What is feminism? In what context do you hear the word ‘feminist’ being used? Do you identify as a feminist? Who do you know who identifies as a feminist? Were you taught feminism at school? Is it ever a word used by your family? Do you identify with feminist ideals but feel uncomfortable calling yourself a feminist?
What is Feminism
There are many different branches of feminism, as well as a spectrum of stereotypes and labels that have been applied to feminism. At its heart, feminism is a social movement that believes in the political, economic, and social rights of women. Feminists believe men and women deserve equal rights and opportunities in a society. Importantly though, equality does not necessarily equate with ‘sameness’.
We don’t have to accept or advocate that there are no differences between men and women in order to call ourselves feminist.
Based on this broad definition, I would ask: who would NOT identify as a feminist?
Don’t Call me a Feminist
Although feminism is changing and a wave of celebrities such as Beyonce have aligned themselves with the term, there is still stigma attached to calling yourself a feminist in our popular culture. Look here for a discussion on how young people are identifying with the feminist label. There has also been important discussion on the relationship that feminism has to the mainstream.
Part of this involves critiques that the claiming of ‘feminism’ into a mainstream space has actually denied the work of radicals who have dedicated their lives to the feminist cause, and whose work has enabled the freedoms that young women today enjoy.
Jessica Crispin argues in her controversial book that “the matricidal impulse of young women to denounce these ‘feminazis'” has depoliticized the movement, that women have become complicit in their own oppression, and the feminist movement is stalled.
There are a number of reasons behind the backlash against the term ‘feminist’ in our popular culture that may contribute to some of the changes Crispin talks about. It is also unsurprising that a movement that advocates overthrowing a system that benefits the most privileged and elite faces some resistance.
Feminism has been (or is?) associated with the stereotype of a forceful, angry, man-hating woman. Many women will create distance between themselves as such labels, because they are highly aware of how women who are perceived as angry or assertive are discriminated against or marginalized.
We are socialized into being quiet, small, ‘nice’, and ‘kind’ women – not assertive, opinionated, ‘bitches’ who take up space and make our voices heard.
A study by Grenny & Maxfield found that if a woman in the workplace is perceived as being ‘forceful’ or ‘assertive’, then her perceived competency drops by 35%, and her perceived worth falls by $15,088.
There are real – and sometimes dangerous – consequences for those who speak out against sexism and challenge traditional gendered norms (and gender itself. There is also a clear difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ that is so often confused in these discussions, but I’ll delve into that in a post to come).
Quick Feminism Myth-Busters
- Feminists hate men.
Feminists don’t hate men; they contest a system and society that privileges men and the masculine and denigrates the status and experience of women. Feminism works not only to liberate women, but critiques the constraints men face with the narrow definitions of ‘masculinity’ and what it means to be a man.
- All Feminists are bra-burning lesbians
First, how is being a lesbian an insult? This in itself is homophobic and discriminatory, and part of what feminists work against! Being feminist doesn’t have anything to do with your sexual orientation.
- Women and men are already equal. There’s no need for feminism
The most unsafe place for a woman is in her home.
The majority of men who are killed are killed by strangers who are men and the majority of women killed are killed by male intimate partners and family.
As of 16th October, 2019, 44 women have been murdered in our country this year. In the time it took me to put together this blog post and my podcast episode 3 on this topic, 5 women were killed. with statistics statistically showing at least 1 woman a week is killed in Australia
Some facts from the Australian Human Rights Commission:
- 1 in 2 women have experienced sexual harassment during their lifetime
- 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15
- Women account for 70% of primary unpaid carers for children
- Women spend twice as much time on unpaid work as men
- Women are more likely to live below the poverty line
- Australian ranks 48th in the world in terms of female political empowerment, and we represent only 26% of representatives in Australian parliament despite being 50% of the population
- 1 in 2 mothers reported experiencing workplace discrimination
- Women retire on half the superannuation of men
There also may be the perception that you don’t need to care about feminism because you are not sexist yourself? Interestingly, even those of us who actively call ourselves feminists still hold unconscious bias. A great explanation of this comes from Kristen Pressner’s TEDx talk on “Are You Biased? I am”.
Feminism is also about calling out intersectional discrimination as our race, class, ethnicity, education, geographical location and whether we live with disability, will shape our understanding and perspective on feminist issues.
Where did Feminism come from?
The first wave of feminism arose in the late 19th, early 20th centuries, mobilised by the suffragettes who campaigned for women’s right to vote.
The second wave came about in the 1960s and 1970s and these feminists campaigned for things such as equal pay and reproductive rights for women such as access to contraception and safe and legal abortion.
Shockingly, as I was writing this post, it was only a few days after (26th September 2019) that abortion was finally de-criminalised in NSW, Australia. There are many aspects of the fight of the second wave feminists that we are still fighting today, where full-time working Australian women earn on average 17.5% less than men working full-time.
Third wave feminism took off around the 1990s, branching out to consider the ways feminists need to recognize and consider the roles race, ethnicity, and sexual identity play in the marginalization and discrimination of women.
Fourth wave feminism is said to have begun only recently, and focuses on greater representation in politics and business, arguing that policies and practices need to incorporate perspectives of all people. There is also a focus on calling out assault, harassment, focusing on bodily autonomy, and speaking out about abuses of power. Think #metoo.
There are many feminist battles left to fight, not only for us, but also for our children (both boys and girls). I hope you will join me on this front. It is sometimes uncomfortable – and of course it will be when we are pushing against the social norm. But it is also empowering and important work.
More on this to come when I talk about the relationship between feminism and motherhood, and the practice of empowered mothering. If you want to hear more about this straight away, head over and listen to my podcast episode “Empowered Mothering”.