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Does Feminism Need a Rebrand?

By Heather Lansdowne - 20 October 2014 36

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I’ve been a feminist from a very young age. When my Dad first introduced me to Star Wars, I remember thinking Han Solo was a sexist jerk and that Leia should have chosen nice guy Luke (don’t judge me, that was before I found out about the whole brother/sister thing).

I grew up idolising the Spice Girls and soaking in their message of ‘girl power’ and equalisation between the sexes. These were ladies who loved men, but also loved their female buddies, and insisted that platonic friendships were just as important to them as romantic relationships.

Back then, I was too young and ill-informed to understanding the connotations that came with the term feminism. But it seems that over the last few decades the word has come to mean very different things to different people. For many, it has become synonymous with man-hating, hairy armpits and bra-burning (the latter two of which I have no problem with, but I don’t agree with them being considered requirements of identifying as feminist).

That’s it. No man-hating or razor disposing required. When you look at it like that, no reasonable person would have a problem identifying as a feminist. And yet so many still do (with the notable exception of Tony Abbott, who is not actually a feminist and who is giving the rest of us a bad name by identifying himself as such).

Having said that, I’ve noticed that over the last few years it’s become less and less revolutionary to call yourself a feminist. Many cool male and female role models like Beyoncé, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Tavi Gevinson, John Oliver, Petra CollinsEmma Watson, George R. R. Martin and our own Julia Gillard are helping to educate the world on the philosophy and what it really means.

But I still find myself explaining what the word feminism means time and time again, often to people that are otherwise very intelligent and liberal. Many times I feel like I have to defend my point of view at the risk of appearing overly whingey.

Whenever I find myself doing this, I’m reminded of this quote from Kathleen Hanna: “I would much rather be the ‘obnoxious feminist girl’ than be complicit in my own dehumanisation”.

But are those really my only two options? Either allow gender stereotypes to run rampant or speak out and expose myself as the feminist b*tch that I am? I refuse to live in a society like that. And that’s the reason I wonder if feminism is in need of a rebrand. Not because of the definition, but because of the word itself and the connotations it holds for a lot of people. It’s just a word, but if we want everyone to identify with a word, we need to make sure it’s the right one.

I can see why people get confused, because the term ‘feminism’ obviously refers to females, which for some implies that women are superior to men, rather than simply equal to them. And we have a long way to go until we reach a point of equality. Sexism is still alive and well, even here in affluent, educated Canberra.

Just from my personal experience I can easily come up with dozens of examples of sexist attitudes expressed towards me or those around me. Take for instance the time I was addressing a staff meeting and one of the department managers told his team to make sure they paid attention as I was going to perform a striptease for them. Or count the numerous times I’ve been asked to make photocopies or fetch coffee, while seldom being asked to help move anything like my male colleagues often are. I’ve been told I “throw like a girl” (because I throw poorly just like all females obviously). I’ve been excluded from work events that I had every right to be invited to, seemingly because having an all male group would just be more fun. I’ve even worked in offices where trips to strip clubs and brothels were seen as a reasonable way to reward employees and clients (I myself was never invited of course, nor would I wish to attend).

This has to stop, and I don’t care how we do it. The word feminism is becoming more acceptable, so should we persist in changing perceptions of what this term means, or create a new one altogether? I was thinking something along the lines of ‘gender equalism’, but that seems too awkward and unlikely to catch on. Since I can’t think of a good alternative myself, I want to throw it out to you dear reader. Do you have any ideas for a new term for feminism that would feel more inclusive and marketable? Let us know in the comments.

(NOTE: When searching for a suitable image for this piece, the search term ‘feminism’ came up with a range of images of women in stiletto heels stepping on men’s heads, or s&m style images, or women with their fists up to men… I guess that kind of says something. Canfan)

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36 Responses to
Does Feminism Need a Rebrand?
Heather Lansdowne 8:12 pm 20 Oct 14

Antagonist said :

Hookers are also sexually empowered and can earn money like a boss, but that is anything except feminism. On that basis, it appears much of the problem you describe lies in how feminism is defined, not how it is named. You rightly point to radical “man-hating, hairy armpits and bra-burning” feminists for muddying the waters there.

As for Julia Gillard, her problem was never gender. It was because she repeatedly lied to the people of Australia, and was a weak leader to boot.

Sure, there is a difference between winning the game in a man’s world (is this what Beyonce is doing?) and actually changing the game.

Sex work is also a hard issue to tackle. A lot of women are exploited in this profession, but there are also a lot of women who enjoy it and I don’t have a problem with that.

If I wasn’t clear, I don’t have a problem whatsoever with hairy armpits or bra-burning. I applaud anyone who has the courage to present themselves in whatever way they find comfortable. For myself I still aspire to a relatively mainstream idea of beauty which sometimes makes me question myself. In the end I suppose it’s all about choice.

