Feminism is being treated like a fungal infection. And it is kind of lame. (Day 8 of 31DBBB Challenge)
A great fear for many women is to be singled out.
To be singled out among their peers.
To be singled out and called the dreaded F-word.
To be called a feminist.
In my last blog post titled, "I shaved my cooch for this?!", I commented on the stigma attached to feminism.
Unfortunately, the word feminism still has an extremist stigma attached to it, largely because it is something that is ignored in the public education system and people still relate the word to man-hating, sex-negative, pseudo lesbian communes full of angry women with permanent shoulder pads and even angrier, 70's bushes.
No, I am not sitting in a room listening to Le Tigre while rocking back and forth and chanting the word "feminism", so I apologize for any initial redundancy. I am writing in response to a post my friend Twitch recently published regarding feminism. So. . . blame Twitch. And make sure to read her post before continuing.
Twitch starts off by describing her frustration with a random internet commenter's complaint that there were not enough female characters given recognition in an article that listed Top 10 TV Characters of the Decade. Twitch's frustration targeted women who cry sexism at any hint of gender favoritism and advocate for over-the-top political correctness while ignoring basic reasoning. Like the fact that there really were few interesting female characters on television in the last decade.
Before I go further, let me assure you that I do completely agree that Carmela Soprano was an amazing character and was poignantly executed by actress Edie Falco. Another television show that had dynamic, female characters was Six Feet Under. As for shows that are currently on air, Mad Men has represented all of its lead, female characters to be equally as complex and multi-layered as its male characters, which is one of the reasons why the show is so rich.
Okay, maybe there have been more than just a few beautifully crafted female characters on television in the last decade. And that top ten list of man-centric television characters was pretty horrible, most likely because the dude who devised it watches a lot of shitty TV. But I still agree with Twitch that interesting female characters are hugely out numbered by interesting male characters. And the representation of great female characters in the movies is even more lop sided, a topic which is explored in Rosanna Arquette's documentary, Searching for Debra Winger.
Random Internet Commenter shared a not-so-rare, middle school level view point on gender equality. It's the same perspective that advocates that we should have just as many female firefighters employed as male firefighters. Just because. This conceptualization of gender equality is over simplistic and it ignores the seemingly obvious fact that women are typically disadvantaged to do such a job due to their naturally smaller statures and weaker upper body strength.
So Random Internet Commenter is annoyed that there were no interesting female characters listed. Twitch is annoyed that internet commenter is crying "sexism" when there are no interesting female characters to list. I am annoyed as to why.
Why are there so few interesting female characters on television?
Welcome to Gender Studies 101, guys.
When I took an introduction to Gender Studies class in my first year of university, I, too, had my back up in regards to feminism. My assumptions about feminism were based on the stereotypes of mainstream society-- the collective perception of other people who have no idea what feminism is or who feminists are. Like Twitch, I too, feared being perceived as a man-hater, and assumed that feminism was all about victim declaration and oppressive rules that would tell me who I had to be and how I had to live my life. And if that is what feminism truly was, I wouldn't refer to myself as a feminist today or have any interest in feminist topics. I am the kid who cursed under my breath as we held hands and sang songs about God at the Christian camp I attended when I was eleven, the camp where I was forced to apologize to a kid named Stan for noticing the visibility of his nut sack through the leg of his baggy shorts during Bible study and passing the information around to all the other girls who were sitting in the circle.
Conformity has never been my strong point.
Twitch asked the question, what does feminism even MEAN anymore? Cue another throw back to my last post about shaving the cooch!
In an ideal world, the word feminist would no longer exist, since all feminist really means is that you believe in gender equality: the idea that women should have equal rights and freedoms to men, and that men should have equal rights and freedoms to women.
That's all feminism is, guys, so please don't organize groups of hooded folk to go hunting feminists in the middle of the night.
The different eras of the feminist movement have been broken down into waves: first, second, and third wave feminism. We are currently in the third wave. Each wave has been defined by unique hurdles for women and their fight for equality.
Second wave feminism is probably the most familiar wave of feminism and was defined by the struggle to achieve legal and sexual equality, equality in the work place, reproductive rights, and to explore issues regarding women's familial roles. It also challenged what sociologists refer to as micro or personal politics, which include gender stereotypes regarding how women should act, what women should be, what women should be interested in, and what women should do.
It's true that third wave feminism has a reputation for being disorganized and lacking focus. Here in the Western world, women have made major strides in achieving equality, thanks to first and second wave feminists, and our inequalities are not nearly as monumental or stifling as those overcome in the past.
