Ok, so, Fashionable Academics issued a call for people (who identify as feminist) to send in a picture of themselves and a short paragraph on what being a feminist means to them. You can still enter, it’s going til the 18th! I knew I was going to have issues with the short pragraph thing, so I knew I had to do a full post about it, because once I get started you will not be able to stop me for a long time! Also I do have a seemingly quite different conception of what feminism is about from most people, so I want to explain properly.
But I’ll try to start with a short paragraph! So:
For me, being a feminist is about trying to create a world where people are not constrained by gender roles. Where things, behaviours and emotions are no longer socially coded as masculine and feminine, or as for men and for women. Where anyone has access to the full range of behaviours and social positions without being labelled unmanly or unfeminine. As such, I see feminism now to be as much about men as about women, as much about men’s rights to express emotions freely and care for their newborn children, as about the rights of women to lead corporations and to be recognised for their brains not their bodies. In my mind, the ultimate outcome would be a society where ‘male’ and ‘female’ are purely descriptiors of physical differences along the lines of ‘short’ or ‘tall’, and not the determinants of power relations.
Just to clarify, I am very grateful for the achievements of the feminists who have gone before me who have focused on improving the situation for women, fighting for equal pay and employments legislation etc. NAnd neither do I want to criticise in any way people who are working on improving the situation of women now, or who are engaged in the promotion of women. I do appreciate that the pay gap continues to exist, and that in certain countries and industries, huge problems remain and that focusing on women’s rights is a sensible approach in those situations.
But for the situation where I am in personally, as an educated, middle class person living in the UK right now, I feel we have reached a stage where the obvious overt sexism of the past is, if not overcome, at least hugely diminished. I don’t feel my career has been hindered by being woman and neither am I lacking in female role models at work. It may not be 50% yet, but there are a lot of female senior civil servants (that’s the ones with the 6 figure salaries upwards) around me. The pin striped old men going rah rah rah are still around in pockets, but they are retiring away and will soon be gone. Things are changing in many ways.
But that doesn’t mean that we can forget about feminism or that sexism is gone, just different and more subtle. What I see every single day, from practically everyone, all the time, is this ‘men are from mars, women are from venus’ bullshit. You know, women are scared of spiders/wonderful communicators/can’t drive or read a map/have emotional intelligence/are into pretty clothes, men are better at logic/can’t be trusted to be monogamous/are interested in cars/need to eat meat/are better at driving decisions forward. And all this is meant to be ‘natural’ as if being socialised into ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ behaviours was an inalterable fact of life.
Sometimes this boxing up of genders into certain behaviours and interests is done by feminists, in the interest of re-valuing the feminine. Like: ‘Women make better bosses, because they are more understanding and gentle and inspire loyalty in their staff, whereas men are go getting and shouty and drive their staff to mental breakdowns’. I appreciate the desire to emphasise the value of alternative leadership styles, I really do, but why can this not be done in a more direct way? Why women vs. men? Because at the moment all it does is reinforce in people’s mind the connection between female/caring and male/authoritative, as if it was natural. It is not. Yes, statistically speaking, women are more caring but that is because they/we are brought up to be. Feminine skills are only feminine skills because we label them so and we don’t teach them to boys.
One of the common misconceptions about feminism is that patriarchy is good for men and that therefore feminism is only for women and men should fight it or at least ignore it. I say, patriarchy is bad for everyone, for women AND men! How much richer a life everyone would have if they didn’t need to box themselves into half a life!
Maybe if men could find ways of being emotional there wouldn’t be such a stigma to mental illness among men, and male suicide rates wouldn’t be so high. Maybe if we were serious about involving men in childcare properly, maybe neither parent would have to choose between a career and children, and neither parent would feel like they don’t really know their kids. Maybe boys would grow up with caring male role models. Maybe then boys’ communication skills would be better and maybe then they wouldn’t underperform girls at school so much. And so on and so forth. So, overcoming gender divides is in the interest of men as well as women!
I don’t mean to imply by this that men’s proplems are any more important than women’s or that feminists should re-focus their activism on men’s issues. I take it as a given that social constructions of what it means to be female are limiting to women, and that they must be challenged. All I’m saying is that constructions of what men are like and what women are like aren’t really separable (if that’s a word?). It’s part of the same issue. If we try to widen what is socially acceptable for women to do/be, but we don’t widen what being a man is about, we’re always going to come up against a wall, because woman will still be synonymous with ‘the oposite of man’ or ‘non-man’.
I just find it absolutely baffling how common traditional ideas of what men should do and be like still are. As much, if not more so than ideas of what women should be like. Among feminists too. I remember a few years ago I was speaking to someone, she told me she was a feminist and then two minutes later said that she didn’t like the idea of men knitting and that although she didn’t like guys to have beards, she would want anyone she went out with to have the ability to grow a beard easily. Because men aren’t real men unless they’re hairy! HOW is this acceptable, from a feminist? I didn’t say anything at the time, just bitched about it afterwards, but I would now.
Because that’s the thing about social constructions, they are kept alive by repetition, particularly unconsidered repetition. If you hear something often enough, you tend to stop thinking about it and just accept it as truth. So now when I hear somebody make a categorical statement about what men are like and what women are like, even if it is positive about women, if possible I will challenge them in a quiet way and ask them to think about it. And often it will really open people’s eyes! It takes hardly any time, but I think if enough people do it, we have a chance of overcoming or at least broadening gender constructions.
Does that make sense? I know this is a personal style blog and I have not mentioned fashion once! I just thought it was good to get my position written down so that when I talk about feminism in relation to fashion, you’ll know where I’m coming from.
And speaking of fashion and feminism, I’ve been speaking to Bella of Citizen Rosebud, Mrs. Bossa and Courtney of Those Graces about starting a discussion between bloggers about the issue, and doing a sort of coordinated blogging event at some point in March, to coincide with Women’s History Month. It’s early stages yet, but if you would like to be involved, leave a comment email me, and I’ll get in touch! I’ll be providing more info as soon as we have organised outselves properly, hopefully soonest!
If you made it to here, thank you for still being here! I appreciate it! Normal pretty picture posts will resume tomorrow.