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:

  1. Educate people about the true meaning of feminism
  2. 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

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About the author

David Berrill

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Vet Student at the RVC. Big into football, music, films, current affairs. I'll write about just about anything to be honest. Right wing economically, socially liberal and cynical towards big business and mainstream media.

  • Alexander McDonald

    “Equality is an incredibly conservative aim.” – Germaine Greer.

    Feminism
    is a revolutionary political stance. Achieving equality is pointless
    when you live in a society which is exploitative. If women only aimed to
    be equal with men, then the aim of bourgeois women would be to become
    exploitative, and the aim of proletarian women would be to become
    exploited (or, should that be ‘even more exploited’? The idea of
    equality is shown up just in the nonsense of equality making someone
    experience something to an even greater extent. Being able to go to a
    terrible job so that you can go home to a terrible private life might
    make a woman her husband’s equal, but it makes neither of them more
    free). The goal of feminism is liberation from an unfair system
    (patriarchy). Right-wing politicians are able to take an interest in
    women’s issues, but that doesn’t make them or their treatment of the
    issues inherently feminist. The liberated society would also be an equal
    one, but the equal society isn’t necessarily a liberated one.

    ‘The point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hands,
    since that wouldn’t change anything about the world. It’s a question
    precisely of destroying that notion of power.’ – Simone de Beauvoir

    You’re
    right to call for unity between sexes, but they need to be united in
    fighting a political and economic system which consolidates its power
    based on separating people based on class, sex, gender, sexuality,
    ethnicity, nationality and so on (which you rightly acknowledge) not simply united in ensuring that all
    these groups are equally able to aspire to become the top dogs in an
    exploitative system. If a woman were the CEO of Nestle or BP, that
    wouldn’t be a great success for the cause of liberation – even if it
    does show that women and men are equally able to take the role – as
    these companies cause human suffering and environmental destruction.

    I
    think you should be careful about some of the phrasing you use as well,
    as it probably isn’t really that interesting to the feminist cause what
    a random bloke in a pub thinks about feminism. The ‘working man down
    the pub’ is a rhetorical device to describe someone who is ‘ordinary’,
    which is to say they are normative, and so are re-producing dominant
    ways of thinking, whether they realise it or not. (Obviously, they are entirely theoretical. No one knows what any individual working man in the pub thinks, and I’m not suggesting that any of those things makes one anti-feminist.) For as long as
    feminism is necessary, the dominant way of thinking will be
    anti-feminist. A lot more than clever re-branding is needed to fix that
    problem.

    Being critical of equality as a cause doesn’t mean that
    instances of gender-specific legislation shouldn’t be opposed (for
    instance, bans on women drivers in Saudi Arabia). These are
    exploitative, so need to be brought to an end. However, removal of
    barriers to entry (which the glass-ceiling rhetoric is focused on) is
    the goal of free-market capitalism, not a liberated democracy.

    But yeah, agree with your conclusion, people need to learn the history of feminism. It is rich and revolutionary.

    ‘The
    ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the
    sanctity of human life, the dignity of man [sic!], the right of every
    human being to liberty and well being.’ – Emma Goldman

    • David Berrill

      I really appreciate your comment and I agree with much of what you say. My next article addresses a few of the issues you have just raised.Sexism is just a small way to divide a population. If we are united we can stand up to the forces that oppress us.