Thursday, 16 February 2012

Why I'm Embarrassed to be a Feminist (and other stories involving bras & the internet)

*Quick disclaimer: I am not an academic expert in any of the following, nor am I claiming to speak on behalf of all of man/womankind or all feminists in the universe. I'm sure there are flaws in the arguments presented (there are sure as hell flaws in the grammar and generally appalling structure) but I'm an 18 year old with a blog and not a writer and these views are my own and not those of the BBC blah blah etc*

I will probably never stand up in front of a group of people who I don't know and tell them I'm a feminist. If you know what feminism actually is you'll think that's ridiculous, but the sad fact is that so many people don't know what the word actually means. This, to many, will sound condescending and preachy and you'll be thinking this is all so obvious but I can think of a lot, and I mean a LOT of people I know who are stuck in the stone age when it comes to feminism and egalitarianism in general. Even my sixth form English Literature teacher didn't actually know that third wave feminism was even 'a thing'. I don't actually understand how anyone can be intelligent enough to get through University and successfully gain a degree but be so completely unaware of actual real world issues, but that's another matter. The problem with feminism is that the word 'feminist' has so many connotations: all feminists are lesbians, feminists don't wear bras, don't shave their legs, feminists hate men, feminists are just women who are jealous of the attractive women who get more attention than they do. All of that is shit. Oh and another newsflash: feminists aren't all women.

Here are some of the stupid things I've heard about feminism (and why I think they're stupid. I'm not claiming to be an academic expert on the subject, but generally someone who is of sound mind unlike the hysterical 'feminists' of Tumblr who all want to lynch Caitlin Moran, or the 'but a woman's role IS in the home' prehistoric types.)

1. Feminists hate men.
This is probably my favourite myth because it's so absolutely hilariously insanely not true. Like, it doesn't even bear thinking about. I'm a feminist, right, because I believe in full gender equality. I also happen to be a straight woman who likes men. Quite a lot, actually. Hanging out with men, being friends with men, having sex with men, you know, men in general. That doesn't mean to say I don't enjoy female company, but when it comes to romantic inclination, I LIKE MEN. Feminists can be straight and feminists can be lesbian or bi or asexual or pansexual or even fancy plants if they really want to.

2. Feminists don't shave, and if you do, you're not a proper feminist.
For starters, if a man claims to be a feminist and he shaves his face, does it make him anti-feminist? (If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a noise?) No but seriously, this is such a load of bollocks. I'm a feminist and I shave my legs, armpits and all the rest. The issue feminists have with shaving/waxing/otherwise removing body hair is not the fact that it shouldn't be removed, it's the idea that women are expected by society (in most western cultures) to remove hair and those who don't are seen as dirty or ugly. Feminists will argue that it should be the choice of the woman, not of the men (or women) she sleeps with or the culture she is part of,  whether to have body hair or not. I don't know who said this but I read it somewhere (and this is badly paraphrased but whatever) "As a woman, I should no obligation to shave my legs, and as a feminist, I should have no obligation not to". 

3. "Feminists: telling women what to do since men stopped."
Okay. I saw this one one of those stupid internet memes and like died on the spot. Feminism, in it's purest sense, does not 'tell women what to do.' Feminism is a movement which encourages CHOICE for women, in all areas. Choosing whether or not to shave because you WANT TO, not that you feel you have to. Choosing whether to have sex, and who to have sex with. (I'm not going to go into rape in this because I feel like that's a separate argument and I'd be here all year) Choosing whether (financially permitting, and I'm not about to blame all economic issues on misogyny) to work, or not to work. Feminism is about choice, not about telling people what they can and can't do. Secondly, the 'since men stopped' bit is ridiculous. To take a pretty obvious example: birth control. In the USA, abortion and birth control are highly contested issues which pretty much divide the nation in two (obviously there are pro-choice Reps and pro-life Dems but let's just generalise for a second). So let's get this straight: in a society where 'men have stopped telling women what to do' there are a bunch of men (and the US government is largely male) are using a woman's choice over what to do with her body as a political bargaining tool. And you're telling me it's the FEMINISTS who want to control women's bodies.

Caitlin Moran famously said in her book "How To Be A Woman": "Put your hand in your pants. a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said 'yes' to both, you're a feminist" and I guess to an extent this is true. I can't see any reason why, if you have a vagina, you'd want someone else to be in charge of it, but I guess there'll always be one and I'm not speaking for all of humanity here. But you don't have to have a vagina to be a feminist. People of all genders can be feminists so long as they believe in equality between genders. (I don't really want to get tied up in transgender issues within feminism though, not because I don't think it's important because it really is, but just because I don't know enough about it to be able to properly articulate what I want to say, but if it's something you want to know more about, welcome to the internet, Google is your friend).


Basically, I'm lucky in that a lot of the people I choose to associate with show even basic understanding of this. Most of my friends would see themselves as feminists and those that don't (hopefully) will once they've read this. But sadly I also know a lot of people, men AND women, who genuinely don't think gender equality is desirable or necessary. And that's sad.
It's sad that we live in a society in which 'feminist' is thrown about as an insult. Every belief system has its extremists, and feminism is no different. There will always be the scary, militant 'feminists' who think a girl who shaves their armpits is a traitor to the cause, and there will always be people who don't advocate feminism. But I speak for myself in saying that, as a straight female who wears a bra and shaves her body hair and likes men (possibly too much), I'm a feminist because when I graduate from university and set about finding a career, I want to be paid the same amount as the males who do the same job as me. I want to be able to choose what I do with my own body, be that with regards to appearance or health issues, and choose what I do with my own life, be it education or work or travelling doing absolutely fuck all. I don't think that it's wrong for a woman to be a housewife and to cook and to clean, as much as I don't think that it's wrong for a woman to be career-focused, so long as it is their choice. Women and men alike should have the choice to live their lives how they want, and be treated as equals. That is the point of feminism.

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