This is for those who believe in equality, justice and human rights but denounce the word feminism. Those who say it’s a sexist term and that although they agree with all of its political aims, the label itself excludes men. So, why feminism?
Well, language is exclusive and it is oppressive and women have been both excluded and oppressed by it. We have to look at the power mechanisms working beneath the surface. There are hierarchies written within the imperial English language, as Derrida highlighted the connotations of woman as weak and man as strong, black as bad and white as good. Sexist and racist ideologies are rooted within these dichotomies and the English language demonstrates a history of oppression.
Language matters and our choices of words are important. The term ‘feminist’ recognises the importance of words and the imbalance between men and women. It seeks to enter into a paradigm shift in order to restore balance. Feminism, as a school of thought, recognises the need to explore, deconstruct and challenge cultural expectations of men as well as of women as it acknowledges that patriarchy is damaging to society as a whole.
In Men and Masculinities Stephan Whitehead argues that feminism has been a vital part of shining the spotlight on the problems of masculinity, where they were otherwise ignored as man was seen as normal and woman as his mysterious Other. Whitehead advocates ‘to write of men in a critical or questioning sense is to be inevitably aligned with a larger desire of gender equality – feminism.’ The feminist’s job is to view culture, media and society through a critical lens with the goal of gender equality which is for the greater good of all.
With a fair balance of power between all genders, we could begin to see significant change in the way culture and society is run. Currently, men predominantly hold the economic and political power in the world. Under patriarchal rule we see atrocities carried out against women every single day across the globe. In the UK alone, on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or previous partner. This is why we need feminism, and this is why it is urgent that we examine constructs of masculinity which define ‘manliness’ as having the power to be in control.
Many women are survivors of such domestic violence, and sexual abuse. There is a long herstory of wrongs being done to women from the genocide of the witch burning in Europe and North America (Note: it was not framed in history classes as a genocide) to current forced child marriage, sex trafficking and female genital cutting across the globe. To reiterate, this is still happening today. Some people so heavily disengage with what happens out of sight that it is important to highlight the reality of such traumas faced by women all over the world. It’s what the phrase ‘check your privileges’ refers to and why feminism as a word draws attention to the less privileged antonym through the use of language.
Just as we raise awareness of these issues, so we must examine the driving forces behind the predominantly male perpetrators of such injustices. To do so requires a critical analysis of masculinity as well as femininity.
In order to achieve the goal of gender equality, we must first recognise the current and historical imbalance between men and women, an imbalance which is encapsulated by the term ‘feminism’. We have a unified goal of equality for all races, sexualities and genders. This requires an understanding of a historical imperial discourse which has oppressed all other than the white heterosexual male in order to keep the white man in power, typified by colonialist Rudyard Kipling’s rhetoric in The White Man’s Burden (1899.) Forms of such oppression are intrinsically linked and this cannot be ignored. The fight for gender equality inherently includes the fight for equality across races and sexualities.
Feminism is a movement which pushes us forward into a future free of such labels that render us superior or inferior, privileged or unprivileged. And we need men to do this; they are an integral part of the movement for equality. We can’t do this without them.
We all suffer – in varying degrees – from the boxes patriarchy tries to put us in, so it is in everyone’s best interests to disarm patriarchal rule and challenge gender constructs.
An attack on the term ‘feminism’ can be just another way to distract from a longstanding and damaging inequality between the sexes. But feminism invites everybody to join the fight, and we all benefit from it, so embrace the label and let’s get to work – there is still a lot to do.