This deliberately provocative title is designed to draw the eye to what I have to say. I regard myself as a feminist; I believe that gender inequality is a huge issue in Britain – and the world – today and preconceived prejudices and attitudes have a devastating impact on the lives of both men and women.
Reported rape and sexual assault is at its highest level since 2002/03 [The Office for National statistics, year ending Sept. 2014]. The objectification of women must be seen as responsible for this and the harassment a shocking percentage of women experience on a daily basis. It must be pointed out that although reporting of these sorts of crimes is getting better, a huge number still go unreported, further highlighting the oppression of women. Boys and girls are forced into stereotypical gender roles from a ludicrously young age, one impact being young men feel unable to express their emotions, undoubtedly fueling their comparatively high suicide rate. Women are under-represented in positions of authority in business and government. Would this be the case if we lived in a truly equal society?
This article is aimed at addressing the use of the word ‘feminism’ to describe the fight against gender inequality .
I don’t think I am alone in my beliefs. I think a lot of men and women feel the same way that I feel. I also think a lot of these men and women may feel uncomfortable, for whatever reason, describing themselves as ‘feminist’. I think a key point to make is, that to deal with the significant problems we face, we must be united in our condemnation of sexist behavior. To paraphrase a long forgotten president we must hear the voice of ‘the silent majority’. To this end, education is key; to overcome the powerful forces at play, we must unite as a population.
A phrase some readers may recognize, which I feel holds significance here, is ‘A word is what people believe it means and no more.’ The reason this is important is that the academic amongst us might define feminism as ‘The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.’ But the working man down the pub would probably describe feminism as ‘women trying to get one up over men.’ But – again – to tackle the issues we face as a country we must be united in our ambitions. If the word feminism sits poorly with vast swathes of the population, perhaps we should consider using a different word.
It seems at this juncture we have two choices:
- Educate people about the true meaning of feminism
- Use a different word to represent our beliefs
Now boring as it may be for many, it’s time for a little bit of historical analysis. Joy of joys. The term feminism became popularized in the early 1900’s by the suffragists and the suffragettes. At the time, the focus of the feminist movement was to break the legal boundaries that prevent equality between men and women. They were, after a long and difficult struggle, more than a hundred years later, successful. I truly believe that I live in a country where men and women have almost totally equal opportunities, as far as the law is concerned. The issues we face are different and no less serious. Attitudes are harder to change than laws.
Yes, we have come a long way since 1900, but have we come as far as we think we have?
As a 22 year old, reasonably well educated, male, who tries to be as open minded as possible I must highlight a troublesome issue. When someone once told me I should be a feminist, my response was something along the lines of ‘fuck no.’ Why was this? Why did I feel such resentment towards the idea? The answer, I believe, is a complex one. Through social indoctrination of anti-feminism from both the men and women in my life and from the mainstream media narrative, I felt as a male I could not be a feminist. Only now do I see how wrong I was. However, it is my firmly held belief that words are powerful and in the current climate, the word feminism drives anti-equality sentiment in many places.
The question is: ‘does one keep the word that has such historical meaning and holds so much power in society or does one use a different word or phrase that has more relevance to this new and difficult struggle?’
I think at this juncture in history we have the opportunity to unify the issues around feminism with those of racism, class inequality, homophobia, xenophobia and intolerance to those with disabilities both mental and physical.
Perhaps we could call ourselves simply equalitists. Spell check doesn’t like that one. Good.
My counter argument to this would be that to change the word away from ‘feminism’ would serve to silence our specific grievances with respect to gender. It would also serve to ridicule the monumental efforts of feminists, both male and female, over the last century. The struggle has evolved but the goal, of true equality for men and women remains the same. For men to take over the dialogue at this stage would, I believe, be demeaning to women and the struggle feminists have faced over the last 100 years; one might even go as far to say it would further oppress women and damage the cause. In my opinion, therefore, the answer lies in education. If people understand the historical context of the word and what it means in modern society today, then perhaps they would feel less uncomfortable with calling themselves ‘feminist’. Spread the word.
Image Rights; Charles Fettinger