#IWD2019 Day3 – The Feminist Paradox

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As we near International Women’s Day, I spend more and more time thinking about the need for Women’s day in the first place, and more importantly what it means to celebrate it and what it means to be a feminist.  3 years ago, I wrote a Facebook post in which I ended it with “I’m not a feminist but…”

I remember some friends commenting underneath that maybe I’d not properly looked into the word, and although I was still hesitant to label myself anything at first, the term grew on me and I soon realised it’s importance. Despite that, there are still many, many people who don’t define themselves as feminist – female or otherwise.  The paradox here comes in the form of realising that many of the people who choose not to define themselves as feminist are, by definition, feminists. These are people who truly believe in equal rights, and recognise the lack thereof, but yet choose not to define themselves under the feminist term. But why is this? I spoke to some of the people I know to learn more about the various reasons they chose not to call themselves a ‘feminist’:

1. The Negative Connotations associated with feminism and it’s ‘new’ meaning

I spoke about both these concepts in a prior post when I looked at some of the problems with the word ‘feminist’ itself. Whilst the origins of feminism and what it stands for are entirely commendable, there have been instances in history where it has gained a bad reputation for promoting something it’s not, or for being associated with unnecessary voilence or otherwise. This misrepresentation of the feminist movement has often led people to choose not to associate with the term as they do not stand for the negative connotations of the word. As well as this, some argue that feminism and its ideals have morphed from what it additionally stood for – so although they would call themselves a feminist by their dictionary definition, it’s meaning in today’s society is no longer the same in their eyes. And it is true that there are both ‘extreme’ feminists and also people who claim to be feminist but actually do not believe in equal rights at all. The question here seems to boil down to – is it constructive to call yourself a feminist if there is potential for the word to be misinterpreted? And should we be challenging these alternate meanings and connotations that drag the feminist name down?

2. The inclusion of ‘femme’ in feminism

Again, like the reasons above, I discussed this in an earlier post, yet the more I speak to males, in particular, the more I realise that sometimes this can be the defining reason they either choose not to label themselves a feminist, or fundamentally misunderstand the meaning of feminism and therefore don’t want to associate themselves with it. It is definitely a common misunderstanding that because feminism has the presence of ‘feminine’ or ‘femme’ (French for women) within the word itself, it therefore means that the meaning of the word is to do with the superiority of women, or the belief that women are better than men. If this is what you think is true – now’s the time to learn it’s not! And for your benefit, here’s the dictionary definition of feminism:

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However, as mentioned, I really do believe that many men (and of course also women) don’t want to call themselves a feminist because they can’t properly identify with a word. For a man who believes in equal opportunities, it can be hard for them to identify with a word that seems to, in the word itself, exclude them even if it really is searching for equality. So even though it appears counterintuitive, it is understandable to recognise that being labelled under a term you find hard to associate with can be difficult.

3. The idea of separatism, doing it for attention, and pursuance of less life-changing problems whilst neglecting problems of the sort in the developing world

When I raised the question of why people choose to not define themselves as feminists, my friend Meliha shared a different perspective. Though, she says, she does (obviously) believe in equal rights, feminism has some problems which she shares below:

I think the term “feminist” is outdated and forms a separatism of people based on gender and ideals. To me, any decent person wants equal rights for men and women and by putting a label on it you are making it a brand as opposed to a belief for equality of the genders. The supporters of the Civil Rights Movement in America did not have a “brand” they were simply people who believed in equality. The term was to get voting rights for women and has now become an advocation for more trivial things in Western society when so many women in developing countries are struggling with monumental issues. Equality is what a decent person believes and shouldn’t be made into a brand to identify with, it’s simply a belief to hold.

Meliha writes much better and more concise than I will ever be able to, and I’m so proud to say that she has an offer to read Law at New College, Oxford starting October 2019 (go you Meliha!). If you want to hear more of her opinion, you can follow her on her Twitter or Instagram.

 

Of course, all this goes without saying that some people choose not to call themselves feminists because they just, well, don’t believe in equality. In this case, I guess all we can say is I hope this number decreases more and more. And maybe, these posts can help. So until tomorrow,

-Jo who blogs xx

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#IWD2019 Day 1 – “Send Pics”

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Monday 4th March – 2019, T-4 days to international women’s day 2019.

