The F-Word – "Whether you like it or not, you’re probably a feminist"


I've decided to do something slightly different with the blog this week as, although women in sport is a massive and really interesting topic, it's also a fairly fact/stat-based one where there's not a lot of debate to be had. So a huge thank you to Claire and Alex for talking through it so well last night, but I'm going to use this space this week to chat about something that's been bothering me a bit recently – why are people so reluctant to call themselves feminists?

I began The F-Word in the hope that talking about subjects relevant to most or all young women today in this way might make people stop and think “actually, this does affect me – I must be a feminist then!”. Yay, congrats, nice one etc. End of. But I've come to realise in recent weeks that it's not as easy as that. Yes, feminism is having a massive identity crisis

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and one that's leaving young women in their thousands alienated and intimidated, and that's a problem that I'll hopefully also touch on. But at an even more basic level, these same young women seem to be fundamentally misunderstanding feminism in the first place. Please don't get me wrong – I'm not for one minute pitying these women or tutting and shaking my head at them or whatever. I think that their views, rather than being born from ignorance, are a product of society and some branches of feminism itself – which is more than a bit disheartening when you consider some of the things I've heard recently.

I've heard someone adamantly declare that they're “definitely not a feminist”, while another said that she might be if she “read into it a bit more”. A girl in a tutorial I was in recently said, in all seriousness, that she thought “feminists [were] mostly just lesbians”, while another woman described her friend as being a “hardcore feminist” because she believed that her boyfriend should pay for everything on dates. Someone else told me that feminists were “scary and exclusive”. Aside from noting that I seem to be quizzing everyone in my life on feminism all the time, there's a bigger point to take from this. Yes, there's a spectrum here, and there might be some remarks there that most people would agree are missing the point. But others just make me a bit sad really; the idea that feminism is an academic position, or the idea that a movement fundamentally built on equality could come across as exclusive.

For me, feminism comes down to one thing and one thing only – do you want to be equal? If I sat down with each of the young women above and asked them whether they wanted to be paid less than a man for doing the same job, or whether they were happy to be called a slut if they wore a short skirt, or whether they were cool with being whistled and leered at on their way to the shops, I'm pretty sure the answer would be a resounding no. So something has definitely gone wrong somewhere along the line.

I think the ones that depressed me the most were the woman who said that she needed to read more books, and the one who described feminists as “scary and exclusive”. Sadly, I think these are really common misconceptions about feminism and, even more sadly, I think they come from somewhere far more real

than the collective 21st century woman's imagination. I personally think that the only qualification needed to be a feminist is that you're human – altough feel free to correct me if you think I'm doing the canine population an injustice – and believe in a good quality of life for everyone. Feminism is beneficial for men as well, not just women; gender stereotypes are damaging to all genders, and the economic empowerment of women can be nothing but helpful for the economy as a whole. I entirely reject the suggestion that men can't be feminists, and I think it's vitally important that they are for a whole host of reasons including economic, political and social ones. It's up to individual women if they want to engage in these more 'academic debates' or in activism in the traditional sense but, fundamentally, they should be respected for their decision, whichever one it is. I admire women who engage in activism and I believe that it often does have great results. But I also don't believe for one minute that marches, demonstrations and rallies are the only form of protest, and I don't believe that a woman is any less of a feminist because she chooses not to engage in these.

I think a basic premise of feminsim is that women should be able to make choices about their own lives and that these choices should be respected by other people and obviously other feminists. I fully agree (and argued about it in last week's blog) that women are a group of diverse and different people and we're never going to agree on everything all of the time. That's fine. But it's not fine, as far as I'm concerned, to attack a woman over a decision to wear pink, or high heels, or to stay at home and bake because, in this day and age, these are all decisions rather than requisites, and decisions that were only made possible by the feminist movement in the first place. Personally I'm quite partial to my high heels (in this sense I probably don't have much of a choice, but that's less to do with being a woman and more to do with being under five feet tall), sparkly jewellery and all the rest of it. But I still want to be equal and respected. There's no logical correlation between the two.

The main thing tying all the above quotes together is that these are all young women who don't seem to realise that sexism, and consequently feminism, affects them. I don't want to be depressing – “you thought your life was great? Well guess what, you're actually oppressed!” – but my point isn't that these women aren't experiencing these issues, it's that they aren't identifying them as being feminist issues. So for these women who are all Edinburgh students in their early 20s, maybe childcare and pay gaps aren't the most important problem for them right now. But I'm willing to bet they've all received unwanted attention in a club, or felt apprehensive walking home alone once, or felt that they couldn't speak out when laddy boys at pre-drinks made them feel uncomfortable. That's what my shows are all about; I've tried really hard to make sure that each one is about a topic that's big and broad enough to make women – and men – stop and think about whether it's affected them. And chances are, it has. So I'm sorry ladies, but whether you like it or not (and you should definitely like it), you're probably a feminist.


One Comment

  • Hi Eve

    I just read your post “What about International Men’s Day?” as it was recommended/shared by a friend of a friend on FB. It was a little extreme for me but there are far too few people both male and female who are prepared to say such things. Therefore I decided to look at some more of your work and it is quite interesting, I practically like this topic and so I was curious to see your take on this topic.

    I was sad to see that you did not really engage in the issues that surround the feminist movement in the 21st century. Your article almost entirely deles with inequality and lack of ether engagement or education on the subject. All these things are good topics to engage with but they fail to adequately address the issues why so few people are feminists, I know women who are engaged in this subject and who also believe in equality and are firmly ageist feminism.

    The sum total of your argument hear seems to be that if you are aware of or a victim of sexism and oppose it then you should be a feminist but you fail to address any of the intellectual or practical problems with the established feminist movement, to some one that firmly believe in equality, and why many people fervently oppose the feminist ideology (sadly it is mostly women that engage in this topic and so it is often women that are feminisms greatest critics).

    This said I am a feminist and believe in diversity and have time for feminist and non feminist arguments and policies. It would be interesting to hear your views as to why the feminist course should be encouraged and supported?


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