Julia Gillard was constantly judged on her appearance in a way that male politicians never are. She was called a witch, was mistrusted because of her childlessness and was the victim of truly vulgar remarks (i.e. the phoney menu incident??!!). I won’t pretend to be a political expert but to me Julia is extremely intelligent and managed to get a lot done in a very difficult time for the Labour party while also remaining respectful to those around her. I just can’t see how that’s weak leadership, or how she deserved to be treated the way she was by the Australian public.

Snowy11 8:06 pm 20 Oct 14

Antagonist said :

Heather Lansdowne said :

Felix the Cat said :

Really? You consider Beyoncé a “cool” role model for feminism?

I think her VMA performance went a long way to educating the general public on the definition of feminism which is cool. She’s sexually empowered and earns money like a boss. I know there’s some debate around some of those points and I haven’t read into it much so I won’t claim to be an expert.

Hookers are also sexually empowered and can earn money like a boss, but that is anything except feminism. On that basis, it appears much of the problem you describe lies in how feminism is defined, not how it is named. You rightly point to radical “man-hating, hairy armpits and bra-burning” feminists for muddying the waters there.

As for Julia Gillard, her problem was never gender. It was because she repeatedly lied to the people of Australia, and was a weak leader to boot.

This whole discussion is about rebranding – not just a name. ‘Equalism’ is a great and wholistic name for the very definition of feminism and is tied to no gender.
As for your comments on Julia Gillard – regardless of your personal opinion, she is an outspoken, strong willed and successful woman and a pioneer for female members of parliament. The treatment she was, and continues to be subject to is a horrible example of inequality.

Antagonist 6:15 pm 20 Oct 14

Heather Lansdowne said :

Felix the Cat said :

Really? You consider Beyoncé a “cool” role model for feminism?

I think her VMA performance went a long way to educating the general public on the definition of feminism which is cool. She’s sexually empowered and earns money like a boss. I know there’s some debate around some of those points and I haven’t read into it much so I won’t claim to be an expert.

Hookers are also sexually empowered and can earn money like a boss, but that is anything except feminism. On that basis, it appears much of the problem you describe lies in how feminism is defined, not how it is named. You rightly point to radical “man-hating, hairy armpits and bra-burning” feminists for muddying the waters there.

As for Julia Gillard, her problem was never gender. It was because she repeatedly lied to the people of Australia, and was a weak leader to boot.

Heather Lansdowne 5:08 pm 20 Oct 14

Felix the Cat said :

Really? You consider Beyoncé a “cool” role model for feminism?

I think her VMA performance went a long way to educating the general public on the definition of feminism which is cool. She’s sexually empowered and earns money like a boss. I know there’s some debate around some of those points and I haven’t read into it much so I won’t claim to be an expert.

Heather Lansdowne 4:59 pm 20 Oct 14

Testfest said :

Here’s a few topics to get you started:
– Can men be feminists?
– Can you be a feminist if you are anti-abortion?
– Should there be quotas for company boards / political parties to have a minimum percentage of women?
– Should joint custody of children be the default starting point in a divorce?
– How many milliseconds will elapse before I am accused of “mansplaining”?

Good discussion points… I can’t speak for all feminists but I’ll give my opinion:

– Can men be feminists? – YES

– Can you be a feminist if you are anti-abortion?

arrrrgh that’s a really hard one I’m pro-choice but I think that you could have objections to abortion that might not necessarily mean you are anti-equality. But not allowing women control of their bodies does restrict our freedom so I’m really not sure on this one…

– Should there be quotas for company boards / political parties to have a minimum percentage of women?

I’m not sure that this is the way to go, again it’s a complicated issue with no easy solution…

– Should joint custody of children be the default starting point in a divorce?

This seems fair??

pajs 4:11 pm 20 Oct 14

chewy14 said :

Any area where women are disadvantaged is treated as a horrible occurence that needs to change but any area where men are disadvantaged is just the way things are.

What are these “areas where men are disadvantaged”?

chewy14 1:26 pm 20 Oct 14

Testfest said :

You know why you have to explain what you think feminism is again and again? Because the dictionary definition doesn’t match the practical implementation. Coming up with a new name won’t help you with this.

There’s quite a few people who hold completely contradictory views on the same topic – but they both just call themselves “feminists”. Then when you point this out you get told that “Feminism is a broad church” like that’s supposed to be helpful.

Do you know what criteria you have to meet before you can call yourself a feminist? None. All you have to do is claim the label. That’s why Tony Abbott IS a feminist, and why you don’t have any right to say that he isn’t.

Maybe instead of rebranding you should work on just coming up with a clear set of values and principles that you have to agree with in order to be able to call yourself a feminist…

Here’s a few topics to get you started:
– Can men be feminists?
– Can you be a feminist if you are anti-abortion?
– Should there be quotas for company boards / political parties to have a minimum percentage of women?
– Should joint custody of children be the default starting point in a divorce?
– How many milliseconds will elapse before I am accused of “mansplaining”?

This +1.

I see two broad problems with a large proportion of feminism as it exists today. The first as described above is that feminists themselves don’t understand what feminism is and you can almost guarantee that people calling themselves feminists will have many different views on nearly every issue.

