she expect?”…}, and unnatural standards of beauty, are all really important points. They are still inequalities and injustices that women face every day.

1. To treat your children the same, at the same age, give them the same responsibilities / chores / privileges regardless of gender. 2. That just because you’re a man and you work full time, doesn’t mean that the woman (who may also work full time or there about’s) gets all the “home duties” because they are a woman and 3. Practice what you preach, no point going on about what you think is right or wrong if you don’t lead by example.

This point really hit home. Right before I sat down at the computer and saw these responses I had asked my daughter to help me clean up the kitchen because I had a lot of work to do. {And a lot of blogging obviously.} And even before I saw this comment I was asking myself why do I always ask my daughter to help me? Why does she ALWAYS set the table? What’s wrong with asking her brothers? When she started helping with chores her brothers were both in the final two years of high school and I wanted them to use their time to study. Probably a bit stupid looking back because they were both most likely doing anything but study. But now my daughter is in her final year of school and things have to change. Yes, I am asking my seven year old to do more chores but why have I let his two older brothers off the hook? {Even though one of them is quite the feminist himself. More on that later.}

*Equal pay
*Equal advantages/opportunities
*No gender specific roles
*No sexual violence
*Strength / independence
*Being who you want to be without barriers or being judged

-Gloria

Sexual violence: why are women still seen as such a soft target? Why is rape so common? And again, EQUALITY.

And then we get to the heart of the matter:

Even if they are ‘traditional’, women should be able to choose what makes them happy without feeling put down for those choices. Sticking up for other women. Helping each other and supporting each other.

-Lidia

Choose what makes them happy without feeling put down for it.

Sticking up for other women.

Helping and supporting each other.

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But what is feminism in different parts of the world?

Freedom to pursue an education, to pursue a career? To travel and own property? To be free from genital mutilation and honour killings? Free from being sold into slavery or being offered as a child bride? Being acknowledged as a worthy member of society? Knowing that your rape will lead to the thorough investigation and prosecution of the person or people responsible?

To be perfectly honest it can be super easy to consider yourself a feminist from your comfy middle class perch. I’m the first to shine a light on my own hypocrisy. I was a stay at home mum for many years being supported by my husband while I popped out kids. I changed my surname and couldn’t wait to do so. Sure I own my own business but both me personally and my business are still, in part, propped up and supported by my husband. Who am I to call myself a feminist?

I am quite simply a feminist because things are still not equal or right for so many women in the world, and it’s just not okay.

Here’s the thing. Different waves of feminists have fought for different things. Each one has stood up and fought for what was most glaringly wrong at that time in history. But underpinning every wave and every protest, they were all fighting for two things.

Freedom.

Equality.

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We have won the freedom in some ways. We can do what first wave feminists and suffragettes could not: work {and keep our own money in our own bank accounts}, vote, own property, keep our surnames, and so much more than they could have imagined. But while our rights have grown our equality has not. How can it not boggle the mind that in some parts of the world a woman is still legally her husband’s or father’s possession? His property, no different to a car or TV????  Closer to home, why is it that when I was about 15, while watching the Jodie Foster movie The Accused shortly after it’s release, I heard from people in my life comments like “well what does she expect?”, and “too late to say no now.”

And while I honestly don’t really know who Amber Rose even is, I have to say that I support her SlutWalk. And while taking back the very word slut takes away it’s power, let’s just take the word slut off the table completely. I mean, for fucks sake, what’s it about anyway? A way to put down someone who may or may not be comfortable with her sexuality? A way to throw a gender specific insult? It’s a term intended to abuse and wound, plain and simple. And you know what I loved? How Amber Rose came to the defence of Kim Kardashian after she posted her nude selfie recently and faced the usual backlash. And while I don’t get Kim and her endless selfies or nude photos and might not agree with them, that is feminism at work. Women sticking up for the right of another woman who they may not even like, even if it’s supposedly about the right to be free to upload a nude selfie.

Kim’s response was actually pretty feminist too.

