This topic has been on my Monday Postcard list for a while and it is one which is very important to me. As you know, I call myself a feminist. I am not making a secret out of it or try to cover it up with expressions or terms which may sound “nicer”, “less aggressive” or “more pleasing”. (More on why I put these things in apostrophes below.)
Last weekend I watched a documentary about feminists in the late 1970s. Women my age were asked to analyse the pictures of the seventies. When asked if they called themselves feminists, some of them answered along the lines of: “It is a more complex question than that. Today it has more dimensions: I am for things such as closing the gender pay gap or for having more women in boards.”
It was not the first time I heard this. I keep hearing this in “feminist” podcasts, I read it in articles and in interviews. I think the problem is that the term “feminist” has become term with a rather negative connotation – to a large part also because men framed it that way. For many people a feminist is an old woman without a bra who hates men. When I say that I consider myself a feminist, I sometimes get weird, or even repulsed, looks – from men AND women.
In the same documentary, one woman who marched for women’s rights in America in 1978 said that maybe the word feminist today has the same issue as the term “suffragettes” when she was young. When she and her peers asked for equal rights, many called them suffragettes and associated them with old ladies and an outdated point of view. (In Postcard #101 I wrote about “hot feminists”.) Inferring from this comparison, I think that many of us have a distorted view of what feminism actually is.
There are many misconceptions out there about feminism: that the goal is to “bring men down”, that feminists are just full of hatred and that they probably are sexually frustrated. Some argue that we do not even need feminism anymore. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, feminism is “the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state.” Plain and simple. It is not about bringing anyone down – it is about making us all equal, no hatred involved. Furthermore, the goals of feminism may have changed. In the seventies it was about the right to sign a work contract or have a bank account without the approval of the father or husband, for example. Thankfully, we have moved on and, therefore, our goals have changed. But feminism has always been “complex” and covered various dimensions. Nevertheless, we are still far from being equal and the size of the gap is different from country to country.
I get very annoyed when women do not want to be called feminists. (Do not get me going on women who try to convince me that we do not need feminism anymore. I wrote about the necessity of feminism in one of my past Monday Postcards.) Similar to the women in the documentary, many women try to avoid the term because of its negative connotation. But my answer to this is easy. Just ask yourself:
Do you want equal rights for men and women?
Do you want equal pay?
Do you want to have your own bank account?
Do you want the right for custody of your children in case you get divorced?
If you answered with “yes”: Congratulations, you are a feminist! (This applies for women AND men.)
I think the biggest worry most women have is the reaction I described above. We worry about what other people think about us. But exactly this is our problem. From our childhood on we are trained to be “good”, to be “nice” and to please people. But why would I want to please people who are against basic human rights, who do not want me to have a job, or move up the same career ladder as a man, or decide about my own body – just because of my gender? Stop trying to please others, we have to please ourselves.
I am aware that, in the end, we are just talking about labels here. However, the problem is that if women ourselves are scared to step up and say “Yes, I’m a feminist!”, we undermine ourselves. Watering down the term to make it more acceptable and to please our opponents will not support our values. It just casts doubt on ourselves. If we amongst ourselves have doubts that feminism really is what we need, why would we even fight for equal rights?
Let me send you into this new week with this thought: Being called a feminist is something positive. We do not need to hide what we are fighting for. Let’s spread the message. 😉