So for this blog post I have decided to take some of the questions I’ve heard over the past couple of days from people who are, perhaps, not so informed about feminism as they might be. If you recognise any of these questions as something you’ve said, then I mean no offence, just take this as a learning opportunity. Obviously I don’t claim to know everything about feminism, I am just drawing on my own personal experiences and those of others to try and answer some of these questions.
And so, without further ado, the first question is…
Isn’t sexism merely a difference in opinion?
No! A difference in opinion would be if I loved star wars and my best friend hated it (I actually have little opinion on star wars, but besides the point). Sexism is when people discriminate against a person because of their gender, and you’ll note that’s not just talking about women. However, sexism towards women is far more prevalent. Generally this discrimination is based on gender stereotypes, for example “women shouldn’t work, they should be in the kitchen”. If someone is sexist towards me they are not disagreeing with me, they’re insulting me. And that’s the difference. An opinion is an opinion until it insults a person or a group of people, and that’s never ok.
But hold on, don’t we already have gender equality? Surely feminism isn’t relevant any more?
To the first question, no! And to the second, it certainly is. Below I’m going to list a few reasons we still need feminism, even in the 21st century. Even in 2012. Even in the UK. And not to mention all the other countries around the world.
- The pay gap. This varies region to region, but on average for every £100 a man makes through working, a woman makes £85. In London the pay gap is 23%. (Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/16/gender-pay-gap-audits)
- Abortion rights. There are people out there telling women they should not have control over what grows in their uterus. Some of these people also don’t believe in contraception. Basically they want us to have all the babies whether we want them or not. Because that’s always worked out well for everyone.
- Institutionalised sexism. By this I am mainly referring to LAD culture. The fact that women like my sister don’t seem to have a problem with being at the butt of every bit of “banter” that comes out of young men’s mouths is an issue. Teenage boys are growing up thinking it’s ok to refer to women as “wenches” and “sluts” because it’s “funny”. It’s not. (I’m aware people are going to have strong opinions on this one, and I really can’t understand why).
- Rape culture. I really suggest reading LifeLoveLauren’s fantastic blog post on this subject because she says it all much better than I would http://lifelovelauren13.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/rape-culture-101/
- Victim blaming, which is similar to the above. If someone’s raped then what they were wearing or where they were walking should not even come into the equation, let alone a police investigation. Only 6% of rape cases end in conviction.
- Female genital mutilation. This still happens, even in the UK.
- Body fascism. There’s a blog post down the page all about this.
Hey girl, just, like, lighten up, yeah?
Um, no. You’re really expecting me not to be offended by jokes which are specifically offensive towards me? “Banter” is actually quite a dangerous thing. As I said above, it’s normalising sexism towards women and making out like it’s ok to do. We’ve come some way towards not being offensive in other areas (for example, racist jokes are generally seen as Not OK now) but for some reason few people get up in arms over comedians who are repeatedly sexist, instead turning a blind eye or just dismissing it as “part of their character”. Think Jim Davidson or Bernard Manning (despite his deadness). Personally I don’t understand this and I certainly don’t think I need to lighten up. Which brings me nicely onto the subject of privilege.
Can we have feminism without considering class, race, sexuality and other oppressions?
The answer to this is, technically, yes. But it’s not good feminism. There’s been far too much of this about recently, with Caitlin Moran claiming that she “couldn’t give a shit” that the sitcom Girls does not feature any women of colour and the writers from The Vagenda writing a whole article on how intersectionality is too hard a concept to understand and so should be discarded.
Intersectionality. Yes, it’s a big word, but really it’s very simple and it all boils down to another big word, kyriarchy. Kyriarchy refers to the processes of oppression that apply to any one person “in the street”. It is essentially the understanding that whilst someone may be privileged in some ways, they may be oppressed in another. For example, an upper class, straight white woman is oppressed because she is a woman, but privileged because she is upper class, white and straight. A middle class, white, gay man is oppressed because he is gay, but privileged because he is male and white. However a middle class, queer non-Caucasian woman is oppressed because she is female, queer and not white, despite being privileged due to her class status. A working class, white transwoman is oppressed because she is trans* and working class, but privileged because she is white (is this enough examples now? It probably is). The point behind all those examples is to show that no oppression is in isolation, nor are privileges. All these things are interlinked, and that’s kyriarchy.
So, what is intersectional feminism? Well, quite simply, it’s feminism taking other causes of oppression into account and including all women, whether they are trans*, non-Caucasian, disabled, working class, middle class, upper class. Essentially it’s the recognition that other people’s experiences are different to ours but equally and sometimes more valid. We can have feminism without intersectionality, but as I said, this is not good feminism. If the only oppression you face is due to gender inequality, then you are extremely privileged and need to understand that this is not the same for other women.
Another point on class. Rhiannon and Holly in their New Statesmen article seem to claim that working class women can’t really comprehend feminism or are unlikely to call themselves feminists. As a woman from a working class background, I find this fairly offensive. I called myself a feminist before I went to university, before I made some dubious transition to “middle class” (which I will never feel especially comfortable with). To say this about working class women perpetuates the myth that to be working class you have to be unintelligent, or that to be a feminist you have to be well-educated. Neither is true.
So just what wave of feminism are we on?
Actually, this is a question of my own. The friend that inspired much of this blog post was actually the one to ask me this and I wasn’t sure. The suffragettes are perhaps the primary wave, and then in the 60s came the first wave. The second wave (problematic as that was) was the 80s. The third wave was the late nineties. So is this the fourth wave or did I miss one somewhere along the way?
As much as I’m glad the likes of Caitlin Moran have brought feminism back to the fore, we are so right to be questioning it as it happens. Flavia Dzodan said “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”. This phrase has been EVERYWHERE recently but it needs to be, never was a truer word spoken. I want this wave of feminism to be remembered because it was inclusive and intersectional, not because it was crap and excluded non-cisgender women, disabled women and non-Caucasian women. This is not the second wave revisited.