What is feminism? When I was asked this at the beginning of my English A-level, my response was: “women who want rights”, and I would expect many of you have at some point thought the same. This, however, is wrong. Feminism, in its truest sense, is the fight for equality and is advocated by both sexes. The problem is that over the years, with radical feminists such as Germaine Greer encouraging women to drink their own menstrual blood and making bold claims that “loving men is such a mess”, the definition of feminism has been corrupted. To many people the word ‘feminist’ is now synonymous with ‘man-hater’ and consequently the nature of sexism is reversing and men seem to be the target.
It is widely accepted that men and the male gaze are the fundamental reason why women are forced into a role of subservience. It is impossible to argue that men are blameless, however women have a lot to answer for too! Nobody wants to be accused of sexism and the act of doing so arouses fear and embarrassment in the accused; women know this! The power of the feminist movement is such that a woman can accuse any man of being sexist and make him feel obliged to apologise for the most careless of remarks. This strikes me as both unfair and pathetic. So many women complain about being earmarked as weak and unintelligent, yet they are readily prepared to use the ‘s’ word at the slightest injustice. Isn’t the fact that such women feel unable to stand up to men without an army of feminists behind them a sign of weakness in itself? Why can’t women just explain to their offender why they are offended without automatically turning every careless comment and action into an attack on women? It’s ridiculous. Furthermore, if a woman was to make an offensive comment about a man would the reaction be the same? I doubt it. To use an example with which many of you – particularly those of you who pay attention to the groups that have recently flooded Facebook – will be familiar: if a man asks a woman to make him a sandwich, it is seen as sexist; however, if a woman asks another woman, or indeed a man, to make her a sandwich, it is merely a woman asking a favour. How is this fair? Either both cases should be sexist or neither. Similarly, derogatory statements, for example calling someone a ‘whore’ (a term which I have heard used referring to both men and women), should be condemned on their own merits and not simply because women feel particularly offended about it. It is not offensive because it can be used to describe women. It is offensive because it is offensive!
Most men aren’t actually sexist. Certainly, I’ve never come across a man whom I would deem to be so. The male figures in my life respect me as an intelligent and autonomous person, not woman – person, and I afford them with the same respect. For the most part, two acquaintances do not regard each other as male or female, but instead they assign more meaningful characteristics, such as: funny, intelligent, unkind or aggressive. It is just a small-minded few who would even consider judging someone based on their gender. So why are men being accused of oppressing women, when really most of them aren’t? Actually, it is fair to say that some women are in fact the cause of their own subjugation and unwittingly help to perpetuate sexist ideals. The girls who screech: “oh I’m such a blonde”! The women who spend their lives “holding out for a hero” and worse even, the women who deliberately deviate from the norm to prove that they’re not a product of patriarchy. Why aren’t we blaming them too? If I had a pound for every time I’ve been told that I shouldn’t wear make-up, because make-up is what patriarchy likes; I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have enough money to buy a new bottle of foundation. I don’t wear make-up to please any man, I wear it because it’s how I feel most comfortable, so why would I want to stop wearing it, just to prove that men can’t control me? Surely changing your actions to go against societal constraints is allowing them to control you anyway? Why can’t people just do what they want without being told they’re perpetuating a detrimental stereotype? Why am I being made to feel bad for wanting to (one day) marry a man? I’m not preserving some ancient and oppressive social construct; I just believe in family values and love and security. Maybe some marriages are about control, but not all of them. I know plenty of married couples who have an equal relationship, and there are countless marriages in which the woman is dominant. The idea that traditions and societal contraints are just a means by which man is able to assert his dominance over women is a huge misconception and a myth which, if this world is ever going to be equal, we must dispel.
My problem with feminism is not that I don’t think women should be equal to men, nor am I advocating anything that may be seen to oppress women. My problem is that if the truest definition of ‘feminism’ is the struggle for equality, then ‘feminism’ is the wrong word. Where is the male equivalent? Referring to the fight for equality as feminism reinforces the outdated, Animal Farm assertion that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, that is, that we should strive for equality for everyone, but because they’ve suffered so much in the past, a woman’s equality is more important. This is wrong. The word should be equality, not feminism or patriarchy. If we’re really going to achieve equality then we need to stop using these words. We need to stop referring to things as ‘sexist’ and just live as we want to live. We shouldn’t have to change the way we act or speak because we’re scared of reinforcing a stereotype; nor should a woman be made to feel like she has let fellow women down because she gets married or wears make-up. That is just as bad as the sexism that people have fought so long to avoid. We need to stop blaming men too. Saying something is sexist because it favours men is wrong, because there are just as many things that favour women. Men are not the enemy, so we need to stop pretending that they are.