“In all seriousness, I never understand why people get so bothered by what other people choose to do with their lives.

I don’t do drugs, I hardly drink, I’ve never committed a crime—and yet I’m a bad role model for being proud of my body?… 

It always seems to come back around to my sex tape. Yes, a sex tape that was made 13 years ago. 13 YEARS AGO. Literally that lonnng ago. And people still want to talk about it?!?! I lived through the embarrassment and fear, and decided to say who cares, do better, move on. I shouldn’t have to constantly be on the defence, listing off my accomplishments just to prove that I am more than something that happened 13 years ago.”

She goes on to say:

“I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world.”

Finally she wrapped up with this:

I am empowered by my husband, who is so accepting and supportive and who has given me a newfound confidence in myself. He allows me to be me and loves me unconditionally

It’s 2016. The body-shaming and slut-shaming—it’s like, enough is enough. I will not live my life dictated by the issues you have with my sexuality. You be you and let me be me. I am a mother. I am a wife, a sister, a daughter, an entrepreneur and I am allowed to be sexy.”

#happyinternationalwomensday.”

Reading it I was a little bit stunned to be nodding my head so often. Wait, isn’t Kim K just a media whore who shouldn’t be taken seriously?

But wait, the word WHORE.

Why is she a whore?

IS she a whore?

But why?

Sex tape or no, {and like she said, who even cares anymore}, she has built what is nothing less than an empire. She is a successful modern woman, using modern strategies to sell herself. She is surrounded by strong women, and is in control of every aspect and decision of her life. And what’s wrong with that?

Again: I’m not even a fan.

And speaking of celebrities, there seems to a be a whole movement dedicated to not being a feminist. “I don’t consider myself a feminist because…{insert the very reason they should consider themselves a feminist}.”  You don’t need feminism because you have all the rights you need, as won for you by the feminists who fought for them. Oookay…

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So why don’t we need feminism?

Because we have equal rights?

No, we don’t.

Should we be seeing things like this ANYWHERE?:

“I hope some creepy stalker guy rapes you hundreds of times and then slashes u into little pieces with a machete”

“… you want to be raped and tortured and kicked and shaken like a ragdoll.”

“Honestly kill yourself your blog is trash you slut … you huge whore put on some makeup.”

-Tumblr

NO FUCKING WAY.

Why is it that we have a patriarchy and no opposite female term? Similarly, why do we have feminism and no opposite male term?

Hilary Clinton is judged on her outfit while Donald Trump is judged on his political merits.

So no, not equal yet.

But what about the positives?

When actress Emma Watson stands up for the cause with her #heforshe campaign.

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Positive.

When the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Malala Yousafzai.

Very positive.

Some of the responses to my Facebook post wished to remain anonymous. They included the following:

“I’ve noticed I have a few confused feminists in my life, modern intelligent women who have been afforded all the opportunities made possible by the work of previous women advocating for women’s rights. Yet these women are still so beholden to men and their way of running things.”

“Why is x judged so harshly for wanting to keep her surname? Why is that so bad? Why does she have to do every single thing her husband’s family want them to do? She’s strong and intelligent, would it be the end of the world if she wanted things done HER way?”

“I grew up hearing slut shaming ALL THE TIME without even knowing it. When I was a teenager words like slut were thrown around at any girl who we didn’t like. It was just the ultimate put-down.”

“What’s so bad about the word slut anyway? That’s what fifteen year old me was thinking, I bet she’s out there having a ball.

“I wanted to be SO BAD. I failed, lol. But I just wanted to piss everyone off, shock them a bit. Why were they all so uptight anyway, pushing an outdated idea that THIS is the only way a girl can live her life? The only options presented to me, and I mean THE ONLY OPTIONS, were: meet a nice guy, get married, have kids. And this was the 90’s. Maybe throw in some part time job to help out the family, but never did my parents encourage me to seek further education or a career. And I was really smart too, I could have done anything.”