You also have to look at what “Equal rights to men” means. For example, surely offering things like management quotas for women or paying women more superannuation than men isn’t advocating equal rights? Yet many so called feminists do advocate for these types things on the basis that women are disadvantaged or not priviliged simply be being women (I actually find that notion offensive). Equal rights doesn’t seem so easy or fair when you have people advocating for equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.

The second problem is that by the dictionary definition, feminists are only interested in advocating for women in areas where women may be disadvantaged or have worse outcomes when compared to men. They completely ignore the fact that in many areas, men have worse outcomes than women or are disadvantaged. Thus what they are advocating for isn’t really equality but a situation where they wish to have their cake and eat it too.
Any area where women are disadvantaged is treated as a horrible occurence that needs to change but any area where men are disadvantaged is just the way things are.

turbotim 1:16 pm 20 Oct 14

Judean Women’s Front or the Women’s Front of Judea?

Haters gonna hate.

Maya123 1:03 pm 20 Oct 14

“When are you going back to work?”

I suspect many women would get asked that now too. Or at least others might think it, if they don’t ask. I don’t believe that is gender related.

house_husband 12:35 pm 20 Oct 14

As a stay at home dad by choice after having spent 20+ years in the workplace I can assure you that gender discrimination cuts both ways. Apparently manufacturers of most cleaning products, groceries, foods, etc don’t believe it is possible they should also be targeting blokes. If the car industry has managed to aim their advertising at both genders for years now then surely the supermarkets and others can follow.

Then there are the inevitable questions …

When are you going back to work?

Well this may come as a surprise but what I do now is actually “work”. Sure it isn’t the paid type of employment I’ve done for most of my adult life, but I can assure you I am very busy.

No I mean paid work?

Maybe next month, maybe next year, maybe never! Yes, it’s probably a temporary thing until my kids are older but there is almost an automatic assumption that my real place as a man should be earning money to support my family.

Alas I don’t have a catchy term but I agree that we as a society have a way to go with gender equality for both sexes. Maybe the sooner we get less hung up on labels, terms and assumptions about gender roles the sooner we can just get on with it.

Testfest 11:49 am 20 Oct 14

You know why you have to explain what you think feminism is again and again? Because the dictionary definition doesn’t match the practical implementation. Coming up with a new name won’t help you with this.

There’s quite a few people who hold completely contradictory views on the same topic – but they both just call themselves “feminists”. Then when you point this out you get told that “Feminism is a broad church” like that’s supposed to be helpful.

Do you know what criteria you have to meet before you can call yourself a feminist? None. All you have to do is claim the label. That’s why Tony Abbott IS a feminist, and why you don’t have any right to say that he isn’t.

Maybe instead of rebranding you should work on just coming up with a clear set of values and principles that you have to agree with in order to be able to call yourself a feminist…

Here’s a few topics to get you started:
– Can men be feminists?
– Can you be a feminist if you are anti-abortion?
– Should there be quotas for company boards / political parties to have a minimum percentage of women?
– Should joint custody of children be the default starting point in a divorce?
– How many milliseconds will elapse before I am accused of “mansplaining”?

watto23 11:38 am 20 Oct 14

Maya123 said :

“To be clear, according to Dictionary.com, a feminist is a person who advocates social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.”
That’s how I’ve always thought of the word ‘feminist’. Those who think it means man-hater, hairy armpits, etc;…well, I think it says a lot more about their attitudes than anything else, and very suspect attitudes.

Problem is many feminists give feminism a bad name also. I’m all for equalism in society, and there are many aspects where men also get a raw deal. Yes historically men have been dominant and I’m all for more women in parliament and in company boardrooms. Actually my fear is that those women who do make these positions do so, because they are more like the men they work with than the average typical woman.

In reality femininsts should be pushing also for more male childcare workers and teachers as an example. I think the pay equality issue is far more difficult than people make it out to be. Women tend to be more dominant in the lower paid careers, but trying to equate that work with paid work in another career and say they are underpaid just doesn’t cut it IMO. You can’t compare say child care or socialworkers with government employees. You can say however those careers are underpaid for what they do, but that doesn’t equate to pay equality between the sexes.

They’ve been trying to get more women into various career paths for decades now, some have worked others haven’t but the truth is we are different and trying to force more women into certain careers just doesn’t work. Provide the opportunities and let women decide if they want them or not.

Maya123 10:25 am 20 Oct 14

“To be clear, according to Dictionary.com, a feminist is a person who advocates social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.”
That’s how I’ve always thought of the word ‘feminist’. Those who think it means man-hater, hairy armpits, etc;…well, I think it says a lot more about their attitudes than anything else, and very suspect attitudes.

enrique 9:34 am 20 Oct 14

I agree with you.

The term ‘Equalist’ seems much better, and that way it can apply to many other imbalances that are going on.

There is absolutely no reason in this day and age for people to not be given equal opportunity and resepect in all aspects of life.

Felix the Cat 9:02 am 20 Oct 14

Really? You consider Beyoncé a “cool” role model for feminism?

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