Nowadays, Western women are on par with men in a variety of spheres. We have rights. We have choice. We're comfortable.
Has equal status been met?
I am willing to bet that the majority of the dominant, feminist figures that fought for equal rights during the Women's Movement of the 60's and 70's would say no. Or possibly, "fuck no." I was twelve years old when I first noticed gaping disparities between my male and female peers and it pissed me off.
And I didn't even know what feminism was at that age.
As a collective society we have embraced a lot of feminist ideology, particularly the goals sought during first and second wave feminism. And while we typically respect the work of our foremothers for giving us the freedoms we now reap, we have abandoned the cause and latched on to brutal stereotypes about what feminism is and who feminists are.
Annoying, albeit Funny Stereotypes about Feminism:
1. The assumption that first and second wave feminists were not perceived as radical, or that calling yourself a feminist back then did not have negative social connotations.
They were. It did. Those who instigate change always receive negative backlash and stereotyping.
2. All feminists share the same view points on topics and fight for the same issues.
Again, refer to my definition of feminism. Twitch asked the question whether anti-abortionists could be considered feminists. Yes. If pro-lifers believe that abolishing abortion plays a role in women gaining equality, or if they disconnect the issue of abortion and women's equality altogether, they would still be considered feminists, even if many other feminists would disagree with their view point.
3. All feminists adhere to and support all feminist theory and theorists.
They don't. Feminist theory is about challenging cultural norms that we take for granted. People who are well versed in feminist theory are typically critical when consuming feminist theory, as well. When I studied feminism in post-secondary, it was an expectation that I ripped feminist theories apart with a critical eye. Feminism is not about swallowing information without question and jumping on a bandwagon. It is about critical thinking, challenging conventionalities, and ultimately developing your own position.
4. Any woman who mentions sexism is a seasoned spokesperson for the feminist movement and represents all women who consider themselves feminists.
This is like thinking that Ludacris represents all people who are passionate about black empowerment. Seriously, guys.
5. All feminists are angry, bitter, sexless dorks. And they're all female.
Yes, there are males who refer to themselves as feminists. I have known male feminists. There are feminist, male figures in the mainstream. A male feminist who does amazing work in the feminist field is Jackson Katz, and he doesn't fit any preconceived feminist stereotypes.
For me, openly referring to myself as a feminist creates a platform for debunking feminist stereotypes. If feminism comes up in conversation with someone, and that person is turned off due to the fact that I consider myself a feminist, what do I care? I mean, really. REALLY. If those who appreciate the challenges that have been overcome and care about the challenges that women still face would embrace the F-word, then maybe the negative stigma associated with feminism would erode and more cohesiveness would be gained. Maybe the word "feminism" would become unnecessary altogether.
According to Wikipedia, I have some radical feminist views.
The woman who tells offensive jokes, shows too much cleavage, shaves a special do' into her cooch, and is committed to a man who has politically incorrect names for everyone and everything and is so deeply rooted in stereotypical masculinity that he grunts when communicating.
Obviously radical feminism is pretty subjective. However, it is concerning to me that some girl who is annoyed that her favorite (shitty) female TV characters aren't represented in a list of (shitty) male TV characters could be perceived as a vocal, radical feminist, assuming that was the correlation Twitch was making. Especially since TV List Girl is so naive to feminist theory or the power structures that are at play that she doesn't have the knowledge to aim her frustration at the appropriate target.
I do not think that the majority of women are spraying feminism all over the place. I think that the majority of women are denying feminism altogether. I don't (personally) know anyone right now who considers themselves a feminist. When so few people will refer to themselves as a feminist or be vocal about issues they care about, no one can blame today's "movement" for it's lack of cohesiveness. Another reason why the goals of the current movement are so wishy-washy in the eyes of the the uninformed is because many of the goals that are left are issues that relate to personal politics: the effects of a systemic patriarchy that is rooted so deep that the average person doesn't question it. I discuss an issue that pertains to personal politics in another post titled, Labia Hammocks? Seriously? What's going on with our young girls?
In my experience, the notion that women still have obstacles to overcome is a no-brainer. I've endured many gender-related obstacles throughout the years and some are a permanent resident that will probably never go away in my life time.
I do understand that people have diverse life experiences: issues impact us differently and our values and passions vary. I completely understand why some people have little interest in women's rights. However, I don't understand the hostility towards people who do advocate for equality. We live in a world where women are killed for shaming their families, children are sold into sex slavery, a woman's number one asset is marketed as being her sexuality, and women are still not on par with men in regards to wage.
And we're debating if "feminazis" are making men "less than"?!
Wow, time for some serious reflection.