To say that feminism has been ‘hitting the headlines’ would be misguided at best, and clickbaiting at worst. However, it would be fair to say that some of the par for the course bullshit that women have to put up with is beginning to trickle through to international news outlets and broadcasted in a format that is digestible for the masses.
This week has been a particularly media-heavy week for feminism: we’ve seen David Cameron refusing to wear a t-shirt declaring himself a feminist; a woman filming herself being sexually harassed while walking the streets of New York (although director Rob Bliss’ motives have been since questioned); and a major supermarket chain has been challenged for paying its female workers less than their male warehouse counterparts.
Cameron’s feminist refusal, first and foremost, is definitely NOT a blow to the cause. Despite Miliband and Clegg’s participation making him seem hostile and out of touch, you need to dig no further than his benefit-slashing policies, many of which penalise single mothers and stay-at-home mothers, to see he does not having women’s bets interests at heart. This is a class issue rather than a gender issue (but that’s another article in itself). Failing to participate in this pointless media stunt has not made feminism any less credible, audible or irrelevant.
However, what Cameron’s refusal to publicly declare himself a feminist has done is make the word even more loaded and ‘dirty’. Something that shouldn’t be uttered. What Kathleen Hanna fought so hard for in the Pacific Northwest – making ‘feminist’ a term to be shouted rather than whispered – is slowly being undone by the people who keep the word at the end of a proverbial barge pole.
“As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all.”
It’s this feminist awakening that has made women such as Lena Dunham so popular – or, conversely, perhaps it is her brazen, unsugar-coated openness about what being a women is actually like that makes her so appealing. She, however, is just one voice fighting against the overwhelmingly emphasis we place on women’s appearances and, increasingly, ‘feminism lite’.
Laurie Penny nailed the sentiment in her latest book, ‘Unspeakable Things’:
“The feminism that sells is the sort of feminism that can appeal to almost everybody while challenging nobody – feminism that soothes, that speaks for and to the middle class, aspirational feminism that speaks of shoes and shopping and sugar-free snacks and does not talk about poor women, queer women, ugly women, transsexual women, sex workers, single parents, or anybody else who fails to fit the mould.”
It’s this palatable, watered-down feminism that angers many, as it panders to white, university-educated, middle-class women, who view feminism as a way to break through the glass ceiling into the boardroom, while maintaining Western standards of beauty, a fulfilled boyfriend/husband and a home straight out of the latest Ikea catalogue. But this is a lie. Worse, a trap. A game that we can never win.
Emma Watson’s passionate speech promoting the HeforShe campaign will, hopefully, have been the start of a feminist awakening to many women and men who have previously felt confused by and alienated from feminist issues. Men have a significant part to play to, although many fail to engage, citing feminism to be a minefield.
Guardian journalist Antony Loewenstein said this week that “writing about feminism when male is like gatecrashing a party”. He added, however, that “men have a stake in gender equality, from promoting fair pay and no-fault divorce laws, all the way to stopping honour killings and sexual violence. We are boyfriends, husbands, fathers or friends, and yet too many of us shy away from these sensitive matters, fearing opprobrium”.
Time to make a difference then, eh?
Words: Wendy Davies
Image: Mia Hague