Last year for International Women’s Day, I had the pleasure of chairing a Panel At Facebook’s London Headquarters (which I’ll admit was pretty damn cool and a major life achievement for me). This year, when I sat down to think what I wanted to do for International Women’s day, and for that matter the whole week, I decided that this was the year when I wanted to highlight some of the biggest challenges women face, as well as some of their greatest successes. For the 5 weekdays leading up to International Women’s Day, I’ll be sharing some of the issues myself and the people around me face day to day.

Today, I wanted to talk about an article that I saw by The Mighty Woman on Facebook a few days ago. Titled <<“Send Nudes”: A new study shows how often boys pressure girls for explicit photos>> it immediately grabbed my attention as a theme I find so prevalent in my generation. With the already significant issues of rape and sexual assault cases, I truly find the immense pressure on young women to respond to the culture of sending images online. The article, linked here highlights the extent at which young boys almost threaten girls into sending images online, where 2/3 of 500 accounts of girls aged between 12-18 had been asked to send images, and where they didn’t comply, attitudes switched from affection to “harassment and threats”.

What most shocked me reading the article was that only 8% of those 500 accounts surveyed actually sent a photo because they actually wanted to, only 8%. If that truly doesn’t shock you, then I don’t know what else. 92% of girls who sent photos upon request did so because they felt the desire to please or avoid conflict with a boy. And though it is certaintly the case that the reverse can be true where it is girls requesting explicit images from boys, it is 4 times more likely for it to be the male asking the female.

When I saw this article publicised on my facebook, I immediately felt the need to share it somehow, but that was quickly replaced by a fear of talking about it. Firstly, people I know will read this and might start questioning me and my actions – why is she writing this? Is there more to this than just raising awareness for the issue? In truth, what I want most from this article is simply to share a little more about a real issue that I see around me every day. Secondly, I have several male friends who, despite being some of the loveliest people I know, definitely struggle with this idea of what is and isn’t okay to ask say and think. I do think there is a huge education gap in the way men are taught about appropriate behaviours, and I still find myself in situations regularly where people will laugh at me for being a ‘feminist’, or are angry at me when I try to be ‘good’ at something that they believe is their strength. Thirdly, I’m afraid to not do enough justice to an important conversation, or bore people when they really should be engaging in the discussion. But I guess at this point it’s too late to take back anything, so here are my constructive suggestions for building a less pressured environment for young girls and boys when attempting to navigate the challenging world that is growing up in an era of over-sharing and hyper-connectivity.

1. Can we please begin to properly educate on what is deemed acceptable behaviour??

Now, I do believe that despite the culture of pressuring the sending of inappropriate pictures being entirely wrong, there is a time and a place for that kind of exchange. If both parties are understanding of the agreement, it’s safe, legal and consensual, then by all means – floor is yours. However, what is not okay is for the casualness and frequency of requests that are sent to girls every day, and by many boys. They are often pressurised, with the connotations of “if you don’t comply, there will be consequences”. And with all the best meaning in the world, oh my days seriously is it that hard to show a little respect and decency?? There is a serious gap in education boys receive about appropriate behaviour and more fundamentally, attitudes towards women. We will never achieve gender equality if a generation of boys are being raised who a) do not respect women and b) think feminism and equality is a big joke

2. Teach girls to say no

It’s all well and good saying we need to educate one half of the population, but the same can be said the other way round. We should be teaching girls that they equal, and they should feel empowered to say no in any situation. For a brilliant video on consent, watch this video produced by Thames Valley Police. I think realistically it is much more attainable to empower women then encourage a shift in opinion for all boys. Though both need to shift, working towards one doesn’t mean we can’t also seek the other. Where women feel in control of a situation, even if there is a huge culture of asking for photos, I’m sure more girls will be in the position to say no.

3. Open up the conversation

I can’t say these sorts of issues are ones I talk regularly so openly about, but the more it is spoken about, the less stigma surrounds it and the more debate is brought to the subject. Recently, Upskirting has been made a criminal offence – proving that with enough passion, persistence and purpose, we can begin to tackle some of these longstanding issues which we as women (and everyone else too, they’re not forgotten this is truly an issue that affects everyone) face on a daily basis. Let’s open up the conversation.

And so, though this admittedly is now being posted on Tuesday March 5th instead of Monday March 4th – the message remains just as clear: something needs to change for those 92% of girls who unwillingly make themselves vulnerable without proper education of the potential consequences, the support to deal with the situation and the power to say no.

I hope everyone is having a fantastic Women’s Week!

-Jo who blogs xx