Feminism, it’s a word that has people pulling out their hair trying to fight for or against it.
There’s countless blog movements online defending feminism till the bitter end and plenty of others attacking it endlessly with contempt. If we got all these people from either side into one room and got everyone talking properly, guards down, with open minds and hearts then call me optimistic, but I’m pretty sure at least one person would come out of that room understanding a little bit more why the “other side” thinks the way it does.
I’ve been travelling for the past 8 months and was recently chatting to the mother in one of my host families about this very topic. She was talking about the documentary Girl Rising which follows young girls across the world facing adverse circumstances and the importance of campaigns to get girls an education. When I said how it was a good example of why we still need feminism and her nose wrinkled, I realised I’d dropped the F bomb where it perhaps wasn’t welcome.
But neither of us jumped to attack the other or defend ourselves, we just sat calmly over a cup of tea and talked about what the word meant to us and how our connotations had been formed.
She explained how her and her husband already share childcare, house and work responsibilities equally so she doesn’t think there is inequality between the sexes. She felt like feminists were often angry radical women who didn’t like men. I explained how I knew a lot of men who called themselves feminists and that for me, feminism is entirely inclusive of men not against them and that it seeks to create fairer, more equal opportunities for the benefit of all genders.
She still doesn’t want to call herself a feminist and I still don’t want to stop calling myself a feminist but the point of these conversations isn’t to convert each other. It’s to understand better that which we have positioned ourselves against, to hold a mirror up to our own convictions and reflect critically about how much of our view is based on stereotype or experience.
When I see campaigns like Women Against Feminism alongside the backlash of anger against the women against feminism from the other side, I sigh a big old sigh. I much prefer positive language which helps us all to move forward towards a common goal. All this fighting about being against each other just creates further divide. We need to build each other up, we need to realise that we’re united despite our differences and that we can, believe it or not, actually work together on this.
Comedian Aziz Ansari puts it perfectly, “If you look up feminist in the dictionary, it just means someone who believes men and women have equal rights…I feel like if you do believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re a feminist, you have to say yes, because that is how words work.”
Whilst this seems very simple and logical to me, if someone still doesn’t feel comfortable identifying as a feminist then I don’t think it’s my job to pass judgement on that. As a feminist working towards a fairer, more equal and united society, I think it’s my job to work alongside people from all different backgrounds who identify with labels that they feel suit them best.
Of course, I want everyone to feel that feminism is inclusive and I want everyone to see how important it is, but I’m not going to position myself against someone positioning themselves against feminism. This only further exasperates the problem.
This might be a very British thing to say, but let’s all just have a cup of tea and chat about it. I’d happily invite the women from the campaign Women Against Feminism round for a cup of tea. After all, communication is key.