Hey there! Remember how I had a weird internal crisis and then decided to start talking about serious things on my blog? Of course you do, you’re the rhetorical construct I address my blog posts to. Well, some of those serious things are about or related to feminism. But, as I try to write about them, I keep getting sidetracked by the fact that feminism means different things to different people, both inside and outside of the movement. So, what do I mean when I say I’m a feminist?
Well, rhetorical construct, I’m glad you asked. Let’s start on a basic level:
A feminist is someone who believes in equality between people of different genders
In a way, I wish that this was all that the word meant to anyone. I think that the misconceptions around what it means to be a feminist stop people from identifying with a cause that they actually do believe in, and that bothers me. Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter how people define themselves as long as they actually do believe in equality, and I should concentrate on being bothered by those who don’t.
Of course, the above definition is much too simple for a lot of people. It gets much, much more complicated than that, because people have different ideas about what “equality” actually is and, for that matter, how one defines “men” and “women”. I’m not going to go into all of those variations or try and pin down a longer, better definition of feminism that everyone can agree on, because it’s probably impossible and I’m sure people much smarter than me have tried. What I am going to do is list a few of my own beliefs that, for me, are inextricably linked to feminism.
Basically, I believe that everyone should be able to do whatever makes them happy as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.
When I was a teenager my mum gave me this Teenage Survival Guide that, to my surprise, turned out to be an introduction to Wicca. I’m pretty sure that’s where I learned the Wiccan Rede: “Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill, An it harm none do what ye will.” I didn’t end up embracing Wicca, although it did appeal to me, but this idea has kind of remained my moral compass ever since. It makes a lot of issues seem pretty simple to me, especially anything related to equality. For instance, allowing gay marriage makes gay people who want to get married happy and I really don’t see how it hurts anyone else, so I’m in favour of it. And I approach pretty much any equality issue in the same way, because…
Equality isn’t about taking anything away from anyone.
A lot of male opposition to feminism probably comes from a position of fear. In fact, this is probably true of all equality movements. If you’re already in a position of power, you’ve got nothing to gain from equality and a lot to lose. But feminism isn’t about pushing women ahead of men. Fighting against inequality in the workplace, for example, isn’t about marching into all-male boardrooms, hauling half the guys in there out of their seats and taking their places. It’s about overhauling the system so that women have equal access to all the opportunities that got those men where they are, and that they’re paid equally for equal work on the way up.
Gender equality would be good for everyone.
It’s probably true that cisgendered men have the least to gain from gender equality (though, as above, I really don’t think they have anything to lose either), but there are definitely some areas where women have the advantage. Child custody is perhaps the most obvious one, but harmful stereotypes and expectations of men matter too and there are plenty of these. For example, the stereotype that men should be “strong and silent” has been blamed for the fact that men are more likely to commit suicide than women.
I like to talk about my parents in the context of gender roles. For much of my childhood, my dad was at home looking after my sister and me and doing the housework while my mum was at work. My mum also did the DIY and was the computer enthusiast in the family (my dad is still a little baffled by email). I suppose I was aware that there were gender stereotypes about those things, but I always knew they were crap. Hopefully the next step is for there not to be any stereotypes at all.
Feminism should be about trans people too.
I’ve been reading recently that a minority of feminists want to exclude trans women. This just seems gross to me. I don’t understand how you can see the need for equality between cis male and cis female people and not see the same need for equality between cis and trans people. Your gender (or lack of one) shouldn’t affect your access to privileges. End of story.
Being “feminine” has nothing to do with being a feminist.
Somehow, this line of thinking:
“We should fight against unreasonable standards of beauty. Women shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time and money on cosmetics and wear uncomfortable clothes.”
Has spawned this one:
“Are you wearing stilettos? YOU’RE A BAD FEMINIST AND BUYING INTO YOUR OWN OPPRESSION!”
Your personal appearance is none of anyone else’s business. Shave whatever you want. Wear makeup or don’t. What matters is that no one feels forced to do any of those things, but it’s just as important that people can if they want to. In fact…
I really, really want society to stop policing people’s bodies.
I feel very lucky to live in a time and place where a lot of equality battles have been won. In England today, there’s equality legislation in place, same-sex couples can get married and most people at least feel uncomfortable saying or hearing something that is overtly sexist, racist or homophobic. That’s certainly not perfect, but it’s progress. The same is not true of body policing. As a society, we have no hesitation whatsoever in ridiculing someone for the way they look or the way they dress. Sometimes people use the weak justification that it’s okay to mock those things because (unlike race, gender or sexuality) “it’s a choice”. This is frequently inaccurate and always irrelevant.
This is a feminist issue because it’s all about fitting the ideal of a “real” man or a “real” woman – an ideal that’s unattainable to just about everyone. If the only real women are the ones with tiny waists, generous breasts, the money to afford expensive make-up and hair products and the time to apply them perfectly, there are an awful lot of imaginary women around. But, again, this isn’t only about women. “Perfect” bodies are marketed to us all relentlessly. It takes an extremely secure person to be told a hundred times a day that they’re flawed without starting to believe it.
Perhaps the saddest part is that this is what makes people so ready to talk negatively about other people’s bodies. We’re all so used to thinking negatively about our own that it seems normal – and maybe even makes us feel better.
The more I think about it, the more I think that what I really want is a society where gender is utterly irrelevant.
Everyone would use the same pronouns and wear whatever they wanted and have sex with whoever they wanted (assuming the other person or persons were amenable) and treat each other equally. There wouldn’t be any discrimination against women or trans people or gay people because none of those would really exist – and nor would cisgendered, straight men. We’d all just be people.
This sounds really dramatic – and, for that reason, almost certainly won’t happen in my lifetime – but it wouldn’t really have to be. If you’re a person with a penis who feels comfortable dressing and behaving in a way that has traditionally been thought of as “masculine” and wants to have sex and/or a relationship with someone who owns a vagina and looks and behaves in a traditionally “feminine” way, you could still do that. The only difference would be that other people, whose gender identities and/or sexual preferences haven’t always enjoyed the acceptance that yours has, would also be free to live the way they want to without fear or judgement.
As I say, I can’t see this happening soon. But I like to think of it as the end goal of my particular brand of feminism: a world where none of this even matters anymore, because everyone is equal and free.
What? I thought it might be nice for a post about things that really get me down sometimes to have a nice, upbeat ending!