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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).

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 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?
HenryBG 10:41 am 22 Oct 14

pajs said :

I’d suggest a lot of the ‘what about men’ whingers are either blind to their own privilege, would quite like a bit more privilege (thank you), or are suffering from some real disadvantage (poor, uneducated etc) and haven’t quite realised where that disadvantage is coming from (hint – it’s not women, or migrants).

This would be the “privilege” of paying the lion’s share of taxes to fund services such as healthcare and education from which they are to an ever-growing extent excluded?

I’m not entirely sure how my “privilege” actually works to force aboriginal parents to fail to send their children to school while chinese parents are somehow able to get their children to the top of their class.

Maybe instead of doing something useful at University, I should have done a degree in sociology so I could understand your code words?

pajs 9:24 am 22 Oct 14

house_husband said :

pajs said :

Health outcomes for men in general are more a story of male employment, lifestyle choices, avoiding doctors, bottling up problems and risk-taking than any institutional neglect of men, I would suggest.

Would you apply the same argument apply to indigenous or migrant health? Theoretically both of those groups have access to plenty of health care options but (quite rightly) we don’t go making sweeping statements to collectively blame them. Why are men any different?

Because if you are indigenous, or a non-English-speaking migrant, you have the cards stacked against you. You have to work harder, struggle more, starting from less, than the average, or the privileged.

White, Anglo men in Australia, particularly middle-class and educated white Anglo men, happen to be holding the cards. Not really that complicated. Just how power works.

I’d suggest a lot of the ‘what about men’ whingers are either blind to their own privilege, would quite like a bit more privilege (thank you), or are suffering from some real disadvantage (poor, uneducated etc) and haven’t quite realised where that disadvantage is coming from (hint – it’s not women, or migrants).

house_husband 7:04 am 22 Oct 14

pajs said :

Health outcomes for men in general are more a story of male employment, lifestyle choices, avoiding doctors, bottling up problems and risk-taking than any institutional neglect of men, I would suggest.

Would you apply the same argument apply to indigenous or migrant health? Theoretically both of those groups have access to plenty of health care options but (quite rightly) we don’t go making sweeping statements to collectively blame them. Why are men any different?

Mallion 10:18 pm 21 Oct 14
chewy14 6:45 pm 21 Oct 14

pajs said :

neanderthalsis said :

pajs said :

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”?

Some light reading for you: The men’s health gap: men must be included in the global health equity agenda

In a nutshell, health outcomes for men are considerably worse across the world than they are for women, we die younger, we commit suicide at four times the rate of women, we are much more likely to die from treatable cancers than women, men’s health issues get very little public attention but on any given day they are selling pink/white/blue/green/mauve ribbons to raise funds and awareness for some predominantly female disease. As someone who has recently lost a male relative to breast cancer, getting the same level of service and support through diagnosis and treatment as a female is difficult.

I’m not sure I’d agree that mens health issues get very little public attention, or that there is too much attention paid to ‘predominantly female disease’. You may well be correct that male breast cancer is not as well supported as female breast cancer, but whether that difference in support is down to the comparative rarity of the problem, or because it is a mens health issue? I’d suggest the former is more likely. That puts the problem in the basket of many other rare illness situations, rather than being specifically gendered.

Health outcomes for men in general are more a story of male employment, lifestyle choices, avoiding doctors, bottling up problems and risk-taking than any institutional neglect of men, I would suggest.

Apart from your above comment being an example of the kind of feminist dismissal of any male disadvantage I was talking about, I would agree to a point.

A large proportion of all claimed “disadvantage” or poor outcomes of both men and women are due to individual life choices. But once again, a large proportion of feminists deny outright that women’s own choices are partly to blame whilst claiming the opposite for men.

marykee 5:20 pm 21 Oct 14

I think she could make guys think twice about the power of women!

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