The “F” Word – Why Feminism Is So Feared
Feminism. It’s an eight-letter word, but it may as well be a loaded gun at a dinner party; a big fat dampener on an evening’s festivities. Its definition can mean so many things to so many and has more history than an encyclopaedia, yet only one definition seems to prevail in a wider social context and that’s SHOUTY, ANGRY, LESBIANS, RARRGHH.
Image courtesy of harkavagrant.com
The reason I dispute this is that I, and indeed none of the feminists I associate with, could be described as shouty or angry (very rarely, anyway). Some are lesbians, a fact that is no more synonymous with feminism than it is with life. Drop the F-bomb in mixed company, regardless of your looks, politics or sexuality, and anyone would think you had brought up Al Qaeda, fox hunting, or [insert other conversation killer here]. Well done you, you naughty, shouty, silly, little girl, you’ve bloody gone and ruined the party now, happy?
What is it about this small word that causes such big reactions? I have to say I have come across a relatively small collection of feminists in comparison to plenty of chauvinists in my time, and the reactions of the latter are far stronger and angrier in a sensible discussion than those of any feminists I’ve met – the majority of which have articulated their opinions eloquently and with grace. There is only one explanation for such a reaction and that is another F word: fear.
As human beings, we are little creatures of habit, programmed socially and biologically to what makes our lives easier and happier. Popping your head above the hibernation hole (an analogy which sounds unintentionally naughty, but work with me here) can be a scary prospect. But for a species who constantly pushes the realms of possibility, what is it about adjusting an attitude (incidentally one of the teeniest parts of a brain that controls an incredibly complex biological network) that is so damn hard?
I do get it, I really do — because there is nothing more irritating than someone, be they an animal rights activist, religious or whatever it is they really care about, saying ‘hey, you? Yeah, YOU, you’re perpetuating a problem and I don’t care that you didn’t start it, I want you to help me finish it.’ In many ways, you could think of feminism as the social equivalent of recycling. Everyone knows it’s not this generation’s fault that global warming is happening or that the ice caps are melting, and we won’t even be here to see the consequences – but it IS our fault if, during the time we have, we don’t do anything to stop a mind-numbingly obvious cycle. And here’s the best bit – having the guts to admit you don’t agree with a social norm, or attributing the word feminism to opinions you probably hold already, doesn’t even require as much thought or effort as composting. If everybody called attempts for male and female equality ‘feminism,’ it wouldn’t seem as big and bad and scary, it would just be what it is. And for every man that has so strongly reacted against feminism – it’s not just for girls, it’s for guys too. Society hands men the real shit end of the stick at times too, which could be changed by realising that feminism is not a criticism of mankind, it’s a call for the equality of humankind.
One of many fears of the F word for women, including myself, is that widely-consumed right wing media, in its attempts to undermine an uncomfortable truth, has marginalised feminism so that it now appears to be an elite club only for those gobby enough, humourless enough and of course butch enough to make nuisances of themselves. Like all negative stereotypes, this makes it hard to stand up in public and admit that yes, I am one of those loathsome idiots called feminists but that does not make me less of a woman or man. I am a feminist, but luckily for me, my fantastic brain is programmed to do this thing called multi-tasking. I am a feminist, but I also love and have the right to love shopping, makeup, cooking, stamp collecting, taxidermy or whatever the hell it is I like doing. And that doesn’t make me any less of a man or woman, but more of a human being, because the more I can do and the more I can care for other people, the more I am using this incredible brain evolution has made for me.
Trust me: if the human body can simultaneously control your organs and nerves, stop you from saying stupid shit and help you avoid wetting yourself in public all at the same time, I’m fairly certain that the teeny tiny part of your brain that controls your personality can handle the mind blowing paradox of being a feminist and other things too.
The problem with public perception of feminism is that the faces of feminism have changed drastically, but general public opinion hasn’t caught up. Germaine Greer, arguably the figurehead of feminism, is who people think of when they hear the F word and in many ways she is an intimidating figure. With huge respect to Germaine, besides both being feminists, I have about as much in common with her as I do with Meat Loaf. Women like Michelle Obama, Sarah Brown, Caitlin Moran and Grace Dent are the women who inspire me – women who fight hard for women’s voices to be heard with charm, elegance, and in the case of Caitlin Moran and Grace Dent, a lot of hilarity. I’m sure some people reading this may be shocked to hear that they are feminists. I hate to break it to you, but chances are, you’re probably a feminist too. I don’t know many people who genuinely believe that men and women should not be equal in society, and perhaps if we were to come across those who think like that, it would be nice if they became the ones to feel like a minority, or better still, felt less threatened by an alternative viewpoint to begin with.
Perhaps then, the world wouldn’t feel so upside down.
Written by Hannah Ridyard
May 22, 2013
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