My Feminist Journey.
Huge props go to my editor Skye, without whom this article would have looked like a chimp had been jumping on the keyboard, and eating a banana. She offered me the chance to do this article for a magazine (for the link to the magazine see here), I’m simply re-posting here for my blogger friends.
I am a white, able bodied man. I have all the privilege in the world; and it is totally congruent with feminism that I would be ignorant of my vast and often oppressive privilege. Until recently, I only had the most basic understanding of feminist issues (and some may argue that is still the case). Like most people in the cultural sphere, ignorant of feminist theory, I thought it was mostly “equality for women”, particularly in the workplace. I thought the issue of sexism was done, it was racism, or it was religious ideology, these are the things we have to be active about now. It wasn’t until I came to read about some of these issues that I saw that what feminism and feminists have to say about the world, is a lot more complex than simply trying to get a woman paid as much as a man. And I realised that even simple equality, is nowhere to be seen in day-to-day life.
Feminism, like any worldview, has its own language, and part of learning about that worldview- is about learning the language. Terms often used- that are further reaching than simple equality, like “oppression”, “patriarchy”, “hegemony”, “domination”, “white supremacy” and “capitalist”, indicate that feminism is a challenge to the fundamental way we view the world:, it is a political movement to change the way we do things. In fact, some feminists, such as bell hooks have argued that the very idea of equality is problematic, as not all men are equals in a white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist society.
It also means that what we come to define as ‘normal’, or ‘equal’ becomes what is white, masculine, able-bodied, and associated with other forms of privilege. Moreover the focus on equality, which may have its merits, is still the goal of white, middle-class, able-bodied feminists, and does not address the concerns of the majority of women. What does this mean exactly? Here ‘equality’ means that (white,-middle-class) women be given the same employment opportunities as men in the workplace, that they might climb corporate ladder. A more thorough feminist critique of this idea would promote a workplace of care, would realise that work does not liberate women from male domination (though economic self-sufficiency does aid women), and would offer a reorganisation of working life so that both men and women can spend more time looking after children and family members. More deeply the feminist critique would show that work can lead to greater self-sufficiency, which may lead to alternative lifestyles counter to the supposed “good life” promoted by capitalist, patriarchal mass media, thereby promoting a life of self-respect and self-esteem.
Feminism becomes, then, a challenge to men and women, as women can be misogynistic too. In the pop culture bastardisation of feminism we often see simple caricatures that ignore this fact; watch a television show, talk to your average person and see that to them feminism means a woman’s power at the expense of a man’s. To be a strong woman, you must supplant a man. The idea of a war of the sexes is not what feminism is about, and alienates men from feminist movement. It also, again, supports the notion of the white middle class “bourgeoisie” setting the tone for feminist movement, at least in the public sphere. This portrayal of feminism is limited, and doesn’t reflect the diversity of feminism in practice.
How has this influenced my day-to-day life? Do I become involved in activism? Is it enough to write blog posts and raise awareness within my social circle? My moral compass certainly dictates to me that I should be more involved than I have been. There is plenty of work to do in the day-to-day, with issues of class, and race, and gender, and oppression all being lost in the milieu of conversation. For me, becoming aware of feminist issues, and then going about my day has made things problematic, precisely due to my previous point. I’ve come to realise how much we use the language of subjugation, how often we taunt each other, and oppress each other, with the language of gender roles, with the expectation of gender roles. A man must be a man, must be tough, must be muscular, and must be dominant over women. Similarly, a woman must be submissive, must be passive, and must be a sexual prude, lest she be labelled a slut. And here I sit in the middle of all this oppression now, awoken from the Matrix so to speak, and wondering which battles I must pick with my clients, with my friends, and with my family. Facebook is a great example of this, the amount of slut shaming, the ‘liking’ of misogynistic pages, and ruthless comments- about women’s application of make-up, or dress sense, or emotional states, often by other women is mind-boggling and clearly represents the misogynistic mindset of people uninformed by feminist praxis.
Standing up for feminism, for a view of the world which does not conform to traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, to stand against misogyny, patriarchy, gender roles and other forms of oppression is not easy, and that’s why I cut myself some slack on being an out and out activist. Writing blogs, challenging friends, being challenged by friends and acquaintances, listening to the arguments, changing your positions, and changing others, that is a great first step, and important one. After all, I have people to thank around me, who called me on my misogyny- on my subscription to the rhetoric of oppression that I simply hadn’t even noticed was part of who I was. You can have that impact too, you just need to speak up.