A Feminist Détente?

Feminism has become one of the most controversial political labels of recent years. Indeed people all over the world have their own conceptions of what feminism is, and more importantly what it isn’t. As a consequence gems of statements like ‘I support women’s rights but I’m not a feminist’ have become increasingly common. To be perfectly honest I’m not surprised that this situation has arisen because we in the feminist movement have not challenged the media enough to educate people on what we are calling for or what we believe. Unfortunately this is because the feminist movement, much like any other political ideology like socialism or liberalism, is in essence an umbrella term for lots of different beliefs, and when these views contradict each other the average person remains unaware of what feminists stand for.

Indeed our failure to articulate the feminist movement as a series of separate movements with some common goals is most likely why some people perceive feminists as ‘bitter man-haters’. For example socialism is an umbrella term that include those wishing to use existing political structures, those who call for revolution, those who support the use of state power to improve peoples’ lives, and those who are sceptical of the state’s monopoly on force, among others. It is this simplistic thinking that results in many thinking that all Tories are like Thatcher and all communists are like Stalin etc., but as members of the feminist movement it falls on us to identify ourselves and what we believe, especially in reference to what other feminists say.
If you are a liberal feminist you will believe very different things to an anarcha-feminist or a postmodern feminist, however the views of a prominent celebrity who identifies as a part of the movement become attached to the rest of us. Take the example of Germaine Greer’s recent transphobic remarks. Some people who know Greer as a feminist may make the leap that all feminists agree with her because the idea of our movement being homogeneous has been perpetuated in the media and popular culture.
As is common in any ideological movement, there is much discussion of women’s issues in the theoretical realm, which is important, however if equality is to be achieved this theory must be applied in practice with concrete principles that feminists of all stripe acknowledge as fundamental. Again this will be difficult because a socialist feminist will argue that women’s emancipation and equality is only possible with the overthrow of capitalism whereas a liberal would not but there are common principles that I believe we can all agree upon. Obviously this appears like I’m preaching the choir, but unless we come together with one voice detractors of the feminist movement will be able to spread misinformation about what we believe.
Paris Feminist March Daily Mail.jpg
Cara Delevingne and Karl Lagerfeld led a feminist protest march in Paris in 2014 to promote women’s rights. (Getty)
Firstly, we are trying to establish equality for women in all realms of society (politics, economics, culture, personal etc.) and not to somehow victimise men. As a man myself I must confess that I probably wouldn’t be a part of a movement whose primary goal was to intimidate and insult myself. This could manifest itself in various ways such endeavouring to see a gender balanced Parliament or challenging the objectification of women in popular culture. This does not mean anything other than what it is. It isn’t hiding an agenda that wants to make men subservient to women, as is the common perception, nor is it wanting to somehow exclude men from society as a form of reparations for previous sexist attitudes.
Secondly, we are trying to challenge the idea of women’s issues in the realm of politics. Things such as pay equity and maternity leave are not ‘women’s issues’ they are simply ‘issues’. What part of British foreign policy or the economic philosophy behind the Budget do not count as women’s issues? The feminist movement is seeking to change the way we, as members of the body politic, look at issues emphasising how all issues impact upon women. All we are therefore saying is that equality needs to be approached as a change in attitude rather than as a purely cosmetic change. If Parliament if gender balanced but the dominant ideology remains one of male superiority, we would have failed.
The final fundamental point that I believe all feminists agree upon, at least in part, is the importance of challenging stereotypes and gender roles, and their impact on society more broadly. We all agree that gender roles impose restrictions of people’s lives and therefore we need to go out into wider community to challenge these pervasive ideas. Challenging these gender roles, especially their impact on both sexes, will no longer alienate men and would be another way of refuting the idea of feminists hating half the population.
Nothing of what I’ve said is especially ground-breaking or revolutionary but it is important to reaffirm what we hold in common in order to speak with one voice. We need to have an internal détente in order to focus our efforts on fighting sexism in all its forms. Fighting each other over the obscure ideological distinctions between intersectionality and standpointism is a valid debate to have in an academic context, but when it comes to reaching out to people we need a common creed, and I believe that these three principles can be the basis of such agreement. We need to educate people about how the feminist movement is a mixing pot of different beliefs and ideologies, but in the meantime we must also come together and speak with one voice demanding equality once and for all.
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