Friday, March 02, 2007

What kind of a feminist ARE you?!

Is a question I occasionally get. I shall try and answer that before I answer the more unusual question later.

Okay, let's see. Well, first up, I'm by no means fixed in all my views yet. At 17 years old, I've not been properly 'into' the movement for very long at all, but women's issues have always grabbed and held my attention.


In terms of literature, my personal feminist collection is sparse, consisting of Female Chauvinist Pigs, A Brief History of Misogyny (a current favourite), The Beauty Myth, Price of Honour (next in line for reading) and The Female Eunuch. Interestingly, it is that last one, the one so highly praised by seemingly every feminist I come across, that I found the least engaging. I never finished it, so I cannot comment on it completely, but as your average girl on the street, a mostly male group of friends and no background in the feminist 60s-80s period in which the book was published, I found it difficult to fully relate to. Perhaps someday I'll read it completely with a different eye. Meanwhile, it was Ariel Levy's flawed and much-criticised paperback that got me hooked. Her arguments are far from perfect, and she does sometimes come across as having little respect for people who do actually enjoy and embrace 'raunch culture' as a true reflection of their sexuality, yet as someone who does find such a society both intimidating and dull (if it could be possible) as well as alienating, I was heartened to find someone who - at least to a certain extent - saw it as I did. Despite everything people have said against the book, for me, it was as good a starting point as The F-Word was in finding out what feminists are saying here and now.
However, I don't think that 'blame the slags' is a good philosophy.

Discrimination and the 'isms'

I have always been an avid reader, and always enjoyed a good story. When in primary school and nursery I could usually be found in the book section, and the picture books were my earliest source of information about the world apart from my actual day-to-day experiences - and in the books that I saw, the doctors were always male and the nurses were always female. Our family doctor, similarly, was and still is a man, and on our occasional visits to the hospital we would be surrounded by female nurses - so I assumed that the books must be right. So when my dad asked me once what I wanted to be when I grow up, one of the first things I said was 'a nurse'.
'Why? Don't you want to be a doctor?'
'Only men can be doctors.' I replied matter-of-factly. Regardless of the intention of the books, this was what I had learned. This was sexism, accidental or not. I also learned that families always consist of Mum, Dad, and minimum of two children and the family pet(s) - I didn't know what divorce was until I met my best friend, I didn't know that women can love women and men can love men until a family friend passed around some wedding photos. I assumed that EVERYONE gets married at some point. Girls must try and look pretty all the time, while boys go out and rip the knees of their trousers climbing trees. I learned that white people marry only white people, Asians marry only Asians and so on. Hopefully, the books have become more representative since then.
Now that I'm older I am told that women are damaging the family by going out to work, but men aren't (I OBJECT!) - reinforcing the picturesque nuclear families in those picture books. Every now and then, a study tells me that I find maths challenging purely because I'm female, and the roughly 5:1 ratio of boys to girls in my maths class is discouraging. Immigrants are destroying our way of life. Black single mothers should be blamed entirely for their family's breakdown. Et. Cetera.
I wish I'd been shown more accurate depictions when I was younger. Maybe not all stories of family breakdowns and cancer, but even just a few mentions - a few female doctors or male nurses, a child with parents who are co-habiting - something. I wish people would stop reading the fucking Sun. I wish that people would stop automatically trying to pin the blame upon a single group whenever something goes wrong. I hope that things will improve. I look forward to it.

I was going to go on longer with this, but I've found a way to summarise it all. Feminist Critics made a list of the things that they believe feminism has got right and which they agree with - it basically says everything about how I see things. When I analyse something, these are the basic premises that I start from:

1. There is a gender system

Males and females are socialized into masculinities and femininities. Masculine and feminine behaviour is not simply determined by biology.

2. The gender system is damaging

Masculinities and femininities can be damaging and dehumanizing to both males and females.

3. Women are oppressed

Women have suffered various types of systematic mistreatment throughout history, and continue to do so in the present. This mistreatment is unjust. If it can be called “oppression,” then women suffer gender oppression.

4. Sexism exists

Sexism—hateful, contemptuous, bigoted, or discriminatory attitudes based on sex—is real. Sexism can be institutionalized socially and politically. The feminist identification and critique of misogyny has mitigated misogyny, though institutionalized misogyny still exists.

5. Males have unjust advantages

Males have some systematic advantages over females that they do not have a right to.

6. Marginalization of the experience of women

Prior to feminism, the experience of women was marginalized in academic and scientific disciplines, and in public discourse.

7. Sexuality involves power dynamics

Under the gender system at least, sexuality is intertwined with power dynamics. E.g. male-dominant, female-submissive, and male-active, female-passive. These power dynamics are not limited to heterosexuality. The link between power dynamics and sexuality can be damaging to people.

8. There is something wrong with pornography

Pornography can be dehumanizing toward both its users and towards its participants. Even if pornography can be defended on legal grounds, these liberal arguments doesn’t protect it from moral critique.

9. There is intersectionality of oppression

Gender oppression and oppression based on race, sexual orientation, or class, can combine multiplicatively into oppression that is more than the sum of its parts.

10. Beauty standards can be damaging

Beauty standards and objectification can be damaging to female self-esteem. It would be both practical and moral to change images of beautiful women in the media in certain ways.

Overall, I think feminism is a positive force, and one I gladly associate myself with. Yes, there have been times when we've 'got it wrong' as it were. All movements have their highs and lows and sub-groups of differing opinions which occasionally clash. But don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. I hope I can 'grow into' the movement over time, I want to learn more, and I want to see it succeed it improving conditions for women (and, hopefully, everyone) worldwide. I want to be a part of that.


  1. So how is feminism different from egalitarianism?
    Surely most people would consider themselves egalitarian, whereas Feminism has connotations of a very female-positive, male-negative vibe. So perhaps you would have more supporters to this movement if it were renamed to something that means EXACTLY the same thing.

    asserting, resulting from, or characterized by belief in the equality of all people, esp. in political, economic, civil or social life.

  2. Why can't someone be both feminist and egalitarian?

    Egalitarianism is the ideal goal, feminism is one way of targeting specific inequities.

  3. Why not target all the specific inequities at once?
    Surely that would get more people under the banner?
    Rather than have a group of people targeting racial inequalies, and one group targeting sexual inequalities (for example), why not have a big group of more people targeting both types of injustice?

  4. Hey
    just found your blog!
    I'm (perhaps pathetically) really excited to see that there's at least one other feminist blogger the same age as me!

    From what I've read of your posts so far (admittedly, I've mainly been skimming because I should be revising), they're really intelligently written. :)