Last week I blogged about feminism and how it seemed to be having a bit of a moment, so it seemed incredibly apt that this week my point was further proven, with a number of small campaigns being won, proving that feminism is as relevant and powerful as ever. It was these recent victories (I’m thinking Julien Blanc and Ched Evans) that really got me thinking about feminism, a movement that is constantly present and yet largely discredited and I began to think about the word itself. A word that holds such power. A word that evokes such strong emotions in people. The Marmite of the English Language.
It’s an interesting time for to be a women’s rights activist, with a new kind of media and internet dominated culture, a situation that seems to bring out the worst and best in people. Alongside this, is the emergence of a new form of sexism, an anonymous and dangerous misogyny that’s invading every section of our lives. A time when women are facing unprecedented hardship and injustice in many parts of the world. A time when in many ways feminism is more relevant than ever and yet it remains such a touchy and emotive subject. A recent mums net survey found that only 1 in 7 would use the word to describe themselves.
So I got to thinking, is it time that we reclaim and redefine feminism?
Before I start to contemplate the above question, lets start with the definition of feminism, which according to the Cambridge dictionary means;
“the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state”
Simple right? Uncontroversial? I mean most of us would now generally agree that women and men deserve equal rights and treatment and anyone that suggested this the opposite would be treated as a pariah? So why is it a word that is still treated with contempt, suspicion and even disgust?
Yet there was a time there was a time when I too was a bit reluctant to use that word, scared of how people might react and believing all the myths that I know now to be untrue. Eventually I saw the light, realising the word feminism wasn’t what I thought at all but in fact was exactly what I was! After all, I believe in equality.
So if the problem doesn’t lie with the definition, the movement itself or the sentiments of the word, then it must be the actual word itself, which seems a little silly doesn’t it? I mean a word is only a word, it’s what a word means or appears to mean that really matters. And HERE lies the biggest problem, it’s the myths and misconceptions that cause the whoo-ha and not the meaning behind the word(on the whole).
In her amazing and powerful speech (on TED here), which was also recently published in the paperback “We Should all be feminists”, Chimamandia Ngozi Adichil hit the nail on the head when she said that the word “feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage”. And she is right because feminism has wrongly become synonymous with the destruction of male privilege, the idea that feminists hate men. A suggestion that is frankly ludicrous, as feminism isn’t about bringing men down but about bringing women up, ensuring that both are on an equal footing.
So then again, baring this in mind, perhaps the word IS the issue because it has a feminine element and perhaps this furthering the above myths. Then maybe it’s time to find a new word but what word?
I mean ultimately this all plays in to one over reaching theme, that of human rights, so maybe we should be looking at gender inequality in a different way. Yet here I am once again compelled to refer back to Adichi, who argues that human rights is not specific enough;
“Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general- but to chose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific problem of gender… (and) gender targets women…”.
And she’s right because while men also face negative expectations that are forced on them by gender stereotypes, it’s women that really lose at, as the following stats suggest.
- 2 women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner
- Despite making up over half of the world’s population, women only make up 17% of the parliamentarians in the world, institutions that are supposed to represent the people whom have put them there
- Despite women producing 80% of the worlds food, women are the sex most likely to be hungry.
Ultimately “feminsm” is the relevant word and the definition is appropriate and self-explanatory but we need to reclaim the word and to ensure it’s meaning remains clear. So to finish it seems fitting to quote my favourite feminist of the moment, the wonderful Emma Watson;
“If you believe in equality you might be one of those feminists I spoke of earlier…and for this I applaud you…”