“I was called a slut. I was labelled the village bicycle. To this day I wonder if people still remember me as that tramp. But in reality I was a virgin, I was just like the other girls, posters of Jon Bon Jovi on my wall and dreaming of my first kiss. Where did those judgements come from? I dressed like a heavy metal groupie because that was in, I teased my hair and wore lots of makeup and short skirts. I think we all looked older back then. It used to eat away at me back then, but eventually I got over it. Much later. But looking back, why were they all so mean? What the fucking hell did I do when I was only 14 for them to brand me a slut?”

This post has been the culmination of a really long journey. Personally, I can’t even remember when I really started getting interested in feminism. I think the idea was always just there. I started reading books by Naomi Wolf and Betty Friedan, and it all just made perfect sense. They awakened a thirst for more. I searched out every book I could and even though not every topic resonated with me these were all the struggles that women still face because of their gender and nothing more. I read blogs, magazine articles, listened to songs, and realised {with a proud smirk} that, fuck yeah,  I’m a bloody feminist.

I realise that it’s easy to be whatever you want to be when you are coming from a privileged position. Pretty much everything about the way my life has played out screams the word traditional. Not really feminist of me. And I’m white middle class: so easy to label yourself whatever you please.

But at the same time I can’t help but feel anger and sadness at the injustices facing the women of the world. Women in developing nations, women who identify as a minority; their struggles are still huge. The lofty cause that is feminism still refuses to touch the topic of motherhood. Women are no longer chained to hearth and home, we have legal rights to birth control and abortion; why are we SO AFRAID of standing up for mothers? Mothers are feminists too, let’s not forget that. Why not celebrate the sacred that is motherhood, wear it with pride and honour, and own the power it gives us?

Lesbian and transgender women, women of colour, still fight battles every day.

There is so much more I want to say, so much more that needs to be said, but a blog post can only fit in so much.

PLEASE: use the comments below to continue the conversation.

For now, I’m going to leave the final word with this comment:

Feminism, to me, means equality. It’s not about recognition for the sake of recognition, it’s about a genuine, humane interest in equality. It celebrates women for their skills and triumphs, but doesn’t seek to exclude others based on gender. Morally, it should go without saying. It’s about looking at your mum and the chief women figures in your life and accepting that they deserve all the opportunities and rewards that men do. It’s about recognition of them, and of the fact that there are still areas that do not see them in that way. It’s about how we see women, and mostly, how we treat them. To a male, it can be accepting that when it comes to a woman’s experience in this life, sometimes we can’t comment because we simply don’t and cannot know what they might go through. It’s about asking questions like why the word “slut” has two different meanings based on gender. It’s about wanting the women around you to feel comfortable and proud of themselves for who they are, not because of what someone tells them they are. It is, simply, about empathy, and understanding. My idea of what the primary goal of feminism is, is for it to eliminate the need for itself. It is not a global, capital F movement. It is a personal decision to hold to higher values, and to enforce them, and to begin that process of change on an individual level– with ourselves.

The author?

My oldest son.

It’s his response to me calling out down the stairs to him, “message me whatever way you want what is your idea of feminism. It’s for a blog post.”

To have OUR SONS believing such things?

There’s hope for feminism yet.

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Ana.

P.S. One final note: I feel like I went on about Kim Kardashian a lot. {I may have edited some of it out, there was a lot there to talk about.} But as a feminist I hate the way she is constantly attacked for who she is. Male celebrities and sports stars can beat a woman and still be hailed for their professional prowess and awarded with multi million dollar paydays, but a woman who likes to share a lot of selfies and get her boobs out gets slammed every time. And despite our personal opinion as to how vain or shallow she may or may not be, it’s just not right that such glaring inequality still exists. Personally, I find Kim K to be highly annoying while being a business powerhouse. But I salute the fact the fact that she does her thing, critics be damned.

P.S.S. This post was so long in the draft stage and I agonised that it wasn’t ready to publish, but I guess it’s never going to be broad enough or cover everything I want to say. Maybe if it gets just one girl thinking that’s good enough.  

  1. Okay I read this earlier & I still can’t comment yet but I’m loving how much effort, time and thinking you put into this and all the comments you collected from the discussions on feminism you initiated on facebook & otherwise. I love seeing such thoughtful, positive insight on this subject and what your son added could bring me to tears SERIOUSLY because it’s so promising and wonderful to hear words like that coming from a young man and it makes me less terrified for the future and for young women. I have thoughts on Kim K, too so hopefully I’ll get to them at some point but if not that’s okay because who needs my 2 cents on every little thing anyway but I will say now I’m not really a fan of hers at all but I don’t disrespect her for being a selfie taking, clothes dropping, modeling, makeup loving lady–no problem with that whatsoever. I just find her boring and I don’t watch the show but I HATE that she gets insulted constantly for taking pride in her appearance, showing her body off and making money the way she does. Did I say who needs to my 2 cents because now I can’t stop babbling…the way I see it is that she made that sex tape and got tons of negative attention for it yet the loser she made it with got far less attention and really he betrayed her by allegedly leaking it and Kim was able to turn the tables on him, the man who betrayed her and took advantage of her, by finding a way to gain power in the situation, take control over her own image (in this case the video I guess) and even get the advantage by making money of it. She was a victim in several ways and found a way to flip it.
    I feel like I know more people who have admitted to making sex videos with their partner, taking risque or nude photos & selfies, etc then those that I don’t and just because Kim is famous she was ripped apart. What was that dude’s name? Ray J? Rayjay? Brandy’s brother? Why wasn’t the attention put on him–because Kim is a woman who is unfairly expected to behave a certain way due to her gender and was victim blamed. It’s like how young girls are taught not to dress one way so they don’t “ask for it” or attract attention from boys, to keep themselves safe when instead boys should be taught how to respect woman and keep their sexual urges and bullshit under control.

    Anyway outstanding post from you here and lots to think on but I agree the bottom line is equality and everything else these amazing women have added from equal pay and sexual violence all falls under that category. It’s amazing how you can look at each thing and connect it to gender. Like men are not in danger simply because they are men. Men are not paid less because they are men. Those men’s rights activists and “not all men!” are so pathetic.

    You’ve made me think of something else involving masculinity expectations but I won’t get into it here! Great great post!!!

    PS: apologies for typos or nonsense…no time to proof read!

    Reply

    1. Thank you, and yes I’m very proud of my son. He is definitely open minded and a deep thinker, but I was still blown away by his answer, especially the bit about the aim of feminism being to wipe out the need for it.

      Kim K, yeah, a whole can of worms. But you know what I remembered when you were talking about the guy in the sex tape, remember when Tommy Lee and Pammy had theirs leaked? He was like some hero and everyone was SO IMPRESSED with his because of his performance in that video. Yet every female celeb is somehow shamed for the same thing. How is this double standard still in play?!

      Reply

      1. Oh my gosh you’re so right!!! I forgot about their sex tape scandal and how praised he was for his size (pardon me while I barf forever)….but OMG you’re right. That’s sooooooooo screwed up!!!!!

        No wonder your son is this way, he’s got a smart feminist mama!

        Reply

        1. I wish I could claim all the credit for my son {maybe just a bit} but that’s just who he is. The other son on the other hand, don’t even get me started… 😉

          Reply

          1. Also: I can’t see the emoji/symbol on my stupid computer but I assume it’s a :/ face or a silly face or…a something face so if “haha” was not appropriate just insert the appropriate response from me, for me!

            Reply

            1. Lol, it was a wink.

  2. AH-mazing! I honestly cannot add anything to this as it’s just fabulous! I have so many emotions when it comes to the double standards of “slut shaming” and the like and it’s just ridiculous this is still a thing in 2016!
    Well done Ana, great post! xo

    Reply

    1. Thank you so much babe. Xxc

      Reply

  3. […] I can do justice to. {I tackled a big post on feminism on my last blog, which you can still find HERE, but even after lots of time spent on it I’m still not satisfied}. But please, watch the Knox […]

    Reply

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